Hiking Kamananui Valley

By Rasa Fournier

Stop in your tracks and you’ll swear you’re on an Indiana Jones movie set. Vines hang so thickly and picturesquely from the branches above, and drape to the forest bed so plentifully, that the setting screams adventure. The prime attraction to Kamananui Valley is that there’s no real destination. The two-mile walk is along an old carriage road and every step of the charming scene makes this leisurely stroll truly about the journey itself.

The valley is resplendent with birdcall and if you go early enough in the morning, those little feathered music makers put on a whole celestial symphony. The path holds the rare distinction in Hawaii of seeming always light on foot traffic. I’ve traversed the road many times and always find myself lost in wander at my surroundings and rarely woken from my reverie by fellow journeyers.

The road is wide and entirely flat, welcoming all levels of nature seekers. Signs along the way tell of the cultural history, geography and flora of the land. Remnants of Native Hawaiian life from the 1500s-1800s is present in the area, including a spot that bears ancient stone petroglyphs. The early 1900s gave rise to a bucolic setting straight out of a storybook, with a cobblestone road and seven arched stone bridges that pass over peaceful Moanalua Stream.

Outcroppings of that road peek up from the gravel that lines the path today, and the years have given the bridges ? built by an Italian architect and fully in tact ? an antique, overgrown allure. The road was constructed to bear the horse and carriages of two grandchildren of an early missionary, Samuel Damon, who arrived on the isle shores in 1842. Douglas and May Damon each lived in grand dwellings along the road. The site of both houses is marked by a brick fireplace, a lone remaining artifact mottled with moss, ferns, climbing vines and fallen leaves, that still stands tall in the dense jungle, harkening to a past century. A surreal staircase that once fronted the entrance to the Douglas Damon home now leads seemingly nowhere. Other nearby stairs crawl upward under a thick hau tangle, again leading nowhere, but inviting the imagination to climb to all kinds of heights.

Shards of information from the past make the experience that much more meaningful: For instance, when Kamehameha conquered Oahu, uniting all of the Hawaiian islands, he is said to have rested in the surrounding springs of Moanalua. In the 1950s, Hawaiian Electric paved roads that bypass the historic bridges in order to preserve them. You can now walk onto the bridges to admire the babbling stream from above, or walk down, along the Hawaiian Electric sections of road to get a better look at the quaint bridges. The final historical tidbit of the day? The spellbinding valley of Kamananui with all of its ancient beauty was nearly decimated in the 1970s to make way for the H-3 freeway.

Thankfully, the land is protected today, and we can still answer its timeless call and wonder, as well, at myriad side trails that beg to share their mystery. The old carriage trail ends at a spot marked Puu Pueo, though the road does continue on for several more miles before petering off into small mountain trails.

TRAIL: Kamananui Valley
LENGTH: 4 miles round trip
HOW TO GET THERE: From Waikiki, get on H1 freeway and follow the signs for H201 to Fort Shafter/Aiea. Take Exit 2 toward Moanalua Valley/Salt Lake/Red Hill. Turn right onto Ala Aolani St. and follow the road until it dead ends at Moanalua Valley Park. The walking trail begins on a gravel road at the back of the park.

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