Hiking Kaunala Trail

By Rasa Fournier

In high school, when our class camped in Pupukea on Oahu’s North Shore, it felt like we’d entered an ulterior realm where the sudden plentitude of salty breezes tickling trees’ leaves and blowing through sun-kissed grasses had a soporific effect. The relative remoteness of this tucked-away enclave has also captured the local imagination in a more sinister way as in author Jonathan Moore’s novel “Redheads,” where a gruesome murder takes place just near where our Kaunala Trail hiking adventure begins.


In reality, the only action unfolding at the end of Pupukea Street comes from a flock of strutting chickens that chase each other down the road when I throw them a crumb. I stroll mauka along a tree-lined dirt road, parallel to a 65-acre Boy Scout camp on my left and pass beyond a yellow gate bearing signs that state the trail is only open on weekends. I’m heading out a bit later in the day than usual, but even on a summer day — perhaps because of the altitude, the proximity to the ocean or the wide street path that allows for winds to sweep through — I’m enjoying temperate weather. When the curvy dirt road I’ve been following makes way for a car-less paved road, soon thereafter I follow a trail sign marker on my left and step into the forest.


I alternately run and sing on the winding, lightly graded path as it hugs the side of a hill and zigzags in and out of valleys. A stream in one such valley makes for an inviting spot to stoop down on all fours and dunk my head right into a cold pool. At smaller streams, I scoop up water in my palm and splash it on the back of my neck.


About halfway through the loop, the trail opens onto a gravel road. Though an extension of the forest trail continues across the street, access is only by permit, so I turn right on the road to complete my loop. This half of the loop is pure, wide-open roadway, but there’s not a person or vehicle in sight. I come to a second yellow gate that opens onto an asphalt road, where I again turn right. Despite ever-present plant detritus lining its smooth surface, even the asphalt here looks pristine. Arriving at a covered picnic bench, I take advantage of the chance to catch my breath, eat a nut bar and soak in the scenery.


In this oasis of beauty, views stretch out, past a line of newly installed wind turbines far in the distance, to the sea. The road continues a mile or so further, descending from glorious, expansive
panoramas, back into the lush quietude of Pupukea proper, where time seems to stand still. A vision of my car just ahead, tilted into the bushes off the side of the road, in the company of chickens clucking and scratching at the ground, helps capture the moment.

TRAIL: Kaunala Trail
LENGTH: 5-mile loop
HOW TO GET THERE: From Waikiki, get on H-1 going West. Take exit 8 onto H-2 going North. Continue straight as the freeway ends and becomes Kamehameha Highway. Proceed past Waimea Bay, and turn right onto Pupukea Road. Go straight until the road dead-ends at Camp Pupukea. Park outside the camp and continue along the road by foot.

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