Spend a Day in Ko’olau Loa

By Chris Oliver

There are many things to do for a relaxing day in Ko’olau Loa, the district on the windward side of O’ahu that includes Punalu’u and its neighbors. Here are just a few ideas:


• Visit an archaeological site.

To visit the broad sweep of Kahana Valley State Park is to enter a place created to preserve traditional Hawaiian culture. Ahupua’a O Kahana is a living park cared for by a community of resident Hawaiian families using traditional practices and values.

The park is rich in historical sites: ‘auwai (irrigation canals), taro lo’i (paddies) and heiau (worship sites). Few are accessible to visitors, but one of the oldest sites, Huilua Fishpond, is easily visible next to the road, covering seven acres at the mouth of Kahana Stream.

Currently under restoration, fed by the ocean and springs, the fishpond was designated a national historic landmark in 1962 and is home to salt- and freshwater fish. Historians believe Hawaiians built the fishpond between 1400 and 1600 A.D., when many such ponds were built along the windward coast. Fish entered the pond through a makaha, a sluice or wooden gate in the stone wall that enclosed the seaward side of the pond. Fish soon grew too large to swim back out through the gate and were easily caught.

Opposite the fishpond on Kahana Bay’s northern shore is Kapa’ele’ele Ko’a, a fishing shrine where Hawaiians performed ceremonies and made offerings to ensure good catches. Above the shrine is a lookout point for sentinels who scanned the ocean for schools of fish and then signaled to fishermen below to tell their location.

• Take a short hike through history.

Kahana Bay once was the southern terminus of the 36-inch narrow-gauge Koolau Railway Co. owned by James Castle. Between 1900 and 1950, acres of Castle’s land were planted with sugar cane, and his railroad hauled the harvest north to the Kahuku sugar mill. Nothing remains of the railway today, but hiking back in the valley on well-marked trails is a step back into agricultural times.

During World War II, the military conducted jungle-warfare training there and built a coral-paved road into the back of the valley. Concrete bunkers, out of place in the lush valley interior, are all that survive from that era.

An easy family hike is the Koa & Kilo trail, a 1.2-mile loop that climbs 150 feet from the visitor center. The first part of the trail follows that of the former Koolau Railway past the fishing shrine and the lookout to stunning views of Kahana Bay. A round trip takes about an hour.

Kahana’s Nakoa trail heads deep into the valley, a five-mile round trip through fragrant ginger groves and guava trees, crosses Kahana Stream at a swimming hole and has a short diversion to the concrete bunkers. Nakoa is a grand hike for those who love botany and easy, flat trails. Bring mosquito repellent. Hikers might also check out the Hau’ula Loop Trail and Ma’akua Gulch Trail. Both are accessed from Hau’ula Homestead Road.

• Enjoy the hau trees.

The area is filled with them, as in Hau’ula, a town named for the hau tree. This lowland hibiscus grows tall or spreads horizontally, forming impenetrable barriers. It was often planted as a windbreak. Distinctive heart-shaped leaves surround flowers that start the day yellow and finish up red — how’s that for following the sun? The hau’s light, tough wood once served for outriggers of canoes, the bark for rope and the sap and flowers for medicine. Though not as abundant as they were, the hau remains a symbol of the trade-wind trail, majestic and shady. And during summer months, they line the banks of streams with vibrant color.

• Visit the galleries.

The Lance Fairly Gallery sells seascape and landscape original works by the artist, matted prints and giclee reproductions. Prices range from $25 for a matted print to $3,850 for an original painting. 53-839 Kamehameha Highway. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays or by appointment.

At Kahaunani Woods & Krafts, Leo and Tats Enos create bowls, frames, wine-bottle stoppers and Hawaiian artifacts in native woods (Kahaunani means beautiful wood). 53-850 Kamehameha Highway. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Prices vary.

Kim Taylor Reece Gallery has original framed photographs, books, posters, cards and other artworks for sale. Original works begin at $800; posters start at $15.

• Hang out at the beach.

Kahana Bay, Punalu’u and Hau’ula are the largest beaches in the area, but there are plenty of places in between in which to rest, picnic, cast a line or just enjoy the view from beneath a palm tree.

Gorge on shrimp.

You can’t drive far along the trade-wind trail without stopping for shrimp, whether it’s at Punalu’u Restaurant (the old Paniolo Cafe) or the Shrimp Shack at Kaya’s Store or the Rainbow restaurant in Hau’ula. Some places are more generous than others, so check what you’re buying first — $10 for a small carton of shrimp with a scoop of rice at one roadside place seemed on the pricey side to us.

Finally, drop in on Kaya’s Store, 53-534 Kamehameha Highway.

Jinhichi Kaya and his wife, Aki, arrived from Japan in 1910 to work on a sugar plantation. The family raised kalo (taro) and later sold tofu, fish, ice, animal feed and crack seed at their general store that opened in 1946. The mom-and-pop store has remained a favorite with visitors and a necessity for the community for almost 60 years. In close company with the yellow shrimp truck, it’s a historic landmark and an easy pull off the road for refreshments.


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