From Palama Uka, the distance to the Kawainui trailhead is about a mile and a half, most of which is a descent down a steep, severely erosion-rutted dirt and gravel road. Check the condition of the road before descending it in anything other than a 4WD vehicle. If it seems too treacherous, park near the top and hike down the road on foot.
On a clear-skied, sunny morning, three of us mountain-biked from the camp (I was one of the three and scraped my right knee up as a result of a minor spill while descending), while another trio rode with my friend Bill Melemai in his Toyota 4x4. Bill, by the way, misjudged a rut in the road and ended up stuck. A group of rescuers from the camp was summoned and after considerable work, dislodged Bill's vehicle.
A bicycle crash and a stranded 4x4 notwithstanding, we finally reached the trailhead and began our trek up a not-often-traversed valley trail. The path begins right at a point where the road swings left and begins ascending out of the valley. A red-ribbon affixed to a haole koa tree marks this point.
We began climbing right away on a couple of switchbacks until we reached a point several hundred feet above Kawainui Stream. The tree-covered trail then contoured along the valley wall for about half a mile. At a couple of points, we passed man-made water tunnels that we would have explored a bit more if we had a flashlight with us.
At about the 30 minute mark, we reached and crossed a concrete dam. At that point, the valley walls towered like skyscrapers above us. We continued on, making a series of river crossings-- ten in all--until we reached our ultimate goal: a large, deep pool.
About a minute after arriving at the natural swimming pool, I had de-booted, de-shirted, and was diving into the icy waters of this wonder. When I broke the surface, a primal shout echoed in the once-quiet ravine. Seconds later, Bill's 11-year-old son, Willie, and Bill himself had joined me in the water.
Willie and I then took turns leaping in from a five-foot perch alongside the pool. Having our fill of that, we also swam to the far end of the pool and scrambled upstream to explore a bit. When we returned, a high ledge next to the pool caught my attention. About 20 to 25 high, this point looked like a prospective jumping spot.
And after some mutual self-assurance, Bill, Willie and I took the plunge from this spot. Our feat, by the way, came with a bit of a risk, for situated right below our jump point was an underwater rock shelf that extended about five feet into the pool and was about the same distance from the surface. What this meant is that we would have to leap out at least five feet in order to clear this potential health hazard. While a five-foot broadjump isn't much of leap, it's amazing how challenging it becomes when one is perched 20-plus feet in the air.
We all made it, (screaming all the way down) thanks in part to our repeated mantras of self-assurance (lots of "you can do this") and to Marissa, my friend Jarrod Kinoshita's girlfriend, who served as a spotter on the rocky shelf below us.
Jarrod snapped pictures of our leaps (which I'll post when I work out the glitch in my color scanner).
All in all, our Kawainui experience was superb. We all agreed that we would return to hike it again some day.
Be warned that traversing the road leading down into the gulch where the trailhead resides is a crapshoot. Mike is an experienced 4x4 guy with a beefed up truck, and he got stuck. Others with less experience and not as sturdy vehicles are asking for a heap of trouble.
If you do decide to give Kawainui a try, and by all means do, I'd recommend parking at a grassy pulloff on the left BEFORE the start of the steep descent (this is about 1/4 mile past Palama Uka).
The hike to the trailhead from that point will take about 30 minutes.