by Dayle Turner

On Sunday, September 1, 1996, I joined the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club for my first-ever hike into lush Waiahole Valley on Oahu's windward side. About 30 people participated in the five- mile loop hike on the Kuolani-Waianu Trail.

Kuolani (lit. heaven's cry) is a pu'u located on the Kahalu'u side of the valley. Blue-hued basalt boulders along the ridge served as a quarry site for ancient Hawaiian stone implements. Waiahole (lit. Ahole water) Valley was so named because of the teeming schools of aholehole that populate the location where the Waiahole Stream flows into Kaneohe Bay. Today, the valley is one of the Oahu bastions of taro crops and Waiahole farmers are involved in a water rights dispute with leeward side cane and sugar companies.

To locate the trailhead, I drove mauka up Waiahole Valley Road (because I had been camping in the mountains above Haleiwa the night before, I arrived at the valley at 10:30 a.m., about an hour after the group had shoved off). Not long after passing Waiahole Elementary School on the right, the road split. I first went right, following the Valley Road's north branch, passing a handful of modest country homes. After reaching the terminal point of the road and not seeing the pile of hikers' cars I expected to find, I backtracked to the left fork (Waiahole Valley Road South Branch) and followed it mauka. Right before the road ended at a pair of gates, I spotted 15-20 cars wedged along the right shoulder, a certain sign that I had located the hike's launch point.

At the end of the South Branch is a junction with a gated road that descended down to the left and another gated road that ascended straight uphill (both paved). Again I guessed wrong (bad day for hunches) and took the road to the left, eventually finding out I was off course from two wahine valley residents in a passing Toyota pickup. Again I backtracked, this time to the two-gated junction where I had parked my car.

After returning to the junction, I proceeded on the straight- ahead route up the road, climbing through a puka on the right side of the gate. After about a half mile of uphill tramping, I spotted another gate dead ahead. On the right, about 60 yards before the gate, orange ribbons marked a trail into the forest. I had found it!! Off I went on my quest to see if I could catch up with the group.

Two minutes down the trail, I met a husband, wife, and their two five-ish children heading back. The husband, Randy, who I later found out is a biologist for the state, told me they were going to call it quits because the kids had had their fill of hiking for the day and because the main group was moving at a fairly rapid pace. I made a mental note of Randy's comment, bid the hiking ohana farewell, and hurried off down the trail.

The trail penetrated the heart of Waiahole's thick forest, tunneling through a long section of strawberry guava, and ascending and descending a small uluhe-covered pu'u. About five minutes after I had left the family, Randy bounded down a short bamboo-populated slope after me. He told me his wife was going to take the kids home (their home is in nearby Kaneohe) and that he wanted to join me for the hike up the valley. I welcomed his company.

About 15 minutes from the road, the trail crossed the clean, clear, ankle-deep water of Waianu Stream. Almost immediately, the path emerged at a junction of jeep roads. We turned right, crossed a small concrete bridge, then veered left up another jeep road. Although we weren't sure if this was the route the club was taking, we decided to push on, thinking that if we reached a dead end, we could always backtrack.

The road climbed gently toward the back of the valley for a quarter mile before the angle of ascent stiffened. All the while we walked, a canopy of trees, including the largest albizia trees I had ever seen--some massive-trunked specimens easily over a 100-feet--shielded the valley floor from the rays of the sun. Rotting guavas and mountain apples dotted the rutty roadway.

On the way up, we passed four club hikers heading down. Come to find out, Randy and I were doing the loop in reverse (we should have turned left and up at the river crossing). Thereafter, we had to explain our miscue to just about every person we passed.

In all, it took us about 25 minutes to reach the end of the road from the river junction. Just past the road's turnaround point, water with origins deep inside the Koolau Range gushed into the Waiahole Ditch system. Re-bars blocked access into the spooky, pitch-black tunnel, supposedly chiseled into the by a skilled crew of Japanese laborers in the early 1900s. A half dozen club hikers were resting at a clearing alongside the ditch.

The trail dropped into a 10-foot deep river gully (dry) and then began contouring along the ridge, generally south in the direction of Kahaluu. The best parts of the trail are along this section of the hike. Several shady ironwood groves overlooking the valley and Kaneohe Bay beyond are excellent break/lunch spots. Randy and I continued on for 15 minutes, passing a couple handfuls of hikers heading the opposite way, before we stopped for lunch.

After lunch, we continued to contour in and out of ravines for another 25 minutes until we reached a section of the ditch tunnel that fed a 30-foot high waterfall. The path crossed above the waterfall, and Randy and I took the opportunity to take a quick dip in the mountain-cold water of a couple of small pools to the right of the trail.

After cooling off in the pools above the waterfall, we began heading makai, descending a cobbled trail of slippery, limu-covered rocks. Mountain apple trees, some choked with fruit, increased in number the further down the trail we progressed. On the way, Randy pointed out some plantlife, including an orange-flowered African violet tree. After 10 minutes or so, the cobbled path gave way to a four-wheel drive road. Eventually, we found ourselves back at the original river junction, then at the road junction where the trail first began, and then a double-gated junction where my car was parked. Total time on trail--about 3.5 well-spent hours.

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