Ma'eli'eli Trek 2

Another Trek to Ma'eli'eli

My affinity for tramping into the hills has fostered a keener sense of the beauty of the seemingly mundane. Mountain tops and valleys, for instance, are no longer just distant map points. For once I've grunted, puffed, sweated, and labored to reach a mauka pinnacle or a rich valley, these places are transformed into sources of idle-time musings, of pleasant dreams, and of deep- seated pride.

A case in point is a modest pu'u on the windward side of Oahu. Standing in the backyard of my Kaneohe home and turning to the northwest, I can see the 700-foot peak four miles distant. And its been there for the 30-plus years I've lived in Kaneohe and long before I entered the world.

But, as if invisible, I never saw it. Never, that is, until I set out and climbed to the top of that beautiful hilltop nestled between Temple Valley and Heeia Kea Boat Harbor.

My first venture to the top of this pu'u in the latter part of '95 was an unpleasant one. Without water and food, and clueless about where the trail began, I set out to blaze my own path and ended up scratched-up, muddy, fatigued, and miserable. Although I made it to the summit, my experience was less than enjoyable.

This morning, with more time to amble about, and with accurate information about the trail's starting point (a trail club member had emailed me the directions), I departed on summit quest number two.

The hike-path began along Kamehameha Highway across from Heeia State Park (formerly the site of Ulu Mau Village). After ascending a gentle slope, the trail followed the gradually rising ridgeline through a forest populated by guava, haole koa, strawberry guava, and hau. In a few minutes, I reached an open spot where, facing makai, I could see the sleepy boat harbor to the northeast, and to the southeast, an expansive mangrove wetland area fronted by a huge ancient fishpond. While I paused, a gentle trade wind whispered along the sun-bathed hilltop.

After about half a mile, I reached an overgrown jeep road that swung north toward the main ridgeline that led to the summit. Vehicles had obviously not travelled on the road for years, decades perhaps, because assorted weeds and haole koa trees grew profusely there. Pressing on, I marvelled at two huge, spreading koa trees--each eighty to ninety feet high--that had found niches in a protected ravine below the road.

The trail continued along the ancient jeep trail for about an eighth of a mile before reaching the base of the main ridge. At that point, I scrambled and grunted steeply upward for several hundred yards, passing several large pohaku that, by the look of them, were sure-fire sources for petroglyphs (I've developed a curiosity about rocks, some of which have a strange "living" aspect to them). Upon inspecting these, I found none. Disappointment.

At the ridgeline, the trail reached a junction: to the left, I could descend to a dirt road that led to a gated access-way along Kahekili Highway on the Kaneohe-side of the townhouses adjacent to the Temple Valley Shopping Center; to right, the path climbed to the 718-foot high point of the pu'u.

Upward I went, first through a gently-ascending section of Christmas Berry and sweet-smelling lauwae ferns, and then by way of a steeper open section littered with crumbly rock. In ten minutes, I was standing atop a concrete platform stamped with a Geodetic Survey Benchmark proclaiming the spot as "Heeia No. 1." Facing southwest to my beloved Koolaus, I waved my arms overhead in celebration, all the while wondering if anyone had taken notice of a lone hiker on an indistinct mini-mountain. Perhaps people who were out and about at the time were looking at it like I used to: seeing but not really "seeing." I'll never know.

The trail continued along the top of the summit for a short distance until it reached an abandoned military bunker. Tired and happy, I slid my backpack from my shoulders, retrieved my water bottle from it, and rested there. From that bunker-top vantage point, magnificently-blue Kaneohe Bay sprawled out to the far-off horizon. About three miles due east, Mokapu Peninsula-- home of the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base--stood like a fortress wall to protect the calm, resplendent waters of the bay. Ahu a Laka Islet, a protected seabird sanctuary, lay about a mile off shore to the northeast. An eighth of a mile shoreward from the islet, the bay's sandbar, a popular spot for windward-side boaters, was already hosting the occupants of several watercraft on this mostly-cloudless, crisp morning.

Off in the distance due north, Mokoli'i (Chinaman's Hat) Island sat like a green-foiled Hershey's Kiss on a glassy tabletop, taunting a hungry, lunchless hiker. Beyond Mokoli'i, Mo'o Kapu o Haloa Ridge, strong and majestic, hovered above Kualoa, one of Oahu's most sacred spots. Nearer to me, the water of the bay varied in color from deep- to pale-blue. Huge expanses of underwater coral gardens, appearing like jagged-edged white paper circles, dotted the waterscape. A fishing boat, following a buoy-marked water highway, chugged right to left through the maze.

Snapping myself out of my euphoric musings, I gathered my things and set off for the spot where I had begun. In less than an hour, I had hiked back to my vehicle, driven home, and was standing in the backyard of my Keapuka homestead.

Four miles to the northwest, a deceptively beautiful pu'u, one I had never really seen before, saluted me.

Ma'eli'eli is its name.

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