Opaeula Trail


A couple weeks after New Year's '96, I joined my buddy Mike Uslan, his wife and daughter, and a few of his friends for a weekend stay at the central Oahu campsite called Palama Uka. The location is accessible via two routes: a gate at the Helemano Military Reservation and another locked entrance-way off of the new Haleiwa bypass road. Taking either route neccesitates a lengthy 6-mile drive over canefield roads which can be quite difficult to navigate after a rain shower (I have firsthand experience fishtailing and skidding along these roads the day following a sizable storm--not pleasant at all). What's more, to gain access to these roads, you must make reservations with Palama Settlement--the owners of Palama Uka. With your camping date secured, the camp caretaker will arrange to meet you so he can explain the rules and give you a key.

One of the beauties of Palama Uka is that four trails are readily accessible from the site. During the mid-January weekend, Mike's daughter Nakita, his friend John and John's wife joined me for a pleasant trek on the Opaeula Trail (Mike and his wife Kelen had driven down to Haleiwa to pick up some items from the store). The trailhead was less than a 10-minute walk from the camp, and when we set out for our adventure, it was a cloudy, mid-Saturday afternoon.

I had arrived around 1:00 that afternoon (I had hiked on the other side of the island at Kuliouou Valley with the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club that morning) and Mike told me that rain had drenched the Leeward Koolaus earlier in the day. Not surprisingly, the trail was soggy, a bit slick, but negotiable.

Without realizing my blunder, I led the group right past the trail that descended into a small valley. Instead, we continued along a route that contoured along the ridge, climbed atop it and eventually led to a huge grassy plain. About 150 yards or so mauka of the trail was what appeared to be military-green tent and near to it, several huge concrete blocks. Later I found out from Mike that a military helicopter was conducting maneuvers in about that same area the night before which could explain the tent and blocks.

Continuing along the edge of grassy field, we reached the rim of a valley with an eroded trail descending into it. Before proceeding, I polled the group to see if they were willing to push on. Affirmatives all the way around.

We made our way down slowly, making sure not to flop on the semi- slick pathway. On occasion, I'd whistle and yell out, a tactic I've adopted to forewarn animals (wild pigs, actually) that humans were approaching. In about ten minutes, we had reached the valley floor and could hear then see Opaeula Stream, tinted chocolate-brown because of the rain that morning. We tramped north along the stream in the direction of the ridge we had started off on. For the most part, we a path that contoured a hundred feet or so above the river. Along the way, damp, semi- dense thickets of grass and weeds obscured the trail. At two spots, we had to walk across planks to cross concrete ditches constructed long ago by sugar company workman.

Before long, we had reached the base of gulch and after about 10 minutes of huffing and puffing up a muddy switchback trail had reached the upper ridge where we had begun. The switchback trail we had ascended was the route we should have taken at the beginning. Actually, though, by missing that turnoff at the start, we had turned the trek into a pleasant loop hike which I much prefer to the out and back route Stuart Ball had laid out in his book. Unfortunately, we missed out on seeing a swimming hole that Ball describes but Mike has reserved several other dates at Palama Uka and we undoubtedly will pay that swimming spot a visit.

Addendum (3/14/97): And we did return to Palama Uka and Opaeula on several other occasions, the most recent in December '96. The trail had gotten a bit overgrown and I hacked away at some of the growth to open it up.

The valley trail continues to contour above the bank of the stream until eventually reaching a concrete dam. From the dam, one can opt to cross it and then ascend a steep, thickly-treed slope (mostly guava) on the far bank. At the top of slope, which takes about 5-10 minutes to climb, reach a jeep road. Turn left downhill on the road to eventually reach the river again. Turn left on a wide trail and in a couple minutes arrive at a swimming hole.

An alternate route to the swimming hole involves continuing along the contour trail instead of crossing the dam. Not far past the dam, the contour trail terminates, crosses the stream, and continues on the far bank. From there, the trail crosses the stream two more times and then arrives at the swimming hole.

The swimming hole, by the way, is only fair, particularly relative to others at Kawainui, Moanalua Valley, Waimano Stream, and Waimalu Ditch. It's pleasant enough nonetheless on a blistering summer's day.

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