Hiking Makapu'u to Kaluanui Ridge

Hiking Makapu'u to Kaluanui Ridge

by Dayle Turner

One of my goals is to someday hike the entire spine of the Koolau Range from Makapu'u to Konahuanui. Along with several friends-- Wing Ng, Chris Thomas, and Bill and Willie Melemai--I knocked off about four miles of that span on December 14, 1996 when we hiked from the Makapu'u Lookout to the apex of Kaluanui (aka Mariner's) Ridge. The hike is one of the more magnificent treks along the Koolau backbone because much of it is along open ridge with superb views of the windward side of Oahu.

To facilitate the hike, we staged cars at the base of Kamiloiki Ridge (by Pahua Heiau on Makahuena Place in Hawaii Kai) and atop Mariner's Ridge subdivision (Kaluanui Road). That way, we had a couple descent options should something happen on the trail. I volunteered to drive everyone to our starting point on Kalanianaole Highway by the Makapu'u Lookout.

The trail begins on the rocky slope across from the lookout and after a short 15-minute climb, we had gained the 400-foot level on the ridge where we could gaze down on bodysurfers negotiating waves at Makapu'u Beach and the offshore islands of Manana (aka Rabbit Island) and Kaohikaipu, both tinted green because of recent spells of rain. The climbing continued and in another 15 minutes we had reached another hilltop at 733 feet directly above Sea Life Park. The trail hugged the ridge's edge more often than not so that pleasing views and cooling breezes were available to us almost all the time.

At about the one-hour mark, we had ascended to the pinnacle of a 909-foot pu'u where Chris could see his home in Kalama Valley. Thereafter, we descended rather steeply to a saddle, and paused to rest and snap some photos at a puka in the ridge (the puka, approximately above the Makai Pier, is viewable from Kalanianaole Highway).

After conducting some post-hike research, I discovered that the puka was part of Hawaiian folklore. According to legend, Pikoiaka'alala, a skillful archer from Kauai, spotted a rat on the cliffs above Waimanalo. From a canoe offshore of Mokapu, he sent an arrow shoreward killing the rat at the spot where the puka resides on the ridgetop. Hence, the location was named Kaulanaaka'iole, literally "the resting place of the rat."

Our 10-minute rest and photo op completed, we departed from Kaulanaaka'iole and continued our adventure with a big climb to a 1,251 foot pu'u, the highest point in the upper reaches of Kalama Valley. At a distance, the makai-facing slope of the pu'u appears too steep to climb. But as I reassured Chris, Bill and Willie, who'd never hiked the trail before, the pu'u could be climbed, and after 15-20 minutes of grunting and sweating, my assertion proved true. Once atop the ridge, Chris used the opportunity to use his cell phone to call his wife and ask her if she could see us atop the ridge. She could, saying we "looked like trees."

From the pu'u top, the ridge dipped slightly to a plateau where we passed an abandoned set of buildings, supposedly owned by the Kamehameha Schools and also supposedly used as a safe house by the Honolulu Police at one time. Beyond the buildings at the ridge's edge were platforms used by hang glider and mountain climbing enthusiasts. The plateau was also the junction where the ridge we were on merged with Kamehame Ridge. Sitting atop Kamehame ridge is a one-lane road that leads to wider Kamehame Drive which then bottoms out at Hawaii Kai Drive. I recognized the one-lane road and the abandoned buildings as sites for scenes from several "Hawaii Five-0" and "Magnum P.I." episodes. Bill also pointed out almost directly below our vantage point the beachfront home that served as the Robin Masters estate on "Magnum P.I." Fronting the home was the Pahonu (lit. "turtle enclosure") pond, a 500' by 50' rock structure built long ago for a Hawaiian chief who ordered every turtle caught along the Waimanalo offshore waters kept within its walls so he could sup on the delicious meat when he desired.

We moved on, using the narrow road to ascend a short section of the ridgetop to an abandoned Nike Missile Site (elevation 1,380 feet). At the point where the road reached a locked barbed-wire-topped gate, we veered right on a side road, squeezed through a hole cut in the fence that encircled the site, followed some stairs and a concrete path, passed several structures still powered by humming generators, and pushed our way through a grassy trail to the far side of the complex where the fenceline had been torn down or had collapsed. The trail dropped steeply about 100 feet down the ridge at that point, and instead of negotiating that semi-spooky route, we decided to veer left on a side ridge and use a contour route to regain the ridge near the bottom of a saddle.

After reaching the saddle, we climbed steeply but briefly to a distinct clump of ironwoods on the ridge at about the 1,300 foot level. We found a pleasant, cool, pine-needle-carpeted clearing amidst the ironwoods where we unshouldered our packs and spread out to relax and wolf down lunch--sandwiches for me, MREs for Chris, Bill, and Willie, and Chinese noodles and fruit for Wing. Our lunch/rest break lasted about 45 minutes.

From the ironwood grove, the trail climbed briefly then descended to the ribbon-marked topping-out point of Kamiloiki Ridge. Wing and I had spotted wild goats in this area on previous hikes but on this day we spotted nary a one. While we could have opted to head down Kamiloiki where we had cars staged at its Pahua Heiau starting point, everyone assented to continue along the summit trail for another mile and a half to the high point of Kaluanui Ridge.

From Kamiloiki's apex, the summit trail dropped 300 to 400 hundred feet to a saddle at the mauka head of Kamilonui Valley. From the saddle, the trail climbed fairly steeply to one then another powerline tower. Just after the second powerline tower, the TomTom Trail followed a steep ridge to the base of the mountain on the Waimanalo side. Wing told me the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club annually hiked the route we had covered but instead of continuing on to Kaluanui, the club descended TomTom to Waimanalo where the HTMC Clubhouse is located.

We saved TomTom for another outing, and continuing along this segment of the ridgetop, we climbed and scrambled a considerable amount for the remaining duration of the hike. We contoured to the left of a prominent 10-foot pinnacle on the ridgetop and ascended a steep 40-foot windward-facing rockface with the assistance of a cable. A topo map review indicated that the elevation at the top of the rockface was 1,361 feet.

Following a short climb, we descended a steep ironwood-covered slope with the aid of a couple of cables, reached a tree covered saddle populated by a profusion of laua'e ferns, and climbed gently then more steeply to another pu'u that topped out at 1,446 feet.

After another steep drop, we made the final pulse-raising ascent to the acme of the Kaluanui Ridge Trail. The descent of Kaluanui trail is about a mile and took us just a bit over 30 minutes. We arrived at the trailhead at the top of Kaluanui Road at 6:15 p.m. just as darkness fell. We had covered about five miles. And given the numerous ups and downs along the way, we had probably climbed in the vicinity of 3,000 feet. Accordingly, at day's end, we were tired, hungry, and thirsty, but happy that we had spent a day together hiking atop the eastern-most section of the rugged and beautiful Koolau Mountains of Oahu.


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