Pauoa Valley via Nuuanu Trail

Pauoa Valley via Nuuanu Trail

by Dayle Turner

With no classes to teach today (4/11/97) and thunderstorms predicted for Oahu later in the afternoon, I figured I'd better take the opportunity to get some hiking in. So at around 9:30 I jumped in my vehicle and townbound from Kaneohe I headed.

I hadn't hiked in the area of Jackass Ginger for awhile so I thought why not tramp about in the hills of Nuuanu for a few hours. The plan: climb the Nuuanu trail switchbacks, and once atop the ridge, follow it makai to where it comes out at the top of Pacific Heights Drive. From there, I'd walk down to the Pali Highway and then return to my car.

My flight plan set, I parked near the point where Nuuanu Pali Drive meets Pali Highway and at 9:45 away I went.

The day was quite pleasant as I embarked, and I reckoned that even if it rained at some point while I was on the trail, all the better (my penchant for hiking in a downpour has become well known). :-)

Before I set off up the switchbacks, I stopped to check out Jackass Ginger, a well-known swimming hole. The water flow in Nuuanu Stream was quite strong this a.m. and if it weren't for that and the early hour, I would have leaped in for a quick splash-about. But the thought of swimming in coffee-with-cream colored water when it wasn't even 10 a.m. yet didn't raise my pulse rate any, so onward and upward I trekked.

The switchbacks commence in a quiet, majestic grove of Norfolk pine trees and wind their way upslope. Some segments are but a handful of yards long while a couple are quite lengthy--several hundred yards at least. Because of overnight rains, small waterfalls, perhaps a half dozen or so, tumbled into narrow ravines alongside (or at times onto) the trail.

The climb to the top of the ridge took in the order of 30-40 minutes and right before I crested out, I came upon a family of pua'a foraging for roots just off the trail ahead of me. The two adults, black as charcoal, appeared to be in the 100-pound range. Four na keiki pua'a, black like mama and papa, were the size of footballs. Not wanting to walk right up to the ohana and risk an attack, I let out a sharp "whoop" and without delay downslope the sixsome bolted into a thicket of scrub guava.

Unattacked and my climb completed, I now stood at a point where I could see the high point of Pu'u Ohia (Tantalus) about a half mile away. While the Nuuanu Trail continues mauka where it eventually meets the Pauoa Flats Trail, today I wouldn't head that way, instead opting to hike makai along the ridge on the Koko Head side of Nuuanu Valley.

Although I had never hiked the route before, a topo map review indicated that the ridge would eventually lead to Pacific Heights Drive, which I intended to follow back down to Pali Highway.

The hike down the ridge was uneventful until, 30 minutes later, I reached the point where homes began. My map told me I was supposed to arrive at a water tank, probably a Board of Water Supply type, where I'd walk down a chained-off access road to Pacific Heights Drive. But nope, no water tank. Ditto for the access road. Just the backyard of someone's house.

Okay, it was early in the day, I had time aplenty, and heaps of water and energy. And I didn't feel like getting yelled at for crossing through someone's yard. So I set off to do some exploring.

First I checked out the Pauoa Valley side of the ridge, where I spotted a ribbon marked trail heading downslope through the trees and bushes. Nope, not that way. There had to be a better option, at least, that's what I thought.

Then I explored the Nuuanu Valley side of the ridge, descending steeply on a pig trail for about 100 yards until I gained a vantage point of homes below. Unfortunately, if I continued downward, I'd again end up in someone's backyard, so that way was a no-go.

I returned to the ridgetop, high-stepping over a number of ample piles of pig plop as I climbed. Once topside, I found the most comfortable looking tree root available and planted my behind on it for a few minutes of rest and strategic planning.

Okay, I could head back the way I came. An out and back hike?--blecccch.

Okay option 2--sneak through some rich guy's yard. Nope, like I mentioned earlier, didn't want to get yelled at or, worse, interogated by the law if said rich guy decided to do the 911 thing.

Okay, so that left me with option 3--the trail that descended to Pauoa Valley. Yeah, I could do that. Even if taking that route would mean a longer walk back to my car, it'd be good exercise, and, better yet, good adventure.

So after chugging some water and eating some graham crackers, again I was off on another of my be-one-with-the-aina explorations.

I followed the ribbon-marked trail as it contoured gradually downslope toward the back of Pauoa Valley. After 5 to 10 minutes of contouring, I reached a pipeline that ran mauka to makai along the mountainside. A trail, fairly clear at first, followed the pipeline. So along the pipeline trail I hiked.

The further I progressed, the more obscure and overgrown the trail became. On more than one occasion, I had to scramble over or under fallen trees and beat my way through encroaching vegetation. After about 20 minutes of this jungle gym action, the trail was completely blocked by a tangle of hau. Initially, I attempted to make my way through the thicket on all fours, but not in the mood to imitate a groundhog, that tactic was quickly terminated. I then tried climbing upslope around the tangle but found myself about to step into someone's backyard. Ooops. Retreat.

Since hacking my way through the tangle was out of the question (I'd still be there if I tried), I decided to abandon the pipeline contour route and beeline downhill.

Picking my way down the mountain wasn't a big problem since a descending hiker's best friend--guava trees--were plentiful. I just hoped that when I reached the bottom, I wouldn't be in someone's yard.

As it turned out, I wasn't. I completed my descent on the bank of the gently flowing Pauoa Stream. Large homes, a couple with intricately-built stone structures in their backyards, loomed on the farside slope overlooking the stream. I followed the stream makai, reckoning that I'd reach an undeveloped lot or bridge where I could leave the waterway and climb up to a road. After sloshing downstream for 10 minutes, my hunch proved correct as I reached a bridge where I climbed up to Booth Road.

The rest of the hike was spent ambling for an hour on paved roads, the highlight being a refreshing downpour on Pali Highway during the final 10 minutes before I reached my car on Nuuanu Pali Drive. Ahh, a nice way to end a hike.


Addendum--Jan. 1998: I later found out that instead of turning right when I reached the pipeline, I should have turned left and headed along the pipe toward the back of Pauoa Valley. That trail eventually drops down to Pauoa Stream and Booth Springs and continues mauka. The path then climbs steeply through bamboo and connects back with the Manoa Cliffs Trail which I could have used to get to Pauoa Flats and then the Nuuanu Trail.
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