Mount Kaala Trail

by Michael Moody

Out in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles from the nearest continental land mass, lies a tiny chain of islands known as Hawaii. Home to some of the world's most beautiful mountains and coastlines, Hawaii's unsurpassed beauty brings visitors here from all over the world. Upon arrival here in our island paradise, the anxiously excited visitor is often overwhelmed faced by myriad decisions of places to go and things to do. Waikiki Beach, Hanauma Bay, Honolulu Zoo, Polynesian Cultural Center, the list of common and more popular sites goes on and on. Although these old favorite attractions are essential to make a Hawaiian vacation complete. There is a place on Oahu's most northern point, that is equally essential to making one's stay here the utmost enjoyable. A hike up Mount Kaala in the Waianae Mountain range on Oahu'sís north side is a must for the nature lover to experience the true beauty of Hawaii.

The summit of Mount Kaala, Oahu's tallest peak, sits 4,010 feet above sea level on the northern most end of the island (oliver 95). The forty minute drive out to the north shore, where our adventure begins, is nearly as spectacular as the hike itself. From downtown Honolulu, get on the H-1 freeway heading West. Near Middle street, keep left on route 78 West to Aiea. By Aloha Stadium, bear right to rejoin H-1 to Pearl City. Take the H-2 freeway, (exit 8A) to Wahiawa. As the freeway ends, continue on route 99 North (Wilikina Drive) bypassing Wahiawa and Schofield Barracks (there are other hiking trails in this area including Waikakalaua, Kaukonahua Stream, and Poamoho. Then take the left fork toward Waialua. At a small traffic circle, bear left under the overpass to Mokuleia and look out for Waialua High School located on the left. Park on the street next to the schoolís last lot. From here we proceed by foot. Just passed the high school, turn left onto a unpaved haul cane road. You can see Mount Kaala rising through the clouds in the distance at this point. Climb over a yellow gate at this point if it is locked ; as it is fifty percent of the time. You will pass a small reservoir on the left at this time and another gate which is usually open. The road, now dirt and has narrowed considerably, bears right and begins to climb.

The dirt road becomes more and more obscure as I gain elevation. At around this point, I leave the stress and pressures of everyday life behind. From here on up, I become a part of nature. At between the 1,500 and 2,000 foot elevation, surroundings begin to drastically change. Although the climate is still warm and quite dry at this level, flora and fauna seem to flourish. While walking through the dry-land forests of strawberry guava and giant Ohia trees, a family of wild boars feeding on guava or mango is not an uncommon sight. Peacock, quail, ring-neck pheasant and other otherwise rarely seen birds of Hawaii can also be found here.

The tops of ohia trees are now well below us and the North shore line of Oahu sits clearly beyond them; we near the 3,000 foot elevation and the hike has certainly become more challenging. The trail has now steepened considerably and dampening of the ground makes walking a little more difficult. However, it is nothing that the novice hiker can't handle. My suggestions are that you stay on the trail, use the existing foot holes as necessary, and check all of the climbing facilitator cables before using them to pull yourself up. This section of the trail is obviously not a cake walk, but it doesn't last for very long. Just stay focused, watch your balance and you'll be fine.

The rain forests up on the higher elevation are spectacularly beautiful. Foliage in the misty bogs is unimaginable. Giant Hapu'uíu ferns, some as tall as 15 feet high, wild orchids, and native Hawaiian roses are just a few of the many unusual variety of plants to be seen. Certain species are endangered and protected by law. Many of these plants are native to Hawaii and can be found nowhere else on earth. Thatís why it's essential to stay on the trail and watch where you step, so as not to trample on any of these native wonders. Although you maybe tempted to take home a specimen for your back yard, it is recommended that you don't since it is against the law and most of the plant life from up there, can't survive in lower elevations anyway. The misty rain forests are also home to hundreds of different types of mosses and molds. Moss of different colors, sizes, and shapes seem to grow on everything that stands still for awhile; it would probably grow on you if you if you stayed up there long enough. The mossy ground is just another reason to watch where you step up there, accidentally stepping in some slippery moss could send you reeling; this is something that you don't want up on the higher ground.

As the 4,000 foot elevation approaches, the trail empties out on to the paved, FAA. radar installation access, Mount Kaala Road. Continue up on this road to the summit of Mount Kaala,(elevation, 4025 ft.). The stunning view from the top leaves one in awe. The view itself makes for a spectacular climax to the hike. On a clear day you will be able to see the entire island, from Diamond Head to Kaena Point. and beyond. Another reason why a camera is recommended on this hike. Up on the summit weather conditions are very erratic; the weather literally changes minute to minute. Rain and fog come and go without warning; this sometimes make viewing difficult. One minute you can almost see forever, the next, you canít see more than a few feet in front of you. This adds to the unique beauty of this place.

In conclusion, as you can see, whether youíre a visitor to the islands here on holiday or you're a kamaaina who has lived here all of your life, I would recommend a day spent exploring the splendor of the Waianae Mountain range on the Mount Kaala trail hike. I know it will certainly be an experience to remember. From the dry-land forests to the misty bog the mountains' summit. Everyone should experience the extraordinary beauty of this true Hawaiian paradise up on Mount Kaala.

Work cited

Oliver, Anthony M. Hawaii Fact and Reference Book Honolulu: Mutual, 1995.


Return to Oahu top | Hawaii Hiking Blog