OHE May 3, 1998

Date: Sun, 3 May 1998 00:13:33 -1000
From: "Dayle K. Turner" (turner@hawaii.edu>
Subject: Kuaokala Road trek

Instead of spending long hours hoofing it in the Koolaus, I accompanied my compadre Bill Melemai out on the west end of Oahu for some 4x4 action. Along with us were Bill's son Willie and Bill's nephew Keoni. Bill and I had hiked and mountain biked the Kuaokala area before and had a pretty good recollection of what roads went where. And after today's comprehensive trip, a pretty decent lay of the land is now ingrained.

Motoring along in Bill's blue Bronco, we drove out to the west side via Farrington Highway through Nanakuli and Waianae. As we passed Keaau, we stopped on the road shoulder to scan the mountainside with binoculars for Steve Poor and Wingo. Sure enough, there they were, a half mile away scaling a hill headed upridge. As Wing mentioned in his write-up, they eventually topped out. Way to go!

We continued on to Yokohama Bay and the security checkpoint for the Kaena Point Tracking Station. After presenting our pass and auto documentation, we were allowed onto the road leading up to the KPTS and the head of the Kuaokala Trail. However, we would only be doing a short hike today, having set aside most of our time for 4x4 exploration of the dirt road system heading out toward Makua Valley rim and Peacock Flats.

The drive from the security station to the Kuaokala trailhead is 2.5 miles and involves an elevation gain of ~1,400 feet. Near the trailhead, a narrow paved road drops steeply to Manini Gulch and just past a water pump the paved road ends and a dirt road saga begins.

The direct route on the Mauka Road to Peacock Flats is 8.6 miles. However, on the outbound leg, we used a less direct route in order to find out what went where. About .7 miles from the start of the dirt road is a well-used road that veered left (north) toward the ocean off of Mokuleia. Meanwhile, the main road (Mauka Road) headed generally east. We followed the makai road for a half mile or so and continued on it as it began an easterly tack, meandering in and out of gulches as it did.

We weren't diligent about keeping track of time and mileage during this segment but the road was in good shape i.e. non-muddy, no big ruts, no landslides or fallen trees. Bill had brought along a chain saw and some digging tools just in case. :-)

Eventually, we arrived at segment of the road that looked familiar. What tipped me off was the sight of an HTMC pink ribbon, the first ribbon of any kind we had seen all day. After reversing a few yards, we recognized a road heading downridge toward Camp Erdman that we had hiked a couple months back with other HTMC folks. In fact, this section of the road was part of the club's Nihoa Gulch hike. There is a water collection hut constructed by the state at this point.

Familiar ground is always a comforting place to be. Having hiked this section of the road before, we knew that we'd have to contour in and out of a couple gulches, including Nihoa Gulch (a brown sign with yellow letters marks the spot where the road crosses this gulch) and Keekee Gulch. There is a major junction at Keekee (marked by a "Keekee Road" sign where we had the option to head left and down or right and up.

On the club hike, we headed left and down, eventually emerging on the Kealia Trail. Today, we went right and began to switchback out of the gulch until we reached a junction with the main Mauka Road we had left earlier. If we had earlier stuck to the main Mauka Road, the distance to this junction would have been 2.2 miles. However, our exploratory makai interlude ended up being probably double this distance.

We continued on the Mauka Road, passing a section that had been blocked by a huge landslide but has since been re-opened by bulldozer. About a year and a half ago, Bill and I had mountain biked through this section and we recalled having to dismount and carry our bikes over the collapsed hillside burying the road. Today, the landslide was only a memory and traces of it are non-existent. Nice work by whoever regraded the road!

About a half mile after the landslide section, we passed a junction with the Kealia Trail (actually a road) that headed left and down toward Dillingham Airfield. A quarter mile later we arrived at the start/end of the Kuaokala trail. We drove up a short side road that took us right to the rim of Makua Valley. Nice views of this massive work of nature.

After a short break to stretch our legs and enjoy the view, we continued on toward Peacock Flats, which was still 4.5 miles distant. The road, which contoured in and out of kukui-lined gullies, was in great shape with small mudholes in only a couples spots. And whenever junctions with side roads appeared, inevitably brown signs with yellow arrows pointed out the right fork to take. At one curve, we spotted two black keiki pua'a napping in the grass alongside the road no more than 20 feet from us. Both raised their heads when they saw us but made no move to run away.

Before Peacock Flats, the dirt road turned paved. We tried to drive up to an abandoned Nike Missile site but turned around when confronted with a locked gate. A few minutes after turning around we were at Peacock Flats where a handful of folks had already set up camp.

Instead of stopping at the Flats, we continued on a dirt road to its end and the start of the Mokuleia Trail. We scarfed down PBJ sandwiches and Cup-a-Noodle for lunch and then set off on foot for the short hike to the Mokuleia campsite. The walk through the dryland forest (Pahole Forest Reserve) was pleasant and relaxing and in 20 minutes we were at the campsite. We explored the area briefly then climbed up a steep fence-lined trail to a lookout on the rim of Makua Valley.

What great views we had. Mighty Ohikilolo ridge stood proudly across the valley and the ocean beyond Makua's maw glistened in the light of the mid-afternoon sun. High clouds overhead kept us cool while rainclouds sweeping toward us from Waialua side hastened our departure from this wonderful lookout.

On the return hike to the vehicle, we spotted tree snails in two seperate kopiko trees. Nice! We also saw two hunters who inquired if we had spotted any potential quarry. Nada, we told them.

In all, the hike to the campsite/lookout and back took us an hour at a very relaxed pace. Bill and I already are contemplating a return trip to camp in the area.

The 9-mile return leg to the end/start of the dirt road took us an uneventful 55 minutes. Three vehicles heading toward Peacock Flats passed us en route. Their occupants looked like folks prepared to overnight camp.

All told, our dirt road expedition and 1-hour hike totalled five hours. We had a chance to venture through some nice backcountry and had fun while we did. If you have some time, go check it out, either on foot, by mountain bike, or by vehicle.

--DKT


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