Tucked away in the boonies, the Kawainui Trail is located in the leeward Ko'olau foothills many miles above the northshore town of Hale'iwa. Regarding Kawainui, Stuart Ball writes..."The circular pool at the end is the most beautiful one on the island. It is also one of the largest and is great for swimming."*
Every Labor Day weekend, members of HTM used to camp at Kawainui until access was prohibited. Prior to New Year's weekend 2000, I had never camped there, so I decided to go for it as a way to escape the noise and smoke of the New Year's fireworks. With Palama Uka closed and access to the trail limited to the Sierra Club/Boy Scouts/Audubon Society, I had to find another route to Kawainui. I decided to hike "over the top" of the Ko'olau Mountain Range, starting the journey in La'ie on Saturday, December 30 at 8:08 a.m. Saturday was a beauty weatherwise - an abundance of blue sky and sunshine, clear summit ridge due to light and variable winds, temperatures in the low 80's.
After tramping approx. 6 miles, I reached the Ko'olau Summit Trail (KST) at 10:27 a.m., dropped my heavy pack and proceeded to the La'ie foxhole to rest and enjoy the terrific vista of Kahuku and the La'ie coastline to windward. Pressing on, I traveled south along the KST for half a mile to the marshy region surrounding the Kawailoa flat-topped mound (obtained a liter of water from the pool below the tiny waterfall - barely a trickle).
At 11:11 a.m. I found myself a top the mound (elev. 2,360 ft) consuming lunch and gaining pleasure from the outstanding leeward view of the Wai'anae Range and northshore to Ka'ena Point in the distance, as well as the verdant wilderness stretching out for miles directly in front of me. Truely, O'ahu's backcountry. I changed into long pants and then at 11:45 a.m. started down the Kawailoa Trail, a graded contour footpath built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC). Of Kawailoa, Ball writes..."Kawailoa is a bear of a hike through extremely wild and rugged terrain.
The Kawailoa Ridge Trail receives little or no maintenance. As a result, it is heavily overgrown with uluhe ferns and Clidemia in the lower and middle sections.
Although basically graded, the trail has many uneven spots because of erosion and landslides. Watch your footing all the time. Expect to fall down and get muddy and wet."*
Nevertheless, Ball also writes..."Up La'ie, along the summit, and down Kawailoa makes a superb Ko'olau traverse."*
During the Kawailoa segment of the journey to Kawainui, I paused to look at tall loulu palms dotting the slopes of a leeward Ko'olau ridge to the north on the other side of the gully containing Kamananui Stream, startled a feral pig, and lost the trail a couple of times.
At 2:47 p.m. I rejoiced upon emerging from the overgrown footpath and soon reached a dirt road characterized by a long series of ups and downs. Despite the ups and downs, I enjoyed the vista from the road of the steep, verdant leeward slopes of the northern Ko'olaus in the distance and the pleasant combination of Norfolk Island pines, tall eucalyptus, and Koa trees which parallel the thoroughfare. However, due to the high humidity, I had to fight off a nasty leg cramp.
Once I reached Pa'ala'a Uka Pupukea Road beyond the forest reserve boundary at 3:36 p.m., I followed the military road to the junction with Kawailoa Road. Continuing on Pa'ala'a, I descended into and then climbed out of a gully to broad Pu'u Kapu, an active Army landing zone (LZ). Leaving Kapu behind, I dropped down into Kawainui Gulch, halting on one occasion to study the Hendrickson Memorial, a Private First Class who died at age 22 in 1936 while participating in the construction of the road.
Finally, at 4:40 p.m., I arrived at the Kawainui trailhead. Because access to the trail is extremely limited, I was not surprised to find the footpath in need of a good clearing. I became especially exasperated at the hau section, having to crawl on all fours under thick branches to continue the trek.
Despite the humidity (leg cramps), the Kawailoa "Bear", the hot dirt/gravel road walk, and the Kawainui hau tangle - a grand total of 16 miles, I reached the campsite (approx. elev. 945 ft) at 5:45 p.m. and immediately cleared away knee high grass in preparation for the setting up of my canvass covering.
After pitching my tent, I proceeded to the large, circular pool to wash off. When I returned to the campsite, I climbed inside my humble abode and took a much needed snooze. Later, I commenced dinner preparations then consumed the evening meal (Mountain House chicken a la king) while gazing up at the clear night sky, which afforded excellent star/planet action (layers of heavenly bodies).
Revived by the cat nap and delicious supper, I took pleasure from my surroundings: the gurgling of Kawainui Stream, the chill in the air, the silhouette of a nearby ridge, and the wondrous evening sky.
Eventually, at 11:22 p.m., I reentered my tent and fell sound asleep.
== Sunday, December 31 "Layover Day at Kawainui" ==
Just what the Doctor ordered, a layover day at the Kawainui pool to recover from an arduous trip the previous day. Definately a leisurely morning: slept in til 8:30 a.m. and ate breakfast til 9:30. Completely clear blue sky overhead as the sunlight of the rising sun slowly made it's way down onto the surface of the pool and onto the floor of the stream bed.
Upon arriving at the rim of the tarn, I decided to take an invigorating swim then sunbathed on a rock (the perfect size and shape for doing so) for a spell. Unfortunately, clouds moved in around noon, blocking the sun, and by 1:30 p.m. had created overcast conditions.
Between 2 and 2:40 p.m. I explored upstream using a narrow trail to get beyond the pool, but backtracked when the clouds broke, allowing sunshine to hit the region again. Next, I swam to the other side of the pool and walked upstream to a small waterfall (natural jacuzzi), where I gained pleasure from the therapeutic massaging action caused by the stream flowing down and around a huge rock. The final two hours prior to night fall were spent pretty much lounging beside the tarn, gazing at the reflection of the surrounding low rocky cliffs and vegetated slopes (including many kukui trees) on the placid pool's surface.
Once darkness began setting in, I returned to my tent. After preparing and consuming sweet and sour pork with a salad, I hiked back to the pool and enjoyed the manner in which the crescent moon light illuminated the pale green leaves of the kukui trees. I also noticed the Great Square (constellation) and traced the path of a satellite as it traveled across the heavens. Eventually, I ended up at the campsite, but continued to delight in the marvelous star/planet configuration in the clear night sky.
== Monday, January 1, 2001
Arose at 7:15 a.m., ate breakfast until 8 and then reluctantly broke down my tent/packed for the impending noon departure. Prior to heading out, however, I experienced another exhilarating swim in the pool, lay in the small waterfall (natural jacuzzi) and sat by the pool's edge right up to the moment when I had to leave.
Overcast skies and a slight drizzle told me it was time to go so after putting my backpack on, I hit the trail at 12:15 bound for Kamehameha Hwy on the outskirts of Hale'iwa. En route to the Kawainui trailhead, frequent sunny periods prevailed, and I paused to take in the sights.
I retraced my steps to the Pa'ala'a Uka Pupukea Road/Kawailoa Road junction and headed west (directly makai) at 2:41 p.m. Endured a 5 mile gradual downhill semi-paved road walk which was murder on my feet but made less boring by the terrific view of the northshore to Ka'ena Point, the white wake of breaking waves clearly visible off the coast. Also, a huge cloud bank engulfed much of the Wai'anae Range with a heavy downpour onto the Wahiawa plain. On the way out I couldn't help but notice acres and acres of tall, green stalky grass existing on both sides of the thoroughfare. "What a waste of land" I thought to myself. Farther ahead, about one mile from Kamehameha Hwy, I recognized a large field of corn growing near a building.
When I spotted tall date palms in a ranch bordering Kawailoa Drive, I knew the end of my journey was near, and sure enough, I reached a bus stop on the shoulder of Kamehameha Hwy a few minutes later at 4:15 p.m. My buddy Ned Dilmon arrived in my vehicle at 4:25 p.m. followed by his lovely wife in their car. A big mahalo to Ned for picking up my vehicle in La'ie on Saturday and dropping it off at our designated rendezvous point on New Year's day.
The wooden La'ie Trail sign is missing (someone obviously confiscated it). Perhaps Mike Algiers can make a replacement.
The Kawailoa Ridge Trail is still there! The first mile and a half beyond the long series of ups and downs is open, relatively speaking. Hunters probably use it. We simply must keep these classic (and historic) CCC trails alive considering how much human effort went into building them!
The Army has repaired (filled in the ruts) the military road leading to Pu'u Kapu. However, the ruts remain as the road drops down into Kawainui Gulch.
There is a guard posted at the Kawailoa Refuse Transfer Station. I'm not sure if his purpose is to protect the transfer station or to keep people out of the corn fields. As soon as the dude spotted me, he got on his bicycle and sped toward my position. I ignored him; therefore, a confrontation did not occur.
* Ball, Jr., Stuart M. THE HIKERS GUIDE TO O'AHU. Honolulu: University Of Hawaii Press, 1993.