Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kamakou and Halawa Valley (Molokai) -- by Dave Webb

From the Oahu Hiking Enthusiasts Archives
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2001 08:59:53 -1000
From: Dave Webb (
Subject: Molokai hikes

I did a couple of fantastic hikes on a recent trip to Molokai that I thought you folks would be interested in hearing about.

1. Kamakou Preserve - Pepeopae bog trail to Pelekunu valley overlook

For some time I've wanted to hike this trail but the problem was getting to the trailhead. Well, on this particular trip we had good fortune with us the entire time. The first night we were on Molokai we went down to the Hotel Molokai bar/restaurant for some pupu's and drinks. As we were enjoying the live entertainment, Sandy mentioned that she recognized someone that she knew from the Nature Conservancy here on Oahu. After speaking with him she told me that he was on Molokai to check out their preserve in Kamakou the next morning! We met the lady from the Molokai N.C. (Cathy) and her husband Brian who were going to take him up there and she agreed to take us as well. What luck!

To get to Kamakou you have to drive up a rough dirt road. You can find this road about 4 miles west of Kaunakakai. Turn mauka at the sign for Homelani cemetery and keep going mauka for about 10 miles until you reach the Sandalwood Pit and Waikolu lookout. The Waikolu overlook is awesome! From that vantage point on the west rim of the valley you can see all the way to the ocean. There is a large offshore rock just beyond the mouth of the valley. Across on the east wall are 3 or 4 beautiful falls plunging down from the heavens. The largest one in the middle feeds the Molokai tunnel that provides irrigation water for west Molokai. We were lucky enough to have mostly clear conditions here as the clouds were high that day.

On a dry day, you could probably get this far in a rental car if you were reallly careful. We saw two groups of people who made it in and back out OK. Beyond the Waikolu overlook, I would DEFINITELY NOT attempt to drive a rental car. To get to the beginning of the Pepeopae bog boardwalk it is necessary to drive another couple of miles and the road gets really bad. I wouldn't try unless you have 4wd with high clearance and you know what you are doing.

After negotiating the road we reached the beginning of the Pepeopae boardwalk. It's about 10 inches wide and covered with metal lattice to keep you from slipping off. The boardwalk trail is about 2 miles each way. At first, the trail passes through a nice forested area before gaining the bog itself. The bog is quite amazing, much like Kaala. Most amazing to me was the abundance of stunted Ohia Lehua growing right on the ground! I had never seen such a spectacle! If you like native plants, I'm sure this would be the place for you. I don't know many of them, but I learned a few from the NC folks on this day.

We walked at a leisurely pace, enjoying the morning and talking story. I don't know how long it took us to reach the Pelekunu overlook. When we got there the wind was gusting up from the valley and it was full of clouds. After waiting a few moments, the fog lifted and we were blessed with a truly amazing view! We were perched on the rim of the west wall of the valley near the back, and the whole expanse of Pelekunu was before us. You could see all the way to the ocean! The awesome east wall of Pelekunu was directly across and you could see Olokui and the ridge separating Pelekunu and Wailau valleys! Brian regaled us with some of his old hunting stories in Pelekunu and the time he and a friend climbed up a side ridge chasing some goats until the ridge became less than a foot wide!! He told us that in the past, people would travel between Pelekunu and Wailau on a trail that crossed over the low saddle in the ridge. Supposedly there is a cave up there where they used to spend the night. This vista must be one of the most amazing in the Hawaiian Islands! Right up there with the view from Poamoho summit, Konahuanui summit, Kalalau lookout, and Haleakala rim looking into Kipahulu valley.

II. Halawa valley waterfalls

Before describing how to get to the trail, let me first explain the Halawa situation as I understand it. As of right now, the trail is off limits to the general public because the valley landowners don't want people "trespassing" on their land. I have heard stories about someone breaking their ankle up in the valley and then suing the landowners, but that simply never happened. I guess these folks are just paranoid - whatever. So, that leaves you with two choices as I see it. You can join a $25 "cultural tour" and have a guide take you to the falls if you wish. This would actually be quite interesting to learn about the history of the valley, but I'm too cheap for that and I don't really care to hike this beautiful valley with a big crowd of tourists. Don't get me wrong, I certainly don't have a problem with some enterprising Molokaians taking people on hiking tours to earn income. After all, if the demand is there why not take advantage of it? Anyway, tourists would never be able to find the trail on their own anyway.

Your other option is to take my advice, pucker up your lips, and get ready to kiss up to some valley resident and ask their permission to hike in "their" valley. This has worked for me twice, and although the folks that I met were at first reluctant to let me pass, I eventually won them over with my pretty smile and even prettier disposition! Good luck if you dare venture into this valley! Trail directions are pretty simple as they were given to me. Park at the end of the paved road in the valley and then take the small dirt road down past a little church. At the first junction go right and continue until you cross a bridge over the stream. Almost immediately, take the first overgrown road on the left through the grass. You should see a sign with a heart on it saying something like "private driveway, no trespassing". Continue and you will see two houses on the right. Go around these on the left and then cross a small irrigation ditch on a board. The trail is right there, turn left on it and follow it up into the valley.

From this point it is about 2 miles to Moaula falls. The trail is really easy to follow with no confusing places. At the end, you cross a stream just before reaching Moaula falls. The falls are really nice, with 3 or 4 different sections that are sometimes hidden from view. The lower cascade is really powerful and the pool is quite big and deep. Strip down and enjoy a great swim. If you want to visit the other falls, Hipuapua, you need to backtrack to the junction where the stream splits and rockhop unstream for about 30 minutes. Bring your tabis. It is really worth it because Hipuapua is truly awesome. The topo lists it at 500' (but it probably isn't quite that high). Maybe 300' or so, it's hard to tell. The volume of water in this fall isn't quite as high, so you can stand directly under it. No low-flow showers in Halawa! The pool is shaped like a dumbbell and the side opposite the waterfall is quite deep and nice for swimming. This place has a lot of mana. Standing back there with the falls coming down and feelig the wind on your face it is impossible not to be moved. This is one of the most remote places in all of Hawaii and something not to be missed.

Have fun if you go to Molokai! Some recommended things are:

  • Hotel Molokai: Cheap and really nice. Nice restaurant and pool and the whole thing is right on the beach. Great entertainment at night poolside.
  • Molokai drive-in: One word: Platelunch.
  • Kamuela cookhouse: Located in Kualapu'u, on your way to the highschool. Broke da mouf grinds and cheap. Go for breakfast, you wont be disappointed.
  • Kalaupapa lookout
  • Sunset from Kaluakoi pool