Tucked between Lanipo and Koko Crater are three very popular hiking trails: Hawaii Loa Ridge, Kuliouou Ridge, and Wiliwilinui. All three share similar terrain, flora, and views. Trailheads to two of the three (Hawaii Loa and Wiliwlinui) are located within gated (and hence very rich) communities. Of the three, Hawaii Loa Ridge is probably the most difficult, while Wiliwilinui is the easiest and probably the least interesting of the three.
I consider Wiliwilinui to be an advanced novice trail. It’s a stepping stone if you’re no longer content with doing simple introductory hikes like the Makapuu Lighthous trail, Diamond Head Crater trail, or the Koko Crater steps. Like its little cousin Mariner’s Ridge, the Wiliwilinui trail is a nice introduction to Hawaii ridge hiking. The trail is very well maintained and not narrow at all. To access the Wiliwilinui trailhead, you will take the H-1 toward Hawaii Kai. The H-1 eventually becomes Kalanianaole Highway. You will then turn left on Laukahi Street, just past Kalani High School. Follow this road to the top guard station at the beginning of the Waialae Iki subdivision. The guard will have you sign in and will then give you a parking permit, along with parking directions. Follow the road to the end, passing the many elaborate homes, until you reach the parking designated for hikers. The trailhead to the Wiliwilinui Ridge trail is located a few feet from the small parking lot. Pass the many trail signs and continue on the paved road.
You’ll be on the paved road for about 5 minutes or so, passing through Formosa koa and ending at a water tank. This paved road will then turn into a somewhat boring dirt road, but do keep an eye out for guava amongst the many ironwood trees. Eventually (about 45 minutes from the start), you will come to an open clearing with large tree that has a swing attached to it. the swing was custom made and painted by someone (not sure who) and it’s actually really cool. This is a great time to take a breather and even test out the swing.
The open clearing with the swing also marks the start of the plastic steps. From this point on, you’ll notice plastic steps strategically placed along the trail that are helpful in navigating the steeper sections of the ridge. These are also installed to help with erosion caused by the weather and constant hiking traffic.
Approximately 45 minutes after leaving the ornate swing, you should reach the relay station tower. From here, you’re just a mere 5 minutes away from reaching the Koolau summit. You’ll notice that the last 1/2 mile of the 2.5 mile trip to the top is the most strenuous. If it’s been raining recently, then the eroded sections near the top will be the most difficult to navigate through. Along with the plastic steps there is rope installed at most of these steep sections to aid with the climb up.
If it’s a clear day then you’ll be rewarded with an excellent view of the windward coast and east Honolulu. At the end of the Wiliwilinui trail (elevation 2,480 feet) will be a single bench. If the trail is empty (greater chance of this if it’s a weekday), then you’ll have the lone bench and the views of the windward coast all to yourself. Right in front of you will be the treacherous Olomana. To your left you should be able to see Konahuanui, the highest peak on the Koolau Range. And in the back of you will be Koko Crater, Diamond Head, and Waikiki. Experienced hikers can also opt to extend this hike by either turning left at the summit and continuing toward Lanipo and terminating at Mount Olympus or turning right at the summit toward Hawaii Loa Ridge and going as far as Makapuu.
On the way down, I ran into some people from the Hawaiian Trail & Maintenance Club. They were installing a few more of those plastic steps that I mentioned earlier to help in the prevention of erosion. I spoke with them for about 30 minutes, Noel and Bart in particular. Also there was John Hall, author of the popular book, A Hiker’s Guide to Trailside Plants in Hawaii. If you want to learn as much as you can about Hawaii flora then I suggest that you buy this book.
In total, it took me about 2.5 hours from start to finish. Wiliwilinui is one of those trails that I’m happy to have completed but probably won’t visit again. With the paved and dirt road at the start and the relay tower at the end, the trail simply lacks that true outdoors experience. However, those of you wanting to see some native shrub or looking to segment hike the Koolau Summit Trail, should be open to checking the Wiliwilinui trail out.
Explorers: Coty Gonzales
Total Time: 2.5 hours
Directions to Wiliwilinui Trail: The Wiliwilinui trail is located before the Hawaii Loa Ridge Trail. Make your way on to H1 east bound and continue on to Kalanianaole Highway and then turn left on to Laukahi Street, just past Kalani High School. Follow the road up to the guard station at the start of the Waialae Iki subdivision. Request a parking permit from the guard. Follow the street to the end (there will be signs on the street point hikers to the right direction) and park in the designated parking lot for hikers.