Makiki Super Loop Trail: Connecting Multiple Sections of the Honolulu Mauka Trail System

I love fruits. It’s this unquestionable passion for sweet flesh that has led me to do the Makiki Loop Trail on a weekly basis over the last two months. Ever since I noticed the blossoming of the bright pink mountain apple flowers I have been dying to pick the tasty fruit to stimulate my taste buds and fill my belly. My mouth is watering just thinking about the extraordinary tropical taste of a freshly picked and ripe mountain apple. Unfortunately, I can’t fast forward mother nature and so thus far my mountain apple picking days will have to wait. Despite my futile mountain apple adventures, I have become quite accustomed with the Tantalus/Round Top portion of the Honolulu Mauka Trail System.

With a few hours of leisure time at my disposal I decided to extend the traditional Makiki Loop Trail. I took a look at a map of the Honolulu Mauka Trail System and noticed that this intricate system or trails are all interconnected (with the exception of Waahila Ridge, Kolowalu and Puu Pia).

The conventional Makiki Loop Trail starts off at the Hawaii Nature Center and connects three trails: Maunalaha, Makiki Valley, and Kanealole. This popular loop trail is about 2.4 miles long and takes about 1.5 hours to complete. The Makiki Super Loop trail that I constructed was roughly 8.3 miles and connected seven different trails: Maunalaha, Makiki Valley, Moleka, Manoa Cliff, Kalawahine, Nahuina, and Kanealole. The route also crosses both Round Top Drive and Tantalus Drive.

Near the end of the Makiki Valley Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Tree hair. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Makiki Valley and Moleka Junction. Turn left here to continue with the Makiki Super Loop. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Along the way you will encounter numerous junctions, so route planning is imperative prior to attempting this hike. The night before attempting this long trail I had written down explicit directions, including the order of the different trails, where the junctions would be, and when to expect to cross both Round Top Drive and Tantalus. I also made a custom map of the trail and uploaded it to Dropbox for easy access on my iPhone.

I accidentally left my directions at home. And that map uploaded to Dropbox? Well, let’s just say that I uploaded an incorrect version of the map that was too low resolution to be of any use. Blah. Fortunately, I had a pretty good memory of the directions in my head. I trekked forward severely handicapped. Stuart Ball mentions a variation of this trail, the Makiki-Tantalus trail, in his book, and Kaleo Lancaster notes that “getting lost is very easy without the book.”

The Moleka, like much of the rest of the Honolulu Mauka Trail System is nicely cleared. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The bamboo groove found on the Moleka Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Bamboo + Sun. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

I started off at the traditional launching point of the Makiki Loop Trail, the Hawaii Nature Center. Here, you have the option to go left on the Kanealole trail or right on the Maunalaha trail. Since I was creating a loop, I decided to started on Maunalaha and then eventually end at the same point using the Kanealole trail. The trek up Maunalaha trail is well trodden and I previously documented it here (for photos of this section, please check out this post). At the end of the Maunalaha trail you will reach a 4-way Junction. Here, you can either reverse back down Maunalaha, jump on the Ualakaa trail, or descend down Makiki Valley trail (left) or ascend up the Makiki Valley Trail (right) toward Round Top Drive. I continued up the Makiki Valley trail toward Round Top Drive.

This portion of the trail will be quite short. In almost no time, and just before you hit Round Top Drive, you will reach a junction allowing you to turn left onto the Moleka trail. The Moleka trail is a short 0.75 connector trail that passess through a Bamboo grove and eventually ends at Round Top Drive. Once you reach Round Top Drive, you will want to cross the road and jump on the Manoa Cliff Trail. Although the regular Makiki Loop Trail is often frequented, the rest of the trails mentioned here are used to a lesser degree. And so I was quite surprised when I passed a man that was on Moleka and who then crossed over to Manoa Cliff Trail. Where did he come from? Was he doing the same super loop trail that I was doing?

Bamboo. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Flora. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

You get a slight view of Honolulu from the Moleka Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

As I passed the stranger I continued forward on the Manoa Cliff Trail. Having done this particular section in February, I was quite familiar with it and its landmarks. I knew to look for a tall plastic bench overlooking Manoa Valley. Just past this bench will be the junction that will lead you straight to the Puu Ohia trail or right and down toward Pauoa Flats trail. This is where things got a little tricky for me. Remember, I was relying on my memory of the route directions since I had forgotten my notes. I knew that from this point I had to find my way on to the Kalawahine trail. But did I need to use Puu Ohia as a connector or proceed down Manoa Cliff trail toward Pauoa Flats? I had no clue. So I sat down and proceeded to Google stuff. No connection on my phone, shit. My options at this point was to reverse track and try the super loop another day, or to continue on Puu Ohia and finished up on Round Top Drive (and maybe have someone pick me up). What to do, what to do.

Having a few moments to think of my options, I noticed that the stranger had caught up with me. In a funny turn of events, he asked me for help in finding the Nahuina trail. Hmmm, he was headed in the same direction that I had planned. I knew that Kalawahine intersected with Nahuina and so my interest peaked. He did have a set of directions that he had printed prior to coming. According to his directions, he would need to continue on the Manoa Cliff Trail to connect with Nahuina trail. I wanted to get on to the Kalawahine trail to connect with Nahuina trail. We were headed in the same direction. His directions noted that you should continue to the end of Manoa Cliff trail until you reach Nahuina. With that in mind, I suggested that we turn right here and down Manoa Cliff trail toward Pauoa Flats trail, and hopefully, we would hit Kalawahine and then Nahuina. His notes made no mention of Kalawahine and so I was a bit worried. Both of us being semi-lost, we decided to stick together and follower each other in hopes of finding our way out of this maze of trails.

Steps. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Obstructed City View. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Branch. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Shortly after leaving the Manoa Cliff and Puu Ohia junction, we reached another junction. Fortunately for us it was the Pauoa Flats and Kalawahine junction. A sigh of relief exited my mouth as I realized that we were on the right track. At this point I learned that my new friend was named Mike. I assured Mike that Kalawahine would end at Tantalus Drive and connect with the Nahuina trail. Why didn’t his set of instructions mention Kalawahine? It turns out that Kalawahine was actually formally part of the Manoa Cliff trail (as indicated on the trail sign). So his directions were correct, albeit outdated. Awesome. Great. Yes. No longer lost!

The rest of the way, it was just me and Mike. We didn’t pass anyone else other than a few folks at the starts of Kalawahine and later  when we reached the popular Kanealole section of the loop. The both of us got to talking and Mike eventually asked me if I “worked or was a student.” I laughed and told him that I’m actually a lecturer in the psychology department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He released an inquisitive ‘huh” and then mentioned that he was a professor of electrical engineering from Northwestern University. He noted that I looked very young and that I must have just received my PhD. I laughed and nodded in agreement. I couldn’t help but think about how funny it was that the both of us, with our PhDs, almost got ourselves lost.

Finally! A clear view outside of the valley. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The end of the Kalawahine Trail for us (the start for those other guys). Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The view from Tantalus Drive, as we crossed over from Kalawahine to the Nahuina Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Having Mike along for the ride made the time fly by. Eventually, we reached the end of Kalawahine and found ourselves on Tantalus Drive. We turned right on Tantalus Drive and eventually connected with the Nahuina trail. This short trail led us straight to a junction that connected with the Makiki Vally trail. At this point we both began to take notice of the many shama thrush that were seemingly following us throughout the super loop. These birds are very friendly and often will get very close to you.

Mike began asking me about Mango’s on the trail. I told him that I wasn’t aware of any mango’s on this trail, but that both avocado’s and mountain apple’s were abundant when in season. I eagerly told him about my search for mountain apples.

On Tantalus Drive, looking for the Nahuina trailhead. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Lovely Tree. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

This sign led us to the final leg of the super loop. A short trip on the Makiki Valley trail led us back on to Kanealole. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

At the Makiki Valley junction we turned left and continued for a short distance until we reached the Makiki Valley and Kanealole junction. This would be the last leg of my self-designed Makiki Super Loop. The Kanealole trail would lead us back to the Hawaii Nature Center. Mike reflected for a bit and then realized that he started off on the Kanealole trail and not the Maunalaha trail like I did. Needless to say, I am glad that the both of us eventually connected and found our way out of this intricate tangle of trails, junctions, and paved roads.

Once we reached the Hawaii Nature Center, we talked for a bit, and I gave Mike a few island suggestions. Shortly after, we parted ways. I couldn’t help but reflect on how great of an experience this was. Many people claim that the Honolulu Mauka Trail System is boring and lack any views. I beg to differ. The view is the intricacies of the valley. The view includes the unique fauna, fruit, looming trees, and groves of bamboo. The view overlooks Manoa Valley and the city of Honolulu. The view consists of the various birds that follow you and sing as you hike. The view is unique and refreshing, and at times, daunting and complicated.

Below you will find my route plan:

  1. Start at the Hawaii Nature Center.
  2. Right on the Maunalaha Trail.
  3. Reach the Maunalaha/Ualakaa/Makiki Valley Junction.
  4. Take the right on to Makiki Valley Trail.
  5. Reach the Makiki Valley/Moleka Junction.
  6. Left on the Moleka Trail.
  7. Reach Round Top Drive at the end of the Moleka Trail.
  8. Cross Round Top Drive and Continue on the Manoa Cliff Trail.
  9. Reach the Manoa Cliff/Puu Ohia Junction
  10. Turn right and down the Manoa Cliff Trail.
  11. Reach the Manoa Cliff/Pauoa Flats/Kalawahine Junction.
  12. Turn left on to the Kalawahine Trail.
  13. Reach Tantalus Drive at the end of the Kalawahine Trail.
  14. Turn right on Tantalus and continue to walk on the road until you reach the start of the Nahuina Trail.
  15. Continue on the Nahuina Trail.
  16. Reach the Nahuina/Makiki Valley Junction.
  17. Turn left and continue on the Makiki Valley Trail.
  18. Reach the Makiki Valley/Kanealole Junction.
  19. Turn right and descend down the Kanealole Trail.
  20. End at the Hawaii Nature Center.

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Explorers: Coty Gonzales and Michael Honig.

Total Time: Between 3-4 hours.

Directions: On Nehoa Street, you will turn mauka (toward the mountain) on to Makiki Street. The road will then fork, you will take the left fork on to Makiki Heights Drive. You will drive for about 0.5 mile until the road makes a sharp left turn. Keep an eye out for a row of mailboxes on the right side of the road. Drive past the mailboxes and through the green gate. You will see a sign that says Makiki Forest Restoration Area. A few feet from the gate you will notice a gravel parking lot on your left. This is where you will park. From here, you must proceed up the road on foot until you reach the public restroom just past the Hawaii Nature Center. A trail map is located behind the restroom and the trailhead is found to the left of the sign.

Exploration Hawaii’s Makiki Super Loop Trail. The lower loop portion denotes the much shorter traditional Makiki Loop Trail that I started on. Click for a larger view.

Makiki Super Loop Trail GPS Waypoints. Click for a larger view. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.

3 comments

    • Nice one, Art! I actually want to do the entire Honolulu Mauka Trail System in one shot (minus the ones that don’t connect (i.e. Waahila, Pia, Kolowalu). Could be fun!

      By the way, i’ve been wanting to hit you up on writing a guest post here on Trail Running in Hawaii. Maybe you’re favorite trails to run on + a few tips that you might have. What do you think?

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