Palehua-Palikea: A Restricted Hike Featuring Native Hawaiian Plants, Snails, and Spiders

Palehua has been on my to-do list for over a year now. It’s one of those hikes on the island that is very difficult to gain access to. The trailhead is located at the end of a 6-mile private road that runs through Camp Timberline. Furthermore, the private road is blocked off by two gates. From around 2010-2011, it was reported that one could gain access by getting into contact with the Palehua Ranch caretaker, who would then go ahead and give you the necessary keys to access the trailhead. This is no longer the case. Don’t bother trying, because I’ve been there and have tried that. I contacted the caretaker and he told me that the public is now only allowed on the trail during coordinated hikes. He told me to text him my email and he would send me information for the next hike. He never got back to me. However, I did look up the hiking schedule of the two official hiking clubs on the island, the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club and the Sierra Club. Bingo.

Let's go hike! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Let’s go hike! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Almost immediately after starting, our guide Clyde, began pointing out native Hawaiian plants. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Almost immediately after starting, our guide Clyde, began pointing out native Hawaiian plants. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Although the HTMC does offer Palehua on its hiking schedule, it is listed as a members only hike (and I am not yet a member). Fortunately, the Sierra Club leaves it open to the general public. I was in. I put in my RSVP over a month in advance (because the hike was limited to 35 people). I wanted to make sure that the Exploration: Hawaii crew would be able to attend.

Fuzzy. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Fuzzy. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

The day started with us meeting at Makakilo Community Park at 8am in the morning. It was very windy and extremely cold in Makakilo that morning, and the gusty weather would follow us to the trail. About 14 people showed up for the hike, this included the four Sierra Club coordinators. After a short briefing, we drove down to the end of Umena Street at the top of Makakilo. You’ll run into your first gate here. Past the first gate, you’ll pass a working ranch and you should see cows and horses. The road meanders for a bit until you reach a second gate. You’ll drive a little more after passing the second gate and then you’ll finally end up at what looks like a satellite station of sorts. I counted three very tall satellite towers. The trailhead is located to the right of these towers.

Before we started, the Sierra Club did yet another debriefing, this time, they discussed the official Sierra Club hiking rules. First off all, they made Ahnate put on shoes. If you’ve ever hiked with him then you know that he likes to hike very minimal, meaning that he either goes barefoot or uses his trademark barebones sandals. Fortunately, we had an extra pair of shoes in the 4Runner. The second rule that caught me off guard was the bathroom rule. They told us that if we ever needed to use the bathroom, that we would need to leave our backpack on the trail. Interesting.

Joel walking through the Palehua rock tunnel. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel walking through the Palehua rock tunnel. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Ahnate walking through the famous Palehua rock tunnel. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Ahnate walking through the famous Palehua rock tunnel. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Getting closer to snails. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Getting closer to snails. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Finally, we were off and on the Palehua trail. Nearly as soon as we started, the rain began to fall. The trail begins by dipping down steeply and then following a relatively flat path to the summit, with very minimal ascents. There are a couple portions of the trail that will put you on exposed ridge, giving you sweeping views from Kunia to town. On the opposite end, you’ll have views of Nanakuli, looking toward Waianae. You’ll notice the formidable Heleakala and the backside of the Hawaiian Pyramid.

Looking towards Heleakala. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Looking towards Heleakala. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Along the trail, you’ll eventually cross a metal gate that is intended to keep destructive feral pigs away. Beyond this area will be two sections that are notable and deserve special attention. The first area is known to be a hot location for spotting the Happy Face Spider (Theridion grallator) or Nananana Makaki`i, which is native to Hawaii. These little spiders are super tiny. The ones that we saw were about 1-2mm big and nearly translucent. More so, they love to hang out the underside of leaves. You’ve got to be a spider ninja to spot these guys. Luckily, we had one such person on the trail and almost immediately, she found one of the Happy Face Spiders. We all took turns taking photos. I had my Olloclip with me, so this was the perfect chance to test out the macro lens on the Olloclip. I was pretty satisfied with the shots I got using the combination of iPhone 5 and Olloclip. Fortunately, by the time we reached the “spider tree,” the rain had subsided, and the clouds were beginning to clear.

Nearing the snails. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Nearing the snails. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

The popular Happy Face Spider. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The popular Happy Face Spider. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Going photo crazy. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Going photo crazy. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

The tree snails loved those ribbons. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

The tree snails loved those ribbons. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

They called these guys Snot-In-The-Hat. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

They called these guys Snot-In-The-Hat. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

Native Hawaiian Tree Snail. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Native Hawaiian Tree Snail. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Macro shots of a Native Hawaiian Tree Sail. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Macro shots of a Native Hawaiian Tree Sail. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

The second notable section is an area known to be the home of native Hawaiian tree snails. We spotted a ton of these guys, ranging in different sizes. For some reason, they loved to hang out on the trail ribbons that marked their location. We spent about an hour in this one location. During this time, we spotted over 10 native Hawaiian tree snails. Pretty rad.

Eventually, we did reach the end of the trail, overlooking Lualualei Valley. The small clearing made for the perfect lunch spot. The Exploration: Hawaii crew feasted on homemade musubis, courtesy of my wife Michelle. Musubis make for the perfect mid-hike snack. By this time, the clouds had really cleared, giving us some amazing views of the Waianae coast.

Checking out the summit views. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Checking out the summit views. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Michelle made us some homemade musubi's. So good! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Michelle made us some homemade musubi’s. So good! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Ahnate enjoying a musubi! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Ahnate enjoying a musubi! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Ahnate, Coty, Joel, and Allison. Photo by Sierra Club Member.

Ahnate, Coty, Joel, and Allison. Photo by Sierra Club Member.

This was my first time hiking with the Sierra Club. Overall, it was a good experience. I did notice that the Sierra Club coordinators had a ton of knowledge when it came to native plants and animals. They often stopped the hike to point out native plants. The only thing that I didn’t really care for were the frequent and extended stops. This is basically the major different between HTMC and Sierra Club. With HTMC, you go at your own pace, which means you can go fast or slow. With the Sierra Club, you hike as a group. So if the leader stop, everyone stops. And we stopped a lot on the trip back because the sweeper (the person at the end of the trail), took frequent breaks to photograph plant life. I did expect this, though, since the hike was labelled as a “photography hike,” but I didn’t expect that the hike home would go as slow as it did. Nonetheless, it was a good time filled with fun and interesting people and I even got to make some new friends and contacts.

Explorers: Coty Gonzales, Ahnate Lim, Joel Sabugo, Allison Baird, and the Sierra Club of Hawaii.

Down the stairs. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Down the stairs. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Ahnate shooting something. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Ahnate shooting something. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Kunia in the background. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Kunia in the background. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Stoked. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Stoked. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Going home. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

Going home. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

Sierra Club leaders making their way. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Sierra Club leaders making their way. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

On the way back, we stopped to take a look toward Heleakala and the crossover that would lead to Palehua-Palikea. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

On the way back, we stopped to take a look toward Heleakala and the crossover that would lead to Palehua-Palikea. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

Allison and Ahnate looking into the distance. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Allison and Ahnate looking into the distance. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Looking up. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

Looking up. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

Back to reality. Driving down the restricted road. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Back to reality. Driving down the restricted road. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Total Distance: 4 miles

Total Time: ~6 hours roundtrip (It was a slow paced hike because of all the photography. Without the photography, I see this as being a 2.5 hour hike or less.)

Palehua-Palikea Trail Tips:

  • If you’re interested in doing this hike, then be sure to check when either the Sierra Club or the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club will be doing it next.
  • Have a rain jacket handy.
  • Photographers would benefit from having a macro lens to shoot all of the tiny creatures.Thanks to Allison for letting us borrow her Macro lens!
  • iPhone photographers should consider picking up an Olloclip for macro photography.

Directions to Palehua-Palikea Trail: Access to this one is restricted and the trailhead is located on a private road.

About Coty

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

8 comments

    • Thanks Lovey! Yeah, the Sierra Club is also very knowledgeable about the various plant and animal life! Do you hike with the Sierra Club in your state?

      • Very knowledgeable indeed! When I was there a couple months ago was hoping to get out with them on some of their hikes but it didn’t work out in my schedule. Will be back again this August and hoping to get out with them. Haven’t had a chance to got out with the Sierra Club here in my state yet, although I’m a member. 🙂

  1. I am going on this hike (Palehua-Palikea) this weekend and have two questions I am hoping you can answer…my 12 year old daughter is supposed to go with me – is this hike ok for kids? and on a related note, she gets SUPER car sick…how is the drive past the gates? Thanks!

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