One of the interesting findings along the spine of the Ko’olaus is the grassy plateaus that are often completely windswept and accompanied by incredible views of Windward Oahu. More common in Central Oahu, these meadows are spread out along the Ko’olau Summit Trail (KST, or KSRT [Ko’olau Summit Ridge Trail] when discussing the sections East of Kipapa) and take some effort to reach. Possibly the most prized of these meadows would be the one in Waimalu.
The Waimalu meadow is the largest of the meadows and is considered a ‘mythical’ spot by ‘hikers’. This meadow is also known as ‘land of the lost’ as it looks completely different from anything else you may have seen in all of Hawaii, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
On this day, I would join Troy, Thessa, Andrew, and Jose on a day long trek from Waimalu to Waimano. Instead of simply going up and down the Waimalu Middle ridge to visit the meadows, we decided to make it a crossover hike where we would come down the Waimano trail in Pearl City. This would make the day less boring and also allow us to enjoy the views for a longer period of time as we would traverse the KSRT for a bit over an hour if the weather cooperated (Spoiler alert! – It would phenomenally).
The day started with all of us meeting at McDonald’s, the home of the Big Mac and all your other favorite burgers, at the bottom of Waimano Home Rd. We would then all drive to the end of said road to stage 2 cars then continue on to Onikiniki Pl. to reach the start of the Waimalu Ditch trail. As usual for staging cars, remember to leave a change of clothes and refreshments in the cars you would reach at the end of the hike (very easy to forget) and take care when parking in neighborhoods (never block driveways or mailboxes). Both parking locations seemed safe, although none of the cars were mine so it didn’t matter to me how safe these locations were.
From Onikiniki Pl., head towards the security check-in and to your left you will see the beginning of the ditch trail. Begin the trail and soon you will reach a junction, go left and you will begin to lose elevation as you head West but soon the trail will turn North towards the summit. The trail was fairly obvious when we went, and you will spend about 2 hours doing the traditional ditch trail before you reach the Waimalu Middle ridge that will finally take you to the meadows. On the ditch trail, you’ll cross 8 streams before reaching the 3 ribbon HTMC rest stop with a large pool (although HTMC went further in their last outing on this trail).
From this rest spot, continue the trail by crossing the stream and you will encounter another stream crossing with a not so obvious rope that directs you up the next section. From here, navigate to the ridge that is just a bit to the right of the stream bed. There are ribbons leading to it, but this area was terribly overgrown and finding the base was not easy. Once on the ridge though, the trail is fairly wide open for a non-state trail that isn’t that popular. There is only one route so don’t worry about getting lost here even if socked in.
At the base of the ridge, you’ll be at about 600ft elevation and will need to gain about 2000ft before reaching the summit. There are a few steep sections and a couple narrow spots as well which must be carefully navigated if windy. The first half is nothing exciting; it’ll be a relentless climb up for the most part. On the upper sections, you’ll get clear views of the surrounding ridges, including Waiau on the left and Halawa and Aiea on the right. You may even see an upside-down waterfall on the side of Waiau if it has been raining recently.
Expect the ridge to take between 2 and 4hrs. We would reach the Waimalu summit in about 5.5 hours total starting from the parking lot that included plenty of breaks. With his extra lanky and extra white legs, Andrew set a nice, brisk pace during the final stretch of the ridge which is most demanding as it has you climb many mossy sections that quickly suck the energy out of you.
We were greeted with hazy, but still excellent, views on the summit. Not wanting to risk getting socked in before we got to the meadows; we quickly took a few pictures and headed to the meadows in front of us. Instead of simply following the KSRT, we ultimately picked a random ridge in front of us and made our way down.
We would spend over an hour at the meadows. It was extra windy, at one point my lens cap flew about 40 yards, but I would be able to find it with Jose’s help. For the meadows, I would recommend shutter speeds of at least 1/500th of a second or faster to ensure camera shake is minimized as much as possible. If sunny, getting 1/2000th or quicker will be easy but socked in conditions paired with high winds will make taking non-blurry pictures here very difficult.
After taking a bazillion photos on the meadows (I would end up with about 250 pictures here, although most were fodder for panoramas), we walked towards the Windward side to begin the traverse along the KSRT (make a left). The KSRT here is overgrown and thorny, full body coverage will make it more bearable but the overgrowth wasn’t too bad. Be aware that the KSRT here does get narrow, at times less than a couple feet wide, although there are many sturdy plants up there to use as support.
As you begin the KSRT section, you’ll soon see Waihe’e valley on one side and the meadows on the other behind you. The Waihe’e valley bowl almost looks like a crater with 2 craggy ridges encompassing it. On the East side, you have the Kalahaku Teeth that leads you to Waimalu from the Windward side. To the West, there’s Ulimakoli (aka Eleao Windward).
From the meadows, it took us about 1:15 to reach the summit of Waiau while taking a couple breaks and taking many pictures because we lucked out with the weather that day. It would be another 15 minutes or so before we reached the Waimano terminus. If you’re feeling extra frisky, you can continue onto the Manana trail, which generally takes between 90 and 120 minutes from Waimano. The main benefit here would be reaching another meadow, Eleao, before reaching the Manana summit.
After another break on the Waimano summit, we began the long, boring walk down Waimano. Waimano is nice at the end of a long hike because it is gradual and gentle on the knees but there’s nothing special about it and it is 7 miles long. It’s a state trail and well-marked. When you get to the stream, look to the right when you cross to continue. At the picnic table, take the trail on the left. You’ll soon hit the trail head, follow the fence back to your cars.
This hike would have been easier and a bit quicker if we did it in reverse, so maybe do that. This route could easily be done in less than 10 hours for fast groups. From the meadows, you can also make a right on the summit to reach Aiea. Waimalu Middle ridge is physically demanding, prepare for a long day for any route you choose to reach the meadows. If you do this route in reverse, remember to save some energy for the end of the hike as you will need to go uphill to exit the ditch trail. The meadows are worth it.
Explorers: Andrew, Jose, Marvin, Thessa, and Troy
All pictures by Marvin Chandra