Hey, it’s Flashback Friday! This is the Koko Crater Arch, an alternative route to the top of Koko Crater. We actually did this hike a while ago, but for some reason, the write-up and photos never found it way to the Exploration: Hawaii blog. Well, here it is. We might have to make Flashback Fridays a regular thing, considering I have tons old stuff that has not yet made it to the blog. We’ll see.
All posts tagged Hawaii Kai
The Kamiloiki Ridge Trail is a fine hike that will get you to the Koolau Summit in a relatively short amount of time. It’s also an unsanctioned and non-state trail, so if you do decide to do this one, it will be at your own risk. In many way’s, Kamiloiki is a mirror image to Mariner’s Ridge, Kuliouou Ridge, and Wiliwilinui Ridge, without the minor nuances of each. For instance, it won’t be as busy as Mariner’s Ridge, which sees very heavy traffic because of its popularity. You won’t have to deal with the constant switchbacks that pervade the Kuliouou Trail. Finally, you get to bypass the long dirt road at the start of Wiliwilunui. With that said, Kamiloiki Ridge might be my favorite eastern route up to the Koolaus.
I am fortunate that my job allows me to have a very flexible schedule. I’m a lecturer at the local University here, and so my schedule is very much like that of your typical college student. This means that I have a reasonable amount of free time on my hands. Oh yeah, I also still get winter break. Yes, being a University instructor is awesome.
The weather has been somewhat unpredictable over the last couple of weeks. Hardly any sunshine makes for a bum time. However, there were a few days that we did get a sparkle of Hawaiian sun. It just so happened that a couple days after Christmas, we were blessed with a sunny day. I decided to hit the trails with my cousin, Mike. Our options for the day was either an exciting yet long hike through Koloa Gulch, with Baron, Aprille, and a few other local hikers, or, Wiliwilinui Ridge, a hike that I’ve done in the past but Mike has never experienced. Mike and I decided that we would forego waking up in the wee hours of the morning and instead choose the much shorter, but still beautiful, Wiliwilinui Ridge.
Since I last visited nearly a year ago, there were two notable changes to the Wiliwilinui trail that I noticed. First, the colorfuly painted wooden swing in the clearing, midway through the hike, is no longer there. Bummer. Second, there have been a few more plastic erosion guards/steps installed in the last third of the hike. Other than that, same hike with the same beautiful view of Hawaii Kai and the Windward side.
I think Mike had an awesome time. For the non-hiker, Wiliwilinui offers some pretty stunning views both while you are working your way to the summit and when you’re at the top. It’s also a lovely cardio workout. Mike bikes a lot, but despite that, he thought that Wiliwilinui was a scorcher. I told him that it only felt that way because his legs weren’t used to this specific type of workout. That just means that we need to go on a few more hikes!
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.
When heading to to hike the Koko Crater stairs you take a left from Kalanianaole Highway onto Lunalilo Home Road. What if you turn right at Lunalilo Home Road? First of all, you’ll be driving into a residential area that consists of very rich residents. Second, you’ll be en route to a tiny treasure tucked away in Hawaii Kai. China Walls is what the locals call the rocky shoreline diving the Pacific Ocean from Koko Kai Mini Beach Park.
Koko Kai Mini Beach Park is, as the name implies, mini. The grassy square lot is located between two residential homes and consists of just a couple of trees and stone tiles leading to the beach. The real treasure of Koko Kai Mini Beach Park is its rocky and cliff-like shoreline. This area is a popular spot used by some of the more extreme local surfers and body boarders. You’ll also find people setting up their fishing poles here. However, the real appeal is the cliff-jumping opportunities offered by the rocky and raised shoreline.
Locals love to hang out at China Walls and haphazardly jump into the ocean. If you decide to drive out to his spot with the idea of jumping off the cliff then be sure to bring along your better judgement. Jumping from the cliff is extremely dangerous. Heck, standing near the cliff can be extremely dangerous. The waves here are very powerful. You could easily be swept off the cliff and into the water in a split second. In fact, this recently happened to a friend of mine. When she learned of my visit to China Walls, she messaged me on Facebook, “If you find my knee and my slippers and a pint of blood… bring them back for me.”
Explorers: Coty Gonzales and Joel Sabugo
Food for thought and deaths at China Walls:
- Hawaii Kai Man Dies in High Surf
- Hundreds Assisted During High Surf Warning
- Portlock Spot Claims Third Life This Year
- Diver’s Death Prompts Criminal Investigation
Directions to Koko Kai Mini Beach Park (China Walls): Take the H-1 east bound toward Hawaii Kai. Continue straight on Kalanianaole Highway (HI-71) and then turn right at Lunalilo Home Road. Turn left on Poipu Drive. Take the 3rd right onto Hanapepe Loop. Take the 2nd right onto Hanapepe Pl. Koko Kai Mini Beach Park is located between two residential homes. Find parking along Hanapepe Loop.
A couple months back, I attempted Makapu’u to Mt. Olympus but was only able to make it to Wiliwilinui due to a couple reasons. Recently, I decided to finally finish that hike and to take care of another section of the Ko’olau Summit Trail (KST). This time, I went back to the Wiliwilinui summit, which I previously bailed out from, and walked over to Mt. Olympus.
I used the Wailupe Loop trail to connect to Wiliwilinui rather than taking the standard route up the ridge. The trail head is nestled at the end of one of Hawaii Kai’s valleys: Aina Haina. When driving East of Honolulu on the Kalanianaole Hwy, turn left onto West Hind Dr., then make a left onto Nohu St. and then a final right onto Hao Street. Simply follow this street to its end where you will find a rusted old gate.
Go around the gate and you will be on the Wailupe trail. Traditionally, hikers will start this trail, turn left onto Wiliwilinui, make a right at the summit then walk back to the rusted gate to complete the Wailupe Loop. But for my purposes, I used this route to connect to the Wiliwilinui ridge then made a left at the summit.
After passing the rusted gate, walk in a straight line and you will soon find ribbons that will help guide you. There will be a couple intersections along the way, always choose to go north. The trail is fairly steep in some areas but always safe. The trail will mainly go straight until it switches direction towards West as it starts to climb the Wiliwilinui Ridge. Here you will find the steepest sections of the trail along with relatively narrow sections to walk over. It will also be easy to lose the trail at this point so expect to get a little lost in overgrown sections just minutes away from Wiliwilinui.
You will eventually enter the Wiliwilinui trail on a wide open dirt road. You will already be at 1500+ feet elevation and will need another 1000 or so feet of climbing before you summit. From here on, the trail will be very straightforward. Simply follow the path as you utilize the steps and ropes. The final section before the summit may be the most difficult part of the hike as it gains elevation quickly with the stairs. The KST portion here will mostly be flat or a down climb.
On a clear day the majority of the Windward side will be visible. You will also notice a trail leading from the end of Olomana connecting to the KST. You will be at the top of the Lanipo Windward trail that connects to Ahiki when you summit Lanipo in about half an hour as you walk left of Wiliwilinui.
Throughout this portion of the KST, expect some mud but there is very little overgrowth and the trail is obvious. You will be walking very close to the Windward edge but there are many strong plants stopping you from falling over so there is little fear associated here unless it is extremely windy and/or wet.
You may have noticed the panoramas have a high horizon line and look taller than usual panoramas. This is because I am using 2 rows of images to stitch one panorama to increase how much can be seen from the summits.
As you pass the Lanipo summit you will find 2 giant power poles that tower over Ka’au Crater. You can descend into the crater if you so choose from this point. While you stand on the west rim, you will get a good angle for both Ka’au and Diamond Head Crater. On a clear day, Koko Crater should also be available.
Somewhat steep climb awaits before the Olympus summit but it is nothing to worry about if you have some KST experience in the past. Once getting to the Olympus summit, you can exit through the Kolowalu trail as I did or connect to the Manoa Middle trail to either exit through the Pu’u Pia trail or continue on towards Konahuanui.
Overall, this is a fairly simple and easy KST hike. It took me just a bit over 6 hours but I went at a moderate pace so I would not tire out for the next day’s hike. This can easily be done a bit under 5 hours if you’re speedy and limit how many pictures you take. The views are great as usual on the KST but be sure to hike earlier in the day before the clouds roll in.
One of my goals is to complete all of the Honolulu hikes listed in Stuart Ball’s popular book, The Hikers Guide to Oahu. Eventually I would like to finish the entire book but for now my focus will be on completing Honolulu. Up to this point I had completed 5 of the 15 Honolulu trails. Kuliouou Ridge Trail would be my number 6.
After reading the various reviews of Kuliouou Ridge (it’s one of the more popular trails on Oahu), I figured that it would take us between 3-4 hours to complete the hike from start to finish. With that in mind, we started the hike a bit late in the day at 12:50pm. We made stops prior to the hike to feed our hungry stomachs. Fresh musubis from Manabus and Gulick Deli always do the trick. With our appetites satisfied, we headed toward Hawaii Kai.
Kuliouou Ridge Trail is located just past the Hawaii Loa Ridge Trail and before the Mariners Ridge Trail. Make your way on to H1 east bound and continue on to Kalanianaole Highway and then turn left on to Kuliouou Road. Follow the road just before it ends and then turn right at Kalaau Pl. The trailhead is locate the end of this street. Make your way past the Board of Water Supply concrete resevoir and follow the road until you see a Hunting/Hiking trail sign on your left. This is the start of the trail. Follow the path until you reach a metal marker indicating the split to the Kuliouou Valley and Kuliouou Ridge Trails. On this day, we chose the Kuliouou Ridge Trail.
The trail reminds me a lot of the Hawaii Loa Ridge Trail, which makes sense considering that they are right next to each other. Both start off a bit dry and then end up a bit wet toward later portions of the hike. One thing that I did notice about the Kuliouou Ridge Trail is the crazy number of switchbacks during the first half of the hike. It seemed like switchback after switchback. In fact, it’s probably so common for people to cut through the switchbacks that they needed to install a sign indicating the hazards of cutting through the trail. This was actually the first time that I encountered such a sign.
Pass switchback hell, you will encounter a seemingly open area of pine trees (be on the lookout for metal arrow guides screwed into the trees). You will then encounter your first resting spot. This is a nice area to stop, gather your breath, and have a swig of water. The two picnic tables also make it a great place to have lunch and then turn around if you so choose.
Continuing on the trail you will notice the the incline becomes more intense. You will also notice that the trail will have become much more wet. Eventually, you will encounter a set of stairs that are very similar to the ones that you find at Hawaii Load Ridge. I counted the steps and there are a total of 276 steps. It’s not that bad! Take breaks when you need them and continue on. The last set of steps will be the longest, with a total of 189 continuous steps. At the end of the steps, though, will be the peak of Kuliouou Ridge.
The peak of Kuliouou Ridge, on a clear day, is a very rewarding one. You get beautiful views of the Windward side and can see all the way to Kahana Valley. To the right you will also be able to see all of Hawaii Kai and even Koko Crater. It’s a beautiful lookout point. While you’re at the top, be on the lookout for the hidden Geocache!
The original plan was for us to make out way to Pu’u O Kona from the top of Kuliouou Ridge. We did make it halfway to Pu’u O Kona but then decided to turn around. The distance between the two is not very far, it’s only about 20-30 minutes. However, It had become crazy windy and Joel did not come prepared in proper hiking shoes (he had casual Nike’s instead). So we decided to try this another day, maybe in reverse and instead go from Pu’u O Kona to Kuliouou Ridge.
In our quest to fully explore Koko Head Crater, we decided to ascend the mauka side of the crater rim. Mauka refers to an area toward the mountain, while makai refers to an area toward the ocean. If you remember, a few weeks ago Marvin and I did the makai side of the crater rim (see accompanying video). We started that off by trekking up the Koko Head stairs trail and the descending down the makai side of the crater. It was a fun trail, with a few intense sections (narrow ridges) at the initial descent. The rest of that trail was pretty much a piece of cake.
The mauka side of the Koko Head crater rim is a different beast.
First of all, you will need to trespass in order to access the trail head. And speaking of the trail head, it’s more of a makeshift trail head. We actually parked across the street of the crater in a residential area (see directions below) and then hopped over a fence into the perimeter of the Koko Head botanical gardens. From there, you basically work your way up towards the crater. There are no ribbons, and the trail toward the crater isn’t really defined. Eventually, you will hit the lower portion of the mauka rim. Once you’re there, work your way up towards the crater lookout.
Earlier I mentioned that the mauka side is a different beast from the makai side. It really is. You’ll encounter not just narrow ridges but also sections of the trail that will involve some free climbing. See the video and photos below for some examples.
I have to say that I had a great time doing the mauka rim trail. The narrow sections and rock climbing made my heart pound while the sunset added that extra thrill of trying to finish before it became too dark. Speaking of the sunset, it made the entire trail that much more beautiful.
Koko Head Crater – Mauka Side Rim Trail Tips:
- Start either early in the morning or later in the afternoon. There’s no shade so this trail will get hot. The experience will be better if you go when it’s cool.
- You’ll encounter a lot of dry bush and cacti on the trail and because of this I suggest wearing a pair of long pants. I didn’t and therefore suffered a few scratches and cuts to my legs.
- Allot yourself about 1.5 hours to do this trail. It will take about 30 minutes to get from your car and then work your way through the bushes towards the start of the crater rim trail. From there, it should take about an hour to reach the lookout point at the top of Koko Head Crater.
- It would be useful to bring two cars, if not then you’ll end up walking some distance. If you want to go up the mauka side and then go down the stairs then I would suggest having someone park in the resident area for the trail head and then have someone else park at the bottom of the Koko Head Crater stairs. Alternatively, you can have the second car park at Sandy Beach if you decide to do the entire crater rim and go down the makai side. Or, to make this trail even more challenging, you can go down the same you went up. I’ve read that going down the mauka side is more difficult than going up it.
- If you do decide to use just one car and decide to park in the residential then you will have to do some trespassing. Continue reading below below for more information.
The original plan was for us to do the entire crater rim – up mauka side and then down makai side. We ended up hitting the trail a bit later than expected and by the time we made it to the lookout the sun had pretty much set. So going down the other side of the rim was out of the question. Instead, we decided to go down the stairs and then walk back to the car located in Hawaii Kai Drive. And this is where things went from fun to sort of thrilling.
Going down the stairs was, by all accounts, standard fare. Except we did it in pitch dark. To help us make our way down we used both flashlights and headlamps. When we finally reached the bottom, we found ourselves in a slight dillema. The walk back to the car was pretty far. In fact, it would be a total of 2.5 miles from Koko Head District Park to Kekaa Street off of Hawaii Kai Drive (where we parked). Armed with the Maps app on my iPhone, we forged our own route that basically cut through Kaiser High School. To do this, you would theoretically (I say theoretically because, of course, we didn’t trespass and of course we turned around and walked back to the designated public route) need to follow the road to the right (rather than left) once you reach he bottom of the stairs. Follow the path far enough and you will reach the end of the paved road leading to a dirt path. This dirt path will lead you to a ditch located in the back of residential housing. From there, we theoretically followed the ditch until we theoretically reached a farm that was not gated, and one that we could cut through. We later found out that the farm was actually Otsuji Farms. Cut through the farm and you will reach a public road that theoretically led us to Kaiser High School. Sweet. We then theoretically cut through Kaiser High School and then theoretically found ourselves back on Lunalilo Home Road had we done this. It was a long walk to Hawaii Kai Drive, but the theoretical short cut made it a bit easier to tolerate. It was a mini adventure within an adventure.
Directions: To start on the Mauka side of Koko Crater, we parked on Kekaa Street. From Lunalilo Home Road, you will turn right onto Hawaii Kai Drive. Follow Hawaii Kai Drive and then you will turn left into Mokuhana Street and then make quick right on Kekaa Street. We parked along this street. Remember, this is a residential area so try and be as quiet and discreet as possible. Also, remember to park at least 5 feet from any driveways or your car may get towed.
If you’ve completed the Koko Head Stairs Trail and are itching to get your hike on even more, then I’d suggest doing the Kaluanui Ridge hike, or, as it is better known, Mariner’s Ridge. This particular trail is located in Hawaii Kai near the southeastern tip of Oahu. The Mariner’s Ridge Hike is a good next step hike and will offer you a better idea of what hiking in Hawaii is all about compared to Koko Head Stairs. The first thing to note is that this hike is very doable and because of this it can at times be very busy. As you trek this trail you will notice people of all ages and athletic ability. Some will be using hiking sticks, while others will be running their way up. It should take no more than an hour to reach the summit of Mariner’s Ridge, even with a considerable amount of breaks.
For the most part, the trail is quite flat with a steady incline. The trail is a bit dry so you won’t have to worry too much about mud. You will find the occasional large boulder that you’ll need to step over, but nothing too strenuous. There is no rock climbing involved and no rope to assist (it’s not needed). Once you’ve reached an area of the trail with a large dirt and rock wall and cascading roots and greenery (see photo below), you’ve reached the end. Continue a few more feet and you will have gotten to the summit of Mariner’s Ridge. In front of you will be a grand view of the Windward side of Oahu. Congratulation, you’ve made it to the top of the Ko’olau’s (the easy way).
Take the H-1 freeway eastbound. Continue on H-1 and it will become Kalanianaole Highway. Turn left on Keahole Street. Keahole will eventually merge with Hawaii Kai Drive. Continue on Hawaii Kai Drive. After you pass the Hawaii Kai post office, you will turn left onto Kaluanui Road. Follow Kaluanui Road until you cannot drive any further. The end of the road marks the start of the Mariner’s Ridge Trail.
Mariner’s Ridge Trail Tips:
- You will need to park in residential area so please be respectful of your surroundings.
- Don’t park within five feet of driveways, you may get towed.
- A single bottle of water will probably be enough for this hike. You don’t need to go overboard with the water here.
- For the more adventurous, try going down the rock face towards the left of the summit. It will get your adrenaline pumping after the meager trek up.
Explorers: Coty Gonzales and Michelle Sagucio.