Koko Head, Hawaii Kai, Oahu, Hawaii

September 8, 2014 Categories Hiking, Trails, Travel, USA

After living in Hawaii for four years and enjoying many spectacular hikes, I always went to a particular hike far more than any other – Koko Head in Hawaii Kai on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. I absolutely loved this hike and it’s one of the trails I miss the most now that I’m not there anymore.

20110122-006_FotorKoko Head is actually an old Army lookout station and the trail itself is the remnants of an old railway car system built up the side of the mountain and leading to the old concrete bunkers. In total, there are 1,048 “stairs” up the side of the mountain (the “stairs” are railway ties which still have track attached to them). Every 100 stairs there are markings to indicate how far you have gone.

The climb is a fairly intense workout. For the first 500 stairs, things aren’t very steep. Each step is around the height of a normal stair, with the exception of a few spots. I consider this section of the trail my warm-up period.

20110122-026_FotorDirectly after the first 500 steps there is what everyone commonly refers to as “The Bridge” (pictured to the right). The Bridge is a section of track that is raise about 15 feet from the ground to pass over a small crevasse. Many people are scared of The Bridge. It’s definitely a test of balance, as you’re walking up or down a fairly good slope while stepping over gaps trying to firmly plant your foot on a solid area of the partially rotting railway ties. Over the years, I’ve seen people cry, crawl, and whimper across this section. For those who choose not to brave it, there is also a side trail that allows you to go around The Bridge. If you happen to choose The Bridge and it has just rained, be very careful because it becomes extremely slippery.

After The Bridge comes the real workout, as the next 500 stairs become increasingly steep the further you go. This is the part of the trail I love. It’s never easy, but as long as you keep pushing yourself you will make it to the top. And once you plant your foot down after that last step, hopefully you will feel a sense of accomplishment – even if it’s buried deep down within your sweaty, tired, and likely out of breath self.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. Once you arrive at the top of the stairs, follow the trail to the right to enjoy a short climb to the very top of the mountain. From the top, you can check out the old Army bunkers, the constantly changing graffiti, and have a seat on some old metal grating while looking out over the ocean. Directly down below is the town of Hawaii Kai. To the left you can see Hanauma Bay, a popular place for snorkeling and checking out sea turtles. To the right, you can see Diamond Head (another popular, but easy hike) and downtown Honolulu. Personally, I recommend going up to watch the sunset over the city. If it’s a Friday night, stay up there until it gets dark; at 7:45pm, you can watch the fireworks go off. But be careful, you may need a flashlight to get back down.

On a clear night, my favorite thing to do was to sit up there and look at the stars. It’s a spectacular view from the top, day or night.

Difficulty: Moderate.

Elevation: 1,207 ft

Length of hike: The trail is roughly 1.2 miles, round-trip. Many people take around 45 minutes to reach the top; my personal goal was always around 30 minutes or less. If you can reach the top in under 20 minutes, you are a pinnacle of fitness. The closest I ever came was 23 minutes.

Best time to go: Early morning or late afternoon/evening. Early morning, you can catch the sunrise and get out before it gets too hot. The late afternoon/evening, you can watch the sunset and enjoy the cool evening air.

Worst time to go: Between 9am and 4pm the Hawaii sun can become pretty brutal on this trail. The entire trail is open and uncovered, with little to no shade. Once the sun rises in the sky, you will begin to feel the heat and will have a much more difficult climb. I learned the hard way on my first go at Koko Head, reaching the top around 11am. Never again.

Fun fact: Koko Head is one of only three crater hikes on Oahu. The other two are Diamond Head, which is an easier hike, and Ka’au Crater, which is a significantly more difficult hike due to its length, narrow trails, slippery slopes, and the fact that you have to climb up three waterfalls. If you go to Oahu, I challenge you to do all three crater hikes while there – they are worth it.

Hawaii Loa Ridge Trail, Hawaii Kai, Oahu, Hawaii

September 4, 2014 Categories Hiking, Trails, Travel, USA

The Hawaii Loa Ridge is a hike I did with my friend Janice on a whim one day after being told by someone at work that it had a “bamboo forest” (which it doesn’t). I’ve only done this hike once, but I will always remember its brutality and sinking feeling in my gut when reaching the bottom of the final summit. Although you can see the final ridge from a distance, it doesn’t really sink in until you’re standing at the bottom of it looking up and thinking “what the hell am I about to do?”

The first half of the trail is a pretty mellow trek along dry, stable ground. It has great views, an easy to locate path, and a good amount of shade to keep cool. Surprisingly, there aren’t a lot of steep drop-offs and narrow paths like Ka’au Crater has. Since our friend had told us there was a bamboo forest, the entire time we were hiking we just kept thinking “I wonder where the bamboo is?” Little did we know that there is no bamboo forest on this trail.

After the first section of trail is complete, you’ll find yourself standing at the bottom of the climb up. From a distance, we stopped and just starred at it for a few moments trying to take it all in. It looked as if it ascending straight up. This section is very steep, very muddy and slippery, and will require the use of ropes, which are provided. It half reminded me of the steps along Kuli’ou’ou Ridge and half of Koko Head for its steepness near the top.

Once you finally finish the climb, you can enjoy the beautiful view. It’s almost an identical view to Kuli’ou’ou Ridge (since it ends on the same ridge line), but a much more intense method of reaching it.

Climbing back down can be a pain, so take your time and be very careful. Definitely use the ropes when they are provided.

Difficulty: Intense.

Elevation: 1,700 ft

Length of hike: The trail is 7 miles, round-trip. It will take between 3 and 4 hours to hike, depending on your conditioning and how often you stop (or slip).

Best time to go: Early on a clear day. Many hikers are disappointed when finishing the hike and unable to see the magnificent views due to the ridge being surrounded by a cloud of mist. Although there is a lot of shade, this is a pretty tough hike for most people and it takes awhile to complete; try to get there early in an attempt to beat as much heat as possible.

Worst time to go: On a wet day. This trail can be slippery on dry days; it can be a disaster on wet days. If it just rained, don’t do this trail.

To gain entry: The trailhead is located within the Hawaii Loa gated community. Stop at the guard shack on the way in. In order to gain access, the driver of the vehicle **MUST** have either a Hawaii state ID/drivers license or a military ID. All other vehicle occupants don’t need to present ID, but will have to sign a liability waiver.

Kolowalu Trail, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

September 1, 2014 Categories Hiking, Trails, Travel, USA

20140901-021_Fotor20140901-018_FotorThe Kolowalu Trail is a moderate hike and has very few people along the path. I’ve only done the trail once and I think we encountered two other groups during the time we were out there. It offers stunning views into the Manoa Valley and downtown Honolulu, as well as acts as an entry point for a couple other trails – the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail and Mount Olympus.

The trail head is actually the same path for two different hikes: the Pu’u Pia Trail and the Kolowalu Trail. About 5 minutes in, the trail divides. The Pu’u Pia Trail is the path to the left, the Kolowalu Trail goes off to the right.

This was a pretty rocky trail, with a number of wet spots. The climb has some decently steep sections. Stop along the path to enjoy the beautiful rooted ground, tall trees, and green vines – we stopped a number of times to rest and enjoy the view. The trail makes somewhat of a zigzag pattern as you climb.

Eventually you will reach the Kolowalu-Wa’ahila junction along the crest of Wa’ahila Ridge (there are signs letting you know). For us, it took a little over an hour to reach it. This is the end of the Kolowalu Trail. From there, you can either forge on and hike part of the Wa’ahila Ridge until you reach the path for Mount Olympus, or you can turn around like we did and save those hikes for a different day.

20140901-023_FotorDifficulty: Moderate.

Elevation: 1,100 ft

Length of hike: The trail is about 2 miles long, round-trip. It takes about 3 hours to make a round-trip hike due to the steep, wet, and rocky climb. Of course, you could easily turn this into a much longer hike by hiking part of the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail while you’re at it.

Best time to go: This trail was fairly shaded, so any time of day should be fine. Just make sure you have enough daylight hours to make it up there and back. Also, try to pick a dry day to go in hopes that the trail isn’t as wet.

Worst time to go: During or after a rainstorm. Also, I wouldn’t recommend starting the trail after 3pm to ensure you have enough light to make it back down. With all the rocks and slippery surfaces, it’s very easy to slip and twist an ankle.

Diamond Head, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

August 18, 2014 Categories Hiking, Trails, Travel, USA

Diamond Head is a hugely popular tourist attraction on the south-eastern shore of Oahu. Due to it’s relatively close proximity to Waikiki Beach (two to three miles away, depending on which end of Waikiki you’re on), this is one of the most heavily trekked hikes on island. It’s also one of only three crater hikes located on Oahu; the other two being Koko Head, a more moderate hike and my personal favorite, and Ka’au Crater, a fairly intense hike that takes about five hours and has access to three different waterfalls.

Diamond Head is one of the few hikes on island that has an entrance fee. If you drive up and want a parking space, it’s $5 per vehicle (doesn’t matter how many people are inside that vehicle). If you walk to the park, it’s only $1 per person to get in. Many people who hike solo or with just one other person park outside the tunnel that acts as the entrance to Diamond Head and then they walk in from there to save a few bucks. Obviously if you have five or more people, you might as well park inside.

Beyond the parking lot, there is a sidewalk that takes you to the beginning of the hike. From there you will ascend several sections of the trail looping back and forth upon itself as you slowly climb up the inside of the crater. The trail has undergone a lot of maintenance in recent years and although it’s not paved, you could still go up this thing in flip flops.

20110108-001About 15 minutes in, you will come across the first lookout area where you can stop and take photos of the eastern shore. Soon after the lookout you will come to the first set of stairs. After climbing 74 stairs, you will be at the bottom of “the tunnel”. The tunnel is about 200 feet long and has recently had lighting added (it used to be pitch black).

After the tunnel you will have two choices: to your immediate right there is another staircase with 99 stairs and to the left there is a lookout area followed by some other stairs; both paths lead you to the same place. If you go to the left, just make sure you exit coming down the other path so you get to see the entire trail. I recommend going to the right, up the 99 stairs, and then coming down the other way.

After the staircase there is a short tunnel leading to the bottom of a spiral staircase. Follow the stairs up until you are inside of the old bunker looking out. You’ll need to duck or crawl out of the front opening of the bunker to continue, as it has only about a three foot high opening. There’s only another short climb to the very top where you can look out over Waikiki.

Once your hike is complete, I recommend getting a snow cone (or “shaved ice”, as the locals call it) from the food truck near the entrance.

Fee: $5 per vehicle to drive in or $1 per person to walk in.

Difficulty: Easy.

Elevation: 761 ft

Length of hike: The trail is 1.6 miles, round-trip, and takes about an hour to complete.

Best time to go: The park opens at 6am and I recommend getting there by 9am. The trail is uncovered so it gets pretty toasty. You may have more difficulty getting parking the later you go, and may even have to wait in line to get a spot. The last entrance time is at 4:30pm and the park closes at 6pm.

Worst time to go: Mid-day. It will be significantly hotter and you will have to deal with the crowds, including busloads of Japanese tourists who are on scheduled stops.

Ka’ena Point, Waianae, Oahu, Hawaii

August 17, 2014 Categories Travel, USA

Ka’ena Point is the north-eastern tip of Oahu and was one of the first places I was introduced to when I initially arrived in Hawaii. I always describe it to people as “the place where the road ends,” seeing as the road literally ends and Ka’ena Point begins. Other than a popular hiking and off-roading spot, it provides beautiful views of the Waianae mountain range.

Manoa Falls, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

Categories Hiking, Trails, Travel, USA

Manoa Falls is a really short, easy waterfall hike in the Manoa Valley that attracts many visitors. This was one of my favorite hikes when I first got to Hawaii and is still quite enjoyable many years later.

To park in the parking lot at the base of the trail, you will have to pay a $5 fee. A lot of people park well outside the trail entrance to avoid paying the fee, as you can walk in and hike the trail for free. I encourage people to park and pay the $5 as (I believe) it goes towards maintaining the trail. A lot of maintenance has been done on the trail since I first hiked it a few years ago. Since this is a more popular hike and gets a lot of visitors, the maintenance is key to keeping it in good order for everyone to enjoy for years to come.

The trail is rather short and pretty easy to follow, as most of the path is gravel or rock. It traverses through a wooded area with many beautiful trees and views. There is a stream that follows the majority of the trail and eventually will lead to the waterfall.

The waterfall is around 150 feet tall and extremely impressive right after or during a good rainfall. Even on a dry day, it has a fairly steady flow. There are a lot of people that congregate around the falls and it can be difficult to get a person-free photo.

Although there are signs and cables surrounding the area stating not to cross as it could be slippery, you will notice most people do anyways. I think they added the signs as more of a liability thing so they can say “we told you so” in case someone gets hurt.

Fee: $5 to park or $0 to walk in. You will have to park a good distance outside the entrance to be able to walk in.

Difficulty: Easy.

Elevation: 800 ft

Length of hike: The trail is 1.6 miles, round-trip, and can easily be done in about 30 minutes.

Best time to go: Honestly, while it’s raining. The rain not only keeps some of the people away, but it makes for a much more impressive waterfall. Just bring a poncho or buy one at the shop on site.

Worst time to go: This trail is nice no matter what time of day or week, rain or shine. The later in the day you go, the more people you will probably have to deal with on the trail.

Ka’au Crater, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

August 16, 2014 Categories Hiking, Trails, Travel, USA

4aiav_FotorKa’au Crater is one of three crater hikes on the island of Oahu (the other two are Diamond Head, a fairly easy hike, and Koko Head, a more moderate hike with a great cardio workout); it is the most intense hike out of the three, but also very rewarding. If you can push through the initial couple hours of walking through the woods, you will find yourself standing before three different waterfalls at three different locations near the end.

The trail is a bit tricky to get to and only has five dedicated parking spots available, so try to get there early if you want to avoid the extra walk. This trail can be very muddy, very slippery, requires the use of ropes (which are already on the trail), and has many high ledges you will have to walk or climb on and around. If you are afraid of heights, this trail may not be for you.

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The majority of the trail follows a water pipe through the woods. As you can see to the right, the trail and water pipe are directly next to each other. Throughout the length of the trail, you will cross back and forth across a stream many times. Don’t worry, even if you’ve never done the trail before it’s very easy to find your way – just keep following the water pipe. You may also see bright orange or pink tape marking the path.

This initial section of trail is a few miles in length and can take a couple hours to complete. Bring plenty of water and some snacks. The first time I did this trail was with a friend and they did not warn me how long it was. I only had a small bottle of water with me and it was very unpleasant by the end. Definitely bring a couple liters of water; ideally in a Camelbak or similar apparatus because you’ll want to have your hands free for climbing and catching yourself from slipping.

The First WaterfallOnce you have powered through the initial hike, you will approach the first of three waterfalls. If you climb down, you can check out the pool at the bottom. Many locals and other adventurers hiking the trail bring swimming clothes and enjoy a refreshing dip to cool off from the long hike. Just don’t drink the water! If you have any open cuts or sores, you should avoid going in the water. Many of the hikes on Oahu with mountain water runoff may contain the bacteria that can give you Leptospirosis.

Once you are refreshed, you can continue along the trail by following a path to the left of the waterfall. It’s fairly easy to spot, as you should see ropes dangling down to assist you in climbing up over the waterfall. At the top of the waterfall, you will likely be tempted to lean over and take a peek or a photo. Be very careful if doing so, as many hikers have died by doing the same thing and slipped to their death.

The Second WaterfallShortly after the first waterfall, you will encounter the second one. Once you are ready to continue, follow the trail to the right of the waterfall. This is a fairly steep climb, so use the ropes when they are available. At the top of the waterfall, you will have to hold tight against the side of the mountain and use the ropes to work your way across a narrow ledge. For those of you with a fear of heights, this is a good time not to look down.

After the ledge, there is a large boulder you will have to climb over. The other side of this boulder you will notice a small memorial plaque dedicated to one of the many hikers who have died on the trail while just trying to explore and see its beauty.

The Third WaterfallBeyond the boulder, the trail continues a little ways further until you reach the bottom of the third and final waterfall. This is a tricky waterfall. Not only are you climbing directly up this one, but it has many sharp and jagged rocks that don’t look to joyful to fall on. The waterfall itself forms almost a staircase and has four different “levels” you will have to climb over. After the first two levels, you will re-enter the woods thinking you have finished it – you have not. Once you exit the wooded area and climb over the last two levels of the waterfall, you will finally reach the bottom of the crater. From there, you have two choices: either call it a day and hike back down or push forward and see how far you can go.

If you keep going, the trail continues to the right at the top of the last waterfall. It is a fairly steep climb up the crater wall to get to the top. Personally, I have never “finished” Ka’au Crater. The rim of the crater is extremely slippery, narrow, and steep. Over half the times I’ve done the hike, the peaks of the crater have been covered in mist, making it all the more slippery. You are literally walking the ridgeline. If you slip or fall at this point, over the side you will go. The furthest I got was the second highest peak along the ridge. It was either raining or I was always too exhausted to go further than that. Remember, you still have to turn around and hike down the entire path you just came in on.

Once you do tire or decide to turn around you have two options: you can go back down the exact same way you came, which will be a magnitude more difficult than it was to climb up, or you can take the shortcut. The shortcut avoids having to climb back down all three waterfalls and will reconnect with the trail before the first waterfall. Honestly, I recommend doing both. It’s fun to climb down the waterfalls just to know how much it truly sucks. After that, take the shortcut to avoid the pain, but at least you’ll know what both experiences are like.

The shortcut starts at the top of the last waterfall, but instead of climbing up on the right side, climb up on the left. Yes, I said climb UP. Eventually that climb up with come back down through a maze of trees and berries with swarms of fruit flies. Try not to breath through your mouth or you will inhale them by the gallon.

Once you get back to the car, sit, relax, and go get some ice cream. You’ve earned it.

Difficulty: Intense.

Elevation: 2,200 ft

Length of hike: This depends on how far you go, but if you reach the third waterfall than it’s about 5 miles round-trip. If you go beyond the last waterfall, up the crater rim, you can easily make it into a 6 or 7 mile hike. It takes between 5 and 6 hours to complete, depending on your conditioning and how far you go.

Best time to go: Any time of the day where you’ll still have daylight six hours later. The trail is shaded almost the entire route, so the sun isn’t a bother. Also, go on the driest day possible. The drier it is outside, the less slippery and muddy the trail will be.

Worst time to go: Directly after or during a rain storm. Although a little sprinkle can feel refreshing on the hike out, it doesn’t make for promising hiking conditions.

Lanai Lookout, Hawaii Kai, Oahu, Hawaii

August 14, 2014 Categories Travel, USA

The Lanai Lookout is one of my favorite spots on all of Oahu. Coincidentally, it’s located directly on the other side of my favorite hike, Koko Head. The short drive around to the lookout is pure bliss – beautifully paved, curvy road, cliffs dropping off into the ocean on the right, and mountainous peaks jutting up on the left. The lookout itself is an amazing place to enjoy the beauty of the ocean.

Makapu’u Beach Park, Waimanalo, Oahu, Hawaii

Categories Travel, USA

The Makapu’u Beach is a gorgeous beach along the Kalanianaole Highway on the south-eastern end of Oahu. From the beach you can enjoy a nice view of two islands: Rabbit Island (the bigger one; known locally as Manana Island) and Black Rock (the smaller one; known locally as Kaohikaipu Island).

Laniakea Beach, Haleiwa, Oahu, Hawaii

August 13, 2014 Categories Travel, USA

Laniakea Beach is located along the North Shore of Oahu. It’s a beautiful beach with gorgeous black rocks and palms all around. If you’re looking to catch a glimpse of some sea turtles, this is an excellent place to go.