When my girlfriend and I were making plans for our first trip to Hawaii we faced many of the same questions most travelers do. How many islands should we visit? Which islands do we go to? What sights and attractions do we partake in? How about beaches ??
It occurred to us that most travelers, at least those that we were acquainted with went to Maui or Oahu, or both. Touring Honolulu, attending a luau, visiting Pearl Harbor and the Polynesian Cultural Center along with Diamond Head and Waikiki became part of our agenda as I am certain it has been for many.
Well, we have now visited the Islands twice and although we ever saw Diamond Head and spend some time on Waikiki we have yet to attend a luau and have not seen Pearl Harbor or the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Shortly before finalizing our trip, I starting thinking what might be the best way to truly experience the islands and their natural beauty. I then came up with the idea of hiking, did a great deal of research on the internet and eventually purchased The Hikers Guide to the Hawaiian Islands by Stuart M. Ball, which I highly recommend.
Although my girlfriend and I are in good physical shape; we work out, lift weights and love to walk; we have never actually walked hiking. I was over fifty and her fast approaching. One of the many things that appeared to me about hiking the islands was the lack of dangerous wildlife. There are no bears or poisonous snakes or the like. So we felt comfortable going off on our own and exploring the beauty that Hawaii had to offer.
We took a 360 degree turn and planned our trip to Kauai and Hawaii (We would return the following year and hike Maui and Oahu) bought some good hiking shoes, a backpack, some rain ponchos, bug repellent, packed our cameras and off we went .
A few tips I might share from our experience. Depending on where you are staying, you may have to drive a reasonable distance to the trail head. We dive anywhere from 45 minutes to 4 h hours to reach our destination. We started out early each morning, usually by 5:30 so there was very little traffic and we had the trails almost inevitably to ourselves (We would take ten hikes, two of which we never saw another sole) Bring a sweatshirt, it is cool in the morning. I found a walk stick to be incredibly helpful due to the uneven terrain and the continuous climbs and descents. Maybe it was because of the time we went out, but bugs were never a problem for us.
The ten hikes we ending up taking (three each on Kauai, Maui and Hawaii; one on Oahu) were all between 4 and 6.8 miles with elevation gains between 500 and 1600 feet and were treated as novice to intermediate in degree of difficulty. The following were our five favorites.
5) Pipiwai Trail, Maui – Often referred to as Oheo Gulch trail. Anyone embarking on a vacation to Maui should experience the Road to Hana. It is considered as one of Hawaii's must see attractions and is rated # 2 on America's list of most scenic drives. One must travel the Hana Highway to reach the Pipiwai trail, there is no other means. The distance itself is less than 60 miles, but with it's approximately 600 hair pin turns and 60 one way bridges it took near 3 to to drive without stopping. It was close to an additional hour drive past the town of Hana to the trail head.
The hike itself is a very relaxing one, with an easily traveled and well maintained trail. The elevation gains are minimal and the distance (4 miles round trip) is very manageable and depending upon how much time you spend looking at the sights, can be completed in two hours.
You will walk along side and across two bridges along the Seven Sacred Pools. The only other couple that we saw on this hike was swimming when we approached them. There is a bamboo forest that towers a hundred feet or more into the sky almost blocking out all sunlight and the trail often ends at the 400 foot Waimoku Falls where we found the perfect place to have lunch. You will need to cross the stream to reach this point. Purchase a cheap pair of water shoes to make the crossing.
4) Kilauea Iki, Hawaii – Located in Hawaii Volcano National Park, this trail is a four mile loop with a maximum elevation gain of 400 feet. It begins and ends in a beautiful rain forest which is so peaceful and tranquil you never want to leave. The trail is very well maintained and the variety of unique trees that you will not see any where else was a highlight of this hike. That is of course until you complete your dismissal to the Kilauea Crater.
This hike will take you across the crater covered in lava over 400 feet thick. You will pass dozens of active steam vents as you cross the rough terrain. You will see a great deal of new growth as it tries to emerge through the cracks in the lava and you can not help but think of what it was like back in 1959 when Kilauea erupted spewing lave almost 2,000 feet in the air.
3) Awaapuhi Trail, Kauai – located in Kokee State Park, this was the most physically demanding of all of the hikes we took. At 6 miles miles with an elevation gain of 1,600 feet we were thoroughly exhausted when we were finished. Of course this was our third day of hiking in a row, so that may have had something to do with it. Like most of the trails we hiked, this one was very easy to follow. It starts off heavily wooded and along the way becomes less dense and much drier in landscape. The highlight of this hike is when you reach the Nualolo Cliffs. The view from here is utterly amazing; sheer cliffs with some of the most interesting rock formations imaginable and nothing but the beautiful blue Pacific behind it all. There is a picnic table making it the perfect place to stop for lunch and enjoy the view before heading out for your return trip.
We did not really notice the 1600 foot elevation difference while reaching this spot, but you better believe we noticed it on the return. Be prepared, although very graduate (You have over three miles to traverse this elevation) it proves to be very grueling at times. For us it almost seemed as if we would never find the trail head and when we finally did, we sat in the car exhausted, but glad we did it.
2) Waipoo Falls (Waimea Canyon), Kauai – There are several hikes in the Waimea Canyon area, this one takes you to the top of the Canyon. It starts off on what appears to be a service road, eventually turns into a very well maintained path and includes a fairly easy to navigate rocky climb towards the end. (Here is where walking stick comes into play) The distance like so many of the hikes is four miles and although you will find yourself at an elevation of nearly 3,500 feet, this must have been covered during the ride up to the trail head. You only end up climbing a little over 500 feet.
The views of the Canyon from up top are remarkable. The different hues of green, red and brown in the Canyon walls can be seen forever. You want to keep taking picture after picture and that is pretty much what we did.
For me, the most pleasant of all the hikes.
1) Kalalau Trail – The trail everyone talks about and movies have been made of. The entire Kalalau trail is 22 miles in and out and you need to acquire a camping permission in order to complete. There are two days hikes that can be taken along the trail as well. The eight mile hike to Hanakapiai Falls or the most commonly traveled 4 mile hike to Hanakapiai Beach which is the hike we took.
Even the four mile hike can be challenging to most. The terrain is very muddy and rocking and you must account for your footing at all times. You begin to climb immediately through lush tropical vegetation. To your left are the sheer cliffs, to your right, a sudden drop to the Pacific Ocean. Although not to be taken lightly, it is not as dangerous as it might seem. I am not completely comfortable with heights, but felt confident on this hike. Once you travel a distance of about one mile and reach an altitude of several hundred feet the first views of the Napali Coast become visible and this alone is worth the entire trip.
You will eventually descend into the valley and reach your destination, Hanakaiai Beach. You must cross a narrow, but fast moving stream in order to reach the beach. Although temptation, swimming is not advisable as evidenced by the sign which total 87 people had since drowned at the time when we were there. Watching the waves, it was not only awe inspiring, but quite obvious why swimming was not advised.
Unlike most of the other hikes, this one can get very crowded. Even though we set out very early as we did each morning and saw only one or two people on our way to the beach, we must have passed hundreds on our way out.