Hiking the Maunawili Trail | Pali Lookout to Waimanalo | October 2018
I turned 26 on the last weekend of October. I know, I know…I’m officially old. Thankfully Curtis got to spend most of the weekend at home with me, and we fit in a couple of fun hikes. On Saturday evening, we returned to the Old Pali Highway and just walked the road up and back. It’s honestly one of our new favorites; it’s not very busy and is a great one to do after it has been raining so much and all the other non-paved trails are muddy. We hiked up and enjoyed the lookouts, and Curtis went and got a better look at Twin Falls.
On our way back, we met a man who was harvesting avocados in the ditch next to the road. We stopped to talk to him, and found out that he is actually the owner of this land. He inherited it from his father, but (un?)fortunately isn’t able to build on it. He graciously keeps the old abandoned highway open to hikers — which isn’t common for privately owned areas around here. He also gave us some avocados — not like the small kind you find at most stores, these were big and round, and just one can make both guacamole AND cover 4 pieces of toast. Score!
The next morning started off slow, and we may have just taken it easy had a friend not texted and asked if we were hiking. We haven’t hiked with friends in a while, and there was one hike I had been wanting to do which required 2 vehicles. Curtis and Zach agreed, and so we made our plans to meet in Waimanalo.
The hike for today was the Maunawili Trail, also called the Maunawili Demonstration Trail, which is a 10 mile long trail that goes from the Pali Highway all the way to Waimanalo, just past the back end of Olomana Ridge. While it is 9-10 miles long depending on where you start, the length is the only challenging part about this hike, because for the most part it’s a flat trail with very little elevation change that follows a contour of the Ko’olau Mountains. The Hiker’s Guide to Oahu calls it “the showpiece of Oahu’s trail system” and the trail was built between 1991-1993 mostly by the Sierra Club.
There were 3 different starting points we were considering: either the official trailhead which is a pull-off on the Pali Highway, the golf course/presbeteryian church in Kane’ohe (the trailhead for Likeke Falls and the Old Pali Highway), and the Pali lookout. If we were to start from the official trailhead, it would only be 9 miles, and parking either at the golf course or Pali Lookout adds an extra mile. We ended up choosing the Pali Lookout because it’s where we felt was safest for a car to be left all day, and the usual $5 parking fee is waived for military. All we had to do was get passed the large gate that blocks off the Old Pali Highway from the lookout…something that wasn’t as hard as we thought it’d be. I’m not sure why it’s there seeing as the trails to Twin Falls, Likeke Falls, the Old Pali Highway, and the Maunawili Trail are all legal, and it doesn’t seem like people get in trouble for getting passed it. Initially there are a lot of rocks lying on the old Pali Highway, so it might just be a rockfall hazard. Anyway, today it was just a small obstacle to get around, and we were on our way.
The first .7 miles were retracing our steps from the night before on the Old Pali Highway, walking downhill on the paved path, slick from recent rain. When we came to the fork in the path, we continued straight rather than left under the current Pali Highway back to the beginning of the Old Pali Highway/Likeke Falls trails. The trail was no longer paved, but still easy to follow, albeit muddy. We were beginning to get a taste of what the majority of today’s hike would consist of: following a contour of the Ko’olau Mountains with many twists and turns and small stream crossings with cascading waterfalls. After descending some steps, we finally met up with the official start of the trail, about 1.2 miles into our hike. There was a sign marking the way, and we set off on our long trek.
The 9 miles that followed all sort of blend together now. I couldn’t possibly give an accurate trip report of each part of the trail we encountered in which order. All that stands out are the highlights: the more impressive waterfalls, the occasional clearing with an impressive view of the Ko’olau Mountains towering above us, the different types of lush green flora, including a huge fern-type plant that we still have yet to identify. We were able to judge how close we were by the angle of Olomana. Thanks to our long hike and driving between Waimanalo and the Pali Lookout, we literally admired this prominent peak from every side.
One thing that we noticed often were the clear waterfall chutes up high between the Ko’olau ridges. Most were dry today, and we began wishing we could do at least part of this hike on a day right after a really heavy rain. However, as we continued walking, we noticed the dangers that come with heavy rains: landslides and fallen trees became more common. There was one particular downed tree that was so big, with the top part of the tree lying over the trail, and we had to weave our way over and under all the branches. For being a “maintained trail” as the book advertised, there was certainly a lot of upkeep that needed to be done. I suppose that’s why there aren’t many trails like this on the island; the trail maintenance would be constant and failure to do so could hold the landowner liable for any injuries that may occur.
We passed by the connector trail that provides an alternate route to Maunawili Falls. Our friend Zach had done this before and warned that it was much more overgrown. Honestly I’m not even tempted to take this path, as our experience hiking to the waterfall that so many friends raved about on the easier route had turned out to be a giant disappointment. I honestly enjoyed the waterfalls we came across on this trail much better than any of the waterfall hikes we’ve done on this island. Towards the end of our path, we crossed other side trails or maintenance roads such as the Maunawili Ditch Trail. Once we reached that one, it was an easy walk on a wide dirt road back to the parking lot in Waimanalo.
You may wonder what’s the fun in hiking such a long trail when there’s no reward, such as reaching the peak of a tall mountain? For me, I was almost just as excited to hike this trail as I was to hike Konahuanui. Just the idea of walking from the Pali Highway to Waimanalo seemed like an impressive accomplishment, and being able to admire the Ko’olau mountains up close on a quiet trail.
But as we walked along the repetitive trail, I decided that it was one of my favorite hikes I’ve done on the island. It felt so remote, despite beginning off a busy highway and ending in a town. The sights, sounds, and even smells made me feel so removed from the cities and traffic on the island. Don’t get me wrong, hiking to the Ko’olau Summit is always enjoyable, but it was a relief to look around and not see a major city wrapping its way around the island, taking over the entire Southern shore. Just a beautiful piece of (mostly) untouched land where I could walk for miles uninterrupted and get a piece of my sanity back. The perfect way to start out this next year of my life. And hey, I was able to walk 10 miles without feeling tired — maybe I’m not that old after all.