Hiking the Koko Crater Arch Trail | November 17, 2018
It’s not very often that I absolutely despise a hike…but this one just about did it for me. Steep, narrow, scary ridges, rock climbing, strong wind, a near panic attack, crowds of people, and an eroded path down a railway that’s crumbling apart. This day could have been a total bust if not for the random side trail we decided to explore that turned things around.
I’m so upset about not liking the Koko Crater Arch trail. I had heard about it several times and seen pictures, and nothing I had seen hinted at the fact that it would be utterly terrifying for me. All I knew was about the bedrock trail and the arch, which made me think of hiking the (not-so) primitive trail in Arches National Park. I wanted to like this hike so badly, and I was disappointed that it wasn’t anything like I had expected.
To start from the beginning: Last December, we hiked the Koko Crater Railway trail, and disliked it because of how bad of condition it’s in and the large number of people that hike it. We swore to never do it again. Then, someone planted a letterbox at the top. (A letterbox planted at a super popular tourist attraction on Oahu…typical.) It came back on our radar. We had heard about the Koko Crater Arch trail and that piqued our interests. The Hiker’s Guide to Oahu doesn’t mention the railway trail, but it does list the arch trail to the peak. And so, when making a new ‘bucket list’ for Oahu since completing Konahuanui, we added this one to the list.
Hiking over the Koko Crater Arch
Finally, we had a weekend where it had rained the night before, and thought it’d be best to do this hike over a Ko’olau ridge hike. We drove to the Halona blow hole parking lot, then realized we forgot the hiking book. This was unfortunate because there aren’t clear signs to where this hike begins, so we had to rely on technology — the AllTrails app on Curtis’ phone, which hasn’t been very reliable lately. After some trailblazing and frustration, we found ourselves on the ridge and our way up. It only required a little rock scrambling, which I didn’t enjoy but assumed we wouldn’t have any more of that now that we were on the right trail.
Looking down the trail from the Koko Crater Arch
As it turns out, I was wrong. There were many moments where I found myself far outside my comfort zone, feeling mentally stuck in a place I couldn’t get out of. It took a lot of effort, encouragement, and sometimes looking for another way around each obstacle to get up the crater. The first real struggle was walking up the arch. Once we made it past that, I slowly became more comfortable with walking up to the rim of the crater.
Hiking along the Koko Crater Rim — complete with cactus!
Walking along the rim up to the summit was another story. It was a narrow path with steep drop offs on either side, with a strong crosswind beating against me, stealing the air out from in front of my face. But I couldn’t give up… if I could just make it to the summit, we could descend the crater on the railway trail and road walk back to our car. While the railway is my least favorite trail on this entire island, it had suddenly become the lesser of two evils.
The peak of Koko Crater — Taken last December
There was one last obstacle where I was sure I wouldn’t be able to get over…but thankfully we were able to backtrack and take a side trail on the South side that got me out of the wind. We finally arrived at the crater, sat down on the pillbox, and played PokemonGo together. That was the highlight of Koko Crater for me. Curtis looked around for the letterbox…which was missing — who would have thought!
The Koko Crater Railway — Taken last December
Finally, we began our descent down the railway. It was worse than I remembered, and oh so crowded. This time, I mean it: I’m never doing this again. The only part about Koko Crater that I enjoy is the botanical garden! We made it to the bottom, then began our long road walk back to the car.
The mouth of Hanauma Bay
Somewhere between Hanauma Bay and Lanai Lookout, we saw what looked like a path on the side of the road. Since we were already on foot, we decided, why not take it? Who knows if we’d ever get another chance? The path took us down to the mouth of Hanauma Bay (the opposite side from when we hiked Koko Head) and we stopped to enjoy the view of the ocean and the waves. Curtis had been collecting littered bottles and cans the whole time, and happened to find an unopened bottle still full. It was like the earth’s way of saying thank you.
Our 7th monk seal spotted in Hawaii — to the right of the “aloha”
Curtis checked the Geocaching app, and saw there was one hidden nearby at a landmark called the “toilet bowl.” We started making our way in that direction, and a man called us over. “There’s a monk seal over here!” he told us. Sure enough, there it was, sleeping beside the toilet bowl — which is actually a neat tidepool where the water level rapidly rises and falls as the waves rush in, which I suppose made someone think of flushing a toilet, and that’s how it got its name. It was fun to watch — and naturally, this part easily became the highlight of our hike. This was like a little reminder to me that if you’re ever having a ‘bad day’, to go out of your way and find a way to turn it around.
A scene from “Godzilla vs. Kong” at Lanai Lookout
Eventually we said goodbye to the man and our new monk seal friend and made our way back up to the highway. We were intending to stop at Lanai Lookout as well on our way back, but found it to be closed because it was being staged for a movie that’s being filmed on the island — Godzilla vs. Kong. Spoiler alert/Exclusive details: it looks like there’s a plane crash or something, with the wreckage scattered among the rocks of Lanai Lookout on the Southern coast of Oahu. Also, they were filming on the H3 this week. You heard it here first!
Walking along the highway, Koko Crater in front of us
On the rest of our walk back, we continued to pick up bottles and cans thrown around the highway. Once again, the earth rewarded us with a pair of perfect condition Rayban sunglasses! And we made $1.65 in redemptions for the bottles and cans. I guess you could say it was a successful hike/clean up day on the South shore.
Altogether, our hike was about 4 miles, and I thought the big loop we made around Koko Crater looked pretty cool on our trail recording. After playing a little more Pokemon at the blow hole, we began driving back home — but only after one last stop, where we successfully found a letterbox at Makapu’u Beach. We had visited this beach over a year ago when we first arrived here, and it’s one of my favorites on the island if only for the views of Makapu’u Lighthouse, the islands, and the Ko’olau cliffs behind us. Another weekend adventure accomplished, and another hike checked off our list. If this terrifying hike taught me anything, it’s that I would really like to take rock climbing lessons or something so that I’ll feel more comfortable on trails like this for when we return to the great Southwest!