Ahuimanu Trail | Hamama Falls | February 2019
This is the story of two trails: One legal, one illegal. We set out on a weekend morning with all the best intentions: the illegal trail was more enticing, but we were going to stick to our moral high ground and hike the legal trail. It wasn’t going to be scenic, but at least we could feel good about ourselves… and that’s what matters, right?
We drove to Kaneohe, a little ways North of the Valley of the Temples, and back into a residential area to the trailhead for Ahuimanu Trail. Google Maps directed us to the back of the neighborhood and we spotted a small gap in the trees with a shrine next to it. We parked on the side of the road and made our way to the trail. When we had a better look at the shrine, we realized it was for a well known hiking enthusiast from Oahu who died tragically on this trail last year – Freddie Pratricio, aka Spiderman. The trail itself isn’t dangerous at all, he was repelling the waterfall at the end.
We started the trail with low expectations, just eager to hike a new trail and check another one off the list. This trail is best known for being in an area that used to grow taro. There are plaques placed along the path sharing the history of the area and all about taro, however there is no longer any taro to be found — not that we saw at least, and Curtis is always looking out for it. (We’ve found it once before and tried potting it and growing it on our own…it may not have resulted in anything but it’s all about the experience, right?)
Right from the start, the trail was muddy. There were mosquitos everywhere. We expected that, it had rained a lot that week. However, the trail itself wasn’t the easiest to follow, and there were so many fallen trees lying across the path. We often had to stop and make sure we were on the right path. We baptized our feet into so many mud puddles that were just a little deeper than they appeared. Finally, we stopped to face the facts: This wasn’t a good day to hike this trail, and we simply weren’t enjoying any part of it. Why should we continue? Maybe someday we’ll return…but honestly I’d rather re-hike any number of trails we’ve done before than come back to this. Curtis said he thought it could have more potential if we just followed the creek back, but that didn’t appeal to me today.
Back at the car, we decided to “drive by” the illegal hike and get an idea of what it looked like…how illegal it really was. As the crow flies, it’s only 3 miles North of the first trail, but begins at the end of a completely different neighborhood, a 20 minute drive away. We drove to the end of the cul-de-sac where the trail to Hamama Falls begins. Even from a quarter-mile away, there were cars lined up on the side of the road all the way up to the trailhead — as opposed to us being the only ones on the legal trail. We reached the end of the street, and there was a giant fence blocking the trail, which is actually a service road that leads to a water plant facility. There were plenty of “Government Property, No Trespassing” signs, and yet a well-worn trail that went off to the side of the fence where it was clear that many had used to get around the obstacle.
We didn’t want to do it, we didn’t want to break the law and we definitely didn’t want to be caught and fined. However, curiosity got the best of us, and we gave into temptation. We have now joined the multitudes of hikers on Oahu who have hiked a blatantly illegal trail. We have set a bad example and you should never take our advice or follow our lead. Worst of all…we enjoyed it.
First, this just made such a good trail for the day. We walked along the paved road, and our feet stayed dry and out of the mud. We had views of the Ko’olau Mountains, beautiful flora, and a babbling brook. We saw plenty of people, but most were heading in the opposite direction. We picked up trash along the way just to clear our conscious.
After about a mile, the service road ends and the last mile to the falls is along a dirt path. Here’s the real kicker: this dirt path to the falls was one of the best maintained trails we’ve hiked on this island. Sure it was a little muddy and slick in places, but any trail would be after all the rain we’ve had. We strolled up the path, which became steeper, but led to a great reward: Hamama Falls, one of the best waterfalls we’ve seen on the island (Maka’ua Fall remains Curtis’ favorite).
This led us to a discussion of the classification of trails on Oahu:
- Official Trails: Well maintained and established trails usually designed for large numbers of tourists, almost to the point that some might not even consider them trails. Makapu’u and Diamond head are probably the most notable on the island.
- Sanctioned Hikes: Hikes that are legal and have some active maintenance authority. Most of the trails that we’ve hiked on the mainland would fall under this category, but here on Oahu, probably only half the trails do; and oftentimes only parts of the trails are. Notable examples are Kaena Point, the Aiea Loop, and Kuli’ou’ou.
- Unofficial Hikes: Unmaintained hikes with no legality status. Sometimes, these are sanctioned hikes that just haven’t been maintained in a while. Other times these are the trails at the end of other trails; bushwhacks that have become fairly established. Aiea Ridge, Pupu Kea, and most all of the pillbox hikes fall under this category
- Unsanctioned Hikes: Hikes that are officially illegal, but which are loosely enforced. Maybe we made this category to ease our conscience. Crouching Lion, Lulumahu Falls, and this hike are but some examples
- Illegal Hikes: Don’t do these hikes. They are illegal…for a reason. Maybe people die on these trails, maybe it’s trespassing. Regardless, the rules are enforced here, often with severe consequences. Sacred Falls and Staircase to Heaven are easily the most recognizable of this category.
All went well until we arrived back at the beginning of the trail and saw 2 police cars. This is it, I thought…I wanted to hide, but Curtis encouraged me to come out so we could own up to our felony together. However, we walked right past the cars and nothing happened. Somehow, we walked away free. Definitely don’t take that as encouragement to go do this hike…hike at your own discretion, I’m not bailing you out if you get caught. In all seriousness, I have no idea if people get fined or exactly how illegal this trail actually is. My suspicion is that the neighborhood/board of water supply don’t want this to become the next Manoa, Lulumahu, or Maunawili Falls, which have crowds of people every day. Of course, we saw that the trail already gets plenty of traffic as it is, but maybe they are trying to avoid becoming a stop on a tour bus route. Whatever the reason, it’s still an illegal trail, and while we enjoyed our hike we won’t be returning. We’ve pushed our luck already as it is! Still, the question remains: Why can’t legal hikes on the island be as well maintained as this illegal one?