I climbed to the twin peaks of Konahuanui to explore the plants and animals that make their home on the highest cloud-shrouded peaks on the Koolau Mountains of Oahu.
The twin peaks of Konahuanui stand over 3,100 feet above sea level making them the highest on the Koolau Mountains. Konahuanui straddles the valleys of Nuuanu and Manoa on the leeward-side and towers over Kaneohe and Maunawili on the windward-side of Oahu.
We started our hike from the Kalawahine Trail which starts on Round Top Drive at the top of Tantalus. We then made our way to the end of the Pauoa Flats Trail Nuuanu where I took the photo above of Nuuanu Valley with the reservoir in the foreground and Lanihuli in the background.
The trail to Konahuanui contours along the edge of Nuuanu valley and then gains the top of a ridge that leads to the first peak of Konahuanui. As we made our way up the trail, I took the above photo of vibrant red flowers of lehua with the twin peaks of Konahuanui looming overhead. According to Hawaiian folklore, the twin peaks are the testicles of a giant who threw them at a woman who escaped from him.
While climbing to our destination, we reached several points where we could look over low points in the Koolau Mountans to see Kaneohe Bay and the Koolaupoko Coast on the other side.
When we reached the summit of the first Konahuanui Peak, otherwise known as K1 (3,105 feet in elevation), a succession of clouds blew in, enveloped us in a cool moist mist, and then dissipated several times. In between the waves of clouds, we had a commanding view of Diamond Head, Waikiki and Downtown Honolulu from our vantage point on the very edge of the Koolau Mountains.
The Koolau Mountains curve northwards along the peaks of Konahuanui creating a protected amiphitheatre that surrounds Maunawili Valley. In the photo above, Olomana marks the boundary between Maunawili Valley in the foreground and Waimanalo Valley in the background.
While making our way along the summit ridge to the second and higher peak of Konahuanui, otherwise known as K2 (3,150 feet in elevation), we came across a curious but strangely appropriate sight on the edge of the cliffs — a bright green male Jackson Chameleon with 3 horns! According to Hawaiian folklore, a mo’o (magical lizard/dragon water spirit) lives on Konahuanui and the rainy cliffs above Manoa Valley. Konahuanui is often shrouded in clouds and receives more than 150 inches of rain per year.
The peaks of Konahuanui are home to a unique cloud forest. Cloud forests are characterized by persistent mists that envelope the vegetation and reduce the sunlight. Trees are generally shorter and more heavily stemmed than at lower altitudes. The abundant moisture also promotes the growth of epiphytes, like mosses, ferns, and ‘ala’alawainui. Cloud forests receive much of their water in the form of fog drip, where moisture condenses on trees and their epiphytes, and then drips to the ground below.
Lapalapa trees (Cheirodendron platyphyllum) are well adapted to the cloud forests of Konahuanui where they thrive in the wet water-logged ground. Their leaves have supple petioles (leaf stems) that sway with the slightest breeze. As we examined the native trees and plants that make their home at the summit of Konahuanui we listened to the soothing sound of lapalapa leaves clacking together in the wind.
After we completed our exploration of K2 for the day, we made our way back down the cloud-shrouded summit the way we had come. As we descended the steep slopes, I reflected on my good fortune at seeing the graceful sway of lapalapa trees and experiencing first hand the remarkable cloud forests of Konahuanui.
Konahuanui Hike, by Dayle Turner
Aumakua of Kona, Oahu, Stories of an Ancient Island: Traditions of Oahu
Sites of Oahu, by Elspeth Sterling and Catherine Summers – Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1978, p. 311-312
The Indigenous Trees of the Hawaiian Islands, By Joseph Francis Charles Rock
Cloud Forest, Wikipedia