I joined the trail maintenance crew of the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club (HTMC) to hike the Makapuu-TomTom trail — one of the most scenic hikes on the Koolaupoko Coast of East Oahu.
Makapuu-TomTom is part of this year’s HTMC centennial celebration which will be held on January 31, 2010. The 4-mile hike is composed of 2 parts — the Makapuu section which follows the spine of the Koolau Mountains from Makapuu to Kamilolii Valley and the TomTom section which drops down a steep ridge from the Koolau Mountains down into Waimanalo.
Pushing off from the Makapuu Lookout, we crossed the highway and began a steady ascent up the spine of the Koolau Mountains under hazy conditions — vog from Kilauea on the Big Island limited visibility. But we still had great views of the Koolaupoko Coast with the offshore islands of Manana (also known as Rabbit Island) and its low-lying companion Kaohikaipu (also known as Turtle Island).
Large hairy starfish flowers (Stapelia gigantea) 5 inches across grew on rocky outcrops along the way. These introduced cactus-like succulents thrive in dry areas of the island and are known for their malodorous scent — the flowers smell like a rotting dead animal to attract flies to pollinate them.
One of the neat things to see on this hike are a series of rock formations that stick up along the very edge of the cliffs like jagged teeth. Vog makes for challenging photography conditions — depending on the direction of the sun relative to the haze, the vog can be nearly invisible or can reflect the light overwhelming the photo with back light.
One of the jagged teeth formations has a large puka (hole) nearly 5 feet wide and 3 feet high. Steve crouches in front while Lars crawls in the hole to take this shot. Known as “Kaulana-aka-iole” in Hawaiian, tradition says this hole was created by a warrior who threw a spear with such force when he skewered a rat that he created a hole in the rocks.
The steepness increased and soon we were climbing up to a peak overlooking the Makai Pier, where the University of Hawaii houses its underwater submersibles. The color of the ocean was magnificent with shades of blue, cyan, and green melding into each other in the shallows of the reef flat.
Endemic iwaiwa ferns (Doryopteris decora), whose fronds have a distinctive branching pattern, grow in shady spots tucked into the cliffs.
Jay and Dave enjoy fantastic views of Sea Life Park, Oceanic Institute and the Makapuu Lighthouse as we waited for the others to arrive. From our vantage point we could clearly see that the vog was beginning to thicken and spread out from the horizon.
Not long after passing the hang-glider jump-off spot, we pushed onwards and hiked up a road that lead to the rusted remains of an old Nike Station, a vestige from the cold war in the 1950′s.
While making our way up and down along the spine we saw endemic ahinahina (Artemsia australis) growing on rocks covered with different kinds of lichen. The stringy orange lichen is Teloschistes flavicans and the stringy white lichen is Usnea australis.
Sheer cliffs drop down a thousand feet from the spine of the Koolau Mountains to the coast below. We had a commanding view of Pahonu — a walled pond along Waimanalo beach not far from the Makai Pier in Makapuu. The pond was built by a chief who loved to eat honu (turtles). He ordered all honu found along the Waimanalo Coast to be brought to this pond for his exclusive dining pleasure. The pond is now part of an estate that served as Robin’s Nest — the home of Magnum P.I. on the television series.
Even more vog and clouds began to gather over windard Oahu when we reached a big saddle that required us to drop down several hundred feet before climbing back up to a grove of ironwood trees where we usually stop for lunch. Back in 2002, a hiker fell of the sheer cliffs to his death at the bottom of this saddle.
The lunch spot sits under a grove of ironwood trees high ontop a ridge that divides Makapuu from Waimanalo. While we relaxed and ate our lunches, Rusty (the dog) knew who the bleeding-hearts were and begged Carole for handouts.
After lunch we pushed off and resumed following the spine of the Koolau Mountains. As we made our way along the edge overlooking Waimanalo we came across endmic ma’oli’oli (Schiedea globosa) in bloom with clusters of tiny flowers arranged in a ball.
The vog and clouds continued to thicken when we dropped down into grassy Kamilolii Valley and climbed up to TomTom ridge which is marked by electrical towers that transport power to Waimanalo. TomTom is named after Tom McGuire and Tom Cadle who rediscovered an old lost Hawaiian trail in 1922.
One of the objectives of HTMC when it was formed back in 1910 was to refind “lost” trails used by the Hawaiians. In ancient times, the fastest land routes over the Koolau Mountains could shave days off a canoe trip to the other side of the island. An elite group of the fastest runners — known as kukini — served as messengers, couriers, and trusted servants of the king. In order to gain advantage over each other, kukini would look for the most direct routes some of which climbed up and over the sheer cliffs of the Koolau Mountains to the other side of the island. Kukini kept their routes secret and exploited them exclusively to gain the favor of the king.
During the 1920′s, a group of daring HTMC members formed a separate club known as “Hui Alo Pali” — meaning “cliff face club” to explore the most dangerous climbs. Prior to these explorations it was thought that the only routes over the Koolau Mountains were at the Nuuanu Pali and Makapuu Lookout, where roads exist today to cross the mountains.
Hui Alo Pali explored a number of precipitous ridges descending the Koolau Mountains to the windward-side of Oahu and found doable routes at Mount Olympus, Kaau Crater, and Kuliouou which could be used as short-cuts over the mountains.
But except for TomTom, these routes proved too steep and dangerous for all but the most capable and intrepid climbers. While TomTom is steep it has innumerable footholds and ledges which make the route very much doable. Of all the rediscovered “lost” routes, TomTom is the only one on the HTMC hike schedule today.
After we descended TomTom and emerged in a residential neighborhood in the back of Waimanalo, I reflected on the great time we had climbing the spine of the Koolau Mountains, enjoying magnificent views of the Koolaupoko Coast in the vog, and descending into Waimanalo via an historic route used by the Hawaiians prior to Western contact. It is little wonder that this is one of my favorite hikes on the island.
HTMC Newsletter – Account of Hiker’s Fall
Native Hawaiian Plants, University of Hawaii, Department of Botany
Stinking Flowers, Wayne’s World, An Online Textbook of Natural History