I climbed up Wailupe Middle Ridge in Aina Haina, hiked along the spine of the Koolau Mountains to Kaainwaau Nui and then descended the Mauumae Trail to exit at the top of Maunalani Heights in Kaimuki.
The hike is about 7-1/2 miles long — 3 miles up the Wailupe Middle Ridge, nearly 1-1/2 miles along the edge of the Koolau Mountains, and then a 3 mile descent on Mauumae Trail. Our adventure started at the very end of Hao Street in Wailupe Valley where we hiked up the trail through introduced grasses, strawberry guava, and christmas berry before turning right at the first major junction.
August Smith, Nikolaj Nordkvist and I hike through groves of indigenous hau trees (Hibiscus tilaceous) with lauae ferns in the understory as we make our way to the foot of the middle ridge in Wailupe Valley.
Immediately upon reaching the middle ridge, we started the 1,700 foot climb to the summit. The lower part of the middle ridge is dominated by groves of invasive strawberry guava trees with an ocasional koa tree (Acacia koa) along the trail.
The vegetation became much more native the higher we climbed. We soon found ourselves hiking through native forests of ohia and koa trees with pilo, naupaka and uluhe ferns in the understory.
When we turned around to admire an akia tree (Wikestromia sp.) with bright yellow-orange fruit, we could see the residential neighborhoods of Waipule Valley and parts of the southern coast of Oahu far below.
When we climbed into the clouds at the summit we entered “wao akua” — the realm of the gods to the Hawaiians. Lapalapa trees (Cheirodendron platyphyllum) thrive along the water-logged Koolau Summit Ridge. The leaves of lapalapa leaves are distinctive for their light-green color and peculiar movement — their leaves are divided into 3 leaflets with supple leaf stems that flutter in the slightest wind. When the wind blows, the leaves hit against each other and produce a unique clacking sound.
Turning west (left) along the Koolau Summit Ridge, we made our way past lapalapa trees along the very edge of the cliffs which drop-off precipitously. Clouds blocked our view of Maunawili and Waimanalo well over a thousand feet below.
Our adventure along the spine of the Koolau Mountains took us up and down several peaks along the Koolau Summit Ridge — Wiliwilinui, Waialae Nui, Puu Lanipo and Kainawaau Nui.
When we reached the top of Puu Lanipo, we were thrilled to see a handful of Trematolobela singularis, an endangered species, poised to bloom with brilliant red-purple flowers.
Within the next week or so, a handful of flowers will bloom starting from the bottom of the stalk and working its up to the top every few days over the course of the next month.
When we reached Kainawaau Nui, the peak at the top of the Mauumae Trail, we descended to exit at the top of Maunalani Heights. As we descended Mauumae we could see on the next ridge over rain clouds blowing over Kaau Crater from the summit.
Soon a mist descended on us as well and we could barely see the outline of Diamond Head far in the distance. As we descended the trail, we reflected on the great time we had hiking in the clouds and seeing the flower buds of rare native plants. What a great hike!
Hawaii’s Endangered Species — Plants, Bishop Museum
Hawaiian Lobelioids, Wikipedia
Native Hawaiian Plants, University of Hawaii, Department of Botany