I joined the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club (HTMC) on their annual 3-day backpacking trek to the Mokuleia Forest Reserve over the President’s Day Weekend.
17 of us started on the Kuaokala Trail that starts near the satellite tracking station above Keawaula Bay (Yokohama Bay) on the Waianae Coast of Oahu. Our goal was to backpack 6-miles to the rim of Makua Valley, hike on a series of dirt roads to the old Nike Station, and then head up the ridge along the fence-line to the hunter’s campsite in the Mokuleia Forest Reserve.
After starting on the Kuaokala Trail and the fire break road, we made our way towards the rim of Makua Valley — pictured above from front to back is Mena Hollaway, Nikolaj Nordkvist, Pat Rooney, Jill Moratto, Kim Roy, Judy Roy, and Bob Brumblay.
When we reached the edge of Makua Valley we saw a 10 foot iliahi or native sandalwood tree (Santalum spp.) covered with red flower buds and white flowers. From here we proceeded along a series of interconnected dirt roads and make our way up to the old Nike Site.
The ridge above the old Nike Site provides a great view of the north shore of Oahu from Mokuleia to Kahuku. A number of ohia lehua trees on the ridge were in full bloom with vibrant red lehua flowers.
The always bubbly and fun-loving Jill Moratto (on the right) shared wasabi peas with Miyo Kimura (in the middle) and Pat Rooney (on the left) as we admired magnificent views of the north shore.
After resting for a bit we proceeded upridge into Kahanahaiki. Pete Clines (to the left) and Dessard Norris (to the right) climb over stiles to the other side of the fence to continue up the trail. The fence has been constructed to prevent pigs and goats from destroying the native habitat.
After making our way up a series of switchbacks, we hiked along the fenceline, passed the State’s snail exclosure, and made our way to the lookout point where we were treated to fantastic views of Makua Valley.
Just before we reached the hunter’s campsite, sharp-eyed Patrick Rorie, found a small kahuli (Achatinella mustelina) just under half-an-inch long on an olupua tree along side the fence. These Oahu Tree Snails are endangered and are becoming increasingly rare and difficult to find.
After reaching the campsite I continued on the Mokuleia Trail to explore a series of gullies that harbor a number of native plants and trees. As I made my way along the trail, I peered on the underside of each leaf long the trail until I found a happy face spider underneath an olopua leaf. While these spiders are not on the list of endangered species they can only be found in remote areas of the island where the native habitat is relatively undisturbed.
The body of the happy face spider (Theridion grallator) was under a quarter-inch long with long thin legs which made the spider almost an inch long. Known as nananana makali’i in Hawaiian, Happy face spiders are unique among spiders because they care for and catch food for their young.
August Smith, Mena Holloway, and Nikolaj Nordkvist admire endangered oha wai, papala kepau, and other native plants in an exclosure in a gully with a flowing stream. Oha wai (cyanea superba) are extinct in the wild and can only be found in protected exclosures like this one along the Mokuleia Trail.
Due to the considerable rainfall this winter, the spring that feeds this stream — our water source for the backpacking trek — provided ample water for everyone. Patrick Rorie cools off in the stream as he fills his water container.
When we returned to the backpacker’s campsite, almost everyone had set up their tent and were busy preparing dinner for the evening. Since my campsite was nearly a mile away at Peacock Flats, I made my way down the trail to camp site to meet Grant Oka and the other car campers.
When I arrived at Peacock Flats, I was greeted by Diane Kellett (to the left) and Joyce Oka (to the right) who were celebrating the Valentine’s Day weekend with wine, roses, chocolates, and good humor.
Grant Oka cooked chicken alfredo over a hibatchi grill as I set up my tent and prepared ramen for dinner. As the sun set under the horizon, we had great conversation over dinner and wine. While heavy winds made the 58 degree temperature a lot colder, we warmed ourselves with a fire, toasted mashmallows and drank hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps. As our night drew to an end, we snuggled comfortably under our sleeping bags and went to sleep for the night.
Early the next morning, I returned to the backpacker’s campsite and continued on along the fence line to Three Corners — a lookout point along a ridge that descends from Mount Kaala where the valleys of Makua, Ohikilolo, and Makaleha meet.
While making our way along the fence I saw dozens of Hawaiian Blues — also known as Blackburn’s Butterfly (Udara blackburnii) — flitting amongst the vegetation. Because of their small size — no more than three-eighths of an inch long — these small butterflies look like dull-gray colored moths and are easy to miss. But when they land and hold their wings upright, the irridescent turquoise color on the backside of their wings gives them away. Hawaiian Blues are one of only two species of butterflies endemic to Hawaii — the other being the Kamehameha Butterfly.
When I reached the top of Three Corner’s I was treated to a fantastic view of Makaleha Valley in the foreground with the north shore receeding into the distance. After exploring the flat upper reaches of Makaleha I made my way back along the fence line to the campsite.
When we returned to the campsite we decided to explore one of the first exclosures contructed in the Mokuleia Forest Reserve. Patrick Rorie looks on as Nikolaj Nordkvist finds a rare Delissea subcordata in bloom in the exclosure. Delissa subcordata are an endangered species in the lobelia family with only about 70 plants remaining in the wild.
Known as oha wai in Hawaiian, we were extremely lucky to see shrubs with buds, flowers and fruits on the same plant. The flowers were greenish-white in color and were about 2-inches long. The fruits were red in color and became increasing darker as they matured.
Time passed quickly at the campout and soon it was time for us to leave. We were lucky to camp in one of the more remote areas of Oahu and saw a number of exceedingly rare and endangered native plants and animals. We also had a great time getting to know each other telling late night stories huddled in our sleeping bags under starry skies.
Many thanks to Larry Lee for leading this trek and to my backpacking and camping buddies for many fond memories: Bob Brumblay, Pete Clines, John Darrah, Mena Hollaway, Miyo Kimura, Jill Moratto, Nikolaj Nordkvist, Dessard Norris, Pat Rooney, Pat Rorie, Judy Roy, Kim Roy, Tom Rulon, Alan Shiroma, August Smith, Grant Oka, Joyce Oka, Diane Kellett, and Judy Marshall.
Delissea subcordata (Oha), 5-Year Review Summary and Evaluation, US Fish and Wildlife
Hawaii’s Endangered and Threatened Species Web Site, Bishop Museum
Oha – Delissea subcordata, Fact Sheet
Plants in the Campanulaeae “Lobelia” Family on Oahu, Complied by Ken (Kenji) Suzuki, 2006