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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 26, 2002

Maunawili trek easy — if weather cooperates

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By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

It probably wasn't the best day to hike Maunawili Falls.

There are numerous streams, above, to cross en route to the hikers' goal: the waterfall and a rewarding dip in a cool pool, below.

Catherine E. Toth • The Honolulu Advertiser

But the threat of rain and flash flooding added an element of challenge and danger to make the easy three-mile stroll to the falls worth the half-hour drive from Kaimuki.

Seven of us met just after 11 a.m. at the starting point for the hike, deep into the valley along Maunawili Road. Leaving our cars in the quiet residential area didn't worry us. We were more concerned about the menacing gray clouds that seem to constantly hover over the lush Windward valley.

No complaints about the weather so far. Cool but not cold. Wet but not windy. It made for a comfortable hike, aside from the mud. But, as one veteran hiker promised, the trail would take a noticeable upturn, enough to make you break a sweat by the time you reach the falls.

But guide books and story-swapping often don't give this trail any credit. Sure, it's quiet and safe enough for novices. But arriving in denim skirts, rubber slippers or A&F jeans isn't fitting for any hike, especially one that can't promise sunshine or dry trails.

Nature trail

The allure of Maunawili Falls isn't just the swimming pool reward at the end. The trail is a stroll through a botany textbook, with a variety of trees, flowers, ferns and mushrooms that line the path through the valley. Over the tranquil rush of stream water you can sometimes hear the white-rumped shama, its distinct call splitting the quiet.

It's no wonder why a Hollywood production company chose this area to represent a West African jungle for the upcoming Bruce Willis film, called "Hostile Rescue," shooting on O'ahu until June. (Access is limited during filming.)

Aside from the tourists with cameras and bug spray, this could be any jungle, anywhere.

But today, this was our latest conquest. Jungle or not.

A hostile "Kapu Keep Out" sign signaled us to head the opposite direction, as we began the trek along Maunawili Stream.

"Could be dangerous," one hiker called out, half-jokingly, as we listened to the rushing water from the stream. It sounded like someone had turned on the faucet too far to the right.

Forging streams

The trail was already muddy, as we sloshed along. It took us just seven minutes to reach the first stream crossing, a shallow hop-skip-jump over a few rocks to the other side.

The trail began to widen after passing through a grove of Arabian coffee trees. More "Mud on the Rocks" than "Mudslide," this leg of the trail went from sloshy mud to slippery rocks. Beneath the canopy of mango and monkeypod trees swirled the sounds of birds, chirping and shrieking from their balconies among the trees. Our resident science buff confidently identified them: "Birdus songus prettius."

We hit our second stream crossing at 11:42 a.m., a wide ford with more opportunities for disaster. Still boasting no casualties, we made our way along the stream, our hiking boots slurping through the mud that turned downright slimy, the kind of mud that makes a noise when it squeezes between your toes.

Just five minutes later we reached 'Api Springs, adorned with 'ape plants, their huge heart-shaped leaves something out of a floral postcard.

This is the boundary of the Waimanalo Forest Reserve and the official start of Maunawili Falls Trail.

And not one slip, fall or moment of humiliation.

The climb

The next part of the hike was all uphill. Surrounded by purple Philippine ground orchids and the lithe trunks of strawberry guava trees, the quiet wooded area was undeniably inviting. As one hiker put it: "It's straight out of a fairy tale."

Just after noon we reached a fork in the trail. The path on the right leads to the Pali; the one on the left heads straight down to the falls.

We took a quick break, taking in the open view of the Ko'olau Mountains spread out before us, encased in clouds. Had I known at the time, I would have motioned to the massive peak above Nu'uanu Pali. Not because of its intimidating 3,150-foot elevation, but more because of its name, Konahuanui, which means, well, enlarged male parts. The women found that quite amusing.

The descent was marked by steep steps surrounded by ki plants and the distinct sound of cannonball splashes into the pool that awaited us.

The reward

The final stream crossing was the most challenging, not just because we had to follow the river bed up toward the falls, but because the end was so close, right there, we could almost taste the cool mountain water.

And there it was, the falls, nothing like Waimea or 'Akaka, but simple and inviting. Eight shirtless guys in board shorts circled the pool, as spectators and as rock jumpers, while two bikini-clad brunettes caught every jump, every laugh on their camcorders and digital cameras.

We took a breather, squatting or balancing on the slippery rocks fronting the pool. For such a short hike, we packed a lot of grub, from granola bars to Frosted Flakes to Tiger's Milk.

Just like the group watching the playback on the digital camera, we found instant gratification in the end result of our efforts.

And just like the second wave of tattooed hikers, who, amazingly enough, brought along a six-pack of beer and a pack of cigarettes, the hike wasn't entirely perfect. It started to rain, three of us slipped and the remainder barely escaped with just muddy shins.

But what would a hike be without the pain?

Reach Catherine E. Toth at ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 535-8533.