Category Archives: Hiking

Big Island Historic Parks

In 1995, Lenny and I went to the Big island of Hawaii for the first time. We, of course, had booked our flights and lodging months in advance. But our government decided to forego a budget. Therefore the national parks were closed. We managed to walk a few minor trails in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park but never really knew about the historic parks.

Temple in PUHE

I’m making up for lost time and opportunity and dragging my family to the three historical parks on the west coast of the Big Island.

Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site protects a Hawaiian temple, one of the major sacred structure built in Hawaii before Europeans came.

It also introduces visitors to Kamehameha, the warrior, who united all the Hawaiian Islands under his rule, of course. Besides a half-mile loop through the protected area, there’s not much to do.

Staff at PUHE

But a poster in the visitor center caught my eye. There was a picture of every staff member that works in this park – from park ranger to the folks to manage the bookstore.

Now, what if the Smokies did this?

South of Kona on the Big Island lies the Captain Cook monument. Captain James Cook (1728-1779) was a British explorer and a navy man. He was the first European to visit the Hawaiian islands.

First the Polynesians welcomed him but by Cook’s third visit, he was no longer the “White God”. Tensions arose and he was killed by Hawaiians villagers near present-day Kona.

Captain Cook monument

In the late 1800s, a monument was put up on the bay where Cook met his demise. Several other groups have put up plaques in his honor. This website explains how to find the trailhead.

You can only get there by boat or by a steep 1.8 mile trail. On the way, we saw goats, a lost cow and several weasels. Most people who hike down plan to spend the day snorkeling but we just wanted to do the hike.

I don’t know why this monument isn’t more accessible. After all, Cook was a pretty famous explorer in the Pacific.

Maybe in the late 1800s, there was still animosity toward Europeans or maybe no one really cares.

Diamond Head – a classic

Climbing Diamond Head

Our last day in Honolulu – and I hadn’t climbed up Diamond Head yet.

The hike is less than two miles round trip, but climbs over 550 feet – up, up, up. By now, my son, Neil, and family had arrived to join me on this Hawaii vacation.

We drove out to Diamond Head State Monument before 8:30, a late start for us. How naive! On Christmas Day, all the parking spaces closest to the trailhead were already taken.

We left my daughter-in-law with seven-year old Isa to study the exhibits at the visitor center and turned back down to find a parking space. We climbed an extra couple of hundred feet and reunited. The five of us started climbing.

The route starts as a paved path, then turn to a hard-pack trail – all continuously up. We’re marching like ants: frustrated runners, slow-poke women in sandals, sneakered families and couples carrying babies in their arms or backs.

Then the stairs, tunnel and more steep stairs. The crowd is so orderly and polite. People are constantly apologizing for passing or for being too slow. By the time we get toward the top, there are lookouts and picture-taking opportunities.

Finally the top where groups are taking pictures of each other and the view. And what a view! Downtown Honolulu, the ocean, and Koko Head, where I had been several days ago. Reluctantly, we all started down the same way we came up.

Where did this trail come from?

Diamond Head was an ideal site for coastal defense of O’ahu. The Federal Government started fortifications in 1908. They built the trail for men and mules to bring building supplies and access. Now it’s managed by the Hawaii State Parks and, unlike Koko Head, is maintained.

Koko Head Crater – Steep and steep

I thought I had done my homework on Honolulu but it took a chance conversation with Jason, my seat mate on the plane to find out about Koko Head Crater in Oahu in the east side of the island.

“Don’t do it,” Jason said. “It is incredibly steep. Do Diamond Head instead.”

That was all the challenge I needed. Yesterday I went to find the trailhead but the only road down was closed.

I searched for an official address. I just trusted my iPhone and it led me to Koko Head District Park. At about 8 am, I had a tough time finding a parking space. This was going to be a group experience with many friends I had yet to meet.

Look at those steps.

This was the beginning of a thousand foot climb in less than a mile. But this is no ordinary trail but an old railroad, built by our military as a lookout after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. According to one fellow hiker, the military brought all the supplies by helicopter and dropped them along what would be the railroad.

There are 1,048 steps/railroad ties. But this was a long time ago and now, the railroad tracks are falling apart. No one is maintaining it as a trail and still so many hike it. Even though it was less than a mile one-way, I treated it as a hike with a pack, water and poles. Was I glad for poles!

On top of Koko Head Crater

On top, the 360-degree view was magnificent. There were remains of a concrete lookout tower.

People were taking pictures of the view, themselves and each other.

Everyone congratulated me, because I was obviously the oldest person there, maybe by a generation.

If I thought it was tough, I had to hand it to the young family carrying a baby. I wouldn’t have tried this forty years ago.

On top of Koko Head Crater

But the walk down was tougher. I had to watch every step as not to slip. There is so much space between the railroad ties that each step was a negotiation. This is where all the “young people” passed me. I remember the saying,

“Be nice to the people as you pass them on the way up because they’ll pass you on the way down”.

When I got back to my car, I was spent. Nothing hurt, nothing was bruised. I found the closest coffee shop and just sat for a while.

Thanks, Mahalo, Jason, for telling me about this challenge.