Just because we were on an island paradise didn’t mean we wanted to sit still. We look for adventure everywhere we go and locals are often a great source of inspiration. Within hours of our arrival we’d met Jason and Fermin at the Royal Hawaiian. When we explained that we love to hike, climb and kayak, they either inspired us with where to find our own adventure, or in one case, took us. Hats off to them…their ideas were excellent.
Recommendation 1: Kayak from Kailua
Near the eastern end of Oahu is the town of Kailua, better known as the gateway to the US Marine Base at Kaneohe Bay, but lesser known as a great place to launch a kayak and to paddle around the islands offshore. The islands are in some part bird sanctuaries, so the rules for landing or walking vary, but the Na Mokulua (“two islands”) are a little over a kilometer offshore or about 2 km. from Kailua. You can land and walk around the outside edge of the northwestern island, Moku Nui, and this small island also has a very nice sand beach that can only be accessed by the adventurous willing to powerboat or paddle out. We tried to walk the entire island perimeter, but there was a healthy swell that day that not only made the windward side dangerous, but also made for a strange break on the leeward side as waves came together from the west, the east and between the islands. The waves were difficult enough that we saw several people struggle to stay on their kayaks and a few flip over. Between a great launching beach at Kailua (or the stream bed that didn’t quite reach the ocean) to the hiking and lovely beach on the left-hand island, this is a great way to spend an afternoon. Even the rain on our way back just added to the day’s variety. There are several kayak rental places in Kailua that can be found on Google.
Recommendation 2: Stairway to Heaven (Haiku Steps)
This adventure isn’t for the feint of heart. It is one of Oahu’s “forbidden” trails and must be accessed in creative ways, including going after dark when the security guard is off-duty. The stairway was originally built to allow access to a navigational antenna 646 m. (2,120 ft.) up the thin, classically-Hawaiian ridge. Our new friends told us we needed headlamps and to meet at 7pm. A quick trip to the store had us ready to climb the 3,922-step metal staircase.
The plan was to park in the residential neighborhood near the entrance, quickly depart our cars before arousing the suspicion of the neighbors (who frown on anyone sneaking in) and to find our way up a drainage ditch. Everything went according to plan and we were on the first sections of metal staircase within 15 minutes of parking. Other than very slippery mud, the challenge was to find our way quietly in the dark as we passed through backyards and gaps in fences. Anyone wanting to claim ignorance of the prohibition on climbing would have to ignore the many signs warning of the staircase’s closure to the public.
The staircase was created by bolting sections of pre-made steel stairs into the rock, and then connecting each section together so that the staircase could ‘follow’ the contours of the ridge. This meant that in the steepest sections, the stairs were much more like a ladder, and in the less steep areas, more like a flat, steel walkway. Since we were on the windward side of Oahu, the trade winds brought clouds around us which made the staircase slippery but also obscured our view of just how far the drops were on each side. It was a wet, cold stair-master that lasted an hour an half on the way up and less than 45 minutes on the way down. The view of the lights of Haiku, Kailua and Kaneohe Bay were worth the climb. Going down was the more treacherous direction as the sometimes-vertical pitch meant turning around and going down ladder-style. This is an exhilarating hike for those willing to break a few rules.
Recommendation 3: Wa’ahila Ridge
There are few hikes more beautiful and yet very close to a major city. The Wa’ahila Ridge Trail begins just outside Honolulu at the Wa’ahila Ridge State Recreation Area, at the end of St. Louis Drive. The total trail is 3.8 km. (2.4 miles) in each direction with several flat, grassy areas along the way that afford fantastic views of Honolulu and toward Diamond Head. There are steep parts that require going hand-over-hand with vines and tree roots and good shoes are necessary as intermittent rain causes the clay ground to become quite slippery in places. The brief showers that we experienced didn’t bother us as they were refreshing and created fantastic single and double rainbows. The hike is steep in parts but is an easy morning or afternoon outing.
Recommendation 4: Drive the North Shore
While this isn’t a hiking exercise, the North Shore is a must-see. From surf-watching at Banzai Pipeline (our morning), gorgeous beaches at Waimea Bay (our afternoon) and just dining and relaxing at Haleiwa (our evening to sunset), this is the place to spend a day just taking in sights from a rental car.
We’ve spent more time on the other islands that are well-known for their outdoor activities, but were very pleasantly surprised to see that Oahu was great for our type of adventures as well.
For another of our Hawaiian adventures, see Hiking Kauai’s Koke’e State Park in May 2011.