Friday, November 19, 2010

Maunawili Falls Trail

There are dozens of hiking trails on O'ahu and this weekend I decided to try a new one.  I had heard that Maunawili Falls was really pretty and that there was a waterfall and swimming hole at the end, which made it all the more enticing.  After my hot and humid disaster at Makapu'u with no water, I thought being able to take a swim afterwards would be nice.
There's Not Always Stairs...

Maunawili Falls Trail is a good beginners trail.  It is not difficult, but still provides challenging areas.  The first quarter (1/4) mile of the one and a half (1 1/2)-mile of the trail is easy.  It's relatively flat and dry and there aren't any obstacles.  There were a few families that had small kids with them who seemed to be having a good time and not struggling. I would say that you don't have to be in great shape to hike it, but make no mistake, after the first quarter mile there will be a few times along the way where you'll be huffing and puffing.  There were several young people on the trail that we could hear breathing heavily after walking up some of the steeper parts of the trail.  However, along our way we also saw several...let's call them "senior citizens" (I don't want to say an age for fear of angry comments from people I just labeled "old")...hiking it.  They were moving slowly, for sure, but they weren't holding anyone up and were doing fine.  There are also plenty of rocks to sit on if you were to get tired for some reason.

The most challenging aspect of the trail is probably that it gets VERY muddy even when it hasn't rained for a few days.  If it has been raining, expect tremendous amounts of mud.  I cannot emphasize enough that you should not wear nice shoes.  You should wear shoes you're okay throwing away.  I actually highly recommend water shoes (you'll read about "why" shortly).  There are several parts of the trail where you have no choice but to wade through mud.  You WILL get dirty on this hike.  The toughest part of the trail is that certain parts can be very slippery.  You cross at least three small streams on the way to the falls and you have two choices.  Risk breaking your neck by tip-toeing and balancing on the slippery rocks to cross or just walk through the stream.  Do yourself a favor: just walk through.  By the end of the hike you won't care anyway.  We got this advice before going and I didn't believe it.  Once you come to the first major stream though, you quickly realize that it's better to just say, "oh screw it."  It's very liberating, actually.

View From the Trail
The trail goes through a rainforest so the foliage is really amazing.  Also, there are phenomenal views of the Ko'olaus Mountains.  Although most of the trail runs through thick forest, there are a few points along the way where it opens up and provides some great pictures (see above).  Most of the trail goes uphill, too so you also get a lot of views of the forest below.  After you hike the mile and a half, the trail opens up to a small, but pretty, waterfall and surrounding swimming hole.  Depending on when you go, there will be a few people already there swimming and jumping off the rocks.

Most people jump from the rocks where the waterfall is.  I know what you're thinking: it doesn't look that high.  Truth be told, it's not.  But when you're standing up there, it sure looks A LOT higher.  It's also unnerving because the water is murky.  It's impossible to see anything and since you have to climb over rocks to get in the pool in the first place, you never really know if rocks might be looming under the water.  Well, after a few people jumped, I was pretty convinced I was not going to crack my head open and I jumped.  Then I was quickly put to shame when two guys (clearly military...lots of military guys here) climbed up the sides of the mountain to what was, in my opinion, easily 75 feet.  They jumped from way up there (out of the picture) and into the pool below.  I asked them and they said they went pretty far down in the water and still didn't feel anything.  So my guess is the swimming hole is at least 15 feet deep. That doesn't mean I'm trying it anytime soon.  It still requires accuracy to not hit the rocks on the edges of the hole.

Now, lest I get sued for not giving fair warning, let me talk about Leptospirosis.  This is a rare, but severe and contagious bacterial infection.  Leptospirosis is often referred to as swamp fever or mud fever.  The organism enters the body when mucous membranes or broken skin come in contact with contaminated environmental sources. These environmental sources are often swamps and rivers.  According to e-medicine, recreational activities that present risk include traveling to tropical areas, canoeing, hiking, kayaking, fishing, windsurfing, swimming, waterskiing, wading, riding trail-bikes through puddles, white-water rafting, and other outdoor sports played in contaminated water.  Basically, it is a bacteria found in animal pee that travels down stream and festers in mostly still water.  There are signs all over the falls warning people that swimming may lead to leptospirosis.  Well, as far as I can tell, I am still healthy and haven't had any problems. I'm also not an idiot and didn't jump in the swimming hole and starting drinking the water.

Getting to Maunawili Falls is MUCH easier than people would have you believe (as with any directions here).  The island of O'ahu is not that big.  You can drive the entire circumference of the island in a few hours.  To get from one side to the other takes about an hour (maybe a little more depending on traffic).  If you ask people, though, you'd think the Falls are on a different planet.  Hawaiians think a 30 minute drive is too far to go.  Well, I asked someone how to get to Maunawili Falls and after they finished giving me directions, I was convinced I would never get there.  It's easy.

From Waikiki, jump on the H-1 going West. Take the Pali Highway heading toward Kailua.  You'll go maybe 6 miles or so as you go through the mountains.  You'll go through 2 tunnels and then turn right at the third stop light (Auloa Street).  Keep left on Maunawili Road (the road sort of forks) and go through the subdivision.  At the end of Maunawili Road turn right (you have no choice) on Keewina Street and park on the street.

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