SAMPLE HIKE - The Hikers Guide to the Hawaiian Islands

21 Awa`awapuhi

Length: 6.5-mile round trip
Elevation Gain: 1,600 feet
Suitable for: Intermediate
Location: Kaua'i: Koke'e State Park and Na Pali-Kona Forest Reserve
Topo Map: Ha'ena, Makaha Point



This hike descends to an awesome overlook of the Napali Coast. Far below lies Awa`awapuhi, a slot canyon leading to the ocean. Along the route are many varieties of native rain forest and dry-land plants.


Trailhead Directions:

Distance: (Lihu'e to Awa'awapuhi trailhead) 42 miles
Driving Time: 1 1/2 hours

From Lihu'e take Kaumuali'i Hwy (Rte 50) toward Waimea.
Pass Kukui Grove Center on the left and Kaua'i Community College on the right. The road then narrows to two lanes.
Drive through the towns of Lawa'i and Kalaheo.
Pass the Hanapepe River overlook on the right.
Drive through the towns of 'Ele'ele and Hanapepe.
Pass the Russian fort on the left and then enter Waimea town.
Pass Waimea High School on the right.
Turn right on Waimea Canyon Road. The intersection is just past Waimea Baptist Church with its white steeple.
Ascend gradually along the rim of Waimea Canyon.
At the stop sign turn right on Koke'e Rd. (Rte 550).
Pass the Koke'e Hunter Check Station on the right.
Pass turnoffs to Waimea Canyon and Pu'u Hinahina Lookouts on the right.
Enter Koke'e State Park.
Drive by the turnoff to Koke'e Lodge and Museum on the left. The lodge has restrooms and drinking water, and the museum has trail maps and guides.
Pass Koke'e campground on the left and then ascend gradually on three switchbacks.
Just after mile marker 17, look for a parking lot on the left with an Awa'awapuhi Trail sign. Just before the lot is a dirt road with a yellow gate.
Turn into the lot and park there (elevation 4,120 feet) (map point A) (UTM 4Q 433111E, 244861N) (Lat/Long N22.14131, W159.64865)..


Route Description:

Take the Awa'awapuhi Trail from the left side of the parking lot.
Climb briefly and then descend gradually along a broad side ridge. Signs identify some of the native plants..
The trail levels off through native rain forest recovering from hurricanes `Iwa and Iniki. Look for small `ohi`a trees and naupaka kuahiwi shrubs with their white, half-flowers.
Descend steeply on a series of S curves (map point B). Watch for the native birds 'elepaio and 'apapane in the forest canopy.
The angle of descent eases. On the forest floor are huge koa trunks downed by the hurricanes.
Climb briefly and pass an overlook with the first view of the ocean.
Switchback once and descend through a stand of strawberry guava trees.
The forest opens up as the vegetation gradually changes to dryland. Predominating are koa trees and pukiawe and 'a'ali'i.shrubs
Go around to the left of an eroded knob. The trail stays mostly on the left side of the ridge from here on.
Descend into a lush gulch on two switchbacks. At the first switchback are several native 'iliahi (sandalwood) (map point C).
Go through a patch of scratchy lantana shrubs and then look for a native hala pepe tree on the left.
Reach a signed junction (map point D). Continue straight on the Awa`awapuhi Trail. (To the left the Nu`alolo Cliff Trail leads to the Nu`alolo Trail.)
Reach the end of the Awa`awapuhi Trail at a double overlook (elevation 2,520 feet) (map point E) (UTM 4Q 430360E, 2449810N) (Lat/Long N22.15203, W159.67538).



If you have time for only one hike in the Koke`e (to bend) area, make it Awa'awapuhi. The trail is straightforward, well graded, and of reasonable length. On the way down you start in native rain forest and finish in dry-land scrub. At the end is a view worth sweating for. The only catch is the climb back up.

On the upper section of the trail, watch for the native birds 'elepaio abd 'apapane. The 'elepaio is gray-brown on top and has a white breast splotched with gray and balck. Its dark tail is usually cocked. The 'apapane has a red breast and head, black wings and tail, and a slightly curved black bill. In flight the 'apapane makes a whirring sound as it dart from tree to tree searching for insects and nectar.

Also along the trail are well over 50 different species of native rain forest and dryland plants. Some are identified by small signs; a few of the white numbered markers keyed to the Awa'awapuhi Botanical Trail Guide are still along the trail, but the pamphlet is out of print. The notes below describe a few of the more easily identified native plants.

'Ohi'a trees predominate in the wet upper section of the trail. They have oval leaves and clusters of delicate red flowers. Native birds, such as the 'apapane, feed on the nectar and help in pollination. Early Hawaiians used the flowers in lei and the wood in outrigger canoes. The hard, durable wood was also carved into god images for heiau (religious sites).

In the drier middle section of the trail, koa gradually replaces 'ohi'a as the dominant tree. Koa has sickle-shaped foliage and pale yellow flower clusters. Early Hawaiians made surfboards and outrigger canoe hulls out of the beautiful red brown wood. Today it is made into fine furniture.

To build a canoe, the master canoe maker (kahuna kalai wa'a) first selected a tall, straight koa tree, preferably near water. After felling the tree, he waited for Lea, the goddess of canoe builders, to appear in the form of a small native bird, the 'elepaio. If the bird walked along the entire trunk without stopping, the wood was sound and could be used for the canoe. If, however, the 'elepaio stopped and pecked at the bark, the master knew that the tree was riddled with insects and must be discarded.

Farther down the ridge the native dryland shrubs pukiawe and 'a'ali'i make their appearance. Pukiawe has tiny, rigid leaves and small white, pink, or red berries. 'A'ali'i has narrow, shiny leaves and red seed capsules that early Hawaiians used in lei making and for kapa (bark cloth) dye.

At the next to last switchback, look for 'iliahi, the sandalwood tree. Its small leaves are dull green and appear wilted. 'Iliahi is partially parasitic, with outgrowths on its roots that steal nutrients from nearby plants. Early Hawaiians ground the fragrant heartwood into a powder to perfume their kapa. Beginning in the late 1700s, sandalwood was indiscriminately cut down and exported to China to make incense and furniture. The trade ended around 1840 when the forests were depleted of 'iliahi.

Just after the patch of lantana shrub, watch for a lone native hala pepe tree. It has a thin trunk topped with a thatch of long, slender leaves. Early Hawaiians used the showy yellow flowers in lei and placed a cluster of flowers on the altar in the hula halau (long house) to honor Laka, goddess of the hula.

The view from the double overlook at the end of the trail is truly awesome. On the left are the sheer cliffs of Nu'alolo Valley. Far below on the right is Awa'awapuhi (ginger valley), a narrow canyon with a meandering stream leading to the ocean. Between the overlooks is a knife-edge ridge dividing the two valleys. Look for feral goats perched on the cliffs and koa'e kea, the white-tailed tropicbird, soaring above them. Spend some time watching the interplay of sun and clouds on ocean, ridge, and canyon. Life doesn't get much better than this.

The Hawaiian name for the valley may be Awawapuhi (eel valley), rather than Awa'awapuhi (ginger valley). Nearby is Kaluapuhi (eel pit), whereas the valley has no ginger.

The Awa'awapuhi Trail is also the return leg of the Nu'alolo Cliff loop. If you have a whole day and are an experienced hiker, try that 11.4-mile loop instead.


Copyright: University of Hawai`i Press

Last Update: 11/10/18