Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Waimano Tunnels and Ridge Trail -- a perfect adventure for kids

Checking out the hike with an eye for fun:

I recently tried out the Waimano Tunnels hike to see if it would be appropriate for my 9 year old daughter. I'll be back on Oahu with her this summer and I want to take her on some hikes. Based on my experience, this should be an excellent adventure for her.

The hike traces the path of an old irrigation system that consists of ditches, flumes and tunnels. It's cool that the tunnels are old and have historical significance. There are 10 or so tunnels along the trail -- each one, its own mini adventure. Be sure to bring a flash light though, as some of the tunnels are rather long and windy. They're tough to navigate without a light. Not too small and not too big either. Perfect for kids.

The hike is just over about 5 miles long -- round trip (for the tunnel section of the trail). This 'tunnel' part of the trail corresponds to the beginning section of the longer Waimano Ridge Trail. If you don't turn around at the right spot, you'll happily continue past the last tunnel, up the ridge trail. In fact, we did this during our hike. In the end, we hiked a good hour beyond the last tunnel up onto the ridge, heading toward the Ko'olau ridge line. The hike and views were lovely, but more than we planned for. In the end, our 5 mile hike turned into a solid 8 miler -- taking about 4.5 hours, with time for tunnel scrambling and lunch.

If you stick to the beginning section of the trail and take time to explore the tunnels, you can probably finish the hike in about 3 hours. The trail itself is mostly flat with a slight uphill ascent -- just what you'd expect from a trail alongside an irrigation duct. Just right for kids. We did have to hike for a while before we finally came to our first tunnel.

Where to turn around:

So how do you know when to turn around? It's easy, if you know the trick. Just look for these landmarks and follow these directions.

At some point along the trail (about 2 miles in; after a good number of tunnels), the trail crosses Waimano stream. Immediately after that you'll see an odd kind of trail sign with two arrows -- one points to the left, one points to the right. You can't miss it. It's right in front of you. (Sorry no picture).

Follow the path to the left. This will immediately take you through two more tunnels. These are the best tunnels on the hike. Continue on the path through both tunnels. After that second tunnel, you'll pop back out of the ditch and up onto the trail. If you continue on the trail up and to your right, you'll continue up the ridge trail toward the Ko'olau ridge line. If you follow the trail to your left, you'll end up circling back around and over the tunnel you just came through to a picnic area. Continue on the trail from the picnic area. This takes you back to that 'dual-arrow' junction you encountered just after crossing the stream. From here, just follow the trail back to the trail head. That's pretty much all there is to it.  

Of course, the tunnels are main attraction for this hike, but it's also loaded with goodies that should appeal to kids. In one spot, the trail is a little sketchy with a slight drop off. It's equipped with a rope to help the hiker feel safe as they scramble across a somewhat narrow, rocky ledge. Compared to many hikes on Oahu, this is pretty tame. However, it adds to the adventure for kids.

Also, the natural beauty is terrific. There are thickets of Hau trees that make excellent jungle gyms; and plenty of tropical plants some of which yield tasty fruit. We enjoyed a Liliko'i (Passion fruit) we found along the way, and the Java Plum were also abundant -- if you can handle the pucker.

Overall, this is a terrific day hike, especially for kids.

 How to get there from Honolulu:

Getting there from Honolulu is super easy. Just take H1 West toward Pearl City. (Note: once on H1 you can either stay on it the entire way or take the H201 short-cut and rejoin H1 later). Then take Exit 10 off H1 to Pearl City. Follow the exit, keeping to the right, and merge onto Moanalua Road. Follow Moanalua Road about 0.7 miles and take a right onto Waimano Home Road. Follow Waimano Home Road, up the hill about 2.5 miles until it ends (at a gate/restricted area). Park on the left side of the street. The trail head is just along the fence on the left side of the road.

Getting Started:

At the trail head there are two paths, the 'upper' path and the 'lower' path. The upper path (rightmost) follows along the fence for a while then joins up with the tunnel system. The lower-path heads down to the stream, then works its way along the stream until it joins up with the upper path later. On my trip, I stayed on the upper path.

Some pics:

Here are some pictures of the hike. 

The trail head.

The Java Plum were bursting with fruit.

A thicket of Hau branches. They scream to be climbed on.

A blossom from a Hau tree.

The entrance to a tunnel.

Hanging out under a fan palm.

The nasty thorns on the frond of a fan palm.

The entrance to another tunnel. Kind of scary looking. 

Cathie inside a tunnel. Her shoes reflecting my camera flash.  Sometimes the tunnels were damp, but this one was dry.

Cathie emerging from a tunnel.

A nice orchid we saw along the way.

A nice Lantana.

Me emerging from one of the tunnels.

The seeds/nuts of a palm tree.

A closeup of the funky seed/nut holders on a palm tree.

Looking up the Waimano Valley toward the Ko'olau Ridge. 

A Liliko'i (passion fruit) we picked up along the trail. It was tart, but good. 

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