About seven miles up Kuamo’o Road from the Kuhio Highway, just before crossing Kawi Stream, there’s a small parking lot (currently closed for repair) on the left. Additional parking may be available across the stream, on the right. However, DO NOT CROSS if the stream is running high (knee deep or higher). Limited parking along Kuamo’o Road, headed back down to the east is also in vogue at this time, and there are three reasonably safe spots by the trailhead (two other nearby commonly used spots are not safe because they block the gate that is used by trucks, and earth moving equipment that also use the trail.
At the beginning of your hike, there’s a large clump of papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) that grows along the side of the road between the stream and the trailhead. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the trails have been wetter than usual this year, which takes a bit of the fun out of hiking, and the Kuilau is no exception. Sometimes the easiest path on the Kuilau Trail is right down the deep impressions made by tractor tires; in other spots, the path between the ruts is less soggy.
As I gained elevation on my last Kuilau hike, the sun began to dry out the ruts, and some of the smaller creatures began to move across the trail while attempting to remain unseen. Can you spot the tiny gecko in the picture below?
There is no potable water available along the trail, but edible fruit is abundant in season. On my first hike, someone told me the vine-y little briar with the white, five-petal blossom was wild raspberry, but on tasting I discovered it was something I had known on the mainland as thimbleberry (Rubus rosaefolius), also known as: West Indian raspberry (ola’a), roseleaf raspberry, or rose-leaf bramble.
Both guava (Psidium guajava), and its invasive cousin strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum) are also prevalent at lower elevations along the trail, and while the low hanging fruit is almost always picked bare, the fragrance of the remnants is intoxicating.
Farther along, I saw a strange vine with what appeared to be potatoes growing from it. The air potato or bitter yam (Dioscorea bulbifera) is best left alone. For one thing, it’s invasive, but most importantly, while it may be pleasing to the eye in the wild, it is almost certainly poisonous.
Other vines, although invasive, are not quite so dangerous. Monstera (Monstera deliciosa) is ubiquitous in Hawaii, and internet search results highlight its delicious aspects.
These prehistoric giants thrive in heavy shade as well as on bright, open slopes all along the trail. Due to my limited botanical knowledge, I cannot tell whether the fern pictured below is the native Hapu’u Pulu (Cibotium splendens), or the invasive Australian Tree Fern (Cyathea Cooperi), but like a tinkling bell in a light breeze or trickling water, its presence is soothing and cooling.
Easily recognizable, common era ferns along the trail were much easier to identify because of their similarity to those I had known at Hoyt Arboretum in Portland, Oregon. The most common fern along the lower ridge, as well as many other trails, is the Asian Sword Fern (Nephrolepis brownii aka multiflora), often seen among smaller, lacy ferns that I cannot readily identify.
Around the half-mile mark the landscape grows more interesting. The shadowy “amphitheater” shown here is an eastern crater below Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale (‘rippling waters’) known as the Blue Hole.
A little less than three quarters of a mile along, a break in the trees permits this splendid view across the valleys of the Keāhua (‘the swelling, as a wave’) and Kāwī streams to the saddle between Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale and the Makaleha (‘to look about, as in wonder’) mountains. The peak in the distance is Keana‘awi Ridge.
Eucalyptus tree are prevalent at the three-quarter mile point as well. As a matter of fact, there is a tunnel of eucalyptus on the Moalepe Trail, about a quarter mile past the bridge that separates these two trails. When conditions are just right, a little warmer and much drier, the scent of the eucalyptus is almost overpowering. As shown below, the eucalyptus not only provide shade for the understory, but a home for other plants as well.
I spotted a lone cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) at one mile. These birds eat bugs and geckos, and can always be found following behind lawn mowers to snatch whatever the mower churns up.
Below is the breathtaking view of the Makaleha Mountains from the picnic shelter set up at the one mile distance on the trail. Many visitors are unaware that this is not the end of the trail. From the lawn surrounding the picnic shelter, the trail veers off to the right, but is rather inconspicuous when the grass is tall.
About a half mile beyond the picnic area is a little waterfall near trail’s end. This little fall on the upper part of Opaeka‘a Stream (which eventually leads to Opaeka‘a Falls in Wailua) is more often heard than seen. Its splash pool lies about 30 feet below, and because Opaeka‘a Stream is barely a trickle at this point it’s just a pleasing sound, an affirmation that we have had sufficient rain.
A bridge joins Kuilau and Moalepe trails if you want to hike further (about 2.75 miles). The signs are somewhat misleading, and if you zoom in you’ll see that someone has scratched through the line “1.25 MILES TO PARKING AREA” because the other side of this sign lists 1.75 miles as the distance to Keahua Arboretum, which is only a quarter mile from the Kuilau trailhead.
According to the Division of Land & Natual Resources website, Kuilau Trail is 2.1 miles long. So, allow at least three hours, more if you plan to take photographs and even more if you want to stop for a picnic lunch; pack at least a liter of water, and as always, sunscreen and mosquito repellant.
Finally, here’s a long view from the trail looking down the Opaeka‘a valley to Wailua (‘two waters’) along Kauai’s east side, somewhat obscured by dense clouds earlier in the day.