Start date and time: September 1, 2013 at 11:42am
Length: 4.4 miles
Elevation gain: 1500 feet
Link to GPS: http://alltrails.com/trail/us/hawaii/honopu-ridge#
On September 1, 2013, we flew into the island of Kauai to specifically hike the lesser known ridge of Honopu. It is somewhat similar to the more touristy ridge hikes like Nualolo, Awaawapuhi and Kalepa where they all share the same view of the fluted cliffs of the Na Pali coast, albeit some are longer and better maintained.
The Honopu ridge trail is primarily a hunter’s trail and much of the forest was destroyed by both hurricane Iwa (1982) and Iniki (1992). The drive along the mountainous Highway 550 to Koke’e State Park was nothing short of spectacular as the two-lane road winds around the Waimea canyon. After passing the Awaawapuhi trailhead or slightly past the 17 mile marker, we looked for an opening in the forested area as this will be our starting point.
The trail is quite confusing in the beginning as there are a number of junctions and forks in the path along the way. Occasionally, we could hear the sound of running water which told us that there must have been a stream nearby; but we could not find it. We could tell that this initial section was probably traversed by many as there were a series of alternate paths available.
There were still some old ribbons/markers at important junctions which was very useful in helping us stay on track. These markers were different from anything that we have ever seen. It was certainly easy to spot them!
This hike is generally divided into roughly four sections. Each section is quite distinctive as it led us out to the coast. The first section is a series of Kahili ginger stands, leading down a steep gradient to what seemed like a lower section that then flattens out with a lot of fallen trees. It is here that we gradually lose elevation, but then there were also several spots where the gradient was quite steep.
We came across many blow downs blocking the way causing us to contort our bodies as we plied our way through them. Most of the ohias were dead and were looking quite petrified. The hurricanes really did a number on them.
The second section traverses a low portion that did not seem to change elevation for a while. It open up to a series of contours with exposed red dirt paths with large koa trees and the occasional view of Ni’ihau. This section was fairly dusty as we started to kick up the red dirt along the trail. In one clearing, we could see all the way across Awa’awapuhi valley to its ridge on the east side. This made for an interesting view as we could probably make out some very tiny people on the opposite side.
The third section had us traversing through swaths of uluhe – which were extremely prickly. Some were really higher than our heads, so much so that we had to tunnel through it! It was a good thing we came prepared with long pants and long sleeve shirts. I doubt if many people come through here as the vegetation seemed mostly undisturbed. The path did give us an opportunity to take some really interesting uluhe tunnel shots!
As we loss and gained elevation, we finally got on the open ridge with views on both sides. Here we were welcomed with the grand view of Honopu Valley on the right and Awa’awapuhi Valley on the left. The cool breeze was a welcoming factor as we now headed into complete sun exposure for this fourth section of the trail. The views were just incredible, slowing us down to appreciate it. We certainly couldn’t help but stop to capture more pictures and to take it all in.
Although we were continuing to overall lose more elevation (about 2000 feet), the hike along the ridge was not a continuous downhill. Instead, it meandered up and down, challenging us with a good cardio work out. We really couldn’t complain, as each section of the open ridge was quite unique too in itself.
There was an interesting grassy section that looked really inviting for a camp. We were sure that if permission granted this would be the spot to camp out on (barring any really strong winds). What we did find was that the ridge itself was very diverse – especially since immediately after the lush green grass section, we would hit a portion of the ridge that looked like an open red dirt erosion patch, with the occasional ironwood or ohia tree.
The views along the ridge line was incredible. The drop off are steep, at least in the thousands of feet, and a fall will definitely end in a certain death. The peace and quiet were often punctuated with many tour helicopters buzzing in and out of Honopu valley. As we kept going on the ridgeline, the vegetation became sparser and you can feel the heat coming from the bare eroded red soil. As we edged forward, we got a better view of the coastline and also of Honopu beach with it’s iconic arch.
The only unfortunate thing breaking the natural beauty of it all was the constant buzz of helicopters making their way into the back of Honopu Valley. There is a massive dry fall at the back of the valley now visible as we moved further away towards the ocean.
In retrospect, we could have kept on hiking until it became considerably too risky to go on due to the many crumbly sections but I doubt the views will be that much different. At about the 2.3 mile mark, we decided to stop and admire the final view of the Na Pali coastline.
Although this is considered a short hike, you will feel the gradients on the way back as it is uphill most of the way. Depending on how far one goes, going back up can take from anywhere from 1500-2000 feet in elevation gain. In short, pictures and videos don’t do justice in representing this trail. It is best experienced by walking on the ridge yourself. You will be amazed by the sheer drop offs and the beauty of the fluted cliffs on the Na Pali of Kauai.