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Destination: Oahu : Inside Tracks : A local family's favorite hiking trails, with a waterfall and shave ice as rewards

June 11, 1995|MARY KAYE RITZ | Ritz is an assistant features editor at the Honolulu Advertiser. and

KAILUA, Hawaii — On the rare occasions when I've ventured the 15 miles from our home into Waikiki for banquets or to rescue visiting friends, I'm surprised to see families holed up for their Hawaiian vacations, exploring no farther than the concrete behemoths that jut to the once-fabled beach.

Even if they book an island tour, they're almost always herded past the glorious hiking spots the locals know will stay safely unclaimed.

I know those places, because my husband grew up here. The trails he tackled as a Boy Scout are now the day trips our 7- and 9-year-old sons enjoy. He has shown us an insider's Oahu--from a mountain trail dotted with spindly haole koa trees that leads to abandoned World War II pillboxes, to a pristine, Olympic-size swimming hole at the base of a thunderous waterfall.

Our favorite rambles are on the wet and lushly vegetated windward (northeast) side of the island, within a scenic, hourlong drive from the high-rises along tourist-packed Kalakaua Avenue. And for Waikiki-based families willing to rent a car and pack a good pair of hiking shoes, they provide a refreshing contrast to neon-hued cocktails and Kodak moments.

Not that you wouldn't want to take a camera, should you venture just over the Pali Highway, which tunnels through the rainbow-bedecked Koolau Range. Once there, your choices for hikes are varied: through Kailua to the exclusive Lanikai subdivision, or toward the North Shore beaches.

Hawaii residents lost their internal compasses over time, out here in the land of the tiny latitudes. We gauge where we are in relation to that land: the direction mauka (say MAU-kah) means to the mountains, and makai (say muh-KIGH) means to the sea. So don't bother asking a resident how far north the hike is, should you get lost. In Hawaii, direction-giving is as much an art as a history lesson:

"You go down the mauka side of the Pali, turn left where the drive-in used to be, but now there's just a road into the hills. You'll see some trees where people put up ornaments last Christmas, but they won't be there now. . . ."

Sure, you could check a map, but where's the fun in that?

I remember the directions my brother-in-law gave me when we took our boys up Kaiwa Ridge near Lanikai for the first time: "There's a fence to the one side by the condominiums, and you go up the steep part on the other side, the haole koa side. But they may have the sprinklers on. . . ."

The way his voice trailed off led me to believe sprinklers would not be a good thing.

A caveat: When he said steep, he meant steep . This is not a hike for young children or the weak of spirit. The trail narrows as it nears a cliff, and my maternal heartbeat raced as my children skipped, carefree, ahead of me. My husband gently reminded me of all the times he ventured beyond his parents' or Scout leader's reach and lived to tell about it. But I wouldn't let a little one get too far ahead.

Once we conquered the initial incline, plus a few treacherous rock walls farther up, we find panoramic views of the teal-and-turquoise Kailua Bay, Lanikai Beach, and the abandoned World War II pillboxes (housing for artillery) where the children like to take their first break.

At this point, my maternal pulse is again sent throbbing--the cement pillboxes are strategically set into the cliffs--as the boys clamber into and atop the structures. Every time I wipe the sweat from my brow, drop my itty-bitty pack of granola bars and relinquish my tiny canteen, I think of the soldiers who braved the same trail with cement and steel to erect those pillboxes 50 years ago.

The small, dark pillboxes were hastily constructed after the Pearl Harbor bombing to house armaments in the event of another attack. They were never used in battle. Now, only the gunnery platforms and an easy peace remain. Since my boys' grandmother is Japanese American, this is a chance for a family history lesson.

There's also cacti--common in such rocky, wind-swept locations. They flower each spring and summer, and we always take time to hunt their bright red blooms.

A friend of ours who helped cut the newly completed Maunawili Trail, which heads from the Pali Lookout to Waimanalo, tells me it's about eight miles each way--but my brood has never made it that far. We've followed the ridge a couple of miles to a clearing with a view to the ocean. All along the ridge are sweeping panoramic vistas of the Windward Coast, majestic cliffs and Mt. Olomana. From the ridge, you can see native plant life-- uluhe ferns (false staghorn ferns) cascading down the hillsides, punctuated by massive koa and flowering ohia trees.

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