After living on the Island for nearly a decade, I decided it was finally time to check out the Pali Puka hike.
Like most interesting hikes on Oahu, the trailhead began behind a “no trespassing” sign.
The trail is adjacent to the popular Pali scenic lookout (seen below). I had walked by this trail countless times as I took friends and family to check out the gorgeous windy vista at the cliff’s edge. Yet, I had never considered climbing the ridge. I always assumed it was too risky. The Pali lookout has long been a hub for hikers. Aside from the Pali Puka trail, the Old Pali Road (which connects to Likeke Falls and Maunawili Falls) and the Pali Notches’ trail also branch off from Nuuanu’s Pali. However, as landslides burry some trails and the State closes others, hikers are become more and more discouraged from coming here.
The beginning of the hike is quite steep. You will definitely feel it in your heart and lungs. A few strategically placed ropes really helped during the ascent. Always check a rope before putting your weight on it though. A few lines were tied off to weak branches and shrubs. This is not a trail you would want to take a tumble on…
At times, we were a bit sketched out by how close the trail got to the edge. One wrong step and you could drop over a thousand feet before biffing it in the jungle, at the foot of the Koolaus.
Fortunately, at critically dangerous spots, a safer trail was available that lead us through the bushes, at a secure distance from the edge.
After a safe passage through the brush, we merged back with the more precarious trail.
What I found most unsettling, was a spot on the ridge where you could tell that the earth beneath the trail had just given way. There would be absolutely no coming back from such a fall. It’s sights like these that make you realize how powerless and at the mercy you are of the mountain.
We quickly made our way to our destination. The Pali Puka! It was bigger than I had expected (I thought it would be just big enough to fit my head through). But it was smaller than what my wife had thought. With our expectations combined, I guess it was just the right size. A geologist from UH informed me that the puka likely originated from a lava tube that used to pass through this ridge. As the Koolau wall eroded, each side collapsed until only this window was left. Pretty crazy. I never though a lava tube could end up with such a nice view.
The view was astounding. From the right angle you could frame a shot from Coconut Island (Gilligan’s Island) to Chinaman’s Hat.
At a different angle you could spot the Kapaa Quarry and the Marine Corps Base Peninsula. This place has some serious potential for sunrise photos. I would definitely come back here.
Before leaving, we climbed up above the Puka. The real reason I wanted to do this hike was to scope out the trail condition, as I have been planning to trek the ridge trail from the Likelike Tunnel to the Pali Lookout (when conditions are perfect: no rain or wind).
We had to be very careful due to the strong gusts of wind that would randomly sweep over the ridge, but the views were truly breathtaking up there! Definitely worth it.
After soaking it all in, it was time to begin our very prudent descent of the slippery and dusty ridge. Never let your guard down. Most of the time, I wipeout on the return trip of hikes because I assume the hardest part is behind me (since I’ve already done it one way).
As we progressively approached the parking lot, the clouds briefly parted to give us a priceless view of Nuuanu and Honolulu. I had never seen the valley from this vantage point before. We had a ton of fun and the hike was really short. We were surprised that, after all the photos and taking a few breaks to appreciate the view, we finished in just under an hour. Perhaps our perception of time was distorted by our constant fear of falling off the ridge, or something… The Pali Puka is a great short hike to checkout, if conditions permit. I would not recommend this hike during strong winds (like we did) or in the rain (all the dust would just turn to slippery mud). The views were one of a kind.
Enjoy and stay safe!
Hike at your own risk. We do not condone the safety or legality of hiking any of the trails seen on this site. Also do not rely solely on information found herein; please do your own research. Hiking in Hawaii is dangerous due to unstable surfaces. Injury or death may occur. It is also relatively easy to get lost in the dense tropical vegetation or unmarked trails if you are not careful.