HIKE: Pu‘u Pia, Mānoa, O‘ahu
WHEN: June 2015
LENGTH: 2 miles roundtrip
FEATURES: Mountainous, often wet, great for beginners and families, scenic views of the Ko‘olau Mountains and Mānoa Valley, dog-friendly, hunting area, special pig control hunting takes places on Wednesdays and Sundays
The first time I hiked Pu‘u Pia trail in Mānoa was more than 20 years ago, back in high school when I would wander trails often alone or with friends who had no idea where we were going. (Oh, I could tell you stories about getting lost in the Ko‘olaus, but my mom reads this blog.)
But Pu‘u Pia, on its own, isn’t a difficult trail. (You can venture off the trail and hook up to other trails in the Honolulu Mauka Trail System, but I digress.) It’s about two miles total roundtrip and takes about an hour to complete. So whenever I wanted to get outdoors, walk among native naupaka kuahiwi shrubs and majestic koa trees, and relax at a grassy spot with unobstructed views of the Ko‘olau Mountains and lush Mānoa Valley, I head here.
But I will say, the experience lately hasn’t been the same.
For starters, more people are lacing up and hitting trails all over the island. And this trail, because of its ease and convenient location, has become much more popular in the last five years.
But there’s something else going on at this trail, too, and it’s hard to explain.
The last four times I’ve done it, I’ve had strange and scary experiences. Like the guy who had pitched a tent near the trailhead who kept calling out to me. (I was hiking alone.) Or the woman who seemed to be living at the shelter near the junction to the Kolowalu Trail. Or the pigs that ran across the trail as I was hiking with my dogs. Or the pack of hunting dogs running somewhere in the valley, followed by the horrific squealing of pigs.
Yeah. It’s been weird.
Suffice it to say, I don’t hike this trail nearly as much as I used to. But there are so many aspects of it I love — and I’m sure other hikers, especially those just starting out, will, too.
First off, you need to find it.
The trail starts in the back of Mānoa Valley on Alani Drive, where it takes a sharp right. You’ll see the state trails sign with a few mailboxes at the start of what looks like a very long driveway. (It’s really Alani Lane and you can’t park here.) Park anywhere along Alani Drive, though be respectful that this is a residential neighborhood.
Walk down Alani Way, past a few homes, and you’ll see the trailhead. It’s at the end of the road.
The beginning of the trail — at least the first half of it — is usually the wettest and muddiest, so be prepared with sturdy shoes you don’t mind ruining with mud. (It’s also good to have a plastic bag and a pair of slippers in your car to change into after the hike.)
In a few minutes, you’ll reach a lone albizia tree and that shelter I mentioned earlier. Then you’ll see a junction, where you can either go right to the Kolowalu Trail, which is a shorter but tougher route to Mount Olympus (Awaawaloa) along Wa‘ahila Ridge, or left to Pu‘u Pia.
Pu‘u Pia means “arrowroot hill,” named for the perennial herb with large, lobed leaves. This canoe plant — meaning, it’s one of the plants brought to Hawai‘i by ancient Polynesians — is best known for its fine nutritious starch, which is extracted from the round tuber. Early Hawaiians used powdered starch from the tuber as a thickening agent for making haupia.
This is a very gentle trail, a gradual ascent, and a total elevation of just 400 feet. You are often walking under the shade of eucalyptus and paperbark trees, with the distinct songs of the white-rumped shama surrounding you.
You’ll come to a plank that runs across what appears to be a stream. I have never seen this actually flow, but I’m assuming it must. This is Mānoa, after all. The valley gets rain here almost daily, even during the dry months.
After a few steeper sections — nothing too difficult, trust me — you’ll see a change in the scenery. The trail won’t be as muddy or wet, and you’ll come across a gulch with ironwood trees. There are side trails, though I advise to stick to this one. Special pig control hunting takes place on Wednesdays and Sundays from sun-up to sundown, so be aware of what could be going on in the valley below.
This is actually my favorite part of the trail. It starts to ascend gradually along the left side of Pu‘u Pia through native koa and strawberry guava trees. You can see the sky, feel the wind — I always feel very invigorated here.
Once you reach the ridgeline, you’re just about to the top. You’ll pass gorgeous koa trees, its distinct leaves fluttering in the wind. It always warms my heart to see native trees in the forest — and it’s doubly exciting to see these trees so close to the island’s urban core.
There are two clearings up here. The first one will be obvious, emerging from the narrow trail along the ridgeline. It always looks manicured and perfect for a little picnic. I’ve spent some time here, on my back, watching the clouds drift by.
But if you keep walking along the trail, you’ll find a second area, complete with a bench, from which you can gaze at the majestic Ko‘olau Mountains that encircle you. You can also see Waikīkī, Waʻahila Ridge, Tantalus (Puʻu ʻŌhiʻa) and Kōnāhuanui, the highest peak in the Koʻolau.
Not bad for an hourlong hike!
VERDICT: Pu‘u Pia is the perfect hike for beginners, families and dog owners — or anyone who wants to get outdoors but only has an hour to do it. It’s short, easy and ends with a great perspective of Mānoa Valley. But if you’re looking for a rugged, challenging hike that will torch calories and test your courage, Pu‘u Pia will greatly disappoint you. For that, go right at the junction and head up to Mount Olympus via Kolowalu. That will be more your speed.
Follow my hiking adventures #40trails at Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish) and Facebook (/thecatdish).