After walking the first three miles of the five-mile Wai Koa Loop Trail, my first thought was, “That was easy.”
And really, it was.
Not only was it a wonderful way to get some exercise, but it was relaxing, beautiful and educational, too, with some sweeping mountain views and a stop at a hidden treasure called, “Stone Dam.” It is perhaps the most enjoyable way to cover several miles without becoming weary and wishing you had stayed home and watched TV, instead.
After hearing about this spectacular trail from Island School graduate and University of Colorado runner Pierce Murphy and my co-worker Sally Cravens, I decided it was time to see why they spoke so highly of it. Now I know.
Sunday morning, my wife and I drove from our Lihue home to the Kilauea Mini Golf and Botanical Gardens. The head of the trail is there, not far beyond a row of parking spaces and a children’s playground.
I sported a backpack with water and food, along with our phones, wallets and keys. We traveled light and got a bit of luck that day because it was cloudy and cool, quite perfect for a long hike.
The opening mile is probably the toughest, because it includes some gradual inclines. But from there, it’s relatively flat and you soon find some yourself walking among rows and rows and rows of trees. It struck me as a place out of “Lord of the Rings.” It was, at times, eerily quiet, the only sound that of the rustling tree branches in the wind.
The trail leads you right through the middle of towering mahogany trees, perfectly planted. No sooner were we wondering where these trees came from, than we came across one of the first interpretative signs that offered an answer: “Approximately 86,000 Honduras Mahogany trees cover more than 200 acres of Wai Koa Plantation. This species, Swietenia macrophylla, is endangered in its native habitat of Central and South America. it produces a beautiful reddish-brown colored hardwood used for building fine furniture, cabinets and musical instruments. Wai Koa is the largest mahogany plantation in the United States and among the largest in the world.”
Good to know.
As we continued, we passed the North Shore Dog Park, Malama Kauai’s Community Garden, Organic Orchard and Gardens and Kauai Fresh Farms. In the distance, and again thanks to informative signs explaining what we were looking at, the majestic Hanalei Mountains and Namahana Mountain stood tall.
Just a few hundred yards away, a lily pond offered an ideal place for a short break and a chance to fuel up. It was a small piece of heaven, sitting there, watching the ripples in the water and the dragonflies fluttering around.
The trek continues past Kalihiwai Lagoons, part of what used to be a 30-acre aquaculture project to grow freshwater prawns in the late 1970s. That failed, so tilapia, bass and koi are raised there today.
From there, soon, is a highlight that’s absolutely worth the slight detour. In fact, be sure to stop at “Stone Dam.”
It features breathtaking beauty. There are small bridges, tranquil green banks, a peaceful meandering stream, and a calm serenity that soothes the soul as you wander the grounds. Beyond the Stone Dam is a pavilion and a rope swim for dips into the brownish water. That day, many were having fun and it would have been nice to join them.
The following miles of the trail took us past pastures, horses (don’t feed them) and a bull before we were back among the endless rows of trees that guided us back to the trailhead.
Throughout, we encountered few people, which made this a charming Sunday afternoon escape from the traffic and beaches. And, with no one within earshot in the final stretch, we were free to laugh and sing aloud with Johnny Lee’s “Looking for Love,” that I called up on my iPhone after Marianne made a reference to a friend who was looking for love. For some reason, singing seemed right at the time. Just be glad you weren’t there to hear it.
This was perhaps the most pleasant, enjoyable five-mile walk of our 30-year marriage. We’ll be back to walk it again, and I can’t wait to return and run this trail, start to finish, and soak in the spirit that lives there.
Bill Buley is editor-in-chief of The Garden Island newspaper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org