Trekking through a Kilauea mahogany grove

The spring-into-summer Sunday dawned fair and cool; the weather forecast did not look threatening. We had the makings of a simple picnic on hand, and a free day to enjoy. What better plan than a family exploration? I thought. Aha! The stone dam hike!

Awhile back, I had clipped Editor Bill Buley’s account of his enjoyable hike to the old stone dam, a place I’d yet to see on island, and kept it in a “Future” file. And there it was, to re-read over breakfast and lay plans.

A call to our daughter Lani got a thumbs-up response. She and her brother used to fish in the reservoir behind the dam during the kids’ keiki days when their dad drove them, she remembered. We set a meeting time, and I went into sandwich production, scrubbed apples, bagged some blue chips (organic!) and a large, dark Hershey bar I just happened to have bought on sale at Longs along with some ginseng iced tea (perfect), and of course, added our water bottles. The plan was for each of us to carry our own lunch which, hopefully, we’d enjoy munching as we rested in some idyllic place in view of the said stone dam.

Ed. B’s directions were good. We passed the main turn in to Kilauea town, watched for the mini-golf on the mauka side of Kuhio Highway, and turned in to park and check in. One of my husband’s past students, Lee Gushiken, was manning the desk (where it’s necessary to sign a waiver for the hike, since it’s on private property) with aloha. In “the old days,” of course, my hike companions recalled that you just drove in on the Kilauea Sugar Plantation cane roads. Lee remembered: His dad Jack Gushiken worked for Kilauea Sugar for many years, then Brewer’s Guava Kai, and is now managing the property for the private owner.

Lee provided a map, and educated us briefly about the “largest Honduran mahogany grove in the United States” through which we’d walk. He cited distances of segments of the trail loop. There was an emergency number to call if lost or injured, and Lee supplied me with information about a “Red Pagoda” plant blossoming spectacularly near the entrance.

After moving to the lower parking lot, where a sign pointed us in the right direction, we set off. The path led down and up again a bit before entering the filtered shade of the mahogany trees. The thick carpet of leaves underfoot was damp, but there weren’t many areas where we had to circumvent muddy puddles. The tree trunks planted at regular intervals provided a latticed, geometric view into the extensive grove as we walked, listening to birds and enjoying the forest-y, earthy smell of the place.

At a juncture point, the ex-Marine in our group wished to follow the shorter path directly to the stone dam. However, he was outvoted by daughter and wife. Right then, we met a pair of visitors on their way back. They’d decided they’d gone far enough to take in the mountain views and were returning to continue a North Shore exploration, forgoing the dam. Admittedly, I felt a bit smug to know I had time for such. (And you know about “Pride goeth before a fall,” right? Only later that realization began to seep into my awareness.) Good-naturedly, Dee came along on what our map showed as the north curve that would lead to the mountain views described by Lee.

Now we were walking in sun, glad of our water bottles. We passed a home, giving the occupants (land owners) a wide berth and deserved privacy. The track and the mahogany grove angled left after a time. Ah, we gazed at Hihimanu, recognizable with its look of the manta ray for which it’s named. Puffs of mist swirled the bank of mountains to center right. We continued awhile, admiring the adjacent farmlands, including those of Malama Kauai. We skirted a boggy area, then plunked down on the berm of the first reservoir we encountered for a brief rest. Lani photographed what we think may be a mid-sized Hawaiian tree that is now scarce, one with eight leaflets, with hee (octopus) embedded in its Hawaiian name.

On down the meandering path, we passed some well-kept dwellings, and then nature surrounded us again. Finally, the sought-after prize: a picture-postcard view of the narrow valley toward the stone dam, below. We took advantage of shade, perching on a platform made from a slab of tree trunk. Mostly, we gazed in wonder at the pristine beauty of the place while listening to shamas calling, water singing along the creek falls and over the dam. We gratefully munched our sandwiches while staring, humbled and wondering at such beauty and the fact that the owners have made it into a community park. One group of teens broke the quiet with a noisy motorbike, which signs clearly forbade. Shame! A few others were enjoying the area, but quietly.

That evening, soaking in an Epsom salts tub of warm water to offset my “over activity,” I re-did the hike in my mind, forgiving myself for choosing the wrong turn back (darned map!), adding almost a mile to our final trek. No one could save me; I couldn’t ride those lovely horses we encountered resting in the grove. Planting one foot before the other, I slogged on to the end. No — we did. I doubt the hike was five miles. It felt like eight, or more, toward the end when my feet gave out — never mind! I plan to return, only next time, I’ll vote for the short-cut.

w For a good read and more archival photos, see Carol Maclennan’s “Kilauea Sugar Plantation in 1912: A Snapshot,” The Hawaiian Journal of History, with downloadable pdf file,


Dawn Fraser Kawahara, resident author and poet, has focused her supportive interests within the Kauai community since the early 1980s. She and her husband, a retired biology teacher, live in Wailua Homesteads. Their passion for travel flows into the writer’s monthly TGI column, “FarAway Places.” Kawahara’s books are available through Amazon and other outlets. For information, e-mail or


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