Day 1: DEJA VU
We arrived in Honolulu at around 1pm under sunny skies and seemingly more humid weather than we had felt since our Maui trip just two weeks ago. Having just been in O’ahu a little over a month ago, we had no trouble getting to the rental car kiosk (this time we took the escalators and walked under the road instead of taking the Dollar shuttle). Thereafter, we got the familiar Calibur rental car (we always ask for the Toyota Corolla for fuel-efficiency, but to no avail again) and immediately went to the familiar Ohana Maile Sky Court Hotel.
Although the intention of this trip was to go to the Big Island, we were staying in Hilo and there weren’t any direct flights from LA. So we decided to make a stop in Honolulu and tend to some unfinished business before flying to Hilo tomorrow afternoon.
After getting settled, we immediately headed back out and got to business as we hunted for Kapena Falls (which we somehow missed on the last trip) as well as a brief hike to the Jackass Ginger Pool. First up was the Jackass Ginger Pool.
It was just after 2:45pm when we got to the trailhead for the Judd Trail. There was already a big pickup truck at the pullout which barely had room for two cars. But the way the truck was parked, we had to leave part of the car on the road. So Julie stayed in the car while I battled the mosquitoes and looked for the Jackass Ginger Pool.
The trail was initially easy to follow and the stream crossing was fairly obvious and straight forward. Soon, I took the right fork at a junction and follow and deteriorating trail that eventually became a boulder scramble. I started to doubt whether I was going the right way already, but the voices of some young boys swimming and rope swinging kind of hinted to me that I was going the right way.
Eventually, I got to the Jackass Ginger Pool and its surprisingly short 10ft cascade. It was hardly a waterfall to brag about and really it was an excuse for people to go swimming, I reckon. In a strange juxtaposition, there was some house in a cleared land behind a fence and a sign indicating private property on the other side of the stream. It was kind of strange to see so deep into the jungle.
I scrambled a little further just to see if there were any more cascades downstream, but the rough hiking was enough to discourage me from going any further.
I was back at the car at 3:30pm. With the disappointing Jackass Ginger Pool out of the way, we next headed towards a viewing area just off the Pali Highway.
We were momentarily stopped by a small roadside cascade, but it too wasn’t all that impressive in hindsight so we just took the photos quickly for posterity and then continued on our way.
Back at the pullout on the Pali Highway referred to by the Scenic Overlook sign, there was a viewing area of some temple, but the tombstones around the temple made Julie reluctant to take a photograph thinking it would bring bad karma.
After seeing the broken glass on the ground, both of us suspected that some people who have parked here have had their cars broken into. So Julie opted to stay behind again while I went looking for Kapena Falls.
In a bit of deja vu, I was walking along the highway with fast moving cars whizzing by going the other way. It really reminded me of the time I walked along the highway looking for Kalihiwai Falls on Kaua’i.
Since I forgot to bring any guidebooks with me, I wasn’t quite sure when I was supposed to make a left and scramble over the wall and into the jungle. So the first trail I saw, I went over the wall and into a forested gully. Something already seemed a bit wrong as there was lots of overgrowth even though there was clearly a trail here.
Eventually, I got back to the waterfall and stream that we had mistakenly though was Kapena Falls on the last trip. After crossing the stream, I got onto the trail leaving the cemetary and followed it to its end. And that was when I finally saw the Kapena Falls.
Around the same time, a couple of young boys were running down the hill and immediately towards some apparent rope swings. It was obvious to me that they were going to use it to plunge into the plunge pool beneath the falls. I guess they could provide some scale as to the size of the waterfall, I reckoned.
The views from this side of the trail were OK as there was the highway bridge immediately behind the falls. So I decided to cross the stream again and take some photos from the other side. The views were better from here as it better conveyed the depth of the little gulch as well as the falls.
As I started to make my way back out of the gulch, I passed by someone’s campsite (not sure if it’s illegal to camp here) and then back onto the Pali Highway. In front of me was the Scenic Lookout sign, which I should’ve used as a landmark to indicate when to go left on the way in. Oh well, you live and learn.
It was about 4:30pm when I returned to Julie and the rental car. We immediately headed back to the Ohana Maile Sky Court and got changed so we could have an early dinner at Duke’s Canoe Club. Julie was determined to have the Seven Spice Seared Ahi Tuna, especially after the disappointing dinner at Kimo’s in Lahaina. I was going to have the same thing as well, but we also made sure to leave room for their gargantuan (and guilt-ridden) Hula Pie for dessert.
The dinner went by pretty uneventfully as we beat the rush and only had to wait 10 minutes instead of over an hour like last time to get seated. After the nice dinner and dessert, we were treated to a spectacular sunset over Waikiki Beach. This time however, the clouds made the sun look like a red globe sinking on the horizon. It was quite an unusual sunset, and we wasted no time snapping as many photos as we could to capture this moment.
We would eventually get back to the Ohana Maile Sky Court to rest up for tomorrow’s hike on the La’ie Trail in search of the La’ie Falls. It would be an action-packed day as we had to secure a permit before the hike and then try to get it all in before returning the rental car at 1:30pm back at the Honolulu airport.
Day 2: LA’IE FALLS
It was 7:15am when we checked out of the Ohana Maile Sky Court Hotel and faced the rush-hour traffic. It seemed like forever to finally leave the Honolulu area and it was a reminder of why we didn’t really like O’ahu all that much compared to the other islands in Hawai’i.
We’d eventually reach the Foodland plaza just after 8:15am. The Hawaii Reserves, Inc. office wasn’t open until 9am so we decided to use this time buying some water for the hike. After that was done, we managed to kill enough time to get into the Hawaii Reserves office at 9am sharp so I could sign the permit and get right to hiking the La’ie Trail in search of the elusive La’ie Falls.
At 9:20am, we parked the car at the La’ie Park. Julie didn’t want to hike the trail so we opted to stay with the car so she could pick up some shrimp both at Romy’s and at Giovanni’s. Meanwhile, I had put on sun screen and deet to ward off both the morning sun and the potential for mosquitoes.
The trail started along mostly flat unsealed road as I was making my way towards the actual trailhead. Unlike many other hikes around Hawai’i, there was a decidedly friendly air about the place as the workers here smiled and waved hi to me as I passed by.
It wasn’t long before I got to the actual trailhead where I now had to walk on a narrower trail. The sign at the trailhead said the falls were 1 hour and 30 minutes away. I was pretty sure this was the amount of time it took to go one-way and not round trip. So onwards I went.
The trail immediately started climbing. It continued to climb for what seemed like forever and the unrelenting sun didn’t help much for it seemed to sap my strength the higher up I went.
I was alone on the trail until I saw a pair of young women heading back the other way. I asked them if they saw the waterfall, but they told me that they didn’t get to the falls because of the shoes they were wearing. They also indicated that they couldn’t really find the side track that led to the falls itself.
This wasn’t good for my morale since I was on a time limit to try to complete this hike by noon so we could get back to the airport without getting charged a late fee for the rental.
Anyways, we parted ways and I continued onwards.
The trail started to get to a point where it went through some badly eroded sections. The trail almost started to resemble miniature canyons and the footing was a bit tricky to say the least.
Eventually, I’d get past the eroded dirt road and into a section where I saw pine trees. I didn’t expect to see this in a tropical place like Hawai’i, but there they were – dwarfing me as I meandered along the trail amongst them. Soon the pine trees gave way to more shaded scenery as I was surrounded by knarled branches with leaves growing on them. The trail was still climbing as I found myself hiking under the natural canopy shielding out the sun (though there were encroaching clouds blocking out its rays).
The relentless climb up the trail seemed like it was never ending. I was starting to get worried that I might not find the waterfall as it had started to reach the two-hour point from when I first started on the trail. The trail description in the book (from the Start Ball Book) said to look for a path to the right so I faithfully kept pressing forward always looking for this path.
But that was when I saw some elderly people heading back the other way. Naturally, I asked them how close I was to the falls and they said it was still another 15 minutes. At least that assured me that I didn’t miss the turnoff point and I wasn’t going all the way up to the ridge. So we parted ways and I continued onwards.
Sure enough, I noticed a bunch of pink ribbons tied to branches around the turnoff point. As I took the spur trail, I was immediately greeted by a steep trail with some ropes to help keep me from falling into the drop-off. I could also hear running water, which was strangely silent up until I got to this side of the hill. And within minutes of some dirty hiking on somewhat muddy and slippery surfaces, I was in front of the wishbone-shaped waterfall. It wasn’t flowing all that well, but at least I could say I bagged this one.
But now it was past 11am and I knew I probably wouldn’t make it back to Julie by noon. Still, I could finally make my way back down and this time it would be just about all downhill.
After some tricky scrambling back up to the main track, I was able to trail run most of the way down thanks to gravity. Some of the views of La’ie Point way off in the distance conspired to slow me down as I stopped to take a few photos from time to time breaking my momentum. But by 12:40pm, I made it back to the car and a worried Julie. She wouldn’t let me eat the shrimp she bought at this point since we had to get back to the airport.
It was about 1:40pm when we returned from La’ie to the Honolulu Airport. The Dollar Rent-a-Car clerk was cool in not charging us the late fee. So with all that business over with, we shuttled over to Aloha Airlines to catch our connecting flight to Hilo.
I wasn’t looking forward to a nearly three-hour stay at the airport since our flight wasn’t until 5:40pm, but we asked the Aloha clerk if we could catch an earlier flight. And to our surprise, we were able to catch a 2:50pm flight.
Excellent! Now we could do some grocery shopping and have a decent dinner instead of rushing everything late in the evening!
Day 2: THE BIG ISLAND, AT LAST!
It was about 4pm when the plane landed in Hilo. I had expected rain and overcast skies since Hilo was on Big Island’s windward side, but instead we had sunny skies.
After picking up the rental car, we went into Uncle Billy’s Resort to check in and drop off our bags. We had expected a dumpy place (since we were only paying about $80/night), but it wasn’t as dumpy as we had thought. That was good news since we were staying here for four nights. Of course, we could see immediately that parking would be a problem though.
We spent the rest of the night grocery shopping at Wal-mart then having a surprisingly pleasant dinner at Cafe Hilo. The dinner was good and reasonably priced, and it was easily better than any of the overpriced (and “Americanized”) meals we had on Maui.
Hilo also seemed to have a relaxed feel to it even though it seemed to have the same amount of activity as Kahului, Maui. We certainly welcomed this atmosphere after subjecting ourselves to the contrived touristy atmosphere in both Ka’anapali and Lahaina on Maui as well as Waikiki.
Back at Uncle Billy’s, we cleaned up and relaxed in anticipation of some waterfall hunting tomorrow. But the sound of airplanes landing right outside our room was kind of a reminder that we wouldn’t be pampered on this side of the island. I guess that was one reason why the majority of tourists spend most of their nights on the Kailua-Kona side.
But despite the inconveniences, I got the sense that we made the right decision staying in Hilo for this excursion to the Big Island.
Ah yes, the Big Island, at last!
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