What does it really mean to “get away from it all?” Is it a cliché of wishful thinking? Or is it really possible? How far would you go to find total solitude? After a year and a half I found seven Oahua hideaways that aren’t impossible to get to (although challenging, or everyone would go right?) and worth every bit of effort.
#1) Laie Falls
Eight miles round-trip adjacent to the Laie Point (also a wonderful stop and relatively people-free) this hike had a little bit of everything: Rich jungle, dry valleys, wildflowers, views and a lovely waterfall at the end. One reason this hike is less populated is it’s on private property and requires permission. The permit is very easy to obtain through the Hawai’i Reserve. Permit in hand, we embarked on a relatively dry day (although it did sprinkle on us coming back). We passed lovely farms from the parking lot to the trail head. We took a peek, but were careful not to tresspass. The first part of the terrain was a barren run-off valley. The parched path created loose sand that threatened footing. But it had a lot of child-like appeal. We could run down one side and up the other. I think it reminded me of “hikes” I took as a kid not far from my home. The landscape had that same carefree excitement and delightful exploration. For me, hiking should be just that: Carefree exploration. Not a timed race, not a slog to check off a box, and not a push to an ultimate destination. It’s a journey. A chance to discover hidden pools, listen to the twitter of birds and smell new rain. And to take pictures. Lots of pictures. Mostly of flowers according to my husband.
That all said, the view at the top was spectacular. At a nearly 2000 foot elevation, we could see out across the windward side of the island. Many hikes offer inspirational views, but what made this one so unique was the wildflowers and tall grasses swaying in the foreground. At the top we entered an enchanting forest. Cook Pines towered above us, rows of their bare trunks like sentinals welcoming us to their world.
A narrow, muddy trail led us the last few miles to the falls. Only when we arrived at the waterfall did we encounter another couple. Unlike some of the other better-known waterfall hikes across the island, this felt hidden and secret. The surroundings overgrown and primitive. The cascade filled a small and icy pool where we cooled off and after a quick explore at the top of the falls we headed back. I feel like after every hike I comment “It’s is my favourite!” But this one has to rate in the top three at least!
#2) Koko Head Rim Trail
With a gate and “no trespassing” sign I was hesitant. But people were coming and going so we decided to give it a go. We walked along the utility access road for a couple hundred yards before we took the detour to the rim. I’m not going to kid, it was a challenge. No shade. Slippery gravel. Steep descent. BUT, we only crossed paths with six other people on the entire 3 1/2 mile journey. The views were epic. Hanauma Bay below, the vast Pacific beyond. I was particularly drawn to a patch of green with a single tree in the center. Like a gathering tree for woodland animals. The nice thing about this hike, once we were finished we spent the rest of the afternoon swimming in Hanauma Bay. Not a bad day.
#3) Koko Head Arch
Across the highway from the Koko Head Rim Trail is a short, but crazy-hard hike to a little-known formation. This arch is every bit as epic as anything you’ll find in Utah. We had to skirt around the base of the plateau until we found some decent footholds to climb to the top. Then it was just a short walk along the rim to the base of the arch. It probably took us longer than it should have, but we couldn’t help turning around every few steps to admire the vast azure ocean. The view was spellbinding. And we had the place all to ourselves! Not a single other soul. I overestimated our skill, or at least our nerve and started over the top of the arch. No more than a few feet and we were backing down and scrambled to the underside. It was still challenging with the loose gravel. Not a single stone could be trusted to not crumble underfoot. Sweaty, dusty and tired we eventually clambered into the shade of the arch. It’s enormous, but with the deteriorating rock I wonder how long before it collapes. After a quick hike back down we cooled off across the street at Eternity Beach. All-told it didn’t take more than half a day, but worth every second in total solitude!
#4) Yokohama Bay
A west-side treat. I believe the west side of the island is consistently the best place to snorkel. The weather is usually sunnier and the water is crystilline. After we passed all the lovely sandy beaches and Farrington Highway ended, we drove just a little further and parked along the cliff. Below us was a tiny aquamarine cove. After a quick scramble down we were in the water. Others were enjoying the area, but it’s in no way a tourist hot-spot. Families, locals, fishermen, all enjoy the peaceful retreat. The craggy underwater landscape showcased arches, caves and tunnels. Every turn revealed butterfly fish, moray eels and a big sea turtle. There were several coves along the coast and we spent hours exploring it all.
#5) Kaupo Cove (Makai Research Pier)
We serendipitously happened on this little swimming area. And it became one of our favourite spots to hide away and relax. We checked conditions in the area as choppy water make this little secret site less fun. The Marine Pier off the highway is off-limits. But underneath is an oasis. There’s a small cove with calm waters, but we bypassed this in search of even more privacy. Just a few steps away we found a small sandy area tucked into large boulders. Getting in the water was tricky here as there was no sand to ease into. Once away from shore there was plenty to discover. While snorkeling was wonderful here, the real treat was the nap in the sand afterward. Even though the beach is directly under the highway, there’s enough of a buffer to keep it quiet, and on the upside, we had our little patch of paradise to ourselves.
#6) Kapapa Island
The only way to reach this 9-acre island near the Kaneohe Sandbar is a 2 mile boat ride from shore. We opted for a kayak out on a calm sunny day at low tide. Even then some of the waves tossed us a few times. The island itself is primarily a collection of craggy tidepools. Perfect for exploring. I loved how this little getaway was surrounded by everything from shallow inlets to collections of deep tidepools. Much of the isle was sharp lava rock so my water socks were essential. A wrong step or fall would most definitely have meant a nasty cut and we were a good hour from shore! Luckily we all had good balance.
Only one family had set up camp on one of the beaches. Otherwise we were in exquisite isolation. Thankfully my husband thought to tie up the kayaks as we explored. The tide came in and the landing beach was taken over by the ocean by the time we left.
#7) Ka’ena Point Trail
This was one of the last locations on our bucket list. And I wish we had gone sooner. There are two ways to get to this bird sanctuary at the westernmost point of Oahu. From the westside it’s a more direct route and a little faster. But we were in it for the journey and opted for the trek via North Shore. Also, because it’s further, there were fewer people on the trail. So far from any tourist attraction, the area attracts mostly fishermen and families.
The views over the water were awe-inspiring. A vast fade of teal to royal then to sapphire. The barren lands juxtaposed against the swell of life rolling against the rocks was stark. The “hike” was nothing more than a rutted-out road and only a 5-mile round trip, which allowed us plenty of time to investigate every hidden crevise and inlet. Huge boulders led down to to a jagged beach of lava rock and pebbles. We climbed down at low tide to watch the water rush across the reef and swirl into tidepools.
The actual bird sanctuary was nice, but we were anxious to get back to a cove we passed on our way to the point. Given the lack of shade and a number of “off limits” signs we headed back with our snorkel gear ready to cool off and swim.
Despite the lack of coral and fish we relished the beautiful, crystal-clear teal water. A gradual sand entry gave way to a shallow pool. A small outcropping of lava created a cave we swam in to see hundreds of baby convict tang the size of my fingernail! We floated by a group of teens jumping off a nearby cliff into the calm waters. Finally we hoisted up on a warm rock to dry out before heading back home.
There are days to enjoy packed crowds on Waikiki Beach. Or shopping trips to the mall. Or a concert with a million other people. But there’s something extraordinary about an empty seashore and the whisper of wind in tall trees. Or just the absence of anything but a captivating view and someone I love. It’s during those times I feel refreshed and peaceful. Inspired and alive. These seven excursions definitely served that purpose!