Hiking on Ainapo Road/Trail, 2007 March 30

This web page is a journal of my hike on Ainapo Road and Ainapo Trail on March 30, 2007. To find out how to get to this trail, see these web sites: Ainapo Road , Ainapo Trail . Take note of the requirement to call the evening before for Road access.

Lower Part of Ainapo Road

Ainapo Road starts beyond a locked gate just off Highway 11. Driving up the road requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle, skill, and luck. I was lacking in at least two of those, so I parked at the bottom of the road and hiked instead.

I started before dawn (4:55 AM), but I took some photos on the way back down to show the landmarks. The beginning of the road/hike is across Kapapala Ranch. The otherwise friendly cows don't seem to come closer than a hundred feet.

When the road opens up into a pasture, keep left near the fence. There will be a marked opening in the fence, which I reached at 5:15 AM.

After passing through the opening in the fence, the road is a little hard to make out, but it eventually becomes more clear. A little while later, there is a marked right turn in the road at the near side of a eucalyptus grove. I got there at 5:40 AM.

There was another sign marking the road, which I passed at 5:55 AM, and about this time I got a first view of the Mauna Loa summit off in the distance. At 6:15 AM, I stopped for some photos of an uncommon ohia tree with cream-colored flowers. It was on the right side of the road, off to itself.

The summit of Mauna Loa still looks very far away.

Upper Part of Ainapo Road

A lot of walking later, I got to the upper edge of Kapapala Ranch and the beginning of Kapapala Forest Reserve. (This was at 6:50 AM.) The cows don't go further than this, but there are still mammals beyond the gate (feral sheep and pigs). By now, the forest is mostly native ohia and koa.

It's a little over two miles to the Ainapo Trail trailhead, but I slowed down the pace to enjoy the forest and the birds. Here is one of my favorite web sites documenting the Hawai'i endemic birds. This time of year at least, the apapane own the place. From here to the cabin, they were constantly singing. The majority were the red adults, but there were plenty of the gray juveniles as well. It is interesting to hear the variety of song; in one location, one will often hear the same song repeated by several birds. As one hikes up the trail, one hears different songs. Then on the way down, one hears a lot of familiar songs, but played in the opposite order.

Amongst the apapane, there are plenty of the other common native forest birds -- amakihi, i'iwi, oma'o, and elepaio. Of course the Japanese white eye are around, and at least three more introduced species: red-billed leiothrix, Khalij pheasant, and Erckel's francolin.

According to Pratt, "Enjoying Birds and Other Wildlife in Hawai'i", three endangered native species -- akepa, Hawaii creeper, and akiapola'au -- might be encountered somewhere up the trail. I had no luck finding the first two here, but I did find two groups of akiapola'au. Both groups were in koa trees, as usual. The first group (1 adult and 3 juvenile) was in this cluster of koa on the left side of the road (7:55 AM).

A few minutes later (8:10 AM), I found an adult on the right side of the road. It must be somewhere in the picture below, but my little camera doesn't have enough magnification to photograph birds at this distance. I had a much better view in binoculars.

I finally arrived at the trailhead at 8:20 AM.

Ainapo Trail from Trailhead to Halewai Cabin

The width of the trail changes right at the start. This is no longer a road, and in places it's about as wide as my shoe. The trail ranges from easy to difficult to follow, and the flagging tape in the low branches is useful, especially on the way down.

The forest is beautiful and varied along the trail. In places, there are old groves with fern understory.

In other places, the trees are young, perhaps due to interrupting Mauna Loa lava flows in the last few hundred years.

I saw a handful of the ohia with salmon colored blossoms. This one was maybe 50 feet to the left side of the trail on the way up (9:50 AM, not long before the stone wall). In one of the photos, you can compare color to my Red Sox jacket.

For comparison, here is a photo of the much more common red ohia lehua:

Still proceeding at birdwatching pace, I got to the stone wall at 9:55 AM.

This landmark is noted in the Pratt book as the beginning of the end of the dense native bird population, and also the location of akepa sightings a few years ago. No such luck with akepa today.

Although there are still thick groves ahead, in general the trees are thinning, and it becomes easier to see the underlying pahoehoe.

I got to the Halewai cabin (2.7 miles from the trailhead) at 10:40 AM.

Due to the elevation (7750 feet), I thought this would be above the tree line, but I was wrong. By now, thin clouds had rolled in, so I couldn't see how far ahead the tree line was. The cabin looks nice, so maybe I'll consider stopping in it on a future hike.

Just 7.5 more miles to the Mauna Loa summit? Not today, thanks!

Not for Everyone

I took a 15 minute break at the cabin, then started back down the Trail and Road at 11:00 AM. Back on the Road, there were some decent views of the "Ka'u Desert", lava flows, and cinder cones. I got back to my car at 3:55 PM, and boy did my legs hurt! As a hiking-only trip, this was an 11 hour, 21.5 mile rountrip journey with 5000 ft. change in elevation (enjoyed twice). All in all, it was a beautiful day, with sun in the morning hours, and welcome clouds mid-day. I have seen nearly as many birds in other locations with far less effort (in the morning on the Pu'u O'o Trail, for example), but it was nice to see this terrain, especially after a miserable, aborted first attempt in steady rain in January when we made a wrong turn after only a mile. A 4-wheel drive "boost" to the trailhead might make me want to return to Ainapo Trail (especially if I don't have to drive). A multi-day hike to the summit also tempts me.
Darren Dowell, Last updated 2007 July 17