Up on the North Shore near Hale'iwa, there are large tracts of undeveloped land owned by Kamehameha Schools. For a stretch of 13,000 acres, land exists in its natural state untouched and off-limits unless leased to farmers or to the military for training. Luckily for myself and about twenty other KS employees, KS has teamed with with North Shore Eco Tours to provide people the opportunity to hike these lands and learn more about conserving the fragile native ecosystem.
To help us along the journey, North Shore EcoTours (NSET)guides Noah Keola Ryan, Maka'ala Rawlins, and Kalā Lindsey-Asing, a Native Hawaiian field technician for the O’ahu Army Natural Resources Program (OANRP), took us deep into the Kamehameha conservation lands in an old 1970s Swiss army vehicle the Pinzgauer. After bouncing around for a few miles in the back of the stiff 6x6 ATV, we finally made it into the hillside. There was a quick break for snacks and a safety talk, and then the hike began.
Before entering the trailhead, one of the group led a traditional Hawaiian chant meant to notify the gods and spirits of the mountain of whom we were and why we were entering the land. The guides informed us that ancient Hawaiians very rarely went up into the forest because they believed it to be the home of the gods. So when they did have to go to collect lumber or other things, the ancient Hawaiians were extremely respectful. The guides also pointed out that we should look for natural signs such as a nice breeze or peak of sunshine from behind the clouds as evidence that our entrance had been favorably received.
Along the hike we trekked down valleys, scaled ridge lines, saw military training grounds, and even forged a few thigh deep streams! At certain intervals, the guides would pause to deliver interesting facts about the trees and plants we saw along the way. They pointed out native koa trees and the non-native groves of strawberry guava that crowded out much of the other plant life. Although the strawberry guava trees are an invasive species, I have to say I was glad they were around if at least for the delicious fruit that provided me with snacks along the hike.
In addition to the knowledge of the plant life, the guides also gave us a brief history lesson of the land. Pointing out how many of the streams were dry while others were dammed up and diverted, the guides explained that one hundred years of sugar plantations severely changed the water flow in this area. Unfortunately, the sugar growers diverted much of the water to the very thirsty sugar cane crops which choked off the supply to the kalo farmers below. Even though the sugar plantations have left the area, their impact on the local streams remains and accounts for some of the arid soil on the North Shore.
After another snack break, it was time to hike back to the Pinzgauer and finish the last half of the trail loop. Since I had been in the back for the beginning, I was happy for the chance to now lead the pack. I had a challenge ahead of me, for we had to hike out of the valley and back up the mountain the second half of the hike. The final climb was enough to get my heart going and if that wasn't enough, the wild ride back down in the Pinzgauer certainly tested the limits of my cardio vascular health.
All in all, I enjoyed the exercise and fresh air, and I got to meet some employees from other divisions of Kamehameha Schools. I'd definitely recommend this trip for other KS employees especially if you like the outdoors and are interested in learning about nature and the land. Also, there is a free lunch at the end which was a nice reward after all that hiking around. But bento boxes aside, going on this trip will really make you appreciate just how fragile the ecosystem of O'ahu is and the real meaning of the words malama 'aina.
To see more photos from the hike, check out North Shore EcoTours Facebook page...