Whether you’re an avid trekker or simply enjoy nature, you have your choice of amazing hiking spots on O‘ahu. These five destinations scattered across the island are favorite spots for locals and well-suited to adults and children alike. They all happen to start with a K, so to invoke the Hawaiian word ka‘i, which means “to lead or move together,” come join me in discovering the unparalleled beauty of our island paradise:
1. Kamananui Valley Trail
Located 20 miles east of Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club is the verdant valley of Moanalua. Tucked away at the back of a quiet neighborhood park is the trail head where your flat, shaded walk begins.
Toward the beginning of the trail, on the left-hand side, is a large monkey pod tree hanging thick with vines. Follow the small footpath through the foliage to arrive at an overgrown staircase that once led to the home of the Samuel Damon family, an early missionary who arrived on the islands in 1842. An intact fireplace and a second staircase that rises into a thicket are the only other signs of their home.
Regain the main road of cobblestone and gravel, and you’ll pass over a series of seven arched bridges. This two-mile stretch is the Damon family’s historic carriage road. Walk along moss-covered rocks beside a babbling stream spotted with reflecting ponds, and marvel over the bygone era that must have filled this forest with the clip-clop of horses’ hooves and the hustle and bustle of family life.
2. Koko Crater Botanical Garden
This two-mile loop is located on the easternmost tip of the island, an hour’s drive from Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club. Immediately upon entering this secluded sanctuary, you will see a grove of plumerias that, when in bloom — roughly from May to October — is a gift of petaled grace in every shade of pink, red, orange and yellow. The path meanders through a series of themed gardens. Note a hillside of crimson and lilac bougainvillea that gives way to a cactus garden. Farther along the gravel road are palm groves and stately baobabs. Under the palms are picnic benches, a perfect spot to sit and take in the variety of surrounding flora and to gaze up at the volcanic rim encircling you before heading full circle back to the heavenly plumeria thicket.
3. Kawai Nui Marsh Trail
About 40 minutes from Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club, or 12 miles north of Koko Crater, is the beach town of Kailua, the site of the next two hiking spots.
For the marsh trail, park at Kawainui Neighborhood Park. This three-mile round trip walk is best done early or late in the day to avoid the midday sun. Walk the paved embankment, and you’ll be looking out across 800 acres of protected wetlands that stretch toward the Ko‘olau Mountains. These reedy waters, once a fishpond for ancient Hawaiians, now boast varieties of fish and waterfowl aplenty, including endangered species like the native alae ula, or moorhen that, with its red beak, is the legendary bringer of fire to the people.
4. Kailua Beach Shoreline
Five minutes from the marsh is a vastly different kind of water experience, where Kailua Beach beckons with a resplendent array of ocean activities. Walk this two-and-a-half mile crescent bay, and notice the windsurfers and boogie boarders. Colorful canoe regattas happen here, and stand-up paddlers glide to nearby rock islands. A parade of dogs tends to prance about playfully with their owners, catching balls or diving into the shallow waves. Avoid the midday heat by arriving just as the action commences at sunrise, or just as it’s winding down at sunset.
5. Ka‘ena Point Trail
North of Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club, 20 miles up the coast, discover a path that leads to the westernmost tip of the island. Park at Yokohama Bay and venture by foot along the rugged dirt road that segues into a sandy path at Ka‘ena Point State Park. Bring a hat and sunblock for the five-mile round trip hike. Initially, the road runs parallel to the rocky, tide pool-strewn ocean, where stunning sea views in impossibly rich pigments of blue stretch as far as you can see.
Ka‘ena is as remote a place as you’ll find on O‘ahu. Inside the park, seabirds nest among the bushes growing out of the windswept sands. Watch your step when following any of the many inlets to the shoreline, as lazing monk seals have a way of camouflaging themselves against the black lava rocks. Soak in the otherworldly landscape so that you can continue savoring it even as you settle your head onto your pillow in the evening.
A day spent on these outdoor adventures is one filled with sea, sand, strolling and sun — which means your body will be craving some pampering. You can help relieve any minor aches with a relaxing massage in a private room or open-air cabana at the Spa by the Sea at Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club. After all, vacations are as much for luxuriating as they are for exploring.
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