If you drive on the dirt roads to the trailhead, Kaua is a total of only three miles; if you walk the dirt roads, it's a little over six miles total. For us, getting to the trailhead took some patience. Instead of driving, we walked. If you don't know the complex maze of roads that make up Kunia fields, chances are you'll get lost like we did. I'm pretty good at following directions, but in Stuart Ball's "Hiking Guide to Oahu," a lot of the landmarks he mentioned are now gone. By some miracle, we found our way to the trailhead, or what we thought was the correct trailhead. And it was, and from there is where our journey to the top of Pu'u Kaua began.
I really don't want to elaborate on how we got lost on the trail in Ekahanui Gulch, so I'm going to leave that to your imagination. I'll just tell you that getting lost backtracked us TWO HOURS! That's how lost we were. We even sat down to think about if we were actually going to go on with completing the hike or if we were going to walk back to our cars and call it a day. We headed into the gulch one more time and -- viola! -- we found the correct route hiding across a dry streambed with a well-defined trail hiding behind thick California grass. (Think "The Legend of Zelda" and you'll catch my drift.)
The trail we were now on was suprisingly well-trodden and looked as though it gets a lot of hiker traffic. In fact, it initially resembled a state trail: wide, rooty, and very easy to follow. The going began to get tough, though. The hill we were walking on began to steepen as we passed a long stretch of guavas. After a long hull up the steep and shady hill, the trail continued on, narrowing and becoming more exposed. The trail didn't narrow to death-defying proportions, it was just steep, and it got even steeper just before we reached the top of Kaua.
Just before the top, we encountered four rope sections to aid in the last steep climb to gain the summit. The rope sections were short, and before we knew it, we were at the top. The view was amazing. At a grassy clearing, we had 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape. To the west we could see straight down into Lualualei Valley and the coasts of Nanakuli and Waianae. To the northwest was the towering ridges of Kamaileunu and Keaau. Looking toward Kolekole Pass were the peaks of Kanehoa, Hapapa, Kalena, and Ka'ala. To the northeast was the North Shore. To the east was a lofty view of the Ko'olaus and the entire Central Oahu. From there, we could even see Waikiki and Diamond Head in the distance.
Looking back at the dirt road maze from the top, we mapped our route back by eyeballing certain roads back to our car -- easier said than done. When we got back to the dirt roads, we got lost again after 45 minutes of following a road that was choked with head high California grass. This was not a predicament we wanted to get ourselves into, especially with the midday sun beaming on us in what used to pineapple fields. For those who don't know, Kunia gets burning hot, and this day was no exception. Our flush red faces said it all. We eventually found the correct dirt road and got back to our car, six-and-a-half hours from when we started.
I'm going to leave the trailhead details hush-hush. The trail is very beautiful, and there are tons of native plants along the way. I assume The Nature Conservancy would truly appreciate that I keep the trailhead directions on the down-low; they own the area for Pete's sake! The only way to do this hike legally would be to do it with a legit hiking club like the HTMC or The Sierra Club. Doing the trail illegally requires trespassing (of course), but like all private property trails on the island, that's what has to be done. And I assume a weekend is the best time to do this trail because we didn't see anyone in the area.