The emerald interior of Oahu might not get as much press as the island’s turquoise waters or haute cuisine, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t save some time to explore this hidden wonderland.
Getting there: From Highway 72 just before it hits Kailua, take Highway 61 (the Pali Highway) southwest. This road travels all the way from Honolulu to Kailua, so it is possible to take a day to motor from Honolulu to Kailua and then use this route back to Honolulu and then return to the North Shore on another day.
Some history: Pali means cliffs in Hawaiian. And these cliffs drip with greenery and waterfalls so enchanting it seems little elves should inhabit the mountains. This region is not without its folklore. This highway has been built three times. Locals swear it is haunted. But hey, you’re an adventurer, right?
For your first site, take Uluoa Street left; turn right on Manu Aloha and then right on Manu O’o Street. Ulupo Heiau State Monument is laden with spirits and while not much to look at today, was once a temple. Check out the artist’s drawing of how this temple for human sacrifice might have looked when it was in all its glory.
For a quick and rewarding, although mosquito infused, hike, off the highway turn left on A’uloa Road and veer left onto Maunawili Road. Park just before the road becomes restricted to public vehicles. Whether you choose to just experience the 2.5-mile Maunawili Falls Trail or connect to the 10-mile Maunawili Trail, you’ll find yourself seeped in the jungle as you wander along the stream in a peaceful environment.
The road weaves through the Ko’olau Mountains and valley, leading you to the magnificent Nu’uanu Pali Lookout, which as you might expect offers views beyond expectations. However, this is also the site of Hawaii’s storied last battle, when Kamehameha “united” the islands by taking them by force. Rumor has it when workers were constructing the Old Pali Highway, they found hundreds of skulls just over the ridge—I told you the area was creepy.
To steep yourself in Oahu’s haunted history, turn off onto Old Pali Highway, which is also called Nu’uanu Pali Drive. Travel through tunnels of banyans deep into the forest. Keep your eyes peeled for the resident ghosts said to haunt this area. You can hike in these haunted hills, by parking at the lookout and taking the paved fire road (there is a sign that says road closed, but no one pays attention—especially not the ghosts). Along the path you’ll spot small waterfalls, graffiti, and maybe a spook or two.
Along Old Pali Highway, you can also access Jackass Ginger Pool and waterfall. Just before the first stone bridge there is a small parking area, take the Judd Memorial Trail on this easy one-mile round trip hike. Though locals like to swim here, I cannot recommend it as Leptospirosis bacteria is known to be present in Hawaii’s freshwater pools.
The highway merges back with Pali Highway around Queen Emma’s Summer Palace and then plunges into Honolulu, just in time for you to head to Chinatown for dinner.
For more information about Oahu, purchase a copy of Backroads and Byways of Hawaii.