Time: 1-2 HOURS
Distance: 2.2 MILES / 3.5 KILOMETERS
Elevation Gain: 650 FEET / 200 METERS
Foot Traffic: MODERATE
Challenges: Muddy, Some steep inclines
Sights: Pillboxes, K-Bay, Ko'olau Mountain Range
Stuff to Bring: Water, Shoes with decent grip
A shorter hike on the windward side of Oahu, this is a great hike if you are looking for something quick, want to work up a light sweat, and get some rewarding views. The trail is often very muddy and slippery, especially at the initial incline, so wear something you don't mind getting dirty in case you fall. The hike begins in the trees with occasional lookout points of Kaneohe Bay (K-Bay) and ends at a pillbox with expansive views of Kaneohe Bay and the windward mountain range. Hard to beat the bang for the buck on this one!
Pu'u Ma'eli'eli (sometimes called "Kaneohe Pillbox" or "Digging Hill") is one of my favorite "quick-hitter" hikes. It has just enough elevation to make you breathe a little heavy and is just long enough that it feels like a true hike. And the views...oh the views! The perspective you get of Kaneohe Bay and the windward mountains are beautiful. When I lived in Kailua, this was one of those hikes I revisited many times and even now living in Honolulu, I find excuses to make the journey over to this trail. Just another one of the many gems of Oahu's windward side.
A sketch of the hike. As you can see, it's a long gradual uphill that ends at a pillbox right on K-Bay. Simple, but sweet.
As is typical with many hikes, this one starts in a somewhat obscure location. You will need to park in/near the Koolau Shopping Center across from the Valley of the Temples and then walk south on the left side of the highway along the guardrail. Where the guardrail ends is this opening in the trees where the hike begins (marked by this point on GoogleMaps).
The beginning of the trail looks like this. It's the steepest section of the entire hike and also the trickiest. Normally it is crazy muddy and you will have to be careful with your footing so you don't end up with a face full of red dirt. But if you get lucky and it hasn't rained in awhile, you may get nice dry conditions like this.
But as soon as you reach the top, you can turn around and get a beautiful view of the Ko'olau Mountain Range.
From here the hike goes into the trees, where it is just a long and gradual incline to the pillbox. This is the only place where you could maybe get make a wrong turn, but the trail continues to the left.
Even though you are in the trees, you will get periodic glimpses of K-Bay. Don't worry these views only get better.
There are actually a few ropes along the trail for the steeper parts. These will be helpful on one of the typical muddy days, but they aren't necessary if you have great balance (or just grippy shoes).
As you get near the end of the trail, you will come across this ladder, which leads down to a pillbox (but no the MAIN pillbox). These structures were used as defensive posts during World War I and II to spot and attack enemy ships and planes. Enter at your own risk!
A rare occasion in Hawaii where the name of the hike can be found along the trail. This hike is also called "Digging Hill," which is a direct translation from Hawaiian. The main pillbox is just a minute beyond this sign.
And we're here! Man are these views impressive. Here we are looking north along the Windward Coast. That little island to the right is Chinaman's Hat, an island you can actually walk to if the tide is low enough.
And here's a shot looking into the heart of K-Bay. All the different sandbars around the bay create such a beautiful color landscape.
One of my favorite aspects of this spot is the unique perspective you get of some of the notable windward landmarks. That peak just touching the clouds is Pu'u Ohulehule, a challenging, but hikeable summit.
Every time I come to this spot, I always spend more time than I originally plan, simply snapping pictures and soaking in the views. It's hard not to feel at peace in a place like this.
Check out my full video of this hike!
Enjoy this hike? Post a comment below!
Also Check Out:
- Not So Great Hiking Blog's post of this hike