It helps to start with silence. Well, not complete silence, anyway. Traveling the upper slopes of Hualālai will put you deep into endemic bird habitat. As soon as you’re out of the van at the trailhead, you can already listen for ʻApapane, ‘Amakihi, and, if you’re lucky, an ‘Iʻiwi piercing through the trees. This is wahi pana, a sacred or legendary place. Pana also translates to heartbeat or pulse. Can you hear it over the calls of the birds?
These species have been soaring over this island for hundreds of thousands of years. Humans — not so much. Let the birds be your unofficial guides on the private trail through quickly shifting landscapes and geological formations. Cruising through these elevations is an experience not just of height, but also of depth. Now’s your chance to take it all in.
A Few Unwanted Visitors
The landscape in the summit area is special. Above 5000 feet in elevation is mostly native forests, meaning it’s filled with species that arrived here naturally with no human intervention. Nowadays, there are some invasives in the mix. Mullein is native to Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. Introduced species such as these can easily push Hawaiian vegetation out of the landscape. With no native predators and no reason to protect themselves, species in Hawaii lost competitive characteristics to ward off invasives like mullein.
Traveling the Seam of a Volcano
Imagine a paper bag getting filled with water. Its structural integrity dissolves as the seams burst open. But instead of water, it’s lava lifting and surging up through a gaping crevice. Lava pouring through a ridgeline with visible flows gushing toward the Pacific Ocean. Now, you don’t have to imagine. This is one of Hualālai’s fault lines, where molten rock last melted its way down the mountain in 1800 and 1801. Did you forget your morning coffee? No worries. Hiking this ridgeline gives you a better shot of adrenaline than even the strongest Kona brew.
Feeling Bold — Walking with the Acacia Koa and ‘Ōhiʻa Lehua
Old-growth forests can be hard to come by on this young island. Stepping into a grove with lots of Koa trees is even more rare. This protected endemic species only grows in upper elevations with a perfect vortex of conditions: sufficient precipitation, neutral to acidic soil, and, of course, no recent lava flows. Koa also translates to brave, bold, or fearless. ‘Ōhiʻa Lehua are found throughout the islands, often embedded into barren lava fields, latching onto vertical walls, or even next to what were once massive lava lakes — they can close their pores to not absorb toxic gasses. Talk about risky behavior.
Underground rivers of molten lava flow during times of active eruptions. Forming when the exposed crust of a flow hardens, insulated lava carves its way into the ground. The eruption subsides and you’re left with an empty tube. Skylights are natural collapses giving glimpses of the lush world above. Let the spelunking begin.