A little bit about Koko Head
Koko Head isn't for the faint of heart. If you come at any point when the sun is pointing directly at the trail, you'll want to scream. The sun? It burns. However, the clearer and brighter the day, the more rewarding the view at the end! The trail consists of 1,048 steps that shoot up 1,207 feet with the steps being made of leftover railroad tracks.
Koko Head became our #1 favorite hike aside from one other (future blog post on that). We made it a point to hike up those train tracks at least three times per week. Every single time, about half way up, I'd swear to myself that I'd never do it again. Our first trip took us about an hour and fifteen minutes. Our last trip up, after five years of living on that island, took us twenty-six. Excuse me while I pat myself on the back.
ALERT & FYI
[I won't get into the history of Hawaii and the terrible things that happened upon European settlement within the islands, but I will acknowledge that everyone should educate themselves on those facts before even going on a resort vacation, there. Enjoy your time, but please go with an understanding of what the locals, their families, and their ancestors have had to deal with and the rights they are still fighting for.]
The Koko Head crater, itself, was formed by secondary volcanic eruptions of the Ko'olau Range over ten thousand years ago. It is an extinct tuff cone located on the Southeast Coast of the island of Oahu, Hawaii. In 1928, Kamehameha Schools gave the 951-acre area to the city with the intention of it becoming a preserved recreational area for all to enjoy. However, we lovely humans found a "better purpose" for it -- the US Army built a tramway up the side of this gorgeous mountain in 1942 to transport support supplies to the soldiers at the radar station the U.S. military built. Taken over by the 169th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron of the Hawaii Air National Guard in 1966, the Air Force returned the area to the City and County of Honolulu where it is now Koko Head Regional Park. And, as you can see in my lovely photo of my wife, below, folks have taken to turning the old bunkers into works of art.
Koko Head Hawaiian Legend
If you don't know who Pele is, educate yourself, son!
Pele was known for her beauty and had a constant flow of admirers to include Kamapua'a. Kamapua'a (Kah-mah-poo-ah-ah) is a pig demigod and he was in pursuit of Pele when Kapo (Kapo'ulakina'u), the Hawaiian goddess of fertility, threw her kohe lele (vagina) to lure him away from Pele. Kamapua'a followed to where it landed -- it left an imprint (Koko Head Crater) and he later hid it in Kalihi Valley.
Tips, Tricks & Advice
Don't go on an empty stomach and don't go if you haven't pounded water.
You can if you want to, but you'll regret it. I've watched people start the trek in their cute workout gear they bought specifically for this vacation, Starbucks cup in hand, have to stop barely halfway up because of cramps, sweating profusely from every orifice of their body and wanting to fall over. Don't do it.
Carry a book sack with water and healthy snacks.
Get over, off of the trail, if you need a breather.
There is nothing wrong with needing a break, but keep in mind that the path is narrow and folks will be passing on both sides. Don't be 'that guy' that holds everyone up. It's easy enough to take a step or two (even at the steep parts) to the side....except on the bridge part.
Yeah, the bridge part.
There is a section of about 25 railroad tracks that you have to climb across. If you REALLY want to, you can climb down and pass on the bottom trail, but good luck. There are always bees (unless they've cleared up since I've been) and who knows what else. Take your time, breathe and don't freak out -- you can do it.
Putting it on beforehand is great, but it WILL wear off and you will be in direct sunlight the entire way up. You might like a hat, sweatband -- things of that nature -- as well. The path to the top isn't very long, but it's badass so don't hesitate to pack lightly.
Don't be that guy that breathes down people's necks.
I can't tell you how many times we've gone up and down this freakin' mountain where there's always that ONE GUY that has ample room to go around, but INSISTS on open-mouth breathing right behind me. BRO -- GO AROUND.
No one cares if you're a badass at this hike.
Everyone has a different reason for being out there and everyone is at different fitness levels. Don't be that guy that is ALWAYS THERE who runs up and back down the thing, and passive-aggressively lets everyone know how slow they are and how easy it is for him. Good for you, now STFU.
When you get to the top, don't just hydrate and then head back down -- EXPLORE!
This is actually where my tag line, Don't just climb; Explore!, comes from! I don't care if you've done the hike 100 times, there is always something new to see! Walk around, hike the ridges in the back, GEOCACHE! The view is impeccable!
If you can, do it at dusk to watch the sunset.
It's freaking beautiful. However, remember to bring a headlamp because there are no lights, up there! I wouldn't recommend a flashlight unless you have to because you'll need your hands for balance on the way down. As I keep saying -- ITS STEEP! Keep in mind that there are park hours posted at the gates. We've personally never been locked in after hours, but you never know, so take your chances.
If you can, do it on New Year's Eve or the 4th of July
-- fireworks from up there are incredible.
Bring an extra pair of socks.
If your feet get really sweaty, you'll want them. Change them at the top so you can minimize your blisters.
Kids can do it, but I'd recommend they not.
If you take it slow, a six-year-old could definitely accomplish this, but I'm telling you it is incredibly steep and going back down is the hardest part. Your legs are wobbly, people are going back and forth... it's dangerous. If I were you, I'd leave the little ones at home.
If this is your first time, please don't look down the entire way up.
I know you're trying to concentrate and you don't want to hold anyone up, but every chunk of steps, just stop and get off to the side and look around -- it's absolutely breath-taking!
HAVE FUN! BRING A CAMERA! AND PICK UP AFTER YOURSELF, DAMMIT!
Hawaii is BEAUTIFUL but tourists can be so incredibly disrespectful towards the land. If you have trash, find a trash can or put it back in your own bag. If you SEE TRASH, PICK IT UP! We are ALL responsible!
One of my favorite sites to visit to find different outdoor things to get into while we lived in Hawaii was the Unreal Hawaii website. They have a SLEW of information, ideas and amazing photographs of their Hawaiian adventures across all islands. I highly recommend you check that out if you'll be in Hawaii for a while or if you're planning a trip. I wouldn't just hit up your hotel and ask them where to go -- many hotels have deals with local attractions and you'll miss out on the REAL Hawaii. Talk to locals, check out that website and really dig deep -- Hawaii isn't just leis and coconuts!
While you're out there, support the local shops and restaurants. Hawaii has a high cost of living at no fault of the locals. Their food is absolutely mouth-watering and almost always locally-sourced. Grab an acai bowl before you leave! I recommend:
- Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha (4.4 miles from Koko Head) for some good shave ice
- Sophie's Gourmet Hawaiian Pizzeria (1.8 miles from Koko Head) for a big ole' pizza after burning all those calories! You get to create your own!
- Koko Head Cafe (7.2 miles from Koko Head) for a laid back brunch & lunch
- Island Brew Coffee House (1.3 miles from Koko Head with another location in Kaimuki) for coffee and pastries... skip Starbucks!
- Koa Pancake House (1.5 miles from Koko Head with locations all over!) for breakfast.
- Moena Cafe (1.2 miles from Koko Head) which also serves a bangin' breakfast and lunch!