Manukā Natural Area REserve
ROUND TRIP MILEAGE: 13.2 MILES
ELEVATION GAIN: 1900’
The Kāheawai Trail is a long, difficult trail in a very remote part of the Big Island. Although it was an ancient road, this Nā Ala Hele trail gets very little use today. Kāheawai means “calling for water,” because an ancient chief would shout loudly when he wanted his water delivered. Beginning at an altitude of nearly 2000’ above sea level, the Kāheawai Trail descends to the sea over 6.6 miles. The trail begins in upland forest where the trail is thick, overgrown, and easy to lose. It transitions to harsh lava about halfway down where you lose all shade. It’s possible to hike any portion of the trail and turn around for an easier day. A good turn-around spot is the transition point from forest to lava where the ocean views are expansive. The Kāheawai Trail is substantially more difficult than most other trails on this website. Perhaps choose another hike in the area if you don’t have extensive experience hiking in remote, wild places. Manukā State Wayside Park has a pleasant, short loop hike through similar terrain and forest and is less than two miles from the Kāheawai Trail.
Trailhead: On Hwy. 11 about 20 miles west of Na'ālehu, find the unmarked parking for the Kāheawai Trail between the 79 and 80 mile markers. The trail and parking area are difficult to spot from the road. Park on the south side of the road about 100 yards west from the intersection of Aloha Blvd. If you look closely, there is a brown hiking sign visible as you approach from the west. Don’t block any private property and ensure you’re in a public parking area. Don’t park near the mailboxes. There are no services at this trailhead, but find trash, restrooms, and a picnic area just down the road at Manukā State Wayside Park.
Gear: Sturdy boots are a must for the rocky, difficult trail. Bring lots of water and extra food. Don’t forget the raingear.
Hike: You may wonder if you’re in the right spot at the trailhead. Locate the brown “hikers” sign and then walk uphill west above the road on an overgrown path. Shortly find a metal fence with a gate. You should see the official signage for the Kāheawai Trail behind the fence to ensure you’re in the right place. Pass through the gate (you need to climb through it) and close it behind you. Pass the Kāheawai Trail signs and head down the trail. You’ll quickly pass an extremely rusted car. Just past the car, look sharp for post-contact petroglyphs of a name on the ground. The trail winds down the slope for more than three miles through the forest. The trail can be very difficult to find at times, so expect to be lost from time to time. The key is to stay near a dry gulch that is always to the west of the trail. If you veer far from the gulch, you’re off the trail. The trail is also marked by sporadic ahu (cairns) and some pink and blue flagging in the trees. At about three miles from the trailhead, the forest becomes thinner and ocean views open up. This is a good spot to turn around for a moderate day hike. It’s all harsh, black lava from here. There’s no shade. Carefully consider how much water you’re carrying and how much vertical gain you have back to the trailhead. If you make it all the way to the coast, you’re in for a really tough hike back to the trailhead. Consider a very early start if you’re trying to do this entire trail to avoid hiking uphill in the heat of the day.