The Epic Pu’u O Kona – Oahu, Hawaii

Waking up early to be on the top of the mountain by sunrise has its benefits. And the Pu’u O Kona hike didn’t disappoint. We camped on the smallest outcropping we could find on an unknown part of the ridge that connects Kuliouou to Pu’u O Kona, which allowed us to wake up and crawl a few feet till we were right back on the ridgeline. Then, the morning show did its magic and the clouds slowly evaporated as the sun came up. All of this cloud movement and the crisp morning air made for a surreal beauty that I haven’t seen on the Ko’olaus before.

Location:

The Pu’u O Kona Trailhead is located at the same location as the Kuliouou Ridge Hike, so you’ll park at the end of the neighborhood on the street called Kala’au Place (please be quiet in any neighborhood that you park in). From there, it is an easy walk up to the trailhead. If you walk past the Kuliouou trail start (which would be on the right hand side) and continue down the asphalt paved way, you’ll cross over a small stream and then encounter a building at the end of the road. The trail starts just before the building on the western side – what would be your right hand side if facing the building. Google maps on satellite view does a good job of showing where it starts.

The other way to do this trail is by doing a loop, and hiking the Kuliouou trail to the summit, then shooting left (in a westerly direction) along the ridge till you reach the Pu’u O Kona summit. Then you can hike down the western ridge of the Kuliouou Valley. It’s a 5-6 hour hike when done in a loop like this. I think it’s the best way to complete this hike, even if it involves a windy night’s camping at the top.

The Pu’u O Kona Hike:

This was the scene waking up at the crack of dawn on a chilly February morning on Oahu. The high velocity tradewinds ripped through the tent and tent poles, causing what wasn’t the greatest night of sleep at the top. But the unshrouded mountain gave us an energy boost that no amount of caffeine can replicate. We were excited to have awakened and to not have been blown off the mountain side by the wind.

The mountain top was clear during the first few minutes of sunrise. Colors were changing. It was amazing to wake up to a unshrouded Ko’olau. But, as always, that quickly changed and the clouds rolled back in, blanketing the ridges once again.  

Morning hikes are so dynamic in Hawaii. The sun tries to burn off the morning fog and the clouds try to envelop the mountain side as thoroughly as possible. You don’t know who will win for the day, but it creates this beautiful dance of nature at its finest. But being in the clouds on a hike in Hawaii is not seen as a curse, but more of a blessing. And it sort of gives you a faint sense of hope that in a few minutes or in the next blink of an eye, that a moment of clarity will happen, and the clouds will clear just for your eyes to see. 

Me, hoping for a moment of clarity.

I was joined by my friend Michaela, who was adventurous enough to say yes to camping at the top of the mountain. This hike has been on the top of her list for a while and for good reason.

Near the final push to the summit on the ridgeline between Kuliouou and Pu’u O Kona is a small dirt outcropping. You’ve probably seen it somewhere online (perhaps with a tent set up – *completely fake), but it makes for one of the craziest scenes you can find on Oahu. Here’s a few photos:

Then, it was back to climbing. The final push to the summit of Pu’u O Kona is crazy steep and slippery. You wouldn’t want to go on a rainy, wet day. Try to time it so the mountain can dry ahead of time. If at any point, you don’t feel comfortable, then you can always hike back to Kuliouou and down the safer path. 

A final note from this hike, is that you will see almost 360˚ views of the island – from the backside of Olomana, all the way to Makapu’u. Far in the distance, we saw a rainbow emerging from the ocean, close to Chinaman’s Hat. You can even see Kokohead Stairs.

By this point in the morning, we were fully enveloped in the moving clouds. Just another day in Hawaii on one of the best hikes in the world. Hope to be back on this one soon.

Trail Information:

Time: 5-6 hours

Elevation Gain: 2000 ft.+

Difficulty: Moderate-Extreme

Description: The Pu’u O Kona is a 5-6 hour, 5-mile, intermediate to advanced, roundtrip hike that gains upwards of 2000 ft of elevation. If completed in the Kuliouou-Pu’u O Kona Loop you’ll eventually reach some very difficult parts near the second summit of Pu’u O Kona. The rest of the hike is easier – a normal ridge hike on Oahu. Ideally, it’s best completed in the afternoon to see sunset, with enough sunlight to get back down on the Pu’u O Kona ridge. The morning, during sunrise is also a good option – as shown above. Either way make sure to bring a headlamp and enjoy this great hike.

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