#CatTravels: My favorite Neighbor Island omiyage

By July 30, 2015 #CatTravels, Food

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Omiyage.

It’s a custom I grew up with.

While it’s rooted in Japanese culture — omiyage are souvenirs you bring back home from a trip that you give to others — just about everyone in Hawai‘i does this.

And every time I travel to a Neighbor Island — namely, Maui, Kaua‘i and the Big Island — I’m always thinking of unique gift items to bring back home.

And it’s not easy.

So here are my go-to omiyage from Maui, Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Island, in no particular order.

KONA

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Portuguese sweet bread from the Kona Historical Society (81-6551 Māmalahoa Highway, Kealakekua, 808-323-3222). These loaves are made every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the pasture below the H.N. Greenwell Store Museum. In fact, not only can you buy them for $8 each, you can make them, too, learning how to roll the dough and bake it in a traditional large wood-fired stone oven. Even more personal!

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Frozen fruit pies, Holy’s Bakery (Holy Bakery Road, Kapa‘au, 808-889-6865). Sure, you can buy the frozen pies from Holy’s Bakery (808) 889-6865) in Kapa‘au at KTA Super Stores or even in certain grocery stores on O‘ahu. But it’s nothing compared to actually going to the bakery on Holy Bakery Road, behind the Nambu Building off Akoni Pule Highway. And maybe you can get different flavors or a tub of chocolate chip cookies.

HILO

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Anything made from pohā berries from the Hilo Farmer’s Market (Kamehameha Ave. and Mamo Street, Hilo, 808-933-1000). Anything, really, at this farmer’s market, held daily (though the big ones are on Wednesdays and Saturdays), is worth bringing home. But I especially love the value-added products using pohā (cape gooseberry) that are grown on the Big Island.

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Candy-filled mochi from Two Ladies Kitchen (274 Kilauea Ave., Hilo, 808-961-4766). While most people get the shop’s famed strawberry mochi — a fresh whole strawberry inside a hand-shaped mound of soft mochi with sweet azuki beans — for obvious reasons, I much preferred the assorted candy-filled mochi that’s usually always available in the shop or at certain KTA Super Stores. The colors don’t matter, either. You might find a piece of caramel or chocolate inside — and that’s half the fun!

MAUI

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Kula strawberry jam from Kula Country Farms (375 Koheo Road, Kula, 808-878-8381). This fourth-generation farm is located on the slopes of Haleakalā, and its charming roadside farm stand boasts a variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables — and a nice selection of value-added items including these jams, made from strawberries grown in Kula. But be warned: jams — even honey and salsa — should be put into checked luggage and not carry-on bags. Sometimes they don’t make it past the TSA agents.

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Guri guri from Tasaka Guri Guri Shop (Maui Mall, 70 E. Ka‘ahumanu Ave., Kahului, 808-871-4513). There’s only two flavors here — strawberry and pineapple — so you won’t have to stress out about that. I honestly don’t know a single person who wouldn’t want this creamy Maui speciality, a cross between sherbet and ice cream. Take-out containers are available in 2-quart sizes at $11 each, frozen solid so you can take it back with you. But like the jams and honeys, you may want to check this in; some people have had problems carrying this on board.

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Manju from Sam Sato (1750 Wili Pa Loop, Wailuku, 808-244-7124). The good thing about grabbing the homemade manju from Sam Sato, a popular old-fashioned restaurant in Wailuku known for its dry mien dish, is that you usually don’t have to wait in line. These traditional Japanese baked pastries filled with sweetened beans are in a display case right in the front of the restaurant. And if manju isn’t your thing, the restaurant also sells turnovers filled with apple, peach, blueberries, coconut and pineapple.

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Peanut butter and milk chocolate mochi from Maui Specialty Chocolates (180 E. Wakea Ave, Kahului, 808-871-1222). OK, maybe this is just my personal favorite thing, but the PB and chocolate-filled mochi from this specialty shop is melt-in-your-mouth perfection. A five-piece box is $6, eight pieces are $9.60, and a dozen is $14.40. Don’t forget to grab something for yourself, too.

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The Rosé from MauiWine (14815 Pi‘ilani Highway, Kula, 808-878-6058). I love rosé wines, and the 2014 vint from MauiWine in ‘Ulupalakua is particularly wonderful. It’s fresh, it’s perky, it’s bright, it’s got strawberry and Meyer lemon notes. It makes me immediately feel like I’m on vacation. What better gift to give than that!

KAUA‘I

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Taro and sweet potato chips from Taro Ko Farm Chips & Factory (3940 Hanapepe Road, Hanapepe, 808-335-5586). I almost hate giving away this small shop in the little plantation town of Hanapepe — but I do want Taro Ko to stick around. On every trip to Kaua‘i — no matter where I’m staying — I make a stop here to grab bags — yes, plural — of taro and sweet potato chips. The best anywhere. Period. Tell Dale I sent you.

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Liliko‘i chiffon pie from Hamura Saimin Stand (2956 Kress St., LĪhuʻe, 808-245-3271). Though the prestigious James Beard Foundation recognized this old-school saimin stand as one of the more venerable and beloved of eateries for its housemade noodles and secret-recipe broth as an American classic, it didn’t take into consideration its liliko‘i chiffon pie. And most people don’t know that you can actually buy one of these frozen to take home. And let me tell you, it’s just as good the next day.

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#CatTravels: Visiting MauiWine

By July 27, 2015 #CatTravels, Food

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It’s been about 15 years since I’ve been to the vineyards at ‘Ulupalakua Ranch on the leeward slopes of Haleakalā on Maui.

I was there when it was called Tedeschi Winery.

Yes, that’s how long ago it was.

Today, the winery goes by MauiWine, and it’s still the island’s only winery and the state’s oldest. (It’s been in business for 40 years, if you can believe that.)

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The landscaped grounds at MauiWine at the historic ‘Ulupalakua Ranch. It’s such a peaceful and relaxing place — perfect for wine tasting!

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Inside the tasting room at the King’s Cottage — it was built for visits of King Kalākaua, the last reigning king of Hawai‘i — where complimentary tastings are offered daily. That 18-foot bar is crafted from a single piece of solid mango wood.

We stopped by the tasting room at the winery, still a popular destination for visitors eager to sample the vineyard’s specialities including the popular pineapple wines.

In fact, that’s really the first wines — the Maui Splash, the Maui Blanc — that comes to mind when I think of ‘Ulupalakua.

And that’s only a small part of the kinds of vints this winery now has to offer.

My husband and I were lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the vineyard and winery this weekend by one of his closest friends, Kele Irvine, who works as the vineyard foreman, and Joe Hegele, the director of sales and marketing for MauiWine.

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Visiting the vineyards.

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Irvine, the vineyard foreman from Upcountry Maui, handles everything from netting to harvesting here. He’s also named all the chickens who roam the vineyards.

Our first stop was the vineyard, located about a mile away the winery and its tasting room at a lower elevation of about 1,750 to 1,900 feet above sea level. About 17 acres are currently in production, with views of Kaho‘olawe, Molokini and Lānaʻi.

“Welcome to my office,” Irvine says, smiling, his arms outstretched.

It’s really not a bad place to work.

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Rows of Syrah.

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The grapes — these are Syrah — are protected by netting from birds. They’re about two weeks away from harvest.

The vineyard grows six varieties of grapes: Syrah (dark-skinned, for red wine), Malbec (purple grapes, for red wine), Grenache (red wine grapes), Gewürztraminer or Gewürz (aromatic grape, for white wines), Chenin blanc (white wine grape with higher acidity), and Viognier (white wine grape).

There are a lot of challenges in growing grapes in a region that’s not particularly known for cultivating this crop. One is that there’s no winter dormancy in Hawai‘i, which kills pests and rests the vines. So the team, headed by Irvine, has to fake winter for the vines, cutting off their water supply and hoping for no rain.

Oh, and don’t forget hurricanes like Iselle in 2014, which flattened entire rows of Syrah across three acres. Surprisingly, there was no damage to the grapes, but it took Irvine and his crew a month and a half to get the vineyard up and running. (Luckily, the Malbec, Grenache, Viognier, Chenin Blanc and Gewürztraminer were harvested before the storm hit.)

Or the weeds that are growing everywhere, particularly in neighboring plots and unused vineyard land. Irvine brings in 400 to 500 goats — “walking Weed Whackers” — to clear the area twice a year for two weeks at a time. It’s something vineyards in New Zealand do — and so far, it’s worked for the Maui ranch.

“This place has been a 40-year experiment,” Irvine says. “And we’re just figuring out what we can grow here … That’s the thing about growing grapes in Hawai‘i. Every season is different. We can just go down the list of variables.”

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A future venue space at the vineyard.

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What a view, right?

Blue Hawaiian Helicopters offers a tour of West Maui and Haleakalā with a stop at a remote landing site at ‘Ulupalakua Ranch, where you can sip the winery’s sparkling wine Lokelani and take in the stunning view from this elevation.

But the company is about to build its own venue site (above), which overlooks the vineyards and offers panoramic views of West Maui and the offshore islands of Molokini, Kaho‘olawe, Lānaʻi and Molokaʻi. This site, which will feature a trellis over this leveled area, should be completed this month. I predict this will be a coveted site for intimate parties, destination weddings and romantic getaways.

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Let the tasting begin!

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Hegele pouring a glass for Irvine. He returned to the winery two years ago; Irvine has worked for ‘Ulupalakua Ranch for four.

We scored an exclusive tasting of some of the winery’s estate wines with Hegele, who’s the son of the president of the company, Paula Hegele. He grew up on the ranch, working in the vineyards in the summer. He later ran a wine distribution company in Willamette Valley in Oregon. He came back to Maui two years ago to handle sales and marketing for the company.

The grounds feature historic buildings that were part of the famously lavish Rose Ranch, where Hawaiian royalty were entertained and a whaling captain spared no expense making this his home more than 150 years ago.

The winery began in 1974 with a partnership between C. Pardee Erdman, owner of ‘Ulupalakua Ranch, and Emil Tedeschi, who came from a family history of winemaking in Calistoga, Calif. They decided on this location — at around 2,000 feet elevation — and turned 23 acres of Maui’s countryside into a vineyard. In the late 1980s, Tedeschi left Maui and returned to California, turning over the operations to Paula Hegele. Over the past year, the company has made the transition from Tedeschi Winery to MauiWine to better reflect the brand.

In fact, the new logo was carved from an 8-by-5-foot slab of Cook Pine from one of the original trees planted on the grounds during the Rose Ranch era and mounted to a 16-by-8-foot lava rock wall just this month.

And last January, the company hired a new winemaker, Brett Miller, and his wife, Heather. Brett, who hails from Oregon, served as a vineyard manager for a premier Oregon vineyard management company, worked in the vineyard and cellar of Felton Road Winery and Central Otago Wine Company in New Zealand, and came back to Oregon to work as an assistant winemaker at Solena Estate before moving to Maui. His wife runs the tasting room.

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Our light lunch, prepared by Will Munder, the executive chef at ‘Ulupalakua Ranch Store & Grill.

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Sampling the Lokelani, a sparkling wine in the Rose Ranch collection. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, all grown in California but made here on Maui in the very difficult and tedious méthode champenoise.

We got to sample some of the tasting menu items by Will Munder, the executive chef at ‘Ulupalakua Ranch Store & Grill, which is famous for elk burgers. (We regret we didn’t try them.) We nibbled on grilled Maui Gold pineapple spears dusted in li hing powder, mixed olives, a pimenton-grilled flank steak with salsa verde, an egg salad with black truffle and tobiko, and a housemade hummus and lavosh that was so good I actually took some home.

And then we sampled the wines — the Lokelani, a sparkling wine with nuances of fresh raspberries and orange blossom; the surprisingly delicious Hula O Maui pineapple sparkling wine that’s perfect for hot summer afternoons; and a classic Syrah that my husband couldn’t stop drinking.

We also sampled the first bottling of the winery’s Viognier — “a slutty white wine with big hips, swinging,” Hegele says — and a fresh and perky Rosé that I loved so much, I brought back two bottles just for me.

After a fun lunch, we toured the grounds, checked out the old “jail,” which was really where the ranch shackled unruly people, and walked through the production area.

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The “jail” on the grounds of the winery. This is going to be a new tasting room this year.

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Inside the “jail,” which will be transformed into a private tasting room this year.

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Touring the production area.

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This is where all of the wines are made.

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More wine tasting!

It’s amazing the scale of production that goes on here. We’ve toured facilities and vineyards in Napa and Sonoma, and MauiWine is definitely on par. Credit folks like Irvine, Hegele and Miller, who have taken this company and its offerings to another level.

I can’t tell you how surprised I was to taste these wines. They’re nothing like I had remembered — not terrible and more novelty than anything else. No, these wines are stellar and can stand up against the vints from established wineries all over the world.

I dare say the Rosé and sparkling wines here are among my all-time favorites — and they’re locally produced and affordable. How can you beat that?

MauiWine at ‘Ulupalakua Ranch, 14815 Pi‘ilani Highway, Kula, Maui. Complimentary tastings are offered from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, with guided tours of the historic estate, production area and wine cellar three times a day. Phone: (808) 878-6058.

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‘Collab Cupcake’? I’m in!

By July 24, 2015 Food

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Last year I missed out on something truly remarkable.

It was called the Collab Pie, an ingenious pie made up of eight different slices from eight different bakers. It was sold at the annual Baker Faire, which is easily one of the coolest bake sales around.

I couldn’t make it last year. And I won’t make that mistake again!

This year, MW Restaurant is hosting Tea & Baker Faire — notice the tea part was added — as a benefit for Les Dames d’Escoffier, an organization dedicated to promoting women in the culinary professions. Which is fitting since so many of the chefs and vendors are women, including Chef Abigail Langlas (Cake Works), Chef Rachel Murai (The Pig and The Lady), Chefs Nicole Anderson & Jasmyne Romero (Koko Head Cafe), and Chef Michelle Karr-Ueoka (MW Restaurant), who’s part of the association.

The event takes place from 10 a.m. to noon on Sunday at MW Restaurant.

“Tea & Baker Faire is different from the two previous Baker Faires I’ve participated in because it is to help Les Dames d’Escoffier provide scholarships to females in the culinary industry,” Karr-Ueoka says. “We are featuring Dames as well as pastry chefs/bakers of Hawai‘i.”

On the menu are delectables like lilikoi chiffon pie, Hawaiian vanilla bean shortbread, bags of fresh nutmeg and cinnamon from Wailea Agricultural Group, jars of Big Island organic honey from Whendi Grad of Big Island Bees, homemade jams from Aletha Thomas of Monkeypod Jam on Kaua‘i, gourmet Hawaiian nougat from Liz Anderson of Hawaiian Nougat Co., and — a crowd favorite — hand-crafted pies from Kathy Masunaga of Sweet Revenge.

Oh, and there will be speciality tea drinks, too, by The Tea Chest.

But let’s go back to that Collab Cupcake!

This year this collab will feature six unique cupcakes by six different pastry chefs. And here they are: Waialua Chocolate S’more Cupcake (Karr-Ueoka), Cinnamon & Spice Crumble (Jackie Lau), Tres Leches (Kelly Pittman and Eddie Lopez), Hawaiian Chili Pepper Pineapple cupcake w/ Coconut Meringue (Anderson), and Pandan Coconut Crumble (Murai). (The Collab Cupcake needs to be preordered.)

So no excuses this time. Head down there. And look for me. I’ll be gorging on something sweet.

Tea & Baker Faire, 10 a.m. to noon, Sunday, July 26 at MW Restaurant, 1538 Kapi‘olani Blvd. Phone: (808) 591-9400.

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#40Trails No. 10 and 11: Keālia and Kuaokalā Trails, Mokulēʻia

By July 22, 2015 #40trails

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HIKE: Keālia and Kuaokalā trails, Mokulēʻia, O‘ahu
WHEN: July 2015
LENGTH: 7 miles total roundtrip
DIFFICULTY: Moderate
FEATURES: Hot and dry, exposed ridgeline with stunning views of Mokulēʻia along the Keālia Trail, great for dogs and trail running, hunting and camping allowed on Kuaokalā Trail, native plants and shrubs, spectacular view of Mākua Valley at the end of Kuaokalā Trail

When I first started out with my #40Trails project, I didn’t really have a plan.

There were a few hikes I had wanted to do, but that’s about it. Everything else was up for discussion, and I was very open to suggestions.

So I got a suggestion.

My husband’s friend — both are avid, lifelong hikers — had always wanted to do the 18-mile backpacking hike to Waimanu Valley along the northern coast of the Big Island. You need a permit, gear and stamina to do this hike — and right now, I had none of the above.

So we decided to start really training.

He and his wife were hiking on weekends and climbing the tracks at Koko Crater with packs.

I was still walking up Makapu‘u with my dogs.

But with the camping trip just a few weeks away, I decided I needed to get serious.

So we decided to venture to O‘ahu’s North Shore and do Keālia and Kuaokalā trails in Mokulēʻia, two connecting trails that offer similar switchbacks and elevation gains as the one to Waimanu.

The three of them — my husband, his friend and his wife — carried packs. I hurt my back surfing and decided to just wear a fanny pack.

So much for training!

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Where we parked our cars.

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Walking to the start of the trail.

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The trailhead is here.

Getting to the start of Keālia Trail needs some explaining.

Basically, head to Dillingham Airfield in Mokulēʻia along Farrington Highway. You’ll see the state’s Na Ala Hele sign for Keālia Trail at the third gate into the airfield. Turn right here. Follow the trail signs to the designated parking lot, located across the street from the trailhead on the opposite side of an open lot. (Just follow the signs.)

In case you’re wondering, Keālia means “salt encrustation.” It was probably given this name because of its location so near the ocean.

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The start of the trail.

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The trail follows the ridgeline of the mountain.

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Here’s the trail. The elevation gain is about 1,600 feet.

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Along the way, you get this stunning view of Mokulēʻia and the coastline. That, to the left, is the old quarry. It’s now an aquaculture farm.

Keālia Trail is known for two things: 19 switchbacks along the pali (cliffs) and sweeping views of Mokulēʻia.

And you get that pretty quickly.

For about a mile, you’re just walking along switchbacks up the mountainside. And the entire time, you get unobstructed views of the coastline, Hale‘iwa, Dillingham Airfield and the fixed-wing gliders that soar overhead.

This part, alone, is worth the drive to Mokulēʻia.

You’ll see a large, water-filled quarry mined by the Army for crushed rock to fill in rice fields for an airfield. Now, it’s used to grow tilapia.

This switchback section was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934. Along the way you can see native wiliwili trees — its wood was used for surfboards and canoe outriggers — and alahe‘e, another native tree with shiny, oblong leaves.

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Along the trail, we saw a bunch of flowering wiliwili trees. These are endemic to Hawai‘i.

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The end of Keālia Trail.

It took us just 45 minutes to get to the end of the Keālia Trail, which is marked by picnic table under a shelter (above).

We had started the trail fairly early, around 7:45 a.m., so by the time we reached here, there was no one else. (We found out on the way down, though, that this is a more popular trail than we had anticipated. There were about two dozen hikers lounging here, enjoying the view and having lunch.)

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The second part of the trail is this access road.

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A water tower on the trail.

The second part of this trail follows a series of access roads that take you to a lookout at Mākua Valley on O‘ahu’s West Side. The paths here are wide and well worn, big enough for trucks to get through. We encountered a couple of backpackers who had camped at nearby Peacock Flats. They told us about some hunters with dogs on the Kuaokalā Trail. It was a welcomed warning.

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Walking along the Kuaokalā Trail, lined with ironwood and eucalyptus trees, toward Mākua Valley.

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Obviously, hunters have been here.

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Follow the signs. These trails are well marked.

The up-and-down characteristic of this trail was great training for my hiking buddies, who opted to lug their camping packs. But don’t let the wide trail fool you: this is a long, tiring hike that really works your legs and backsides.

But stay the course. The view at the end is worth the pain.

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This well-worn trail is more often used by trucks and cars than hikers.

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Almost at the end!

Go left at the intersection, down a gulch and up along a ridge. In fact, go left whenever you can. This will lead you to a fence line — no doubt to keep pigs out — with a gate. Go through the gate and you’ll see the trail goes left and right.

Right takes you to another lookout with amazing views of the remote Mākua Valley.

But if you just go straight ahead, you’ll find a small opening that was good enough for us!

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There is it — Mākua Valley

A word about Mākua: For years — though not anymore — the U.S. Army used this culturally and geologically significant valley on O‘ahu’s western coastline for live-fire operations. It’s home to scores of ancient Hawaiian artifacts, cultural sites and about 50 endangered plants and animals.

You don’t often get to view this sacred valley from this vantage point, and it was really humbling to stand there and witness its majesty.

It took us about an hour to get here from the end of Keālia Trail, so 1 hour and 45 minutes total.

And now we had to head back.

Good thing we brought snacks.

VERDICT: Both Keālia and Kuaokalā trails have their own charms. Keālia offers sweeping views of O‘ahu’s North Shore from the start and Kuaokalā ends with an unforgettable glimpse of Mākua Valley. Both trails aren’t terribly difficult, but they do offer a great workout — and, it seems, great training for longer hikes. It’s just a long haul from Honolulu, though it gives you an excuse to get margaritas in Hale‘iwa!

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Follow my hiking adventures #40trails at Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish) and Facebook (/thecatdish).

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#40Trails No. 9: Pu‘u Pia in Mānoa

By July 17, 2015 #40trails

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HIKE: Pu‘u Pia, Mānoa, O‘ahu
WHEN: June 2015
LENGTH: 2 miles roundtrip
DIFFICULTY: Easy
FEATURES: Mountainous, often wet, great for beginners and families, scenic views of the Ko‘olau Mountains and Mānoa Valley, dog-friendly, hunting area, special pig control hunting takes places on Wednesdays and Sundays

The first time I hiked Pu‘u Pia trail in Mānoa was more than 20 years ago, back in high school when I would wander trails often alone or with friends who had no idea where we were going. (Oh, I could tell you stories about getting lost in the Ko‘olaus, but my mom reads this blog.)

But Pu‘u Pia, on its own, isn’t a difficult trail. (You can venture off the trail and hook up to other trails in the Honolulu Mauka Trail System, but I digress.) It’s about two miles total roundtrip and takes about an hour to complete. So whenever I wanted to get outdoors, walk among native naupaka kuahiwi shrubs and majestic koa trees, and relax at a grassy spot with unobstructed views of the Ko‘olau Mountains and lush Mānoa Valley, I head here.

But I will say, the experience lately hasn’t been the same.

For starters, more people are lacing up and hitting trails all over the island. And this trail, because of its ease and convenient location, has become much more popular in the last five years.

But there’s something else going on at this trail, too, and it’s hard to explain.

The last four times I’ve done it, I’ve had strange and scary experiences. Like the guy who had pitched a tent near the trailhead who kept calling out to me. (I was hiking alone.) Or the woman who seemed to be living at the shelter near the junction to the Kolowalu Trail. Or the pigs that ran across the trail as I was hiking with my dogs. Or the pack of hunting dogs running somewhere in the valley, followed by the horrific squealing of pigs.

Yeah. It’s been weird.

Suffice it to say, I don’t hike this trail nearly as much as I used to. But there are so many aspects of it I love — and I’m sure other hikers, especially those just starting out, will, too.

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This is Alani Way, where the trail starts, in Mānoa Valley.

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Here’s the trailhead.

First off, you need to find it.

The trail starts in the back of Mānoa Valley on Alani Drive, where it takes a sharp right. You’ll see the state trails sign with a few mailboxes at the start of what looks like a very long driveway. (It’s really Alani Lane and you can’t park here.) Park anywhere along Alani Drive, though be respectful that this is a residential neighborhood.

Walk down Alani Way, past a few homes, and you’ll see the trailhead. It’s at the end of the road.

The beginning of the trail — at least the first half of it — is usually the wettest and muddiest, so be prepared with sturdy shoes you don’t mind ruining with mud. (It’s also good to have a plastic bag and a pair of slippers in your car to change into after the hike.)

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Here’s the fork in the trail.

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Indy wants to go left to Pu‘u Pia.

In a few minutes, you’ll reach a lone albizia tree and that shelter I mentioned earlier. Then you’ll see a junction, where you can either go right to the Kolowalu Trail, which is a shorter but tougher route to Mount Olympus (Awaawaloa) along Wa‘ahila Ridge, or left to Pu‘u Pia.

Pu‘u Pia means “arrowroot hill,” named for the perennial herb with large, lobed leaves. This canoe plant — meaning, it’s one of the plants brought to Hawai‘i by ancient Polynesians — is best known for its fine nutritious starch, which is extracted from the round tuber. Early Hawaiians used powdered starch from the tuber as a thickening agent for making haupia.

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Along the trail.

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More scenes from first half of the trail, which is often wetter and muddier.

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Stream crossing.

This is a very gentle trail, a gradual ascent, and a total elevation of just 400 feet. You are often walking under the shade of eucalyptus and paperbark trees, with the distinct songs of the white-rumped shama surrounding you.

You’ll come to a plank that runs across what appears to be a stream. I have never seen this actually flow, but I’m assuming it must. This is Mānoa, after all. The valley gets rain here almost daily, even during the dry months.

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On the way to the summit.

After a few steeper sections — nothing too difficult, trust me — you’ll see a change in the scenery. The trail won’t be as muddy or wet, and you’ll come across a gulch with ironwood trees. There are side trails, though I advise to stick to this one. Special pig control hunting takes place on Wednesdays and Sundays from sun-up to sundown, so be aware of what could be going on in the valley below.

This is actually my favorite part of the trail. It starts to ascend gradually along the left side of Pu‘u Pia through native koa and strawberry guava trees. You can see the sky, feel the wind — I always feel very invigorated here.

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En route to the summit.

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Koa trees are one of my all-time favorite things to see in a forest.

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The last push to the summit.

Once you reach the ridgeline, you’re just about to the top. You’ll pass gorgeous koa trees, its distinct leaves fluttering in the wind. It always warms my heart to see native trees in the forest — and it’s doubly exciting to see these trees so close to the island’s urban core.

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The first grassy patch is the best place to stop, though it can get crowded here.

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Push on farther and you’ll come to this bench at an elevation of about 880 feet.

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Here’s the view.

There are two clearings up here. The first one will be obvious, emerging from the narrow trail along the ridgeline. It always looks manicured and perfect for a little picnic. I’ve spent some time here, on my back, watching the clouds drift by.

But if you keep walking along the trail, you’ll find a second area, complete with a bench, from which you can gaze at the majestic Ko‘olau Mountains that encircle you. You can also see Waikīkī, Waʻahila Ridge, Tantalus (Puʻu ʻŌhiʻa) and Kōnāhuanui, the highest peak in the Koʻolau.

Not bad for an hourlong hike!

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Dogs love this trail, too!

VERDICT: Pu‘u Pia is the perfect hike for beginners, families and dog owners — or anyone who wants to get outdoors but only has an hour to do it. It’s short, easy and ends with a great perspective of Mānoa Valley. But if you’re looking for a rugged, challenging hike that will torch calories and test your courage, Pu‘u Pia will greatly disappoint you. For that, go right at the junction and head up to Mount Olympus via Kolowalu. That will be more your speed.

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Follow my hiking adventures #40trails at Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish) and Facebook (/thecatdish).

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