The hike can at times be muddy, particularly the first 1.3 miles and the .75 mile through the Kawaikoa Stream Crossing. The board walk for the rest of the trip can also be slippery at times, particularly if raining. You will be hiking in one of the wettest spots on earth, so dress appropriately. Temperatures are also cooler than at Sea level because of the altitude. We have listed terrain as a 3.5, however this can increase in rain or fog.
Warning ! Do not attempt the Earthcache Hike in heavy rain or thunderstorms!
The Alaka’i Wilderness Preserve commonly called the Alaka’i Swamp is not a true swamp, but does contain montane wet (rain) forests and alpine bogs and you will experience both on this hike.
To understand how they have occurred we will first need to look at the Geology that caused them. We will start with the two oldest volcanic members as you will be hiking on them and then we will look at a third event that caused the rain maker that gives the moisture to the area.
The above picture tells us that the lava flows comprising the Napali Member, shown in red, are the oldest and are the remnants of the original shield volcano that formed the island, and thus are relatively thin and slope from the sea to what was the center of the island. The Napali Member is between 5.1 and 4.3 million years old.The center portion of this member suffered a "subsidence", which means a large portion of the Earth's crust settled, causing that area to sink. (All Islands in Hawaii have undergone various amounts of this)
More Volcanic activity followed and again built up this subsided area into what is now called the "Olokele Member", shown in yellow. The Olokele Member is about 4.0 million years old. The lava flows for this member, because they were dammed on all side are fairly flat and thick.
The rain maker was the other thing that happened and that was another subsidence called the Lehui Depression shown in the blue area on the east side of the island.
It created shear 3200 foot cliffs on the east side of Mount Wae’ale’ale . These are not the walls of the Volcano, but are just sheer cliffs. The north east trade winds bring the puffy little trade wind clouds up against these cliffs and as the clouds rise to go over them they cool and begin to drop moisture, much of it falling on the cliffs forming the major rivers to the east and north, such as the Wailua and Hanalei. The remainder of the moisture falls on top of Mount Wae’ale’ale and on top of the Olokele Member behind it, making this one of the wettest spots on earth. Because the Olokele Member is so flat it takes water some time to drain off of it creating the Alaka’i High altitude Bog and montane wet (or rain) forests.
Now to the hike and our Earthcache! The hike begins at the end of Highway 550 in Koke’e State Park in the Parking lot there and takes the Pihea Trail past the Pu’u 0 Kila Lookout. You are now walking on the Napali Member, which you will do for the next 1.3 miles. The elevation graph and track from our GPSr will indicate the route and elevation gains and losses.
We are going to base our questions for the Earthcache on various points along the trail so we will be asking you to make some notes as you proceed. You will have a second chance on the way back.
The first is at the base of the first hill at WP 1. We want you look behind you and you will see you have come down a well worn series of ledges or terraces which are the top of lava flows which slope slightly towards the sea, or up to what may have been the center of the island once. These are lava flows of the Napali Member.
For Question 1: What is your estimate of the thickness or height between these flows (ledge to ledge or terrace to terrace)?
You will then hike along the ridge going down and up a few times more. Along this stretch you will have great views, if it is not foggy, of the Kalalau Valley on the Napali Coast and the Ocean below. You might even spot a tour Helicopter or Boat below you. If you are real sharp eyed you might even spot a Whale.
When you reach WP 2 at the 1.1 mile mark, you will find you are now in montane Wet (or rain) forest. You will take the Pihea Trail which goes right toward the Alaka’i Swamp Trail you will go down a steep slope that, if you look closely, are the same lava flows of the Napali Member observed earlier, however now they are sloping away from you. You will come eventually to a series of boardwalk stairs which will shortly take down to a more level series of boardwalks. You are now on the Olokele Member and are walking through very dense rain forest. You will see Moss growing right up to the tops of the Trees.
At WP 3 you will come to an “X” intersection, with the Pihea Trail carrying on ahead of you and the Alaka’i Swamp Trail to your left and right. You will take the Alaka’i Swamp Trail to your left.
In about a ½ mile you will come to WP3 and will find a series of Boardwalk Stairs leading almost, but not quite down to WP4 at the Kawaikoa Stream Crossing. This stream is one of those draining the Olokele Plateau and its color is the result of the botanical acid-rich bog water.
Question 2: As you cross the Kawaikoa Stream, what color is the Water?
After crossing the stream and a short boardwalk you will again find yourself climbing up a steep series of ledges, or terraces which are the top 0f worn lava flows. to WP 5. These may be hard to identify and are flows of the Olokele Member. It will take you between 10 & 20 steps to reach each ledge. You will notice a slight pause in your vertical climb at each narrow ledge. You are on top of a lava flow at that point. It is also visible on the stairways you came down on the other side as most of the landings between flights of stairs were built on the top of the lava flows.
Question 3: What is your estimate of the thickness or height of these lava flows (from ledge to ledge or terrace to terrace - look closely)?
After WP 5 you will find yourself on boardwalk again, and from here almost to the posted coordinates you will find it is very level with few ups and downs. You are on the Olokele Plateau or, as it is called on some maps, the Alaka’i Plateau. You will also see you have left the rain forest and are now in area with low shrubs and many pools of Bog. In fact if it were not for the boardwalk the hike would be extremely difficult as some of these bogs are very deep.
Question 4: What colors do you observe in some of these bog pools and streams?
MrsB in the Bog Area
Just before the posted coordinates you will drop down slightly and again enter rain forest. When you arrive at the posted coordinates you will find the Kilohana Lookout at the top of steep escarpment called the Wainiha Pali which drops 3000 + feet to Wainiha Valley floor and the Wainiha River. This valley is still part of the Olokele Member. If it is clear you will have a terrific view, not only of the Valley, but also Hanalei Bay to the NW. However be prepared to find yourself in cloud fog. If this happens sometimes waiting a ½ hour might get you the View.
Question 5 - How would you describe the construction of the Lookout?.
To log this Earthcache you must e-mail us (do not post in your on-line log, or use Geocaching.com's new messaging feature) your answers to Questions 1 to 5; .
Your on-line log should only include your impressions of the hike and the landscape. Any pictures you post should not give away the answers to the questions, but do feel free to post as many pictures as you like!
Enjoy the return Hike!
Be good Geocachers and practice No Trace Hiking - Pack out all Garbage!
For more information on the area, visit the Koke‘e Natural History Museum which you will pass on the way up the highway, between mile marker 15 and 16.
Our thanks to State of Hawaii, Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife for permission to place the Earthcache in the Alaka'i Wilderness Reserve and on the Na Ala Hele Trail Systems they are responsible for. Special thanks to Kawika Smith, Trails & Access Specialist for Kauai County for the assistance in obtaining the permission.
Reference for this Earthcache was:
"Kauai's Geologic History - A Simplified Guide" authored by Chuck Blay and Robert Siemers and published by TEOK (The Edge of Kauai) Investigations.
Our personal thanks to Charles (Chuck) T. Blay,Ph.D, not only for allowing use of pictures from the book, but for his and his wife's hospitality during our recent visit.
The following two images from his book will give you an additional grasp of what we attempted to describe.