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Planning a visit to Kauai? We regularly add news and information about events, activities, and places to see on The Garden Isle.

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Sheila Heathcote has lived in Hawaii since 1986. She's a published author on the topic of Kauai and the owner of Hale O Nanakai Bed & Breakfast.

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Hiking Koke'e: Awa'awa'puhi Trail has spectacular scenery

The Awa'awa'puhi Trail in Koke'e State Park above the Waimea Canyon is an excellent "moderate" trail that takes 2 to 4 hours to complete depending on your fitness level. The rewards are spectacular views from the coastal end of the trail, where the famed Awa'awa'puhi Valley (pictured at left) greets hikers in all its splendor and glory.

If you have traveled by boat for a Na Pali coast excursion, chances are you have seen Nu'alolo  Kai -- a popular snorkeling spot where the cliffs above the site are marked with an enormous "X". The ancient Hawaiians traveled from Nu'alolo Kai, a habitation and fishing area with a sacred heiau or temple, up to the fertile hanging valley of Awa'awa'puhi using a rope ladder that hung over the cliff face. There are actual photos at the Bishop Museum showing a Hawaiian man climbing this 60 foot ladder.

Awa'awa'puhi was where the Nu'alolo Kai residents farmed the fertile soil with taro and other crops. Awa'awa'puhi Valley does not have a beach -- it has only rocky cliffs stretching about 100 fee above the sea and into the valley floor. 

The trail starts at 4120 fee above sea level on Kaunuohua Ridge, where approximately 75 inches of annual rainfall fosters the growth of the native ohia - lehua trees(photo at right), and causes the forest canopy to be thick and green.

Hawaiians came into the forest to collect plants fro medicines, lei-making and wood for building with. Pigs and chickens, two animals brought by the ancient Hawaiians on their canoes as a food source in the new land, still live along the upper trail.

The trail descends gradually, and by the two mile mark, the vegetation changes with the drop in elevation and rainfall. Koa trees and scrubby a'ali'i and pukiawe predominate. Koa was used for canoes; a'ali'i was woven into leis, and the smoke from the pukiwae was used as a smudge for removing the kapu from royalty.

Before the junction with the Nu'alolo Cliff (Bench) Trail at the 3-mile mark, two weedy imports, lantana and guava, crowd the trail. One quarter mile past the trail junction the trail ends on the ridge dividing Awa'awa'puhi and Nu'alolo Aina Valleys 2500 miles below.