Maunawili Falls Trail


Maunawili stood pristine and uninhabited until around 1100 AD, about 500 years after other parts of the island were thriving with Hawaiian families.  When it was eventually utilized by the Hawaiians, Maunawili was established as an agricultural valley to feed Hawaiians living in adjoining areas of the island (Kailua/Honolulu).  Farmers grew taro in the fertile soil along the riverbanks, and the area was critical to feeding Honolulu in times of food shortage.  There are many old loi (taro growing terraces lined with rock), auwai (rock lined irrigation ditches), stone paved trails, kula (dryland rock terraces), and other rock structures and walls still exist in the valley, many visible from the trail.  Some have existed since from ancient times, but others are thought to be more recent additions of cattle ranchers. 

Eventually the Great Mahele led to a change in the ownership of land from smaller native land owners to large wealthy landowners.  Still, the valley was used primarily for cultivation.  Vast ranches, plantations, and farms developed in Maunawili.  Coffee, nuts, fruits, rice, and sugar were grown and later abandoned over the years. Cattle and dairy farms came and went.  The Boyd family owned one of the most notable properties in the area around the late 1800s.  Queen Liliukolani made multiple visits to the Boyd’s grand estate (located roughly in the area where the hike begins).  It was here that she composed the famous song “Aloha Oe” in 1878.  The house still stands but is in very poor repair.  There is a nearby street named “Aloha Oe” in honor of the famous song. The Irwins, who followed the Boyds in ownership of the huge estate, tried growing coffee and sugar in the valley.  They were successful for a time, but eventually the ranching and farming activities ceased and the land was sold and used for other purposes.  The remnants of the Irwin coffee orchards intersect with the early part of Maunawili trail. If you know how to identify the coffee plants, you will see the red coffee berries which are usually ripe in the middle of winter.

Census reports and archeological information indicates that Maunawili was sparsely populated all the way until the 1960s -70s when the Maunawili neighborhoods were established.  The golf course, formerly known as “Luana Hills”, was initially opened in 1993.  It has since changed ownership and management in 2011 and has been renamed “The Royal Hawaiian”.  If you look at a map, the crater is divided in rough thirds, for the residential developments, the golf course, and a watershed forest reserve dotted with small farms and agricultural projects.  The trail intersects with all three types of land as it winds its way through the neighborhood, into golf course owned land, and overlaps near agricultural areas. 

The Maunawili Trail was established in 1995 by Dick “the Bushwacker” Davis, hundreds of Sierra Club volunteers, and Marines from Kaneohe Marine Corps Base.  It is unique not only because of the remarkable cooperation between the various organizations who built it, but also because it is one of few Oahu trails to cross private land that is still accessible to the public.  The owners of the land still (at the time of this update in May of 2017) graciously allow people to continue to hike across their private land to access the state-owned portion of the trail (which is a good reason to be extra careful and respectful when on the trail).  In the last few years, littering has gotten worse, and the increasing numbers of hikers have started to cause problems for the quiet mountain community.  Noise, litter, illegal parking, and helicopter rescues are the main issues that have been fueling a series of decisions impacting the trail's future existence.  Hikers who plan ahead and follow the tips on the front page are appreciated, especially as the trail's policies and maintenance have changed drastically in the past few years. There are still a lot of people who don't know how to hike without causing trouble, so unfortunately, the trail is in limbo as decision-makers struggle to find the best answer to solve the trail's lack of maintenance, lack of ammenities, environmental damage, and proximity to housing.

The future of the trail is uncertain, at a crossroads, and unfolding slowly over time. It could close permanently, it might have a change in rules, it might get some ammenities and oversight, and/or a change to the location of the trail. No one knows. Please make sure the trail is still open before attempting the hike.


1995 Backpacker Magazine “Waikiki Minus the Tourists”

“Kailua” by the Kailua Historical Society (a wonderful book that I highly reccommend!)