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Stretching about three miles through Kailua wetlands, the Kawainui Marsh trail is a peaceful oasis right outside the hum of Kailua town. Consisting of a level gravel access road and a paved sidewalk, this family-friendly trail perfect for folks on Hawaii Vacations, is great for walking, jogging, biking, and strollers.
Once a great inland sea, the saltwater was eventually flushed out and replaced by freshwater runoff, and later became the largest cultivated freshwater fishpond on Oahu. Now protected wetlands, the marsh is home to hundreds of species of birds, fish, and insects- many of them threatened species. The trail is great for birdwatching, so bring your binoculars. On our recent trip we saw both the red-crested cardinal and the northern red cardinal, zebra doves, a red-vented bulbul, and a flock of common waxbills. More experienced birders will be able to spot a variety of endangered Hawaiian species.
Unobstructed views from the trail are stunning, from the panorama of the Ko’olau Mountains to Mt. Olomana and the Keolu Hills. Marsh grasses, reeds, and cattails gently wave in the tradewind breezes, and the sounds of civilization fade away to be replaced by birdsong. The sun plays hide-and-seek with the clouds, and in the afternoon often bursts through the clouds in dramatic rays of light.
Trail access is in two places- the most visible is off Pali Highway on the town bound side, just outside Kailua Town. If driving, look for the tiny parking area and back in if you can do so safely to make getting back out onto the busy highway easier. A quieter place to access the trail is on the other end, at Kaha St. off Oneawa St. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen- while there’s usually a decent breeze, the trail isn’t shaded so it does get hot. Best times to go are early morning before the sun is high, or late afternoon when the clouds along the western mountains offer some cover from the sun. Walking the entire trail length and back may be a bit much for some, so just turn around halfway. This is a trip where the destination isn’t as important as the journey, so take your time to observe and relax!