Makiki Valley Loop Trail – a brief history

Makiki Loop Trail
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Makiki Valley Loop Trail – a brief history

Oahu’s Makiki Valley Trail is one of the island’s most popular hiking trails. It’s part of the State DNLR’s Na Ala Hele trail system, well maintained and clearly marked. It comprises a series of connecting trails, including the Makiki Loop Trail. That makes it a kind of “choose-your-adventure” proposition for hikers of all ages and abilities. Some bits are more challenging than others, so know your limits and don’t tempt fate by making poor decisions in the wild.

Rather than a trail guide, we’ll offer here a brief history of the area, from so-called “prehistoric” times (read: pre-Western contact) to the present. That part of Oahu has undergone enormous change through the centuries. In fact, most of the flora and fauna in the Hawaii Nature Center (where the trails begin) is non-native, and hasn’t been for a long, long time.

Makiki Valley Loop Trail segment
A walk along the mountainside on the Maikiki Valley Loop Trail.

Makiki Valley’s ancient past

An archaeological survey that was conducted by the State of Hawaii in 1980 indicates that numerous “prehistoric” sites are located throughout Makiki Valley. Taro farms of early Native Hawaiians were located in the flatlands at the mouth of the valley, stretching into the mouths of adjacent Manoa Valley and Pauoa Valley. The southeastern tip of the walls of Makiki Valley, Round Top, is known a Pu’u ‘Ualaka’a, which translates to “hill of the rolling potato”, as it was used to farm sweet potatoes hundreds of years ago.

Neither taro nor sweet potatoes are native to the Hawaiian Islands. They were brough by Hawaii’s first settlers and Polynesian voyagers at about the same time Western Europe was plunging into the Dark Ages. Archaeologists have estimated that by the 1600’s, about 80% of the land in Makiki below 2000 feet had been altered by human activity. Makiki was once home to a quarry for stones used to make fishing lures for octopus fishing and hunting. Historians believe that the name “Makiki” refers to that type of quarried stone.

Makiki Valley Loop Trail trees
The forest through the trees in Makiki Valley.

Makiki Valley’s not-so-ancient past

The arrival of Captain James Cook and subsequent European voyagers (read: colonizers) further altered the landscape of Makiki. The introduction of livestock had dire consequences: erosion and the propagation of invasive species crowding out and praying on native flora and fauna. The sandalwood trade all but eliminated the species in Makiki the years between 1815-1826. Imagine: the cargo hold of a single merchant ship was capable of transporting up to 6,000 trees in a single voyage at that time. By the late 1800’s the forest in Makiki was simply…gone.

Reforestation efforts in Maikiki Valley were begun in 1910, after a series of land transfers. Makiki-Tantalus was declared Forest Reserve in 1913 by the Territorial Government. Thankfully, the forest has returned to Makiki Valley, albeit with species which are not native to Hawaii. They were imported from Australia, Asia, and beyond.

Makiki Valley Loop Trail root formation
Watch your step! Makiki Valley Loop Trail.

Makiki Valley today

Eucalyptus is fairly abundant in the valley, and the trails within the Nature Center meander through lush jungle trails and along and over the babbling Moleka Steam and Kanealole Stream. That “babbling” can turn into “roaring” quickly, so situational awareness of weather and ground conditions is vital for keeping safe even on the easier trails.

While most of the native bird species of Makiki Valley have long since vanished, a couple of them remain in small numbers. It takes the keen eyes and ears of bird watchers, or “birders”, to spot them in the wild. But the songs of the Oahu Amakihi and the Apanepane can still be heard in the valley, along with the calls of exotic new arrivals like the ring-rosed parakeet, white-rumped Shama, and red-crasted Cardinal.

Makiki Valley Loop Trail apanepane bird
The native Apanepane bird can (sometimes) be found in Maikiki Valley

The Makiki Loop Trail is popular because of it’s proximity to Honolulu-proper and Waikiki, its easy accessibility, and its offering of a relatively safe stroll through the tropical jungle. But it was once home to some of Hawaii’s most valued species (including the now precious Koa tree). And that’s something to ponder as you meander these forest paths.