Pauoa Flats Trail – a hike to remember and ponder

Pauoa Flats Trail
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Pauoa Flats Trail – a hike to remember and ponder

Prompted by a conversation with a bar-tending friend who also happens to be a marathoner and avid trail runner, the HAT Blog recently embarked on a hike along the Pauoa Flats Trail. It’s near our home office, fairly easy, and under one mile (.75 mi). It’s only accessible from a handful of other Na Ala Hele trails in the area so you’ll be hiking for more than the 1.5 miles of the Pauoa Flats Trail.

It’s part of a sort of “choose your own adventure” network of interconnected trails that weave in and out of parts of Manoa Valley, Tantalus, Pauoa Valley, and Nu’uanu Valley. We started at the Kalawahine Trail on Tantalus and ended up covering about 5 miles, all told. The DLNR’s Na Ala Hele website has detailed information about this complex of trails, and visitors are well advised to consult that resource before heading out into the forest.

Pauoa Flats Trail View
A view from Pauoa Flats Trail.

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Pauoa Flats Trail – the area

I’m an amateur hiker. I don’t have any gear but sneakers. Although I spent many days hiking when I was a teenager, at my age now, to claim to be anything other than a novice would be dishonest. I’m not a hiking guide, just as I’m not a food critic or surf instructor, and I write about those things, too. But I am interested in Hawaii’s history and the legends that fill its lush natural spaces. Nu’uanu/Pauoa is rich with historical significance and alive with spiritual resonance.

Pauoa Valley is a quiet residential neighborhood. Well, most of the time. The valley erupts with fireworks of all kinds, legal and illegal, on New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year, and the Fourth of July in particular. Many households are multigenerational, and homes have “been in the family” for many decades.

Pauoa Flats Trail footpath
Watch your step on the Pauoa Flats Trail!

Nuuanu/Pauoa have important histories and legends

The human history of Nuuanu/Pauoa is well-documented in books and scholarly journals. I was thinking about the magical history told in mo’olelo (oral histories) about the area as we walked among the eucalyptus and bamboo along the Kalawahine Trail before we reached the start of the Pauoa Flats Trail (remember, it’s only accessible by following other trails to it).

Legends speak of the origins of the area. It is said that it was created by a legion of magical beings (menehune, perhaps?) and became home to mo’o, who were/are believed to be lizard-like creatures who could be protectors or tormentors. Legends of the Night Marchers in Nu’uanu are many. There are also more modern ghost stories about star-crossed lovers, spectral hitchhikers, and other spooky tales to marvel Oahu’s children.

Pauoa Flats Trail end view
The view at the end of the Pauoa Flats Trail, looking toward the Pali Lookout.

It’s not hard to imagine King Kamehameha the Great’s army stalking the forest or to envision the many lo’i, or taro patches in the area that were once fed by Nuuanu Stream and Pauoa Stream. The birdsong and whispering (sometimes roaring) wind make it easy to leave your day-to-day concerns behind along the Pauoa Flats Trail.

It offers rare views of Pauoa and Nuuanu, and of the many valley offshoots that are home to waterfalls. But the real payoff of the Pauoa Flats Trail is the view of the Nuuanu Reservoir at the end of the trail. The stunning vista stretches back to the Nuuanu Pali Lookout, punctuated by dark patches of ironwood and Norfolk pine trees, and lighter green patches of groves of Kukui Nut Trees.

The Pauoa Flats Trail is a short one with a high return on investing your energy in getting to it. As always, take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints.