Via magazine
Via magazine - Your AAA Magazine

The Via Blog travel news + notes + tasty tidbits

Christopher Hall on a boat, picture

Hiking Hawaii: Mauna Kea’s Palila Forest Discovery Trail

Posted by Christopher Hall on July 27, 2016
the Palila Forest Discovery Trail opens to scenic vistas along Mauna Kea, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Courtesy of Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project
Photo caption
Mauna Kea's new Palila Forest Discovery Trail delivers scenic views and a chance to glimpse the elusive palila bird.

The dormant volcano Mauna Kea, a giant of the Pacific, harbors a tiny, unheralded treasure on its broad flanks. And a new trail now allows the public to discover that treasure.

The Palila Forest Discovery Trail is a mile-long interpretive loop at about the 7,000-foot level of Mauna Kea, which soars nearly 14,000 feet above the island of Hawaii. Opened in late July, the trail is named for the palila (Loxioides bailleui), a critically endangered forest bird with a golden head and breast. Unique to Hawaii and once found on three islands, it is now restricted to about 25 acres on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea, an area less than 5% of their historic range.

the endangered palila bird perched on a mamane tree in Mauna Kea's tropical forest, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Courtesy of Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project
Photo caption
Unique to Hawaii, the palila bird was once found on three islands. Today it resides on just 25 acres of Mauna Kea's tropical landscape. The palila feasts on the seeds of the forest's dominant mamane tree, pictured here.

The trail features four large interpretive signs and about twenty QR-code identification signs as it passes through a high-elevation dry forest. The signs paint a fascinating picture of the critical role that reforestation of the area plays in the palila's survival. The forest's dominant tree is the mamane (Sophora chrysophylla), another only-in-Hawaii species, whose green seeds make up most of the palila's diet. In a truly Darwinian twist, the seeds are highly toxic except to the palila.

Interpretative signs along the Palila Forest Discovery Trail detail the history of Mauna Kea, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Courtesy of Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project
Photo caption
Interpretative signs along the Palila Forest Discovery Trail detail the history of the area and highlight the critical importance of reforestation.

Looking to take a break from the beach while on the Big Island? The new trail makes for a great half-day excursion from the Kona side of the island, though you will need a 4x4 vehicle to access the trailhead. I visited the site before the trail officially opened, and while I wasn't able to spot the elusive palila, I heard its gorgeous song, once thought to herald rain. And as an added bonus, I don't think I've ever enjoyed views quite as stirring as those of the tropical lowlands and cerulean ocean far below.

Directions: From the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, take the Old Saddle Road towards Waiki'i. Turn off at the Kilohana Hunter Checking Station (between mile markers 43 and 44). From there, 4x4 vehicles can drive up the "R-1" road four miles to the trail head.