Backpacking in Kauai
You can enjoy the extraordinary views of Waimea Canyon that the Kukui Trail provides (in good weather) by going less than halfway down, to a fine viewpoint. There is one bench between 1/4 and 1/2 mile and another at a spectacular viewpoint at 1 mile. This trip goes to the 1-mile bench, but you may prefer to stop at the first.
Getting started: Follow the trail to the brown post. Continue ahead to the hunter's check station. Then continue southeast past the picnic pavilion and begin descending a ridge on switchbacks. Koa, silk oak, ohia, and lantana line the trail here, and they, in turn, are often covered with twining passionflower vines. This pleasant, broken, dry-forest cover allows you fine views over the adjacent valleys as well as east into the great canyon. To the east-northeast, Waialae Falls makes its dramatic plunge over distant cliffs. Many of the distant valleys are filled with the light-green canopy of kukui, but the valley just south of the Kukui Trail is filled with silk oaks-stunning when dressed in their showy golden-orange blossoms. Watch carefully for roots and debris.
Along this trail, you'll find white PVC-pipe mileage markers at 1/4 mile intervals. The first viewpoint bench is between the 1/4- and 1/2-mile markers. Stop for a rest and an eyeful even if you plan to go on to the bench near the 1-mile mark.
The passionflower vines you see along the Kukui Trail (indeed, along the length of the Waimea River) produce the edible passionfruit, the delicately flavored lilikoi. (It's not the banana passionflower, also called banana poke, that you'll find smothering everything farther up in the mountains, although both are introduced plants.) You should try the delicious lilikoi confections served around the island before you try a real lilikoi so you'll know what it ought to smell and taste like. The lilikoi fruit is ripe when it turns yellow to purplish-brown and its skin is deeply wrinkled. The skin and the white inner rind are quite tough, so cut the fruit open and suck or spoon out the contents. Unfortunately, its runny, seedy, yellowish contents look awful despite that ethereal lilikoi scent and taste!
The"passion" in "passionflower" and "passionfruit" doesn't refer to romantic passion but to fancied resemblances in the flower's appearance to the instruments of Christ's "passion"- his crucifixion.
Near the 3/4-mile point, you cross a deeply eroded area where you have to tiptoe carefully over terrain that seems about to slide away. But you're soon over it safely and, a little past the 1-mile marker, you reach the second bench. This viewpoint has a more complete view than the first bench. You're still high enough to enjoy the sweeping vistas over Waimea Canyon, and, at the same time, you're far enough into it that you can see some of the formations that rise from its floor.
Linger awhile, then retrace your steps. Don't forget to sign out at the hunter's check station.
Getting There By Car
To take Highway 55, drive south and west from Lihue on Highway 50 to Kakaha town, 27 miles. Turn right onto signed Highway 55 (KoKee Road) and follow it for 8 miles, through the gully and then uphill to its junction with Highway 550. Continue up the hill for two more miles to the trailhead for the Iliau and Kukui trails. The trailhead is on the right (east) side of the road, and there's a small, dirt turnout/parking lot on the left (west) side of the road. Park here to start your hike.
To take Highway 550, drive south and west from Lihue on highway 50 to Waimea town, 24 miles. Look for Waimea Baptist Church on the right (inland) side of the road. Turn right onto the road that's on the west side of the Waimea Baptist Church. The road is Highway 50 (Waimea Canyon Road). Follow it for 7 miles uphill to its junction with Highway 55. From there to its end at Puu o Kila, the road is considered to be Highway 550. Follow the instructions for Highway 55 from here.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication