A couple of months ago I took part in a crazy hard local race that required me to run up the Captain Cook trail. I was part of a relay team. Most of the other participants did the entire race on their own: a mighty 1 mile swim across gorgeous Kealakekua Bay, a run up the Captain Cook Trail (from sea level to approximately 1200 feet in two miles), two grueling bike passes around the mountainous Napo’opo’o Road – highway 11 – Keala O Keawe – Puuhonua Road loop, and a final run out and back a portion of Puuhonua Road (which is surrounded by a desert microclimate and roasting by eight am).
As I walked down the Captain Cook trail at six the morning of the race to meet my swimmer I was reminded of the intense beauty of the trail. I’d trained on a portion of it a few times prior to the race, but it had been years since I’d done the whole thing. As I was walking down at dawn I was taking my time, sipping my water and nibbling my pre-race turkey sandwich, enjoying the deep silence. I was alone on the trail, and all I could hear were the gentle morning stirrings of cattle, various clear birdsong echoing across the mountain, and the dry shifting sounds of tree leaves and grasses in the wind.
There is a plethora of gorgeous plants growing on the mountain. There are tall fragrant eucalyptus trees and shade trees, tall cane (elephant) grasses, and flowering vines with brilliant yellow blooms. The trail is bordered in part by cattle pasture and coffee farms, so there is some shade at first, but then it shifts into a drier microclimate. The trail opens up and shifts from hard-packed dirt and tree roots, to rough black lava field exposed to a hot bright sun. Once the trail opens up it gets steep, which affords breathtakingly – I literally stopped and sucked in my breath even though I live here and see it all the time – view of the Kealakekua Bay and Napo’opo’o mountain coastline. The trail descends sharply towards the end into kiawe forest, which provides shade all the way to the water.
Once you’re down there you can enter the water carefully from the pier in front of the white obelisk, and enjoy the pristine coral and myriad colorful reef fish. It is a stunning hike and an amazing place to snorkel or swim. Manini Beach and Two Step are equally gorgeous, and guests who have time should experience all three.
Visitors simply need to be prepared for the Captain Cook trail hike. When we see folks parked at the top of our road where the trailhead is, getting ready to head down in flip flops and pretty new sundresses and surf shorts, we want to stop and yell out the window: “it’s awesome but you’re not going to like it today!” In other words, wear close-toed shoes, hats, and sun block, bring plenty of water and a snack. You’ll want to rest a bit after snorkeling, before you head back up. It’s always harder – and hotter – going back up. As I was heading down on one of my training runs on a hot Sunday afternoon I noted that every single tourist had the same hot miserable look coming back up. But it doesn’t have to be this way at all. You just need to be prepared. It’s fabulous, and many of our guests have done it more than once. We once even had a guest who did the hike every morning. It’s totally gorgeous, and I can understand this. And I’ll definitely be doing the race again next year!