There is always something extra amazing about doing something that’s exclusive, even forbidden. That’s why Eve ate the apple, American travelers have been enthralled by Cuba, and blowfish is a culinary risk hardcore foodies willingly ingest.
I was feeling such a vibe while traveling around the Hawaiian island of Oahu when I had the opportunity to hike a very special trail that locals will tell you is so private they've only heard about it through personal connections.
The hard-to-access Palehua Trail, as it’s known, is located in the western part of the island. The hike, which overlooks the towns and valleys of Nanakuli and Wai’anae, is exceptionally sacred to Hawaiians. Few tourists and some locals may know that such a place exists, but for most the sweeping, unobstructed sea views remain the stuff of lore as few have made the journey.
A 6-mile road to majesty
The brand spanking new Four Seasons at Ko’Olina forged a relationship with “Anu,” also known as Thomas Anuheali’i. He’s the Palehua Ranch caretaker, or gatekeeper, if you will. Anu runs a nonprofit that invites local native Hawaiian students to engage with the spirit of the land by learning about the sacred history of the region. Exclusive to Four Seasons guests like myself, as well as to groups that arrange and book in advance, Anu leads those who make the cut along the paved 6-mile road to some serious majesty.
To access the ranch property, we must first pass one of two latched gates. Upon entering the first, Anu leads us to a clearing. Here, horses graze and roam, their ponytails swishing in the whistling wind. Together with Anu, we wait and listen before asking the land for permission to tread. After all, we are not here to just take without asking.
Anu guides us past the second gate where three satellite towers stand. The trailhead is located just to the right of the towers. Down a steep hill we trek before the topography switches to masterfully carved-out stairs. (Thank you, Anu!) We descend, crossing a metal gate designed to keep wild boars out (dinner!).
Wisdom between wisps of wind
As we take on the trail, I walk in silence, observing the sound of the wind and how up here it mimics the sounds of crashing ocean waves down below. Anu speaks aloud about the ancient chiefs who date back 450 years. He explains the beautiful meanings of Hawaiian names, how every person eventually grows into the meaning of their name. He tells us about Mana, a form of spiritual energy and a healing power that can exist in places, objects and persons.
We pass various native trees and plants, and Anu asks the question many native Hawaiians battle with as the descendants and other folk continue to settle the island: Do you want to buy something, or do you want to grow something? Powerful stuff to think about when feeling the connectivity this primordial land emanates.
We weave and wind up, up, up till we reach the end of the trail. Once we reach our destination, I linger and lean on a fertility tree, because, well, why not?! At the tippy top, the view overlooks the Lualualei Valley with 360-degree views of landscape and cloud-cleared panoramas of the Waianae coast. In the far distance I can just make out the outline of sister islands reaching as far as Molokai.
Anu gently suggests we sit and really sit with this moment. I find a rock within a clearing and close my eyes. Anu begins chanting, calling out in Hawaiian dialect as I sit in meditation for a magical five minutes — listening to the wind, the waves, the birds, the ghosts, our breath — before quietly rising to return again to the cushy contemporary bliss of reality — at the Four Seasons.
If you go
I stayed at the Four Seasons Ko Olina in Oahu and the hotel arranged their Outer Known Palehua Experience. Alternatively, if you're not staying at the Four Seasons, try reaching out to The Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club or the Sierra Club for tours as well.