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Best Hikes on Oahu: The Bunkers Trail (Pu’u Ma’elieli Trail)

Basic Information

  • Name: Bunkers Trail (Pu’u Maelieli Trail)
  • Where: Kaneohe, Oahu
  • Distance: 2.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 406 feet
  • Time: 1.5 – 2.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • More Information: Honolulu Magazine

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Topographic Map of the Bunkers Trail

Bunker Trail Topo Map

Google Earth Map of the Bunkers Trail

Bunker Trail Google Earth Map

Narrative

Oahu seems to have no shortage of bunker hikes that I keep coming across.  These various old bunkers are from the World War II era when the “Fortress Oahu” strategy was implemented to defend Hawaii from Japanese attack.  Today with no threat of a land invasion of Oahu these old bunkers have mostly been reclaimed by the jungle.  The latest bunkers I went to check out were in Kaneohe on a trail called the Pu’u Maelieli Trail, but is more commonly known as the Bunkers Trail and some even call it the Digging Trail.  Whatever this trail is called I found it to be a great hike.  The trailhead for this hike is located in the Kaneohe suburb of Ahuimanu across from the Valley of the Temples:

There is no parking at the trailhead since it is located adjacent to the busy Highway 83 (Kahekili Highway).  Some people will park along Hui Iwa Street, but I do not recommend this because it takes parking spots away from the local community.  I recommend parking in the large parking lot at the Times Supermarket located next to the McDonald’s visible from the highway:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Here is a view of the adjacent Ko’olau Range from the parking lot:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Speaking of this McDonald’s it has to have one of the best views of any McDonald’s in the world with the Ko’olau Mountains rising so dramatically in front of it:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

From the Times Supermarket parking lot the walk to the trailhead is an easy one.  I just crossed the street and walked over to the intersection with the Kahekili Highway:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

From there I took a left and followed a path along the side of the guard rail to the trailhead:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

To my left I could see the Hokuloa Apartments buildings:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

The trailhead is marked by this sign that recommends hikers be respectful of local residents that live next to the trail in the apartments:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

I have read stories online about how people have cut through the apartments to access the trail instead of walking around to the trailhead.  I highly encourage people to be respectful of where people live by watching where they park and make sure to use the appropriate trailhead.

The immediate start to the Bunkers Trail is a steep one, but what is challenging is not the steepness, but how slippery the trail is.  The compact red dirt when wet can be like walking on ice:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

It is time likes these when I put on my microspikes that I always have packed in my bag:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

With my microspikes on I had no issues getting up the slippery trail, but I would not recommend this trail to anyone going up with tennis shoes if it is wet.  After ascending the initial steep portion of the trail it then began to flatten out:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

I followed the flattened section for awhile and I noticed an obscured view of the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

I even had a few views of Kaneohe and Kaneohe Bay to enjoy along the way as well:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

As I walked down the trail there were a few sections that made me glad I wore pants since the undergrowth rubbed against my legs, people wearing shorts may get scratched by this undergrowth:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

There were also a number of sections of the trail that I had to crawl under trees that had grown over the trail:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Eventually the trail reached another section where there was a steep ascent:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

It was during these ascents that there were actually a few ropes in place to assist those that needed them due to the slippery mud:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Due to my microspikes I had plenty of traction and did not need the ropes.  At the top of the rope section I had another nice view of the sun rising over Kaneohe Bay:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Once I got up the final ascent I spotted this large sign marking the summit of Pu’u Ma’eli’eli:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Here is a closer look at the sign that stated that according to Hawaiian mythology  Pu’u Ma’eli’eli translates to “Digging Hill”.  The name comes from the story of how the gods Kane and Kanaloa once raced to the top of the hill and had to dig into the slope to climb up it:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Below the sign was the first bunker I had seen during the hike:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

These bunkers were part of a World War II training site known as Camp He’eia.  I peered down into the bunker and noticed just like all the other bunkers on Oahu it had been defaced with graffiti:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

From the sign it was a short walk over to another very large bunker that had a number of people sitting on top of it and enjoying the view:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

The outside of the bunker was in pretty good shape with little graffiti:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

However, the inside was once again covered in graffiti:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

I don’t understand what possesses people to want to bring a can of spray paint to a place like this and start defacing it?  Anyway I didn’t hike to this bunker to look at graffiti, I hiked here to see the views and what a view there was.  All of Kaneohe Bay and the surrounding area was visible from the bunker:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Here is the view looking northwest towards the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Here is a closer look at these incredibly scenic mountains:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Here is the view directly to the north where the mountains Pu’u Kanehoalani and the pyramid shaped Pu’u Ohulehule can be seen:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

According to the book, Ancient Sites of Oahu Kualoa is Hawaiian for “long back” which refers to Pu’u Kanehoalani as being the backbone of Oahu and thus considered sacred.  To add to the sacredness the name Pu’u Kanehoalani is named in honor of the father of Hawaii’s goddess of fire Pele.  His name was Kane.  Another native Hawaiian legend states that a half man, half pig demigod once lived here named Kamapua‘a.  Here is a closer look at this mountain:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Here is a closer look at the pyramid shaped Pu’u Ohulehule that is known as one of the most difficult mountains on Oahu to climb:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Here is the view directly in front of the bunker that looks down a ridge line that leads to the ocean below:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

In front of the ridgeline out in the ocean I could actually make out the infamous Kaneohe Sandbar as well as a small islet adjacent to it:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

To the southeast I could see a large flat area adjacent to the shoreline that was covered in jungle:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

This flat area was where the He’eia Combat Training Area was located at.  The below image shows how developed the camp was during World War II where it housed up to 3,500 soldiers:

Across from the old Camp He’eia I could see the modern day Marine Corps Base Hawaii on the other side of the bay:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Something else that could be seen on the far right of the below photograph is the He’eia Fishpond:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

This native Hawaiian fishpond is constructed with lava rocks.  There were at one time four watchtowers where observers could follow the movement of the fish in the pond.  According to the book, Ancient Sites of Oahu a mo’o or lizard man known as Meheanu guarded this fishpond.  Meheanu was known as a shapeshifter and would only appear at the He’eia Fishpond when the leaves on the hau trees are yellow.

Something else of interest I could see was Coconut Island where episodes of Gilligan’s Island were filmed and today is an ocean research center:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Further out in the distance I was surprised that I could see the neighboring island of Molokai out in the distance despite the clouds:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

To the south I could see the city of Kaneohe:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Adjacent to Kaneohe is the He’eia Marsh that actually looks small compared to the nearby Kawainui Marsh:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

I spent about 30 minutes hanging out at the viewpoint and taking the in early morning sunrise views before heading back down the trail:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

The walk back was uneventful though I did enjoy the few views of the Ko’olau Range I did see along the trail:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

I finally came to the steep muddy section that marked the beginning of my hike that morning.  Fortunately since I was wearing my microspikes I had great traction going down it:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

I can only imagine how many times I would have fallen on this section without those spikes because of how muddy and slippery it was.  Once at the bottom of the hill I had a simple walk back to the Times Supermarket parking lot by walking along the highway:

Picture from the Bunkers Trail

Conclusion

Once I got back to my car this hike it ended up being a fun little 2.5 mile morning hike with some great views.  I completed the hike in 1.5 hours which was not a big time commitment to be rewarded with such great views.  Due to the mud and slippery areas on some parts of the trail, I do not recommend it for young children or people with mobility problems.  What I do recommend is that people hiking this trail consider bringing microspikes.  It made this hike a whole lot more enjoyable for me not worrying about slipping and falling.  I also recommend bringing a plastic bag to put your shoes in because they will be covered in mud unless you don’t mind the red mud getting all over your vehicle.

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