We’d heard about this particular hike from a couple of people, the most recent being Matt, our guide from the kayak tour. On our way out to Moku Nui that day, we paused for a few minutes while Matt pointed out the pillboxes in the distance and told us a little bit of their history. We were definitely intrigued and knew this would be our next hike.
Its official name is the Kiawa Ridge Trail, but it is also referred to as “The Pillbox” hike for the two “pillboxes” at the top. Pillboxes are concrete bunkers formerly used as part of a military defense system, with holes through which to see and from which to shoot. These particular ones were reportedly built between WWI and WWII and functioned solely for observational purposes — so not true pillboxes per the strictest definition. It has been said that those manning these pillboxes on the morning of December 7, 1941 were some of the first to see the Japanese planes flying by on their way to Pearl Harbor as they came from the northeast over Kaneohe Bay, although we haven’t been able to confirm this. Eventually, these pillboxes were stripped out and abandoned.
There were mixed reviews of the difficulty of this hike, ranging from easy to moderate, so we prepared ourselves for it to be on the more difficult side. Once we set off, we realized the differences in opinions must have been due to trail conditions. While definitely a challenge — as it’s super steep in parts with loose gravel and a fairly quick gain in elevation — it would have been much more difficult after a rain, especially on the way back down. It’s a 1.6 mile out and back trail in Lanikai, on the southwest side of the island. We didn’t hike the full trail to the highest elevation of 603 feet, but we did go about a half mile in, just past the second pillbox, to an elevation of about 565 feet. It took us nearly 45 minutes to get to that point, stopping here and there along the way.
The trail head is located on a side street near private homes, across from a private club. It’s pretty obvious that, in the past, people must have accidentally trespassed on private property while attempting to get on the trail, as there are multiple signs, cones, etc. to point people in the right direction:
Beginning the ascent, which is steep from the start:
We took advantage of the first clearing to stop and catch our breath while admiring the views and taking photos:
Nearing the first pillbox, finally!:
We made it:
A peek inside the first pillbox:
Folks employed creative methods to climb up and onto the top:
Looking down onto Lanikai, with The Mokes in the distance:
Moving on to the second pillbox, looking down onto the first and the view of Kailua beyond:
Looking out at the ridge on the mauka (toward the mountain) side of the trail — previous hikers have carved names/sentiments into some of these plants:
The valley below on the mauka side:
Approaching the second pillbox:
This one was easier to climb onto and had a ladder from the top down into it:
Major photo op for all the Instagrammers!… including our favorite Instagrammer with the cowboy hat:
Looking down onto the first pillbox from the second:
Feeling on top of the world!:
Can’t get enough of this view:
Looking south toward Waimanalo Bay, with Lanikai just below. This view is part of the panorama that’s become the new banner on this site. In the distance to the right is part of the ridge line we visited during our last hike:
For reference, here is one of the photos from that last hike referenced above, looking north toward Waimanalo Bay and The Mokes:
Also for reference, this view from the second pillbox shows the area of the kayak tour from several weeks ago (if you missed that post earlier, it is here):
We could have continued to hike along the ridge for a bit but we couldn’t see how the views would get any better, and it was already pretty hot up there, so we turned around. The way back down was a little tough, and we could easily imagine how much more difficult (and scary) it might be after a heavy rain. We skidded on loose gravel a few times, but otherwise we fared well and found ourselves back at the bottom in no time. We’d definitely do this hike again, especially with any hiking-ready visitors who were up for it.
Until next time, mahalo for keeping up with us on this journey!
Jess & John