By Diane Ako
If a strenuous six mile hike down and then back up a 1,600 foot descent is your idea of fun, then the hike from Topside down into Kalaupapa is for you! My Pacific Century Fellows friends and I certainly enjoyed it.
Our day started at 8:20 a.m. at the trailhead. There are 26 switchbacks, and while the trail is well-maintained with steps, it's hard on the knees. I might be getting old. Halfway down, my knee started hurting. A walking stick is helpful - for going down as well as up.
It took 90 minutes down and it was not strenuous otherwise. We got lucky - it was drizzling part of the way, so the trail was not hot. Most of the trail is covered with a canopy of trees, anyway.
The views are incredible!
You may have to pull over to the side now and then to let the groups on the mules pass. Surprisingly, the mules took just as long as we walkers. I'm actually glad we walked. I liked the exercise.
Once down, we booked a tour with Father Damien Tours. We met the guide and rode around the island with a knowledgeable guide who showed us the main street, the harbor, the old slaughterhouse, several churches, a bookstore, and a shady spot for lunch in Kalawao Valley. Naturally, Father Damien's church and grave played a big role. The tour took four hours. It was worth it.
The walk back up looks intimidating when viewed from the ground up, but it's really not that bad. It only took us 80 minutes, and since we were so close, we drove over to see the Phallic Rock at Pala'au State Park. It is immense. It's supposed to bring fertility, so I gave it a wide berth because I'm all done having children.
All in all, it's a lovely way to spend a day, and left us all feeling more connected to the island and the history of such a tumultuous time in Hawaii's past.