First trip to the “miraculous” Alaka’i

(From the notebook of seasonal technician Cody Bear Sutton)

I think one of the most exciting things in life is adventuring into an unfamiliar wild place. My first trip into the Alaka’i did not disappoint. The group of seasonal workers for KFBRP received their first taste of the Alaka’i this past week and I think I speak for most of us when I say it was an eye-opening and awe-inspiring trip for those of us with little familiarity with Kaua’i.

We departed from Kekaha early in the morning on Friday and were immediately introduced to some of the jaw dropping vistas of Waimea Canyon on our way to the trailhead. For most of us, this was the first time seeing the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” and all I can say is that it exceeded all the expectations that pictures of it led you to imagine. It is amazing on an island, which can at times feel so small, that there is this amazing canyon that immediately reminds you how small you really are. The canyon is one of the most beautiful and amazing sights I have ever seen on my travels around the United States.

While driving up the canyon you do not expect there to be a tropical rainforest at the end of the road but eventually you start to notice a change in the vegetation as you get closer to the trailheads into the Alaka’i. After some slow driving on some treacherous four wheel drive roads, we reached the trailhead and we were all pretty eager to start the hike into the Alaka’i for our first time. The hike started out with a search for a known ‘Akeke’e nest, which we were unable to locate after a few trips up and down the boardwalk.  Although we did not find the nest, which would have been a good example for those of us unfamiliar with the local forest birds, the search was not in vain. While searching, we encountered a few curious ‘Elepaios, some very musical ‘Apapane, a vibrant ‘Anianiau, and a strong voiced ‘Amakihi. These birds were beautiful and were exciting life birds for most of my colleagues and me.

After the nest search, we started on the hike to Kilohana Vista. At first the trail to the overlook implied that the Alaka’i was going to be relatively flat and easy hiking. These misconceptions disappear as soon as you drop down into the first drainage on the hike to the overlook. The trail begins a steep decent down some muddy terrain as well as an uncountable number of stairs. We stopped to have lunch next to a creek. As we ate, we listened to the sounds of ‘Apapane and got another good look at an ‘Anianiau. The trail up the other side of the drainage is some unforgiving hiking that requires some extra thought when picking your route and foot placement. Heading out of the drainage towards the boggier part of the Alaka’i we had our first encounter with the vibrant ‘I’iwi. Most of us were pretty excited to get our first glance at this obvious honeycreeper that would stand out against any bird in the contiguous U.S. I was amazed at how much some parts of the Alaka’i varied as I walked through some treeless areas of the swamp along the boardwalk. Eventually, we arrived at Kilohana Vista, which other than miraculous, cannot be adequately described. We took some time to snap some photos of the crew and enjoy the view before we started the hike back to the trailhead, which we had to do quickly to make it home by dinnertime. I left the Alaka’i that day thankful for this opportunity to work in such an amazing, one-of-a-kind place, as well as an extreme interest in exploring more of the forest and meeting the other endemic forest birds.