Puu Waawaa

February 12, 2023


Big Island, HI

The Big Island of Hawaii is known for the tropical beaches and the high elevation volcanoes. The higher peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are gigantic by mass or diameter but the topography of the island is far from “rugged”. There are zillions of officially-named bumps that attract peak-baggers like myself, but few of them boasts over 100 m prominence. Most of them fall into that category of “dumpster diving”. Puu Waawaa is a mere bump on the north slopes of Hualalai, the 3rd highest peak on Big Island, but does boast over 100 m prominence making it a legit summit by any measure. I still considered this as a “dumpster” summit but I changed my opinion later. The trip exceeded my expectation and I would actually recommend this objective for those having a few hours to kill in Kona area.

The primary objective of this trip was obviously Mauna Kea but I wouldn’t fly to Hawaii just to do one peak. Mauna Loa, the second highest peak in Hawaii is currently closed due to the recent eruptions but Hualalai and Kaumu o Kaleihoohie are two other P600m objectives on Big Island. I also wouldn’t do Mauna Kea by way of driving to the summit so I planned 3 full days for the trip. An additional day (first day) was needed for travelling. The outbound flights would dump me in Kona coast at noon and the sunset would be at 6:30 pm. The few hours in the afternoon would give plenty of time to complete Puu Waawaa as a warm-up objective. I did read somewhere that the gate at Puu Waawaa trail-head would be closed at 6 pm but this was a sub-3-hour hike so time wouldn’t be a concern. After laying out a plan and seeing a weather window Nikita and I made the spontaneous decision to book the flights and the rental Jeep. We would leave on Sunday and I booked our tickets on Wednesday night. Raphael happened to message me about the weekend plan and I responded right away that I’d be in Hawaii. To my surprise Raphael expressed interest and had the time/money/flexibility to join so I invited him in. Raphael booked his tickets on Thursday evening so we were all set.

On Sunday morning we all showed up in Vancouver airport at 4 am and took the Alaska Airline flights to Seattle and then Kona. The flights went without event and I caught up a couple hours’ sleep on the airplanes. After getting our checked bags (Nikita and I shared one and Raphael had his own) we immediately took an Uber to where I reserved the Jeep. There wasn’t any last minute 4×4 vehicle available at the airport so I rented through Hawaii Lifted Jeep Rental that locates about 5 miles away. Obtaining the Jeep was also easy as I had already uploaded the documents and prepaid. We then did one grocery stop and drove straight to Puu Waawaa trail-head. The updated weather forecast was thunderstorms in the afternoon so we wanted to get there as early as possible. We eventually started the hike at 2:20 pm and the hike would involve about 10 km distance and over 500 m elevation gain.

The Kohala Mountains on Big Island seen from the plane
Walking out of the small airport at Kona Coast
Driving up to the trail-head with several sheep on the road
Puu Waawaa standard hiking route. GPX DL

The hike itself was rather no-brainer as we just needed to put one foot in front of another while following the gated roads. The road would otherwise be in a decent driveable shape if there wasn’t a blockage. The air was humid and hot and the sky was overcast, so I opted to wear shorts for a change. A while later the road became gravel. We then hiked past a hiker’s gate and ascended gradually around to the SE side of the peak and picked up the trail that heads towards the crater rim of the cinder cone. We could see multiple storms in the broader vicinity but none of them was threatening and in fact, we got zero drop of precipitation in this entire hike. Because the local weather was still stable we opted to spend over half an hour on the summit to soak in the views.

Raphael starting out the plod, initially on pavement
Our objective, the lowly Puu Waawaa ahead
Raphael and Nikita at the base of our objective…
Raphael approaching a hiker’s gate
Nikita found a neat bench for some photography potential
The road has a gentle incline throughout
There were definitely thunderstorm clouds around..
Raphael and Nikita with the north slopes of Hualalai behind
Wrapping around to the SE side of Puu Waawaa
Nikita ascending onto the crater rim with a storm behind
Raphael on the summit of Puu Waawaa
Nikita checking out Hualalai, our next objective
Our group shot on the summit of Puu Waawaa
We then found another bench on the summit area
Nikita sitting on that bench now
Raphael as usual, opted to climb a tree for an extra meter of prominence…
Nikita climbed that tree as well…
Me with Mauna Kea behind

Eventually we decided to descend as we still had a shit ton load of things to do after getting back to Kona. The descent was uneventful but boring. I then immediately turned on the engine and drove us back into the city of Kona. The first stop was dinner. I usually just go to the American fast food chains but Raphael and Nikita are much pickier about food so it took us a while to decide. The decision was made to go to a vegan restaurant and it started to pour cats and dogs while we were there and the downpour would last for an hour or two. The restaurant was also proven to be a terrible one. By this point I also learnt that the spending in Hawaii is at least 50% higher than in Vancouver and there’s no way to be cheap on food unless we brought our own from home. The downpour eventually stopped and we drove to Kohanaiki Beach where we set up the tents and camped. The cheapest way to legally spend a night in Hawaii is to camp on some of the designated beaches and the cost is 20 USD per person. Car-camping is strictly prohibited in this entire state and not knowing about the enforcements we didn’t want to take a chance.

Starting the descent after spending enough time up there…
A sheep and the storm. The storm never reached us…
The storm passed the Mauna Kea made a show again
Lots of sheep on the grass fields
Another storm near the coast where we’d be driving towards
Raphael plodding down while playing with his phone…
The vegan restaurant that none of us ended up liking
A few hours later our tents were erected on the beach
Nikita checking out Kohanaiki Beach at night.
Stargazing on a beach was actually quite cool.