Honolulu’s Koolau Range

During our trip to Hawaii in August, I was fascinated by the clouds and changing light on the Koolau Range behind Honolulu. Shown above, Manoa Valley is where I lived most my childhood, but I hadn’t seen this view of the mountains and valley from Waikiki. The back of Manoa Valley is gray, obscured by rain. The sun shines through the shifting clouds, lighting the ridges of the cliffs on Tantalus, the mountain on the left.

In the morning sun the steep, green cliffs of Tantalus are lit, showing deep ridges. Houses extend up the hill to near the base of the cliffs. The Koolau Range is volcanic so the rock is strong and stable.

Tantalus cliffs and the University of Hawaii
Tantalus cliffs and the University of Hawaii

The back of Manoa Valley also has steep cliffs, lit here by the evening sun.

cliffs at the back of Manoa Valley
cliffs at the back of Manoa Valley

The mountains at the back of the valleys were always covered by clouds during our four-day stay, although it seldom rained in Waikiki, several miles away. This is the normal weather pattern during the summer, when trade winds blow from the northeast. The moist air hits the opposite side of the Koolau Range and blows over it. As the air rises, it cools. Cooler air doesn’t hold as much water; the excess water condenses into clouds and falls as rain.

My uncle and I hiked on Tantalus. This trail is part of a 100-mile run called HURT100, Hawaiian Ultra Running Team’s Trail 100-Mile Endurance Run. Dirt has eroded from the roots, leaving the exposed roots as a series of trip hazards. Running 100 miles in the mountains takes hours, so the racers run through the night. My uncle and his running buddies have run this race and run as pacers for other runners. Running around slippery rocks and these roots by headlamp when you’re tired isn’t my idea of fun.

mountain trail with tree roots
mountain trail with tree roots

macadamia nut tree

macadamia nut tree

Tantalus has uncrowded hiking trails, an abandoned banana orchard and macadamia nut trees — minutes from downtown Honolulu. A part of Honolulu seldom seen.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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