Oʻahu Hike We Like: Mā‘ili Pillbox
This pillbox hike on the Leeward side has stunning views of the west side of the Island and a bright pink bunker for breast cancer awareness.
Editor’s Note: We love hiking! Fortunately, O‘ahu is full of great hikes. In this web series, we bring you our favorite O‘ahu trails.
PHOTOS: SARAH ETINAS
TRAIL NAME: Māʻili Pillbox Hike (Pink Pillbox Hike or Pu‘u O Hulu Trail)
LENGTH: 1 mile one way, about 1.5 hours total (2 miles round trip)
Hiking can be dangerous, and not every trail is a good idea for every person. Keep your personal fitness and skill level in mind, and always take proper precautions when venturing off road. Heed “no trespassing” and other warning signs.
This Leeward Side trail has World War II bunkers and stunning views, just like its North Shore (ʻEhukai Pillbox) and Windward (Lanikai Pillbox) counterparts. However, unlike either of those trails, the Pu‘u O Hulu Trail has nearly a handful of these graffiti-covered concrete bunkers, known as “pillboxes,” including the bright pink pillbox.
The very start of the hike was lined with small, relatively smooth lava rocks; however, these disappeared within the first 50 feet of the hike and were replaced with a thin dusty trail. With every step we took, we kicked up a small puff of dust. Because of this easily moveable layer of dirt, I would assume that if we had tried to do this hike after a rare West Side rainy day, we would have had quite a difficult time finding and sticking to the trail.
There are many paths to reach the pillboxes at the top of the hike. When we reached the occasional fork in the road, we tended to veer toward the left, not-as-steep path. We managed to get all the way up without having to maneuver our way up steep inclines. Other hikers who took the right path also made it to the pillboxes. As long as you keep the pillboxes in view once you catch sight of them (about halfway up), you’ll be able to make it up.
Because this hike wasn’t particularly strenuous, there weren’t any exercise-focused hikers who were completely in the zone. Instead, nearly every hiker we passed was extremely friendly and ready to strike up a conversation. A couple of times, we were given tips when we didn’t even ask for them. We even ended up giving a couple tips of our own, like our favorite place to snorkel in the nearby area (Mākaha Beach Park, by the way).
Eventually, you’ll turn a corner, and the first of four pillboxes will be right in front of you. Three more, including the famed pink pillbox, will follow right behind it. In October 2015, the third of the four pillboxes on the Pu‘u O Hulu Trail was painted bright pink for breast cancer awareness. On the inside of it, hikers have written messages to those who have previously fought or are currently fighting against cancer. The other pillboxes are filled with brightly colored graffiti.
If you choose to climb in or on top of any of the pillboxes, you’ll be able to catch a stunning, unobstructed view of nearly the entire west coast of the Island. Looking toward the south, you’ll recognize the Ko Olina resorts. If you look north, you’ll see all the way to Mākaha Beach Park.
Overall, this hike is quite quick and not too difficult, so it can be appropriate for children and dogs. Just be sure to keep an eye out for them, because there are a couple of areas with steep drops.
MAP & DIRECTIONS
The start of the hike is between the 10th and 11th lightpoles on Kaukama Road. (It is the only clear break in the grass.) There is plenty of parking along the sides of Kaukama Road near the start of the trail.
Apply some sunscreen before you begin.
Because there is hardly any shade on this hike, it may be better to start early in the morning. We started at 9 a.m. and it was already scorching.
Be prepared to chat with other friendly hikers.