A Trip to the Pali


The path over the Nuuanu Pali summit used to be a narrow, rocky trail, traversable on foot or (for the brave) on horseback. A journey from Honolulu to the Windward side was almost always an overnight trip.

Charles Stoddard’s account of his trip to the Pali, excerpted here, appeared in our August 1888 issue.

We pass the long line of villas on Nuuanu Avenue; cross the bridge where sudden freshets sometimes sweep like tidal waves from the mountains to the sea; pass trim gardens that resemble Japanese landscapes, by native artists, and neglected gardens that are like jungles of cacti and bamboo; pass the gray-walled cemeteries with their clusters of funereal cypresses, and the Royal Mausoleum where the tall Kahilis, those emblems of savage royalty, still stand with bedraggled feathers in memory of Princess Keelikolani, the last of the Kamehamehas; pass the Chinese tea-houses by the way side, and the karo-patches and plantations of bananas and the summer palace of Dowager Queen Emma with its stately white columns shining in the grove, and finally the grimy walls of a forgotten palace of an almost forgotten King.

Thus having quit the town we slowly ascend the cool, green valley where the rapid streams gurgle in the long grass by the road-side, and the valley walls grow high and steep and close; where the convolvulus tumbles a cataract of blossoms at our feet and the creepers go mad and swamp a whole forest under billows of green … Under the shadow of a great rock we camp, and then climb a little rise to the brow of the precipice, and look over into the other world. For a long time we are silent. I don’t believe people ever talk much here; in the first place, if you open your mouth too wide you can’t shut it without getting under the lee of something—the wind blows so hard. But who wants to talk when he is perched on the back-bone of an island with fifteen hundred feet of space beneath him, and the birds swimming about in it like winged fish in a transparent sea?

And O, the silent land beyond the heights, with the long, long winding rocky stairway leading down into it! No sound ever comes from that beautiful land, not even from the marvelously blue sea that noiselessly piles its breakers upon the shores like swans-downs.