By Ms. Bryanna Poulin (USACE)May 8, 2018
HONOLULU--Traditionally I enjoy hiking off the beaten path, going on trails less traveled, hikes not featured on the front pages of tour guides which, when finished, leave me covered head to toe with dirt. Hiking lets me escape the hustle and bustle of daily island life, hearing leaves blowing in the wind or even a chance encounter of watching a salamander scurry for cover. Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail located on Oahu's most southeastern point is a popular tourist hiking destination and most probably why I never previously found it appealing.
On April 6 I joined nearly 50 other birthday hikers promptly at 5:30 a.m. in near complete darkness to the view the Makapu'u lighthouse and impending sunrise for the Honolulu District U.S. Army Corps Engineers 113th sunrise birthday hike. As there wasn't a star in the sky or visible light in sight my executive secretary trek colleague Mandee Harms, and I used cell phone flashlights to navigate the one-mile paved inclined trail.
As everything around me was pitch black and not being able to see where I was going, I kept thinking I should still be in bed.
"Look how beautiful that is," Harms said while pointing towards the vast expanse of the slowly illuminating Pacific Ocean with the pitch-black transforming into soft pastel light. As I look over the towering right side of the trail, the orange and yellow colors of the sun's rays race above the blue and green ocean drowns my blasé' morning attitude. The natural beauty of Hawaii enthralls my thoughts and lifts my spirit. If Mother Nature were to have an offspring, I believe it would resemble the Hawaii landscape.
Reaching the halfway point, we're happy the side path to the lighthouse is downhill with views of the Oahu's Windward coast and offshore islets. On a sunny day, you may even see Moloka'i and Lana'i. The offshore islets are wildlife sanctuaries for Hawaiian seabirds, such as the 'iwa, frigate bird, and tropicbird.
My daydreaming is quickly interrupted by my wristwatch alarm reminding me sunrise is in 30 minutes. We need to quicken our pace. The first half of the hike is paved and semi-steep, but even the most inexperienced hiker can complete it.
"Supposedly if you come at the right time you can see whales in the water," Harms tells me.
Seeing whales peak my interest because I have only seen dolphins, manatees, and swam with sharks. A quick search of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources website shows up to 10,000 humpbacks come to Hawaii every year to mate, give birth and nurse their calves. The whale season runs from November through May, with January through March being the peak whale-watching months. Unfortunately, not one of the whales appeared during the hike.
The lighthouse is off limits for the general public leaving visitors to view from a lookout point at the top of the trail. The relationship between Honolulu District and U.S. Coast Guard today affords the opportunity for a rare inside and outside tour of the 109 year-old-lighthouse, which sits atop a 600-foot cliff overlooking Makapu'u Beach. Makapu'u Lighthouse dates back to 1905 when the Corps began their mission in Hawaii and the Pacific. The District's first commander Lieutenant John Slattery was charged by Congress to construct lighthouses for navigation in the territory, and he drew up plans for Makapu'u Lighthouse. In August 1906 Slattery designed a short tower keeping the light as low as possible, but high enough the wind couldn't blow pebbles into the lantern room glass. The first-ever 12-ton lens produced a fixed white light, while a set of copper panels revolving on a track between the light source and lens produced a distinct flash.
With sunrise only moments away, Harms and I begin staging the lighthouse-exploring hikers for a group photo. However, I realize I need a higher cliff-side elevation to capture the impending sunrise, lighthouse, and hikers in one photo frame.
Although a thousand thoughts are running through my mind as I climb up the nearly vertical cliff inland of the lighthouse, I am pleased with the visually spectacular group photo results. After a shuttering a few more frames, I suddenly realize the only way down is to jump. Picture the thought of leaping down 10 feet from a cliff above the lighthouse, and all you view appears to be rock and crystal blue water.
With the sun now shining brightly inches above the horizon, the prevailing northeast winds begin sending rain droplets against my forehead. Birthday hikers are combing the lighthouse and are slowly descending the trail. Peering over the turquoise waters, I see bursting colors of orange and red painted across the sky. The splendor and visual luminance of the coastal landscape is immeasurable. In 1905 did Slattery know his lighthouse design would one day be a historical Oahu landmark where thousands of hikers trek to see every year, I wonder? In 100 years will there be another Honolulu District, or a Honolulu District sunrise birthday hike to celebrate 213 years of greatness?