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Why Hawaii Hiking can be Dangerous

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From the moment you book your flight tickets, the last thing on your mind are the dangers you face when enjoying the view in Hawaii. The islands are paradise. It’s a place of aloha, beauty, relaxation and fun. Your planning is filled with prospective restaurants, Hawaiian festivals, surf lessons, shopping and of course hiking. Now, the last thing I want to do is burst your bubble, because I think Hawaii hiking is fantastic! Just like in the pictures, the scenery is mind-blowing, the landscape one-of-a-kind, and the waterfalls simply refreshing. But, the reason why Hawaii is such a unique attraction, is the same reason why you cannot hike here the same way you do at home.

Our lava based islands can make Hawaii hiking dangerous.

Kilauea volcano | Courtesy of HTA

Hawaii is an island chain completely formed by volcanos. Unlike the massive and heavy granite rock you find on the mainland and in most other places, our volcanic rock is light and porous. In other words, it crumbles. In fact, if you ever get a chance to compare the weight of a lava rock and a regular rock while in Hawaii, I’m sure you’ll be very surprised at the weight difference. Volcanic rock can be broken easily because it is so brittle and is especially unstable when it has been raining. There have been several cases of very experienced hikers who have fallen to their deaths because of the lava rock they were standing on suddenly crumbled.

Waterfalls and running water weaken the ground and make Hawaii hiking dangerous.

Hilo waterfalls | Courtesy of HTA

Waterfalls are beautiful, fun and awe-inspiring. There is no question as to why waterfalls attract so much attention. Visitors and locals alike delight in waterfall trails where the end is a satisfying dip in a large pool of cold water on a hot Hawaiian day. However, waterfalls also mean rain. And the more rain, the more chances of falls, slips and rushing currents. With heavy rains on top of Hawaii’s lava rock can spell disaster so please use common sense and take extra precaution during particularly rainy days for any Hawaii hiking you may do. In addition, because Hawaii is a tropical island, many hikes up in rainy mountains don’t dry fast. After a heavy rainfall, you can expect a lot of mud (and mosquitoes!) for several days even with clear skies and sunshine.

Local tip: Mosquitoes love Hawaii’s moist and humid weather. You’ll find them on hikes with a lot of trees on mountains because rainwater collects in pockets in the ground where they lay their eggs. Mosquito repellent -especially near your ankles – are a must.

Diamond Head | Courtesy of HTA

There have been a number of times where hikers have been found off the trail. I cannot stress enough how important it is to be constantly looking for trail markers. Because of our bright sun and healthy rains, hikes that go through dense forests are thick and overgrown. Rain or even strong winds can dislodge rock and mud and hide even the most visible of trails. Besides the risk of becoming lost, there are dangers such as unstable rocks, unseen cliffs, wild pigs and tripping over roots and underbrush. The safest hikes will always be those with good trails such as Diamond Head. As with any hike (not just Hawaii hikes!), make sure you are hiking with company.

Keahiakawelo – Courtesy of HTA

So should you go hiking after reading this post? Of course! Hawaii hiking is one of my most favorite activities here. The clean air, green leaves, and early morning wind gives me that peace of mind to breathe deep and enjoy life. It is not only relaxing, but makes me feel a deep connection with the magic of the land that I live in. However, I have grown up in Hawaii and have read the recurring sad news of lost hikers and called-off searches over the years. Many visitors (and even locals) don’t do their research and understandably the excitement of going on a hike often covers up the need to lecture your hiking group on the porous lava rock like a geology class. I do hope though that with this post, your own research and your common sense, you’ll be armed with a basic understanding of Hawaii’s landscape that will allow you to choose the best Hawaii hiking for you, your family and friends.

Local tip: LEPTOSPIROSIS. Google it, learn about it and remember it before, during and after your trip. Here’s a news article on Honolulu Magazine back from 2004, but still holds true today.

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