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Oahu may be Hawaii's most populated island, but during a recent excursion with North Shore EcoTours, we found ourselves in a remote Oahu wilderness filled with stories from the past.
Thanks to the company’s agreement with a private landowner, we were the only hikers amidst thousands of acres of upcountry conservation land rich in native plants and steeped in legends and lore.
Our guide for the lively and enlightening walk was Keola Ryan, owner of North Shore EcoTours, who pulled up to our Haleiwa meeting spot in a four-wheel drive Pinzgauer. The open-air military utility vehicle — known for its all-terrain talents — handled the hilly, bumpy, backroad miles like a champ.
The higher we drove, the more dramatic the views, from the Waianae Mountains — which lay claim to the tallest peak on Oahu — to the glimmering ocean hugging the North Shore.
At 1,300 feet of elevation, we piled out of the Pinzgauer, and Ryan provided us with backpacks for the trek ahead. Before we started hiking, however, he took a moment to share a Hawaiian chant.
"The indigenous cultures had a special relationship with the aina (land)," Ryan said. “As we enter the forest, we want to acknowledge it and announce our arrival, as if we were visiting someone's house."
Many trails crisscross this region, some of them dating back to ancient times, and North Shore EcoTours is dedicated to their upkeep and maintenance. As living proof, Ryan carried a machete, which he whipped out from time to time in order to clear vegetation from the path.
Throughout the hike, we stopped occasionally to learn about the area’s natural gifts, along with phrases, traditions and philosophies rooted in the Hawaiian culture. Ryan pointed out the spine of the Koolau Mountains — which dominate the island’s eastern realm — and the green canopy of a protected watershed below. He acquainted us with various trees, from the endemic koa and ohia lehua to the strawberry guava which, while invasive, produced succulent fruit for our tasting pleasure.
Eventually, we scrambled up to a prime lookout, where we relaxed on the grass and dug into lunch (which is included in the price). The Asian-style summer rolls with peanut sauce — made with ultra-fresh ingredients from local farms — were rivaled only by the dazzling panorama of peaks, valleys and coastline.
Each North Shore EcoTours adventure has a Hawaiian name and accommodates different fitness levels. Some of the company’s hikes incorporate stream crossings and swims in secluded, freshwater mountain pools. For less active travelers, the operator features off-road tours that Ryan likes to call “hikes on wheels.”
But no matter which outing clients choose, North Shore EcoTours promises an intimate, low-impact and meaningful experience that underscores its goals.
“I want our guests to feel invigorated and energized by our amazing mountains and life-giving aina, and to leave with a greater or renewed appreciation for Hawaii and its unique island culture,” Ryan said. “I hope people develop aloha not only for one another, but also for our beautiful islands.”
The DetailsNorth Shore Eco Tours www.northshoreecotours.com