Rainforest of tree ferns: prehistoric scenery on a forbidden trail

The last (for now!) blogpost of our Hawaiian adventures is about a pretty but also somewhat uncanny rainforest on Puna side of the Big Island that we explored using Ka-hau-a-Le’a trail, which is no longer recommended for visits by authorities and is officially closed. However, it is definitely among the most interesting hikes that I’ve done in my life thanks to a combination of several factors. The guidebook ‘Hawaii, the Big Island Revealed‘ was our inspiration again.

The day was rainy but very warm, appropriately for a tropical rainforest and that part of the island of Hawaii particularly, so the most appropriate attire was just our bare skin – you know it’s my favorite one anyways!

naturist 0000 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

So, I kept my clothes (i.e., only shorts on that day) dry in the backpack for later 🙂

naturist 0001 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

Given that the trail is formally closed and conditions were muddy, we didn’t expect to see many hikers (and we didn’t see any at all). Another indication for the lack of other visitors came from the fact that there were quite a few spider webs on the trails.

spider 0000 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

Among more pleasant sightings were bamboo orchids. These are quite tall (taller than human) free-standing plants, which is unusual for orchids.

Bamboo orchid 0000 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

But their flowers were very pretty, typically for orchids, and raindrops only added more charm to them.

Bamboo orchid 0001 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

There were a lot of differnet plants,

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plants literally growing on top of each other,

plants 0001 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

as you might expect from a rainforest, albeit not a very tall one.

However, one plant growing in abundance there was much taller than its kind that I’m used to.

naturist 0002 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

I’m talking about tree ferns, which made this forest look prehistoric. There was no sign of dinosaurs, however, only naked cavemen perhaps 😉

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Walking under ferns was unusual and their inwrought leaves looked pretty from below.

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Too bad they didn’t protect from the rain as good as these ones.

plants 0002 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

One shouldn’t look up all the time in that forest thought, as the trail is strenuous and is full of roots sticking off the ground.

view 0001 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

Well, some roots were so hight above the ground that you’d just walk under them!

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This variety of plant forms inspired Tod to make a photo of me being one with the tree!

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We didn’t see any animals besides a couple of bugs and spiders, but we did see a lot of footprints of humans and dogs; in combination with the soft drizzle and exceptional quietness, all this gave the forest somewhat mysterious aura. We were happy to see that the trail was frequently tagged by orange straps.

view 0002 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

After two and half hours or so, Tod decided to go back to the car, but I wanted to continue till the edge of the forest. Yes, the forest was supposed to end in an hour and give a view of a lava field and an active and fuming Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent. Pretty soon after we parted, I got to this narrow but deep (a few meters) crack crossing the trail – a sure sign of recent geological activity in the area!

view 0003 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

And much sooner than I expected from the guidebook’s description, the forest ended indeed, with another, much more impressive sign of geological activity – a lava field!

view 0004 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

Actually, the forest edge didn’t only appear earlier than in the guidebook, which was published in 2005, but also earlier than in both Google and Apple maps! So the must have come from a relatively fresh eruption. In fact, it was somewhat steaming, but I couldn’t tell whether it was because the lava was still warm after eruption or just got warm in the sun earlier in the day, which would be enough to make the cooler drizzle turn into fog by the surface. But of course I didn’t want to test just how fresh the lava was! I could also see numerous fallen trees with their bases burnt. Due to the foggy conditions, I couldn’t see the vent itself, but the view of the relatively fresh lava field and the devastation it cause was impressive enough!

view 0005 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

Someone must have made this pretty menacing “monument” with a pig skull…

view 0006 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

Well, the message was clear – I shouldn’t go any further. So, I turned back after a short lunch break. The dramatic ambience of the place must have influenced my thinking, and on the way back I got quite worried about the numerous (and pretty big!) dog footprints and even had some unpleasant flash visions of finding Tod attacked by dogs and then getting chased myself. But the forest was the same quiet.

view 0007 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

It took me one hour from the edge of the forest to branching that lead to emergency helipad and 3 hours total to the car. I was happy to see that Tod made it back in one piece! However, my worry wasn’t entirely ungrounded – he did see 5 greyhounds on the trail, but apparently they were even more scared from the encounter and ran away quickly… Also, just a couple of minutes before my arrival, Tod had a convo with a local ranger, who came to the trailhead and amongst other things complained about “that blue book” that gave tourists all the wrong ideas 😉