Here are a few things to keep in mind while in Kaua‘i’s forests:
Don’t be a conveyor of seeds and weeds. It’s easy for tiny seeds to stick to your
shoes, clothing or backpack. Unwitting hikers have transferred weeds to
places previously free of plants, which can be invasive or harmful to a new
ecosystem. Avoid this with a visual inspection of your gear before each hike
and clean your shoes before you reach the trailhead.
Stay on well-maintained, well-marked trails. Hawai‘i’s forests are both rugged
and fragile. Leaving the main trail increases the likelihood that you will
inadvertently trample on or through rare or endangered plants, which,
especially on Kaua‘i, can mean plants found nowhere else on earth.
Don’t get lost. It’s not uncommon for a seemingly “easy” walk to turn into a
treacherous hike, maybe leading you to a patch of forest that is unknown,
or steering you near or over an unseen cliff. Trails in Hawai‘i’s wet forests
often follow steep ridges and animal (usually wild pig) trails can be easily
mistaken for proper hiking courses that lead to dangerous and difficult
terrain. The wet forests in particular can start to all look alike very quickly
once away from a well-marked path. People do occasionally go missing—
don’t be one of them. Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Pack it in; pack it out. Everything you bring in—not just the obvious man-made trash—should be removed from the forests. Things that may seem
innocuous like fruit peels, peanut shells or other small pieces of food should
never be left behind. True, your apple core won’t launch an invasive grove
of Granny Smith apples on Kaua‘i, but food waste tossed into the scrub
can attract rodents, pigs or other animals that destroy delicate and rare
native plant life. Discarded orange peels can carry disease and fungi can
potentially harm native Hawaiian members of Rutaceae (Citrus family) of
which there are many in Hawai‘i’s native forests.
Be prepared. As you hike in Kaua‘i’s forests, you may come across others
just “cruising” along rugged mountain trails with nothing but beach sandals
and a small bottle of water. On Kaua‘i, it pays to have proper footwear,
a sufficient pack and enough supplies, necessities and equipment. Bring
suitable clothing that includes waterproof gear that will keep you warm and
dry should the wind blow in clouds, rain and unexpected fog. Don’t be
fooled by warm sea level temperatures—locations like Köke‘e can easily
be 20 degrees cooler and is known to dip into the low 40s and below.
Sunscreen, water and snacks are also essential—know what you’re getting
into and prepare accordingly.
Research your adventure. A hike marked “easy” in one guidebook may not
be the kind of easy you are used to. Take advantage of reliable print and
web resources that publish accurate, up-to-date information about hiking
trails and conditions. The Köke‘e Natural History Museum in Köke‘e State
Park is an excellent source of information and is a good place to speak with
others about the latest trail conditions.
Let plants grow where they are. Native Hawaiian plants cannot be picked
without a permit and there are many reasons not to disturb or remove them.
As a general fact, many of Hawai‘i’s native plants don’t bear tasty or edible
fruits and some plants may or may not have poisons.
-By Jon Letman