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Pu'u O'o Trail, Hawai'i (eastern saddle)
The part of Pu'u O'o Trail open to the public starts on the South side of Saddle Road, near the 22 mile marker. There are signs just off the roadside and a flattened gravel parking area which is partially obscured. Pu'u O'o Trail crosses the windward Saddle, just West of (and parallel to) Powerline Road. The first mile of Pu'u O'o Trail is the first place most people go to see native forest birds. If the weather is good and you have most of the day available it can be combined with Powerline Road as a 9 mile loop trail. Most of the native birds you are likely to see without a guide can easily be seen along the first mile of Pu'u O'o Trail.
 Notable Species
All of the common native forest bird species can easily be seen on the first mile of Pu'u O'o Trail - 'apapane, 'amakihi, 'i'iwi, 'oma'o and 'elepaio. 'Io (hawaiian hawk) might occasionally be seen or heard, and possibly kolea near sunset or sunrise. This is the only easy public access to find 'akiapola'au, which inhabit the scattered stands of koa. Prominent non-native species are japanese white-eye, house finch, yellow-fronted canary, red-billed leiothrix, kalij pheasant and Erckel's francolin.
Despite the "Nene Sanctuary" designation, nene are almost never found here. That dates back to a failed attempt to start a nene population in this area decades ago.
Birds you can see here include:
'Apapane, i'iwi, 'amakihi, 'oma'o, Hawaii Elepaio, 'akiapola'au, kolea, Hawai'i Creeper, Hawaii Akepa, 'io, pueo, Nene, Japanese White-eye, House Finch, Red-billed Leiothrix, Kalij Pheasant, Wild Turkey, Yellow-fronted Canary
 Other Wildlife
Feral pigs and mouflon sheep are common throughout this area. Mongoose, rodents, loose/feral dogs and feral cats are also possible. The lizards scrambling across the rocks are skinks. Insects.
 Site Information
Pu'u O'o Trail is slower and more difficult to follow than nearby Powerline Road. (and more dangerous if the weather turns foul) The primary benefit to Pu'u O'o Trail is the nice koa forests and meadow system along the first mile. If you want to go farther than 2 miles and explore the saddle lava flows and isolated kipukas I suggest to use nearby Powerline Road instead. Pu'u O'o Trail and Powerline Road meet about 4 miles south of Saddle Road, so they can be done together as a 9 mile loop trail.
The first section of the trail dips through an old 'a'a lava flow channel covered by a scrubby 'ohia forest and dense native undergrowth. This section is a good area to watch i'iwi, 'apapane and 'amakihi.
After crossing the scrubby 'ohia forest, you drop into a grassy meadow area growing on an old pahoehoe lava flow, dotted with ponds and bogs. There are nice koa-ohia forests on both East and West sides of the meadow, full of all of the native birds. The clumps of forest in this area are broken up by small interconnected meadows, which allow you to listen and watch along the edges of these forests. You will not see many native birds unless you approach the edges of the forests - native forest birds generally don't have any use for grass.
At the other end of the first meadow system the trail climbs onto a newer pahoehoe lava flow, and you pass through a sparse 'ohia forest for a little while. This would also be a good area to view 'amakihi and 'apapane.
Soon the trail drops into a second large meadow system, with scattered koa forests. This is the easier area to find 'akiapola'au, anywhere there is koa. The 'akiapola'au will usually be in the forest interiors and not easily visible from the edges. There is a large 'a'a lava flow to the south and east. The trail crosses the meadows and enters the last clump of tall canopy forest before crossing this 'a'a field. This last clump of forest is probably the easiest place to find 'akiapola'au, but again they may be off the trail. It is also an easy place to see 'i'iwi, 'oma'o and 'elepaio. If you just want to see as many of the native forest birds as possible there's no reason to cross the big lava field beyond this forest.
After this dense forest, the trail climbs onto and crosses the huge 1880/1 'a'a flow you saw at the edge of the last meadow. On the other side is a scrubby 'ohia forest dissected by the 1855 lava flow. At this point you are heading diagonally toward Powerline Road, which crosses the Eastern end of this grassy kipuka. At some points the trail widens into a wide channel cut through the forest when it was used as a cattle drive trail. You'll probably only see the most common endemic birds in this forest.
About 2 miles out the trail enters a very nice tall canopy kipuka forest, with very tall emergent koa trees and lush undergrowth. You are now only slightly West of Powerline Road, and from the East side of this lush forest you can walk a couple hundred yards across the lava field to Powerline Road in just a few minutes.
Beyond this kipuka Pu'u O'o Trail crosses the huge 1855 and 1881 lava fields, and the far kipukas. It would be a good idea to check the weather before continuing. You will be very exposed out on the lava field, and could get lost in the fog or dark. Lightning is terrifying out there! Powerline road is a much safer and easier to follow route across the lava fields, and runs through different parts of the same kipuka forests. The two trails are close and roughly parallel from this point on.
Powerline Road and Pu'u O'o Trail meet 4 miles south of Saddle Road, in the middle of the last and largest kipuka. This kipuka has a large meadow running down the middle of it. It has bogs, meadows, lush dense forest and a lot of birds (and sheep, pigs and hunters). The large twin kipuka has a handful of all 3 endangered honeycreepers - 'akiapola'au, 'Hawaii Akepa and hawai'i creeper. However, these three species will probably only be found by those who are very familiar with their calls and have a hours to listen and search.
Pu'u O'o Trail branches off of powerline road again on the other side of the last kipuka, and becomes progressively more difficult to follow until you reach the area where the 1984 lava flow covers it.
 History and Use
It was historically used as a cattle drive trail between Pu'u O'o Ranch (hence the name) on the southeastern slope of Mauna Kea, and the ranches on the southern slope of Mauna Loa. The route probably existed in some form in pre-contact times as well, but lava flows are frequent in this area of the saddle, including at least 5 across the trail route in the last 160 years, which would have covered any trace of them.
 Areas of Interest
 Access and Facilities
This portion of Pu'u O'o Trail is part of the State's "Na Ala Hele" trial system, and you can find very minimal information at their tiny web site Hawaii Trails. There are presently no facilities other than the trailhead sign. The trail may be difficult to follow at times, and the possibility of getting lost in the wilderness is very real. If you get lost at sunset, expect to spend the night under a tree in the rain and mud, and try to flag down a passing helicopter in the morning.
Most of the Saddle Road Construction is now further East, but it is still technically in the construction zone and it's possible that the parking lot for Pu'u O'o Trail might be closed on any given day. The parking lot is now a bit more level than it was before construction, but still loose gravel and not any larger. I am uncertain if there are any plans to change it more. The State has plans for some sort of a visitor center in the forest across the road.
 Contact Details
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