Oahu, Hawaii – Part Three, aka The Albatross Sanctuary

Day Six

We received such a treat today. A very rare Hawaiian monk seal decided to perch on a beach not 10 minutes from where we were staying. Our host, Zach, told us where she was and we were one of the firsts to see her in the morning. Ipo, which means sweetheart in Hawaiian, has been tracked by the Hawaiian Marine Mammal Alliance since her birth. One of their volunteers had just begun to set up a perimeter to keep unwelcome tourists from getting too close and disrupting her nap. He was very informative and told us that Ipo and her mother frequently rest on this beach. He also shared that Ipo is currently pregnant! Monk seals give birth to just one pup at a time, and have an 11-month gestation period.

Happy momma monk seal, Ipo

Initially, our plan for the day was to hike out to an albatross sanctuary. December to January is their nesting time on Oahu. Neither of us was feeling up to it, though, so instead we decided just to wander about the coastline, taking in pretty views and stopping wherever we fancied. We popped in a a few surf shops and a ukulele store before heading out of the Haleiwa town center. Without GPS, we choose our direction at random. Somehow, completely by chance, we ended up at the trailhead for the albatross sanctuary. Despite being wholly unprepared, as we would find out later, we rallied and started off on the hike.

Now, I am a person that likes… no, needs a definitive end point and/or goal. That is how I get through life. I am not one to start out on something without having that end point in mind. I thought I had one, but I was so wrong.

I had first read about this hike in a blog post on Hawaii Life. It was also waaay before we even got to Hawaii. The one and a half hours that it took this obviously very fit blogger to complete was whittled down to half an hour in my mind. So, imagine our surprise when we are about half an hour in and no albatross.

Right about then, an older couple passed us on their return journey. Making the cursory pleasantries one does passing fellow hikers, I also squeezed in a, “Have you seen any albatross?” To which they replied, “None at all. Just a couple of other birds, but thats it.”

What!? How could that be?

Despite their resolute answer, we pressed on. At the moment we were still shaded by the mountain, and enjoying ourselves.

Another half hour passed with just black, muddy road ahead and behind us. The sun was starting to peek through the clouds and over the mountain and our lack of water was becoming more and more problematic. It was at this point that Jason and I parted ways. He showing his pragmatic side, and me clearly the hard-headed unreasonable one. I had to make it to the end.

Not five minutes after we split I passed another couple who said I was almost there AND that there were loads of albatross and whales AND a monk seal. In a moment of enthusiasm I told them that if they saw a ginger-bearded man to let him know how close he was. A mistake in hindsight. I wasn’t thinking how long it would take them to reach him since they were both walking the same direction, and he had a head start.

Nesting Albatross

Another half mile, or so, and I reached the gate. The first albatross I saw, a few hundred feet into the gated area, was just sitting there, perched. I’m guessing on an egg. Sitting beautifully still, it was so exciting to see such an amazing bird up close. The further in I walked, the more I could see nesting. But the real treat was all the albatross that were soaring above my head. I am dying to go back one day when the chicks are hatched.

At this point the mid-day sun was in full swing and beating down on me. I managed to push myself to the very end of the point, where there is a steep climb down onto a beach and some rocks. There was the other monk seal. Two in one day! Some spectators had climbed down to the beachy area surrounding the rocks, but I could feel my skin burning and mouth drying out, so I decided to turn back. I continued to enjoy the birds as I walked back, and then I saw the beard. My heart sank a little. If I was burned, he certainly was too, and had walked at least another mile more. And with all his camera gear! I should have kept my mouth shut.

Jason and I met in the middle of the sanctuary,  both dying a little from the heat. He took some pics as I sacrificed my arm to cover my face. We soon turned back, and made our slow, tortured way back to the car.

Moral of this story – always be prepared.


For anyone interested in doing this hike, it is totally worth it, but definitely bring water and sunscreen… and probably a hat if you are fair skinned.

It starts out at Ka’Ena Point and is a very wide black rock/sand road. The terrain is very uneven. This goes for about 2.5 miles, according to my FitBit. After this point you enter the sanctuary, which is gated all the way around. It is another half mile to the very end and is mostly sand for the last quarter mile. It is just about 6 miles roundtrip.

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