Travel Porn: Oahu’s Famous Haʻikū Stairs Are Dying A Slow Death

The hiking trail known as the Stairway to Heaven on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, also called the Haʻikū Stairs, is just that: a stairway to heaven on earth. I resent the word “breathtaking” (it’s so sorely abused), but the vision of this trail really does warrant that label. It looks like some tropical fever dream, the most natural high on earth, and that’s just from seeing it in pictures! Unfortunately, a storm severely damaged the already rickety stairs last month, and their future now hangs in the balance.

Consisting of close to 4,000 steps, the staircase was first built in 1942 by the U.S. Navy as part of the construction of a radio station and stretches across the Koolau mountain range. The trail and radio station were closed to the public in 1987, and since then, tens of thousands of hikers have continued to embark on the trail illegally, starting their trek in early morning darkness to beat security guards to the entrance. In 2003, the deteriorating stairs underwent repairs that cost the city of Honolulu a hefty sum, but this February, a brutal storm harmed both the work done on the stairs and the surrounding vegetation. The city had already been considering removing the staircase because it posed a danger to hikers and because visitors were often cutting through private property to reach the trail and disturbing local residents. The trail is now more unsafe than ever and seemingly falling apart before our eyes. A few weeks ago, Honolulu’s Board of Water Supply, which oversees the site, gave its board of directors the green light to embark on a half-million dollar study to determine the best way to remove the staircase.

As someone who dreams of visiting the trail, I find this fairly devastating, but I’m not a local and don’t know the full situation, so it would be unfair of me to automatically assume that demolishing them is a terrible idea. And yet, destroying an experience so invigorating that thousands of people are willing to break the law and risk their safety for a shot at it seems like, well, a terrible idea. My feeling is that any attraction that actually succeeds in getting people jazzed about the beauty of our earth as opposed to a glowing screen is worth saving, especially if it’s such a long-preserved piece of history. But that’s discounting the fact that tourists may be making life hell for those who live nearby, and that the trail is in the region’s watershed so hikers may harming Honolulu’s water supply. The water board’s study will take a year or two, and community groups are fighting every day to save the stairs. In the meantime, here’s some nature porn of the gorgeous trail to make your heart catch in your throat and serve as motivation to preserve the dwindling scenic sites we have left in this world. The stairs aren’t safe enough to climb since last month’s storm, but I’d imagine that even gazing at them from ground level would make for a sight to behold – if you’re able, pay a visit while they’re still around!

[Travel Pulse]

[KHON News]