Hawaii firm offers mule excursions in Pololu Valley

KONA, Hawaii -- Hawaii Forest & Trail started mule excursions down Pololu Valley in the northeast corner of the Big Island.

The Kohala Mule Trail Adventure begins at the old Kohala Ditch Co. mule station near the Pololu Valley lookout. Mules descend from atop the seacliff 500 feet to the valley floor, a 25-minute ride, with a loop trail followed in the valley and a rest stop at the black-sand beach. Valley scenery ranges from forests of hao (a relative of the hibiscus), mangrove and ironwoods to pastures, where cattle and horses graze. Ruins of a settlement can be seen.

Pololu Valley was inhabited until 1946, when a tidal wave devastated the east coast and Hilo, the county town, and it was abandoned. According to Rob Pacheco, Hawaii Forest & Trail owner, for more than a century mule teams were used for transportation in the Kohala Valleys. Kohala Ditch Co. maintained the mountain irrigation system until the Kohala sugar cane industry ended in the early 1970s.

Pacheco said the mules were already based at the mule station and were familiar with the valley, but a new trail was built. Mules continued to be used by hunters and others after sugar ended.

There are two trips a day -- 8:30 a.m. to noon and 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. The number of riders is currently restricted to a maximum of six per tour, increasing to 12 by year's end, with a minimum of four required. The price is $95 for adults and $85 for children ages 8 to 15. The mule station is at the end of route 270, a 35- to 50-minute drive from the Kohala Coast resorts on the west coast.

Hawaii Forest & Trail, which has been operating for five years, offers a range of four-wheel-drive and van tours, including bird watching and the volcanoes.

Hawaii Forest & Trail, Phone: (800) 464-1993, Fax: (808) 322-8883, Web: www.hawaii-forest.com

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