This is the least Hawaiian part of Hawaii you've ever seen - and it will rapidly become your favorite. Plodding softly through a forest of koa and ironwood trees, the heavy footfalls of your horse are almost silent on the thick padding of dry needles. The tropical sun and the trade winds are shut out by the dense canopy. In the still coolness, it feels more like Oregon than Hawaii.
"In fact, this is a very Hawaiian valley," says trail guide Mark Becker. A professional polo player, he rides easily on his Thoroughbred. "Much of the island once looked like this. In ancient times, a sizable community lived here. You can see the tea leaves they planted for cooking. We even have some petroglyphs on the property."
Twenty minutes into a rambling trail ride, you lope up and along a ridge on Oahu's North Shore. Becker's Happy Trails Stable, a few miles from the boisterous surf center of Haleiwa, is adjacent to one of the island's largest temple ruins, or Heiaus (pronounced hay-ee-ow). Three captured British seamen were reportedly sacrificed on this site in 1793. Calmness reigns here now, broken only by the snorting and shuffling of your mount as you climb the same ancient pathways.
You emerge from the forest onto the ridge top with a spectacular view of the Waimea valley. This used to be endless sugar cane country. Now the cane has been replaced by coffee and alfalfa plantations. The horses push through chest-high Pili grass, the kind used to make hula skirts.
Soon you're back in the woods, looping around to the stables. Becker reaches out to snag a strawberry guava from a low branch. "We have fruit year-round," he says, passing it back. In a mango grove you spy the remains of an old ranch house. A weathered tire swing hangs from a massive Banyan tree, its rope hard to see in the multitude of vines that fall down like a rain shower. A little farther, an overgrown mound of rocks marks another ancient temple ruin. The air carries the tang of fallen, fermenting fruit - the smell of a Hawaii long vanished.