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Outdoor Pursuits: Outdoor Education thrives at Punahou

The Outdoor Education Department has provided unique, age-appropriate, outdoor experiences for Punahou students for more than 50 years.

The Outdoor Education Department has provided unique, age-appropriate, outdoor experiences for Punahou students for more than 50 years. Rooted in important core principles, the program has continued to evolve to meet the physical, emotional and curricular needs of students by connecting them firmly to the land and encouraging exploration.

The K – 8 Outdoor Education Path of Discovery is a carefully designed progression of meaningful experiences that take place in various locations on campus, around O’ahu and on Hawai’i Island. Along the way, students learn important skills to navigate each journey.

In addition to signature experiences that span from kindergarten through eighth grade, stewardship of Pu’u o Mānoa (Rocky Hill), the Animal Ambassador Program and Academy student mentorship program are other important branches of the curriculum.

The program began in the early ’70s, when Tim Lucas ’62 – who served as Outdoor Education director for 17 of his 43 years at Punahou – blazed the trail for the department. Tai Crouch then carried the torch across fields of lava and uneven terrain for nearly 20 years, before retiring in 2017. Today, the program is led by Outdoor Education faculty Andy Nelson, Shelby Ho ’01 and Kaniela Lyman-Mersereau ’05, with assistance from Malia Ane ’72. They remain committed to keeping important traditions alive, while building a vision for new adventures. 

“When students look back on the experiences they had in Outdoor Education, I hope they smile, and are reminded of their responsibility to take care of other living things, and that doing the right thing is just what you do,” Nelson said.

Junior Ranger Training
Grade K – 1

The outdoor journey begins, equipping kindergartners and first-graders with a unique set of Junior Ranger skills and certification. As they embark on a quest to understand, explore and observe interdependence from mauka to makai, they meet bugs, explore Pu‘u o Mānoa and enjoy the rain.

“The Outdoor Education program helps our youngest learners begin to see their place and connection to Ka Punahou.” Gaylynn Nakamatsu, Kindergarten teacher

Pinao Warriors at Pu‘u o Mānoa
Overnight Camp on  Rocky Hill
Grade 4

Perched 280 feet above Punahou’s lower campus sits Pu‘u o Mānoa (Rocky Hill). Alumni, students K – 12, physical plant staff and current and former teachers have worked together to care for this place and create an idyllic venue for students’ first school overnight experience. While on the hill, students help with service projects; pitch tents; learn more about our valley and our role as stewards; eat pizza made in a brick oven; and even practice their marshmallow-roasting skills.

Students leave with a connection to that sacred part of campus, positive memories of their first overnight experience, and new outdoor skills as they become members of “The Pinao Warriors.” Pinao, or dragonfly, embodies the spirit of being adaptable and adventurous.

Teamwork is good
Teamwork is great!
Teamwork is what everyone appreciates!
Hand-in-hand to help the Earth
With the power of our teamwork!
– Kaian Stewart ’26

Hawai‘i Island Trip
A Magical Journey
Grade 5

Fifth-graders set off on a quest to Hawai‘i Island to explore volcanoes, observe endangered native birds and take part in helping protect pristine ecosystems. Preparing properly for this journey is key. Malia Ane ’72, co-director of Kuaihelani Learning Center, plays a critical role in preparing students for this experience and in helping create “the magic.”

“The sky opened up for us. We saw planets and constellations …
That is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I was fortunate to have.” – Keira Muraoka ’24

Camp Pālehua
(formerly known as Camp Timberline)
Grade 6

In sixth grade, students use their growing set of skills and independence as they head to camp in a secluded area of the Wai’anae Mountains. This camp has become a home away from home for Punahou students for over half a century.

While at camp, students engage in a variety of activities and have a chance to form special bonds and create lifelong memories. The experience includes campfires, legends, stargazing, archery, swimming, low ropes and a long,
rewarding hike to Mauna Kapu, “The Sacred Mountain.”

“It was the first time I took more than a few minutes to look at the stars. I was so calm and I felt at peace. That was a time I won’t forget about for a long time. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in the sky, in the 12 years I’ve been on this earth.” – Ko‘o Kia ’25

Camp Mokulē‘ia
The North Shore Experience
Grade 8

Eighth-graders have a final chance to disconnect from distractions and connect with their advisory and the outdoors before heading to the Academy. Surrounded by friends, they spend time in the sun and ocean and take a long hike to Ka‘ena Point. “Coach K” – Kaniela Lyman-Mersereau ’05 – shares his experiences being a member of the Hōkūle’a crew to teach students about the ocean, stars and how to care for our Islands.

Sometimes you will feel lost. Go outside. Breathe.
You will soon find yourself again. – Sophia Woofter ’23