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by Berna Bass

The far west of O‘ahu is the driest side of the island, the Wai‘anae coast. What attracts visitors to the area are the beaches which have some of the island’s best surfing conditions, a hiking trail that leads to Ka‘ena Point, and the eerie, mysterious Makua Cave.

The westernmost point of O‘ahu is Ka‘ena Point, accessible from the Leeward Coast only by a hiking trail that begins about three miles south, at Ka‘ena Point State Park. The whole trail is about six miles long and is partially on an old railroad bed. The state park preserves 779 acres of sand beaches, coastal dunes, and volcanic formations. It is very hot, and there are no water fountains, so bring water. There is a restroom facility at the trailhead. Visitors may have the opportunities to see albatross nesting in the area, or dolphins or sea turtles at certain times of the year.

South towards Wai‘anae, on the Leeward Coast’s main road, Farrington Highway, is Keawa‘ula Bay, also known as Yokohama Bay, where part of the movie Hawai‘i was filmed.. It is a large sandy beach where only surfing and bodysurfing experts should take on the waves. Visitors and locals are cautioned to swim only during calm conditions in the summer.

Further south is Makua. On the mauka or mountain side, is the towering Kaneana Bluff where visitors are enticed by the 100-foot high, 459-foot deep Makua Cave. The bluff was once underwater, and wave action of the sea carved out the cave. Light cool breezes come from inside, but the back opening has never been found.

Further south is Makaha Beach, known for it’s many surfing contests, and the Wai‘anae area, where many of the Hawaiian Homelands are situated. There are only a few hotels on this side of the island. To visitors, the Wai‘anae Coast may look as if it was lost in time because the area is not as modern as the rest of urbanized O‘ahu.

Traveling south past Nanakuli, one enters the Ewa Plain and finds Ko‘olina Resort on the makai (ocean) side of the highway. Paradise Cove is located there, where live Polynesian shows and luaus are held nightly. There are four lagoons open to the public. Many visitors and locals go to the lagoons because of their calm waters and serene environment.

Once off the Leeward Coast, opportunities multiply. Visitors might try an outdoor museum in Waipahu, located east of Ewa in the south-central O‘ahu. Hawai‘i’s Plantation Village at the Waipahu Cultural Garden near the Waipahu Mill Town Center gives visitors a sense of the changing lifestyles of Hawai‘i’s plantation workers on Hawai‘i’s sugar plantations between the late 1800s and the 1950s. These workers and their children helped make Hawai‘i a culturally diverse place. The village features restored buildings and replicas of plantation houses of different ethnic groups, the community bath, plantation store, and relics. For general and tour information, visit their Web site at hawaiiplantationvillage.org.

East toward downtown is Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial. Visitors can take a daily tour which presents a historical background on the attack on Pearl Harbor which killed 1,177 people on Dec. 7, 1941. For more information, visit the National Park Service Web site, nps.gov/usar.
Further south, on the outskirts of downtown Honolulu in the Kalihi area, is the Bishop Museum. It is home to the world’s largest collection of Hawaiian and Polynesian artifacts. It also features themed exhibits and a planetarium. The museum was founded by Charles Reed Bishop in 1889 in honor of his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a descendant of the royal Kamehameha family. Hawaiian artifacts and royal family heirlooms of the Princess are housed there. More information about the museum can be found at its Web site bishopmuseum.org.

In downtown Honolulu, many tourists and locals like to visit the Aloha Tower and the Hawai‘i Maritime Center. The tower was built in 1926 to welcome visitors coming into the harbor. The building, which is only 10 stories high, was once the tallest building in O‘ahu. Just south of the Marketplace, is the Hawai‘i Maritime Center which hosts exhibits of whalers, explorers, and legendary surfers and includes a huge, rare humpback whale skeleton, and the Falls of Clyde, the last four-masted, fully rigged sailing ship in the world. The ship was built in 1878 in Glaslow, Scotland, and in 1899 it was the first four-masted ship to fly the Hawaiian flag. Visit alohatower.com for more info.

Also located in the heart of downtown is the only official royal residence in the United States, ‘Iolani Palace. Visitors can tour the home of Hawai‘i’s last monarchs, King David Kalakaua, his Queen, Kapi‘olani, and later, Kalakaua’s sister, Queen Lili‘uokalani. The palace houses the original royal thrones, 19th-century furniture, the crown jewels, and other exhibits. Visit iolanipalace.org.
Located right across the street is the famous Kamehameha Statue to honor King Kamehameha I who unified the Hawaiian Islands. The statue was dedicated in 1893 as part of King Kalakaua’s coronation ceremony. It stands eight-and-a-half feet tall.

East, between downtown Honolulu and Kaneohe, the Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout is located right off Pali Highway. This is where King Kamehameha defeated the army of the king and added O‘ahu to his own kingdom in 1795. It can be very gusty, so visitors should bring a jacket and wear or carry anything loose.

Returning to Honolulu, and heading south again, visitors come to Waikiki and Diamond Head, or Mount Leahi, are of the top Hawai‘i landmarks and the most recognized volcanic crater in the world. Visitors can hike up the dormant crater through the Diamond Head State Monument at the mauka end of the crater. The trail to the summit was first built as part of the U.S. Army Coastal Artillery defense system in 1908. The panoramic view of Waikiki and Honolulu from the observation post at the summit, is spectacular. In the 1700s Western explorers thought the calcite crystals in the rocks were diamonds, hence the name of Diamond Head became common. Visitors should bring water and a flashlight and wear shoes for this 1.5 hour-long hike.

Southeast of Diamond Head, at the southern end of O‘ahu, is Hanauma Bay State Underwater Park, the most popular snorkeling spot in Hawai‘i. Its beach sits on the rim of an extinct volcano and is home to a variety of tropical marine life. Visitors can rent snorkeling equipment and enjoy an exhibit about the park.

Eastward is the Halona Blowhole which attracts visitors because of its resemblances to a whale’s spout. Depending on how large the waves are, the spout can reach up to 30 feet high. At the lookout, visitors may spot whales or sea turtles. There are no lifeguards on duty, and the Kaiwi channel below Halona is one of the most dangerous, unpredictable ocean channels in the world, so visitors are advised to stay on the lookout area.

Further east is Sandy Beach Park, where restroom facilities are available. Sandy Beach is a popular destination and where many surfing and body surfing competitions are held.

East and then north around the corner of the island is Makapu‘u Beach. Beside its surf conditions, it’s also known for its black lava cliffs and where the popular TV show, Magnum P.I. was filmed. From here, visitors have a good view of Manana Island, also known as Rabbit Island.

Bypassing Waimanalo, Kailua and Kane‘ohe, the next stop could be Kualoa Beach. There, visitors can see Mokoli‘i Island, known as Chinaman’s Hat. The beach is located on the windward coast of O‘ahu. The area was at one point considered sacred by ancient Hawaiians because the whalebones that washed ashore could be made into jewelry and tools.

Traveling north, past Kahuku and then west, visitors can find the Pu‘u O Mahuka Heiau State Monument, where O‘ahu’s largest heiau, or ancient place of worship is located. The ancient Hawaiian heiau, built high above Waimea Bay, was declared a national historic landmark in 1962. Visitors are advised to not disturb the sacred place by touching or removing anything.

Just to the west at Waimea Falls Park, visitors can learn customs of the Hawaiian people. Entertainment at this famous waterfall park comprises the hula and a cliff diving show in which professional divers jump off the 45-foot high falls. Visitors can also take a tour, hike, go mountain biking, kayaking, horseback riding, or swim in the pool right beneath the waterfall.

While on the North Shore side of O‘ahu, check out the beaches where some of the most prestigious surfing contests are held. For example, the Triple Crown and World Cup competitions are held every winter at Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay, and Haleiwa.

If visitors continue to travel west, they reach end of the island on the Mokule‘ia side of Ka‘ena Point. And that’s where the road ends.

Map of O'ahu
Web Photo
Iolani Palace.
File photo


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