Makua Beach

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Makua Beach is on the Leeward Side very close to Ka’ena Point. Parking is only available on the side of the road, but there is a fair amount to be had. We went snorkeling there because we’d heard that people often saw dolphins. Unfortunately, there were a lot of spear fishers when we were there, and they scare all the wildlife away.

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The leeward side actually has a lot of spear fishmen. This can be very dangerous, so make sure you keep an eye out for them. They tend to swim with their spears in front of them, and they don’t always look where they are going. I have nearly been impaled, so I’m warning you because I have personal experience with the very real danger.

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Another thing to remember is that sometimes there are incidents in Hawaii where a shark bites a human. This is most common for surfers (who look like seals from below) and spear fishers (who have bleeding fish on their belts.) Since sharks can make mistakes, it’s best to stay away from, the things that they like to bite.

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One thing we found neat about swimming at Makua was the holes that occur naturally in the sea floor. They fill with rocks (which are thrown around during hurricanes) and then the rocks are worn into round balls by the waves.

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In spite of the lack of sea life, it really is a very pretty beach. If you were going to just sit and listen to the waves somewhere, this might be a nice place to do it.

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Three Tables

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I’ve already written about Shark’s Cove, which is part of Pupukea Nature Preserve. The other side of this park is called Three Tables, due to three flat rock formations out in the water.

This is a great place to go snorkeling between April and September. I don’t recommend it in the fall or winter months because the surf is too high. If you’re not sure, you can always check Surfline Oahu for updates on how high the waves are.

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You want to be careful not to get too close to the rocks in Three Tables. People sometimes get smacked into them by a wave, and this can be bad because there are sea urchins hiding inside all the cracks in the rocks. It hurts a lot more than you might expect to rub up against them.

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However, if you keep your distance from the rocks, this is a nice place to snorkel because the turtles come eat algae off the rock formations. You can get a front-row seat to watching them munch; though it’s challenging to get a good picture because the water is so churned up.

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This is also a great place to see schools of surgeon fish, and octopus. It’s fairly sandy at the entry point, so you don’t need boots. However, it’s not as deep as the Shark’s Cove side, so I don’t recommend it for divers.

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The sand is round on this beach, which means you really sink into it. I’d keep your towel up in the trees or over on the rocks. You wouldn’t want it to be eaten up by the sand. Even if you’re not going in the water, this is a lovely beach to just sit on and relax. Pupukea is beautiful, and Three Tables is the best spot to enjoy it.

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Kokohead Hike

kokohead from parking

Kokohead Trail is really just a lot of stairs. I did Likeke Falls in the morning and I still had some energy, so I went and did Kokohead before heading home. It’s sort of rough unless you have long legs (because some of the stairs are quite big,) but it’s only 2.9 kilometers to the top.

You park in a paved lot and walk along a paved trail to the base of the mountain. Then you see the stairs, bracketed by railroad tracks on either side. It looks like a long way to the top, but it’s not as bad as it looks.

the long view

Fair warning: There is absolutely no shade, nor is there any good spot to rest. I recommend a hat, sunscreen, and a lot of water. Some people do it in the dark so they can be at the top for sunrise, and I hear that is pretty neat.

Kokohead trail is really just a set of railroad tracks that used to run munitions up to the top of the mountain during WWII. For the most part, it’s a fairly safe trail, but there is a spot where the tracks go out over a ravine, and that can be frightening if heights bother you.

hahauma bay

People do bring their kids, but I don’t recommend it. First, the college students hike in very little clothes, so you’re going to have some awkward moments when your kids shouts out: “Why is that girl in her bra?” But second, the stairs really are tall and it’s easy for a child to slip on the loose sand and fall down the mountain. People do.

Anyway, the views from the top are amazing and it’s only about a two-hour hike, so it’s worth a look even if you’re only on Oahu for a vacation. Just remember water and snacks. It’s a hot, dry hike to the top.

the other side

Ka’ena Point

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There are two sides to Ka’ena Point on the western tip of Oahu. You can drive along the leeward side and park at the beach. Or, you can drive along the north shore and park in a dirt lot. Either way, your goal is to get to the albatross sanctuary in the center of the park.

The leeward side has the advantage of the trail being more clearly marked, and closer to the ocean (for cooler breezes.) However, the western side has the advantage of more places to explore, and more varied scenery.

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Take a plastic bag on this hike, because on the western tip there are a lot of sudden rain showers. You’ll need somewhere for your electronics to hide and stay dry.

Along the way, keep an eye on the ocean if it’s “winter,” because that’s when the whales are around. They come to Oahu to have their babies, and you can see them swimming and splashing often. All year you can spot dolphins and seals, as well.

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Once you arrive at the sanctuary, you’ll see the albatrosses flying around. They’re amazing birds. If it’s May, you might even catch a glimpse of a baby albatross, which is a really special sight given how endangered they are.

Keep an eye out for Hawaiian Monk Seals as well. They like to come up out of the water and rest on the rocks. Remember: You must stay 150 feet away from the seals at all times since they are critically endangered. And, if you see one, you should call the wildlife conservationists and report the sighting so they can track the seals’ behavior. Call: (808) 220-7802

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This is one of the coolest spots on Oahu because there are so many different kinds of wildlife to see. Definitely bring your binoculars, because it’s neat to get an up-close look at seals, whales, albatrosses, and other wildlife.

Note: Remember there are no dogs allowed anywhere in Ka’ena state park. It doesn’t matter if you’re just going down to the beach, or if you are doing the hike. The albatrosses and seals don’t always stay inside the sanctuary and they are critically endangered, so obey the posted signs and do not bring your cat or dog anywhere near the park.

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Shark’s Cove

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Part of the Pupukea Nature Preserve, Shark’s Cove is an amazing place to go snorkeling from April to September. The North Shore is better known for surfing in the fall and winter months, but in spring and summer, the waters are calm enough to visit with the turtles and fish.

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There is a paved parking lot above Shark’s Cove, and there are restrooms to change. There’s even a bit of a makeshift shower (outside) where you can rinse sand off your flippers and out of your hair.

The path down to the water is dirt, but it’s not too steep so it’s pretty easy to get down it. Everyone leaves their towels and car keys on the rocks, and the instance of theft is very low.

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The entry point is rocky, so you’ll want to have boots. The currents can be strong, so longer fins are advisable as well. There are some tide pools to play in, and those are great for kids. However, in the deeper water, you’ll find a rocky landscape full of caves.

If you dive, this is a great place to do some swim-throughs. Just make sure the passages you choose are wider than you and your gear!

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On the right-hand side (if standing in the parking lot facing the cove) there is a turtle cleaning station at the mouth of the cove. This is where surgeon fish come up and eat algae and parasites off sea turtles’ shells. That makes this an ideal place to see turtles.

Just remember: You’re not meant to get close to them. They are endangered, and you should never feed or touch one. However, Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles are magical to catch a glimpse of.

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Makapu’u Coastal Pools

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If you are already doing the Makapu’u Lighthouse Hike (which is amazing,) you might also want to take the dirt path from the parking lot over to the coast.

It’s a dry walk, and it was dusty in June. I recommend lots of water, and possibly a snack. On the upside, it’s not a hard walk because it’s completely flat.

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Sometimes the locals go there to fish, so beware of stray hooks and lines. Also, remember that the waves break on the rocks! Keep your distance. People are sometimes swept off the ledges, and the sea is very rough in this area so you could get seriously hurt.

It’s really more about sitting at a safe distance and watching the waves splash over the rocks. I went at low tide, so I managed to see a few fish and some crabs.

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That was fun, but I was very wary of not stepping on any wet rocks. If the rocks are wet, waves are probably breaking on them. So, steer clear of wet rocks.

Overall, it’s worth the walk if you’ve already done the lighthouse hike and you have some time leftover. However, I wouldn’t brave the crowded parking lot just for the coastal area, because there are prettier places on Oahu that are less crowded.

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Makapu’u Lighthouse

start of trail

When I heard about Makapu’u lighthouse, I thought it was just a trail with some ocean views and a lighthouse. I had no idea how spectacular it really is. The ocean views are amazing and varied, and it’s a big pay off for a very easy hike.

Let’s start at the beginning: The gate to the parking lot opens at 7:00am. That’s the best time to go, because otherwise you will have to wait for a spot or try parallel parking on a busy highway, and neither of those things are much fun. I recommend getting there right when the parking lot opens.

south coast view

This hike it always busy. As far as I know, it’s the only paved trail in Oahu so I can see why it’s crowded. It’s an easy hike, you don’t have to worry about mud or bugs, and it’s really a very short climb.

Once you park, walk to the trail head. You’ll see a dirt path going off to the right. It takes you to some rather unimpressive rocky beaches, but you may as well check it out if you have time. Bring lots of water, though. It’s hot and dry on that path.

the trail looks like

The paved road goes straight up, and that is the Makapu’u lighthouse trail. There are no bathrooms, so stop somewhere before you hike. There are trash cans though, so you have no excuse to litter. As you walk up, stop at each of the vantage points and read the signs that tell you about what you are looking at.

When you get to the top, you can look down on the lighthouse. Unfortunately, the trail to the actual lighthouse is closed to the public because it’s very dangerous. However, you can see it from the side as you climb the trail, and then from above when you reach the top of the trail. Hopefully that’s enough to satiate your desire for lighthouse views.

lighthouse from above

Personally, I think the vistas of the South coast and the East coast of Oahu are far more exciting that the lighthouse. They’re well worth the short climb.

Note: There is also a sketchy path along a dirt cliff that goes to tide pools (from the whale-watching lookout,) but I wouldn’t recommend that unless you are an advanced climber. Even then, in my opinion, the payoff of a few small tide pools isn’t worth the risk. You can see better tide pools at Ka’ena Point without putting yourself in any danger.

Anyway, definitely do the Makapu’u Lighthouse hike. It’s awesome.

better east coast view