Sightseeing Southeastern O‘ahu

Nature rules sightseeing on southeastern O‘ahu, with some breathtaking views and a truly stunning garden along with a bit of hiking and a preserved heiau. Expect to do a lot of walking when seeing these sights.

Makapu‘u Point State Wayside

Makapu‘u, which translates to “bulging eye” in Hawaiian, marks the rugged and dry eastern tip of O‘ahu. The rough black rock is dotted with cacti and small flowering shrubs, like the native Hawaiian ‘ilima with its cute yellow and orange blossoms. The Makapu‘u Point State Wayside holds several areas of interest. There are two parking lots at Makapu‘u. Coming from Hawai‘i Kai on Kalanianaole Highway, the first parking lot offers direct access to the trail that rounds Makapu‘u Point and leads to the Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse. Roughly a 3-mile round-trip walk, the wide, paved road gains elevation gradually as you circle the point from the south to face the Pacific Ocean.

On a clear day you can see the islands of Moloka‘i and Maui in the far distance. The hike has an added bonus of being one of the premier whale-watching venues while the humpback whales breed and rear their young in Hawaiian waters from November to March. It is also cooler during this period as well, as the shadeless hike can get rather hot in the midday, summer sun. There are informational signs along the trail about humpback whale activity and behavior.

Map of Southeast O‘ahu, Hawaii
Southeast O‘ahu

At the end of the hike are a couple lookout platforms and the Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse, a 46-foot-tall active lighthouse constructed in 1909. The lighthouse itself is off limits to the public, but you can get close enough to get a nice picture with the blue Pacific as the backdrop. Feel free to scamper around the rocks and explore the summit at 647 feet, but be careful as the area is scattered with sharp rocks, boulders, and cactus.

At the second parking lot, just to the north of the first, is a magnificent lookout area with views of the Waimanalo Coast, the rugged southern end of the Ko‘olau Range, and two nearby offshore islands, Manana Island and Koahikaipu Island State Seabird Sanctuary. The islands are home to nesting wedge-tailed shearwaters, sooty terns, brown noodies, and several other species. It is illegal to set foot on the islands. Manana Island is commonly referred to as Rabbit Island, because a rancher actually tried to raise rabbits here prior to its designation as a seabird sanctuary.

If you consider yourself an avid hiker, from the lookout you can scramble up the back side of the point to the summit, regain the trail near the lighthouse, and follow the paved path back to the lookout for a nice loop.

Makapu‘u marks the rugged and dry eastern tip of O‘ahu.
Makapu‘u marks the rugged and dry eastern tip of O‘ahu. Photo © Carl Clifford, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Ulupo Heiau State Historic Site (Kailua)

The massive stone platform of the Ulupo Heiau State Historic Site was supposedly built by the legendary menehune and shows remarkable skill with stone, measuring 140 feet wide by 180 feet long by 30 feet high at its tallest edge, although the stepped front wall has partially collapsed under a rockfall. The heiau overlooks Kawainui Marsh, and below the heiau, you can see traditional kalo lo‘i, taro growing in small ponds. Ulupo Heiau was one of three heiau that once overlooked the former fishpond. The other two, located on the west side of the marsh, are Pahukini and Holomakani Heiau. Some restoration has been done to Pahukini Heiau, but both remain largely untouched and inaccessible.

To get to Ulupo Heiau as you approach Kailua on the Pali Highway, turn left at the Castle Medical Center onto Uluoa Street, following it one block to Manu Aloha Street, where you turn right. Turn right again onto Manu O‘o and park in the Windward YMCA parking lot. The heiau is directly behind the YMCA building.

Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden (Kane‘ohe)

Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden (45-680 Luluku Rd., 808/233-7323, 9am-4pm daily, closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day) is a botanical gem nestled at the base of the verdant corduroy of the Ko‘olau Range.

With 400 acres of geographically organized gardens—covering the Philippines, Hawaii, Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Polynesia, Melanesia, Malaysia, and Tropical America—and a network of trails interconnecting the plantings, one could spend an entire day in the garden. The Visitor Center is staffed with extremely knowledgeable docents who can help identify birds and interesting plants in flower during your visit. You can also grab a trail map there, too. A paved road links all the plantings and there are separate parking lots for each, so you can pick and choose where you’d like to spend your time. Drive slowly on the road, as the path is a lovely, popular walk for residents and garden guests.

Ho‘omaluhia also boasts its own lake, Lake Waimaluhia. Catch-and-release fishing is permitted on the weekends 10am-2pm. The garden is serene, quiet, lush, and often wet, so be prepared for the passing shower, mud, and mosquitoes. Rustic camping is also permitted from Friday afternoon till Monday morning. Check in at the Visitor Center for a pass. The garden is located in a residential area on Luluku Road, which you can access from both Kamehameha Highway and the Likelike Highway.

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