Take a look at a map of the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, and concentrate on the far western tip. That’s Kaena Point. A nature preserve today, Kaena Point, serves as home to various forms of plant and animal life, including nesting Albatross during the winter months. Part of the reason there are designated trails on the dunes at the point is to protect Albatross nesting areas. It is also a very popular fishing spot, and you’ll see many surf-casters on the rocks as well as fishing boats just offshore. There isn’t much opportunity to swim on this hike, especially if the waves are high. When I hiked the area, the waves were small, three to five feet, and that was enough to keep me from risking a trip over the rocks into the water. Also, if I can believe the locals, this is a rich shark-feeding area.
If you are coming from Haliewa to the north, follow the Farrington Highway along the north shore, past the glider port, to the end of the pavement. There’s a parking lot near the gate that marks the entrance to the Kaena Point preserve, which is itself a scenic spot with good views of the north shore to Haliewa and beyond.
The south section has become the victim of a couple of washed out sections, and a barricade has been installed on the north side to prevent vehicle traffic from reaching the point. You have to walk or bike, and if you bike, you’ll be carrying the bike at least a couple of times for short stretches. If you choose to ride, you’ll become a believer in full suspension.
Follow the Farrington Highway along Oahu’s south shore, past Makaha beach until the pavement ends at Kaena Beach State Park. There’s a gate for the Makua Military Reservation near the end of the pavement, and this offers a good place to park your vehicle.
The south approach to Kaena Point begins at the entrance to the Makua Military Reservation, or if you prefer, about a quarter of a mile further down the road. From the gate, just follow the road along the shore of Kaena Beach State Park for approximately 1/4 of a mile.
The south approach isn’t as varied as the north, but there’s still plenty to keep you occupied. Squirting rocks, caves, natural arches, and washed out sections will keep you busy as you walk on the narrow trail between the ocean and the adjacent hillside. The one section of trail that requires attention is a roped section about thirty feet across, but it doesn’t present a significant obstacle. Just watch your footing and you’re fine. There are no climbs on this section of the trail.
Kaena, translated into English, means “the heat.” Along the south approach, there’s less of a trade wind, and the sun is merciless. Hiking the south side in mid-August, you can burn even if you use sunscreen. Be warned, it is a hot sun and you should wear a hat. The total hike is approximately 5-1/2 miles.
Arriving at the end of the Farrington Highway, you can make your way to the trail. First impressions will not be entirely positive, since you walk over broken pavement past a so-so beach, and a collection of locals surf-fishing. But the hike turns into a different beast shortly after you begin the trail along the water. Around every corner is a new view of the ocean beating against pitch-black volcanic rocks, which constantly changed the shape of the shoreline.
One interesting sight was not a result of any natural formations, but was due to the futility of somebody trying to drive along this road. I spotted a car engine and transmission sitting along side the trail, very rusted. Closer examination revealed that there was a pile of rust circling the engine, and some front-end parts still visible. I believe that this car was simply abandoned, and has rusted in place! The body and thinner metal parts are gone, and in a few years, the engine and transmission will be gone to. Ultimate “recycling.”
The trail itself is very rocky, and you have to watch your footing. Some sections were covered with larger boulders, other sections with smaller rocks just poking through the surface. There is one washed-out section that has been “roped,” but it doesn’t present any real problems.
As you approached the point, the trail changes from rocks to beach sand, and you can't help but notice how much more difficult it will be to walk! Along the clearly delineated sandy trails to the lighthouse, there are numerous local plants.
Once you reached the lighthouse at the point, you will feel like you have reached the end of the world. Aside from the new lighthouse, which is a steel pole about twenty feet high, and the old lighthouse, which is a tipped over concrete structure, there’s only a wide variety of native wildlife and birds. The rocks jut out into the sea, and the waves from the south were meeting the smaller waves from the north and creating white water along the rocks. Nearly pure white rocks that transitioned quickly into pitch-black lava, which then dropped into the ocean, cover some sections of the beach. There are a couple of nice coves here, but you should be aware that this is a shark area and there are a lot of cross currents. Swimming will be risky. If you take a walk out onto the rocks you can notice how clear the water is, and how rough and sharp the rocks are.