View of West Side from Ka'ena Point

KAʻENA POINT HIKE: NORTH SHORE SPOTLIGHT

Wondering where to hike on North Shore? Want to explore one of Oʻahu’s most wild and rugged coastlines? The Kaʻena Point hike has wildlife, geology, and history that every visitor to the North Shore of Oʻahu should experience.

View of the West Side from Kaʻena Point

What to expect

The Kaʻena Point Hike is 5 miles round trip along generally flat terrain. Going at a leisurely pace, it is good to budget approximately 3-4 hours for the entire walk. Put simply, this hike is flat, long, and hot. You’ll notice at the start of the hike, you can follow a straight dirt road closer to the mountains that will be the shortest distance to the point. Or, you can follow along the coastal trails to the right. I recommend walking along the coast on the way, and taking the main road back. It will be easy to distinguish between the two.

Expect to see rugged, wild beach coves, visiting seabirds, monk seals, and whales in the winter months. At the end of the walk you will find an enclosed Natural Area Preserve. Inside, there’s large seabird colonies and many visiting monk seals at the point.

The history of Kaʻena Point

Koʻolau and Waiʻanae have been thought to be the main two volcanoes that make up the landmass of Oʻahu. However, in 2014 scientists discovered a third volcano–the Kaʻena volcano. This volcano emerged over 3 million years ago and once extended from Northwest Oʻahu out further into sea. This means the land of Kaʻena Point is extremely ancient. In fact, there are fossilized coral heads that line the point that are thought to be over 130,000 years old.

A map of the three original Oʻahu volcanoes. Photo Credit: J. Sinton, et al., UH SOEST

Several hundred years after the arrival of Polynesians to Hawaiʻi, the remote stretch of Kaʻena was eventually colonized. The northern portion of the Kaʻena Point Hike was part of the Waialua moku (district) and more specifically, the Kaʻena ahupua’a (roughly translated as a self-sufficient community). Within the Kaʻena ahupuaʻa, archaeologists have discovered ancient fire pits, burial sites, and prehistoric paving for houses (known as ‘ili ‘ili) suggesting that despite the hot, dry nature of this area, it once sustained a permanent and robust community of Native Hawaiians.

Many Native Hawaiians lost their lands in the “Great” Mahele and the ahupua’a system was dissolved after the arrival of Europeans. In the 19th century, Hawaiʻi was being rapidly industrialized in order to develop various crop production, especially sugar cane and pineapples. However, mobilization was difficult and moving product was a laborious undertaking. In 1888, Benjamin Franklin Dillingham (father of Walter Dillingham, the creator of the Ala Wai Canal), began construction on a railway that would extend around the island to help move crops, materials, and workers. The railway eventually wrapped around Kaʻena Point until it was mostly destroyed in 1946 following the Aleutian Islands Earthquake. On the West side of the hike you can still see some pieces of the train tracks.

The Oʻahu Railway and Land Railroad extended along this dirt path. There has not been any road or railway around the point since the railroad’s destruction in 1947.

How to get there

There are two ways to reach Kaʻena Point. Therefore, it is very important you know if you are going to the West or the North entrance. Because Kaʻena Point is home to a protected Natural Area Reserve, you cannot drive around the point. As such, each entrance to the point is many miles away from the other (over an hour!), as you can see in the below map. I’ve had many issues meeting friends for this hike who went to the West entrance instead of the North. This blog is about the hike to the point from the North Shore entrance (for the google maps directions click here).

Note how far away these two entrances are! It is not an easy mistake to correct if you go to the incorrect entrance.

Arriving to the Kaʻena Point Hike

The drive along the North Shore to reach Kaʻena Point is worth the trip itself. You will drive down Farrington Highway through Waialua and Mokuleia, two of the less-developed neighborhoods on the island. Feel free to pull over and enjoy some private beach time at Mokuleia Beach Park on your way to the point. It is a wonderful spot to relax and do some snorkeling. Once you reach the end of Farrington Highway, you’ll see a gate and a small parking lot. Pull in here to park.

Note, this is an older satellite photo. There is a gate at the end of the road and a small container building to the left of the parking lot.

As you begin the walk along the coast, you’ll see lots of spectacular bays nearly untouched by other humans. Do not expect to actually get in the water, however, because the rip-tides and waves in this area are some of the most dangerous on the island. It would be extremely rare to see anyone swimming along the hike.

View of one of the coves called “The Ponds” along the Kaʻena Point Hike

Along the Kaʻena Point Hike

As you move up the coast, you’ll encounter breathtaking views of the Waiʻanae “mountain range” to your left. Note, this is not actually a mountain range, but the exterior cone of the extinct Waiʻanae volcano that formed over 2 million years ago. The exterior of the cone collapsed into the ocean hundreds of thousands of years ago, leaving just half of the volcanic cone still standing. Due to millions of years of erosion and rain, this volcanic cone looks like other traditional mountain ranges with multiple peaks and valleys.

Waianae Volcano during the Ka'ena Point Hike
The “mountains” along Kaʻena Point are actually the ancient remains of the Waiʻanae Volcano

The Natural Area Reserve – Predator proof fence

After walking about 2 miles, you will see a large and impressive fence wrapping around the tip of the island. This fence was installed in 2011 to protect the resident seabird populations, namely the Laysan Albatross and Shearwater birds which nest in and on the ground. Before the construction of this fence, invasive species like rats, mice, dogs, and especially feral cats were decimating the local bird populations. After the fence was installed, local plants and birds have enjoyed a boom in their population and deaths from invasive species has plummeted. This fence encloses nearly 60 acres of land and is managed by the Department of Land and Natural Resources which regularly removes invasive species and tracks native flora and fauna growth within the NAR.

The predator-proof fence that lines the Natural Area Reserve at the end of the Kaʻena Point Hike

cultural Site #1: Ka Leina a ka ʻUhane

After entering the Natural Area Reserve, you will see on your right a distinctive, large, sloping limestone rock. This rock is the sacred leina a ka ʻuhane, which roughly means “leaping off place of the soul.” There is a leina a ka ʻuhane on most main Hawaiian islands, and it is typically found on the northwestern point of the land closest to the shore. It is thought in Hawaiian religion that upon death, the ʻuhane (spirit) leaves the kino (body) and often wanders the land before departing from the leina a ka ʻuhane to enter the afterlife. It is important to treat this site with the utmost reverence and respect. Do not approach or touch the rock, and take photographs at a respectful distance. This rock represents the most sacred of processes–the transition from life to death.

Ka leina a ka ʻuhane: A sacred symbol of transition from the mortal world to the afterlife.

The albatross of Kaʻena Point

Once you pass ka leina a ka ʻuhane, if you are visiting from October-June, you will encounter the most charismatic residents of the Kaʻena Point Hike—the Laysan Albatross. These birds are winter visitors to Kaʻena, where they return to the point year after year in order to nest. The albatross are incredible creatures to view up close you will see plenty of them at the point if you visit during their nesting season. During the rest of the year, they spend their lives in the open ocean in the North Pacific feeding. When they come to the point to nest, they lay their eggs directly next to the walking path. Meanwhile, the albatross swoop above you, often pausing to look you in the eye. These are truly magical creatures and their presence makes the hike to Kaʻena truly memorable.

Cultural Site #2: Pohaku o Kauaʻi

After passing through the paths lined with albatross, you will follow the sandy paths to the point. This is marked by a tall light post and a couple small bunker-like structres. Upon reaching this light post, you will look down and see the end of Ka’ena Point. The last rock in the far distance is pohaku o kaua’i.

The last rock at the end of this point is pohaku o Kauaʻi

One legend states that this pohaku (rock) was thrown by the demi-god Haupu from the shores of Kauaʻi. Allegedly, chief Kaʻena had called all his fishermen out to Kaʻena Point to engage in a large-scale fishing trip. They lit torches and shouted into the night with large nets laid around the point. The plan was to scare fish into the nets. However, Haupu was awoken from his slumber on the coast of Kauaʻi and mistook the lights and shouting to mean men from Oʻahu were coming to invade Kauaʻi. To protect the island, he flung a rock towards to commotion, where it landed in the middle of the group of men fishing, killing many of the fishermen. The rock remains there to this day and is known simply as the “rock of Kauaʻi” (to read the entire story visit Sacred Texts).

Hawaiian Monk Seals

Finally, at the point, you are very likely to see one, if not several, Hawaiian Monk Seals. You can read more about this species on our other blog. The Hawaiian Monk Seal is the most endangered marine mammal in the United States, with only 1400 individuals left. There are only approximately 45 on the island of Oʻahu, so seeing one is certainly a treat. The seals love to visit Kaʻena Point, with often multiple seals crowding the beach at once.

Several monk seals interacting at Kaʻena Point

If you are lucky enough to see a Hawaiian Monk Seal stay at least 50 feet back. Do NOT approach these seals for selfies. Please note, many people get too close to these seals, post a picture of themselves with the seal on social media, and are then fined by the Department of Natural Land and Resources for harassment. Don’t be that guy! Give them their distance. Also, please do not yell, whistle, or otherwise bother the seals. I have seen multiple instances of individuals yelling at the seals so it will “look” at the camera. This is illegal. Altering the behavior of an endangered species can count as harassment. Let them rest and make sure to tell others to do the same.

Instead, if you do see a seal, please call Hawaiian Marine Animal Response at 1-888-476-HMAR and let them know the size, description, and behavior of the seal you have observed. HMAR tracks all seal sightings and provides informational data about these animals to scientists.

The walk back

If you walked up to the point along the coast, I recommend heading back down along the main road. At the time of this blog, cars are not permitted to drive in Kaʻena Point due to erosion. However, eventually cars with special permits will again be allowed to drive down this road to fish. This road is the fastest way back to the parking lot, but watch out for the vehicles you’ll share the road with. It is not as scenic, but at this point you are likely a bit tired and dehydrated and are probably ready to head home or out to lunch. If you are really into walking long distances, you can walk past the point and all the way to the West side entrance and back again, for a 10 mile total loop.

Kaʻena Point is a unique and fascinating hike that’s great for those who don’t want to do a strenuous up-hill climb, those who love wildlife, and for those looking for something off-the-beaten-path. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

After your Kaʻena Point Hike, be sure to check out our North Shore tours at Turtle Bay to continue exploring the historic North Shore of Oʻahu!

WAIKIKI TRAVEL GUIDE: A SATURDAY ON KAPAHULU

Wondering how to spend a relaxing but interesting Saturday in Waikiki without driving all around town? Looking for a place that isn’t drowning in tourists? Read our Waikiki Travel Guide for Kapahulu avenue to learn how to spend a perfect Saturday in East Waikiki.

All the places you’ll need to stop for a kick-ass Saturday in Waikiki

*Note, none to the businesses mentioned in our Waikiki Travel Guide are advertisements or posted in exchange for financial or other gifts. Hence, this is pure, 100% opinion offered without the judgment cloud of potential instagram fame or fortune. These are actually places I went on my own and thought they were great and worth sharing.

7:30 AM: Coffee Time at KNots Coffee

  • Knots Coffee Roasters Main Picture
  • Coffee from Knots Coffee Roasters
  • Patio at Knots Coffee Roasters at Queen Kapiolani Hotel in Waikiki
  • Merchandise at Knots Coffee Roasters in the Queen Kapiolani Hotel
  • Baked goods at Knots Coffee Roasters

First of all, if you’re not already in Waikiki, it’s time to splash some water on your face and head down to the shore to get caffeinated. We recommend the delicious coffee at Knots Coffee Roasters inside of the Queen Kapi’olani Hotel. This is a chain from Tokyo that just opened this Honolulu location in 2019. This is probably one of the few coffee bars that sells not only coffee, but also alcohol and dog treats. Yep! Knots Coffee is dog friendly and before-noon-cocktail friendly too. Choose your poison–booze, coffee, or pupper. They’ve got it all.

A picture of a croissant from Knots Coffee Roasters in Waikiki Hawaii
Knots Coffee Roasters Croissant

I was really impressed with the latte I ordered. It was exceptionally rich and smooth with a subtle taste of lavender. Turns out they brew with coffee from Big Island Coffee Roasters based out of Puna, Hawai’i, which was recently named the 2nd best Coffee Roaster in the U.S. by Forbes. I also was pleasantly surprised by their croissant, which was really tasty and flaky. Feel free to take your goods to go, or do as I did and sit and enjoy the view from their street-level patio.

Knots Coffee Roasters is open from 5AM – 11PM daily. It is located at The Queen Kapi’olani Hotel at 150 Kapahulu Ave. Instagram: @knotscoffeehawaii Facebook: /KnotsCoffeeRoastersHawaii

8:00 AM The Waikiki Specialty Farmers’ Market

  • Specialty Farmers Market Waikiki
  • Specialty Farmers Market Sign
  • The line for produce at the Specialty Farmers Market in Waikiki

The Waikiki Specialty Farmers Market is a very small but quirky outdoor market open every Saturday. It is held by Creations of Hawai’i, a non-profit that supports community programs around cultural arts and social awareness. Touring the entire market should take around 30 minutes, even with stopping at each booth. Expect to pick up some local Filipino food, some baked goods, and cheap produce.

The Waikiki Specialty Farmers Market is held every Saturday from 8AM – 2PM. It is located at 324 Kapahulu Avenue. Facebook: /Waikiki-Specialty-Farmers-Market

9:00 AM The Hawaii Walks East Waikiki Walking Tour

Kapiolani Park by Hawaii Walks Walking Tour Company
Waikiki Travel Guide: Kap’iolani Park on a perfect day during the East Waikiki Walk

We may be biased, but we are fairly confident the absolute best way to spend 9AM -10:45AM on a Saturday morning is on our East Waikiki Walking Tour. Our walking tour was created to bring information and wonderment in an accessible and affordable way to tourists and residents in historic Waikiki. We want you to look up, see birds, trees, learn about the history of the area, and understand Waikiki in ways you haven’t ever had the opportunity to do before. Let our expert guide show you why Waikiki is so much more than just high rises and fancy restaurants. Join us!!!

The Hawaii Walks East Waikiki Walking Tour takes place Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9AM. It starts and ends at the “Surfer on a Wave” statue. Facebook: /hawaiiwalkstourco Instagram: @Hawaiiwalkstourco Twitter: @HawaiiWalks

11:00 AM Art on the Zoo Fence

  • Art on the Fence in Waikiki
  • Vendors along Monsarrat in Waikiki

After enjoying your Hawaii Walks East Waikiki Walking Tour, check out the Saturday morning Art on the Zoo Fence along Monsarrat Avenue right across the street from the ending spot of the walking tour. During this event, local artists line the fence along the East side of the Honolulu Zoo to sell their photographs, paintings, and mixed-media art. Unlike most expensive galleries, you buy the works directly from the artists themselves. Incredibly, Art on the Fence has been being held for more than 50 years. If you’re visiting Hawai’i and looking for something authentic and affordable, check out Art on the Fence.

Art on the Zoo Fence is open every Saturday and Sunday from 9AM – 4PM. It is located along the Zoo fence on Monsarrat Avenue. Facebook: Art-on-the-zoo-fence-Hawaii

11:30 AM: Lunch at Lulu’s

Storefront of LuLu's Waikiki
Storefront of LuLu’s Waikiki

Amidst the $30 hamburgers throughout the menus of rapidly gentrifying Waikiki, there stands one relatively affordable spot with a view–LuLu’s Waikiki. LuLu’s is perhaps the last restaurant in Waikiki that normal local folks go to for normal meals. Otherwise, Hawai’i residents usually only venture to Waikiki on birthdays and anniversaries as most the affordable spots have long since been converted to high-end bistros that charge $10 for a Heineken. Most importantly, with plenty seats facing the ocean, you’re almost guaranteed a great view while you eat. Expect non-fussy, straight-up American fare–burgers with fries, nachos, and dips. Lastly, feel good about supporting this local business, as they are a certified ocean friendly restaurant meaning that they use sustainable policies in the establishment to cut down on plastic waste.

Lulu’s Waikiki is open 7AM-2AM. Location is 2586 Kalakaua Avenue. Instagram: @lulus_waikiki Facebook: /LulusWaikikiHI

1:00 PM: The Honolulu Zoo

  • The entrance of the Honolulu Zoo
  • Flowers at the Honolulu Zoo
  • A bench in the HNL Zoo
  • The playground at the HNL Zoo
  • A walking path in the Honolulu Zoo

After checking out the artists on the back of the zoo fence, we recommend visiting the Honolulu Zoo itself. The zoo was founded back in 1877 on a small plot of land, and has since grown to encompass 45.5 acres housing hundreds of animal species. With affordable entry prices, it can be a great way to spend your afternoon. If you have children, you will find a huge playground in the center of the zoo where you can watch your wee ones play while you sit under gorgeous canopy trees on a large landscaped lawn. However, beware of overly friendly peacocks! Look at this guy who came up and squawked at me while I was enjoying a drink at one of the rest spots inside the zoo:

The Honolulu Zoo is open 9AM – 4:30PM daily. It is located at 151 Kapahulu Avenue. Instagram: @TheHonoluluZoo Facebook: /HonoluluZoo

5:00 PM: Sunset Drinks and dinner at DECK.

After working up an appetite walking around the zoo, it’s time to reward yourself with a drink, a view, and a great meal. You’ll need to return to the Queen Kapi’olani hotel where you had that morning coffee at Knots Coffee Roasters, and head up to the Mezzanine by way of the central elevators. Once on the mezzanine, you’ll see the gorgeous patio view of DECK. bar and Grill overlooking Kapi’olani Park.

  • The outside of the Queen Kapiolani Hotel
  • An indigenous pohinahina plant
  • A view of Leahi from Deck Bar and grill in Waikiki
  • The Queen Kapiolani Hotel sign in Waikiki

DECK. Bar and Grill opened in 2019 after the renovations were completed at the Queen Kapi’olani Hotel which transformed the spot into a retro-chic boutique hotel with major nods to its historic past. However, DECK. is actually a separate company from the QK Hotel, as its parent company is the massive Plan Do See America, a corporate chain from Japan that develops hotels and restaurants around the world. The open-air design is really laid-back, unpretentious, and the views it offers are really unrivaled. Happy hour is from 4-6 and from 9PM until close, and we recommend trying one of the local beers on tap!

Sunset view of Kapahulu from DECK
Sunset view of Kapahulu Avenue from DECK.

DECK. is open from approximately 6:30 AM – 11PM daily. It is located at 150 Kapahulu Avenue. Instagram: @Deckwaikiki Facebook: /Deckwaikiki

7:30 PM: The Royal Art gallery at the Queen kapi’olani hotel

  • The Royal Art Gallery at Queen Kapi'olani Hotel
  • Portrait of Queen Kapi'olani at the Queen Kapi'olani hotel
  • View of the Royal Art Gallery at the Queen Kapi'olani Hotel

Finally, after you’ve drank and eaten yourself into a soft stupor, take a moment of repose at the Royal Art Gallery located at the back of DECK. Note, to get there, walk back towards the elevators and head down the small set of stairs located behind the pool. At this gallery, you can see re-paintings of the monarchy’s official portraits in large and gorgeous detail. Above all, read the placards below the images to learn more about these important royals’ history. In fact, there’s even an old map of Kapi’olani Park that shows its former use as a horse race track! Furthermore, the gallery will really help contextualize all that you learned on your tour. It’s a really fantastic room with gigantic ceilings that make the Queen Kapi’olani such a special hotel that includes such a valuable and interesting display of Hawaiian history.

The Queen Kapi’olani Hotel is open 24/7. It is located at 150 Kapahulu Avenue. Instagram: @QueenKapiolaniHotel Facebook: /QueenKapiolaniHotel

Closing time

After these many stops in this small area of Waikiki, you’ll certainly be ready for bed. Or, if you’d rather continue drinking, you can head over to Hulas next door (gay bar), or venture down Kuhio avenue to one of the many bars down the road.

Our Waikiki Travel Guide reflects our philosophy as a tour company. The world is rich and full of details that need your attention to be seen. We encourage you to appreciate the less-popular, small streets in Waikiki–and life. Too many times tourists think they have to go to the most famous or fancy hotels or restaurants, missing the smaller spots that have great history and real soul. So next time you’re in Waikiki, make a day of it on Kapahulu Avenue: The most underrated block in town.

Leahi during sunset from DECK. in Waikiki
Waikiki Travel Guide: Le’ahi during sunset from DECK. in Waikiki