Introduction to Leeward Oahu
Facts, history, visitor attractions, and general
information about the west side of the island of
Oahu in Hawaii.
Past Pearl Harbor, Aiea and Waipahu, the leeward coast is an expansive area
that lies on the coastal side of the Waianae Mountains. Created between 2.7
and 3.4 million years ago, the Waianae mountain range is the older and
smaller of the two ranges that make up Oahu. The highest point of this
range is Mount Kaala, rising 4,017 feet from the ocean.
This rural part of Oahu extends from Ewa to Nanakuli, up the coast to Maili,
Waianae and Makaha. The leeward coast boasts of white sandy beaches,
excellent swimming, snorkeling, and fishing spots and magical sunsets
as the sun melts into the Pacific Ocean’s horizon. Winter usually brings
large surf into Makaha and Yokohama Beaches.
With its sugar mill history and trim houses,
Ewa is an enchanting throwback
to the days when sugar was king. This town is a slow, simple place,
perfect for wandering and exploring.
One of the first beaches on the leeward coast is
Kahe Point Beach Park,
known for great shore fishing and spear fishing. Adjacent to Kahe Point
Beach Park is the
Hawaiian Electric Beach Park, also known as "Tracks Beach" directly across
the highway from the looming Hawaiian Electric Company Power Plant, a
popular scuba diving spot because the underwater pipes feed warm water
into the area and attract a variety of fish. Tracks Beach is wide and
sandy with a gentle slope and sandy bottom making it an easy entry
for shore dives.
Prior to approaching
Waianae, there is a distinctive round hill at
the northwest end of
Maili Beach Park called
Puu Mailiili, which was
formerly known in Hawaiian as Kalaeokakao ("Goat Point"). In 1778
Captain Cook brought goats to the island and in the 1800s large
numbers of wild goats grazed in this area and were protected under
the kapu (forbidden) law.
Near Oahu’s southwest corner in Waianae, Hawaiian homesteads and
farmlands line Farrington Highway, which offers sweeping views of
the Waianae Range. Waianae Boat Harbor keeps busy with fishing and
diving charters for both locals and tourists.
Makaha Beach, one of Hawaii’s most famous surfing spots, is the site
of an international surfing competition every year. The winter waves
offer tremendous action for boogie boarders and surfers alike. In the
summer, Makaha Beach has the widest strand on the leeward side.
Inland from the beach is Makaha Valley, home to
Kaneaki Heiau. Kaneaki
is thought to be named in honor of Ku, a god associated with agriculture,
although extensive excavations has led archeologists to believe that
the heiau first served Lono, a god of agriculture and peace. The heiau
is known to have been both an agricultural heiau and a war temple over
the centuries. Construction began in the 15th century and after five
more phases, the heiau doubled its size by A.D. 1650. To visit the
prayer towers, grass huts and the altar, permission must be requested
by calling (808) 695-8174.
The highway continues along the coastline past several beautiful
beaches and parks. Just before arriving at
Kaena Point State Park,
you will see
Makua Cave, a lava cavern 450 feet in length and large enough for
exploring, on the mountainside of the road. Also known as
Kaneana Cave, the cave is believed to be home of a legendary shark goddess
who held power in the waters off
Kaena Point. The goddess would
emerge from the cave in the form of a woman and lure unsuspecting
victims into the cave.
At the end of the road lies
Yokohama Bay, the last stretch of sandy
beach on the
Leeward Coast. The white soft sand curves up to the cool
blue water. With the rocky bottom and aggressive ocean, shells are in
abundance for the experienced diver and collector. With virtually
no buildings and development in this area, the environment and
solitude sets the clock back to a simpler time of untouched Hawaii.
road past Yokohama is partially passable by auto, but it’s very
rough. A short two-mile hike guards Kaena Point on this side of the
island. Tide pools abound with active marine life for those who
venture down this path.
In ancient times, walking into Waianae required either climbing over
the Waianae Range at Kolekole Pass or crossing dry, rugged terrain
to the north or south. This geographic barrier allowed those who
lived on the Waianae coast to shut themselves off when they desired.
Kamehameha the Great conquered Oahu in 1795, and the islands
were first introduced to Christianity in 1820, the Waianae district
drifted even farther.
This separation was a mixed blessing for Waianae. Waianae leaders
such as Governor Boki and his wife Liliha were traditionalists who
offered an alternative to the rapid assimilation of the Christian
The people of the leeward coast are quite conscious of the value of
water, for the area is known for being very dry. The
Waianae Sugar Company, founded in 1878 by Herman Wedemeyer, tapped freshwater
springs in the
Waianae Range. A hydroelectric plant diverted millions
of tons of water from the upper slopes of
Mount Kaala. Finally, at
Nanakuli in 1879, brothers John, James and Lincoln McCandless dug
the first successful artesian well in Hawaii to provide 2,400
gallons of water an hour.
During the winter, temperatures reach highs of 80°F and dip to 65°F.
During the summer, temperatures range from 86°F to 71°F. For more
information about Oahu weather forecasts, please call (808) 973-4381.
For surf report information, please call (808) 596-7873.
Sightseeing and Visitor Attractions
Article provided courtesy of the Oahu Visitor's Bureau
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