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Introduction to Leeward Oahu

Facts, history, visitor attractions, and general information about the west side of the island of Oahu in Hawaii.

General Description

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.

The 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. After 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 religion.

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

See also:
- More About West Oahu
- Attractions on Oahu
- Activities on Oahu

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