For many Americans, it’s difficult to conceptualize how far away Hawaii really is from the rest of the continental United States. Not only are the climate, culture, and environment totally different than anything experienced on the mainland, but Hawaii is truly in a completely different region of the world than the rest of the country.
That’s perhaps never clearer than when you’re standing at Kalae, the southernmost tip of the Big Island. This is the southernmost point of the United States, and is, in fact, so far south, that if you were to travel due south in the ocean from this spot, the next landfall would be Antarctica. How wild is that?
Kalae, also known as South Point, or simply The Point, is certainly a spot worth visiting, but it will take a little bit of work to get there. When traveling on Highway 11, look for a sign for the entrance to South Point Road between mile markers 69 and 70, marked by a green sign. You will travel 12 miles on South Point Road before reaching your destination. At the start, it is a paved, two-lane road that gently winds through farmland, and macadamia nut groves, passing hardened lava flow on the way. As you continue, the road narrows to one lane and becomes increasingly rugged as you get closer to The Point. Pay attention, drive carefully, and move over for oncoming traffic if needed.
Along the way, you will see several large, metal windmills. The older ones, many broken down and in disrepair, are leftover from a wind farm that was built here in the 1980s. Further down, newer windmills can be seen from a project completed in 2007.
Around the 10-mile mark, the road splits. Head right to continue to Kalae. However, be aware that during rainstorms, the road can become flooded, so proceed with caution if it’s a wet day. When the road ends, park your car, and walk the remaining distance to the South Point.
Upon arriving at Kalae, you’ll notice several steep cliffs overlooking the ocean below. From this point, you have unobstructed views of the ocean for as far as the eye can see. You will likely feel the wind and see the choppy waters for which this point is notorious.
In addition to its geography, what makes this point so important is its history. It is thought that the first Hawaiians probably arrived at this point sometime between 400 and 800 A.D. Evidence of their early communities here includes sacred fishing shrines, and ruins of temples, known as heiau. If you come across one of these, it’s important to respect the local culture and refrain from touching or disturbing the area.
Kalae is also significant due to its history as a fishing spot. While there is an abundance of fish that call the area home, fishing was historically difficult due to the extremely strong current and winds in the area. Small boats could easily be pulled out to sea, never to return. The early Hawaiians found a solution to this by essentially attaching their boats to the cliffs with rope so that they wouldn’t drift too far from the shore. Some of the holes they used to do this are still visible on the cliffs.
Today, there are large wooden structures built off the edges of the cliffs which are used to lower and lift small boats into and out of the water. There are also long ladders attached to the cliffs. These are used as a way out of the water by individuals who cliff dive here. Due to the incredibly strong currents that make this incredibly dangerous, we highly advise against cliff diving here.
When you visit, be sure to take photos, enjoy the views, and try to imagine what life here might have been like over a thousand years ago. Be respectful but do take your time taking in all the wonder this unique spot has to offer.
-On your way out of the area, stop and grab a bite at the nearby Hana Hou Restaurant. It’s the southernmost restaurant in the United States.
-The road that leads to Kalae is somewhat rugged. Be sure to have an appropriate vehicle that can handle an off-road type of driving situation.
-To find the exact spot that is the southernmost point of the U.S., look for a metal light beacon on the lefthand side, near the coast. Near this is a low rock wall. Follow this to the end, and you’ve reached the spot.