Comparatively few visitors to Oahu venture to the island’s far northwestern tip: Kaena Point. That peninsula and its flanking coastlines fall within Kaena Point State Park. It dazzles with its remote atmosphere, bare scenery, and ecological preciousness.
The park is composed of two sections: a northern one, Mokuleia, and a southern one, Keawaula. Trail access from both reaches Kaena Point proper in the far west. It is additionally protected as the Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve.
Kaena means “the heat,” an apt descriptor for this dry, open, sun-blasted coastland. The heights of the Waianae Range overlook the peninsula, which includes fine examples of sand-dune habitat now rare on Oahu.
Limestone outcrops are also distinctive here, including Leina a Kauhane, “Leaping Place of Souls.” Hawaiian religion marks this as a place where the souls of the dead depart for the next world. The important spiritual association of this rugged rock formation reflects the broader cultural significance of Kaena Point.
The Keawaula (“Red Bay”) Section of Kaena Point State Park lies within the northern section of Oahu’s leeward coast. It’s best known for Keawaula Beach, also called Yokohama Bay, one of the most isolated of Oahu’s large sandy beaches.
In the calmest conditions of summer, swimming (exercised, of course, cautiously) is possible at Keawaula Beach, which is lifeguarded and includes a comfort station. But this place is most associated with surfing. Winter swells direct big—sometimes huge—breakers into this shoreline, luring experienced surfers. (Emphasis on “experienced.”)
The Mokuleia (“Island of Abundance”) Section includes rocky coves, tidepools, and dunes on Oahu’s North Shore as well as the Leina a Kauhane outcrop. It lacks any facilities.
Where the paved roads end in both the Mokuleia and Keawaula sections, dirt tracks lead westward to Kaena Point. The hike there is a little shy of three miles one-way from either section. Views out to sea and inland toward the mountains are stirring. Be sure to wear sun protection and bring plenty of water (there’s no drinking water available in the state park).
Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve includes vital protected habitats, not least the aforementioned sand dunes. Hawaiian monk seals—an endangered species—commonly haul out along the shoreline and various seabirds nest here. Stay on the trail and keep a healthy distance from any seals, which are easily disturbed by human activity.
Additionally, keep in mind that dogs are not allowed in Kaena Point State Park or the Natural Area Reserve. Unless they are service animals. Dogs have harassed monk seals in this area. Don’t be that person who disobeys the rules.
Native plants such as Hawaiian caper, beach morning glory, and coastal sandalwood are other ecological treasures in the park and reserve.
With its sweeping, undeveloped sightlines and far-flung coves and beaches, Kaena Point State Park is well worth the trek out to Oahu’s far northwest!
-If you’re hiking to Kaena Point in the winter, bring binoculars. Humpback whales are often spied from this stretch of coast.
-In the far south of Kaena Point State Park, close to the entrance to the Keawaula Section, you can view a large sea cave called Kaneana. Legend connects this cave to Nanaue, the shark-man of Hawaiian mythology. (It’s best to simply admire the cave from outside; this is a sacred site.)