Nestled between the two scenic towns of Hawaii Kai and Waimanalo, the Makapu‘u Lighthouse Trail is a popular landmark for locals and visitors alike. From this hike, spectators can catch a view of the outer islands, Moloka’i and Lana’i, as they walk up along the beautiful Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline. The brisk 2-mile hike, round trip, is a favorite due to its picturesque views both along the way and at the top.
Photo by Anela A. – Sunrise From The Makapu’u Trail
Built in 1909, the lighthouse itself is a historic beacon of Oahu. It was inducted into the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and has the largest lens of any lighthouse in the U.S. Standing at 46 feet tall, it is currently operated by the United States Coast Guard and surrounded by lush, green land owned by the State of Hawaii. Makapu’u point is the most southeastern point of Oahu and is 647 feet above the ocean below.
Photo by Anela A. – Makapu’u Lighthouse
Prepping For The Hike
Before the road takes you to the famous Makapu’u Beach, a gate opens to the parking lot marking the beginning of the paved trail. The most popular time to hike is in the morning to catch the sunrise since there is scarce shade along the trail. The gate opens to cars at 7 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. However, if you’re an early bird and want to make the trek before the sun has fully risen, you can park your car along the highway and walk down to the parking lot. It’s advised to wear sunscreen and drink water to protect yourself from the heat of either the early morning or midday sun. Regular walking shoes and exercise attire is best for this expedition although you will see the occasional barefoot or slipper-wearing hiker. It is also important to read all signs when visiting, including the unfortunate one that states “high theft area”, warning visitors to lock their cars and to not keep valuables somewhere they can easily be stolen.
Whale Watching 101
There are a number of lookouts along the trail, conveniently placed at different spots for water breaks or to just take in the island’s natural beauty. Many of the lookouts are set up with an informational guide or plaque for your reading pleasure. Aside from learning about the ocean and area surrounding Makapu’u Point, travelers get to experience some of the best whale watching the island has to offer during whale season. Peak season for whale watching here is from January to March. The trail has signs that aide those who set out to find whales and advise you to keep an eye out for blows or clouds of mist and slapping tails. Patience is your friend when searching for these majestic sea creatures, as you might have to wait with sharp eyes or use the handy telescopes the hike offers for a few minutes or longer.
The Infamous Makapu’u Tide Pools
Due to a number of recent accidents at the Makapu’u Tidepools, visitors who aim to venture down to these tide pools are always warned to be extremely cautious. The tide pools have gained popularity over the years due to their unique and hidden beauty. The journey down also adds to its popularity. To get to the tide pools, which are placed about halfway up the paved trail, you have to scale down the mountainside. If you’re doing this particular section of the hike, it’s best to wear shoes and never go alone. As you climb down, there are some arrows spray painted on the rocks to help hikers, but it’s best to follow the naturally paved path as best you can. Don’t worry if you end up off the path, just keep your target focused on the pools below and you’ll make your way there.
Photo by Anela A. – Makapu’u Tide Pools
Before trekking down to the pools, take a long look from above and determine whether the water conditions allow for a safe time down below. If the ocean is rough and you see waves crashing over the pools constantly, it is wise to save this journey for another day. People have been known to get injured when it is rough or high tide, being unexpectedly swept off the rocks or surprisingly hit by a huge wave while taking a photo. The number one beach rule applies here always, “never turn your back on the ocean!” If, however, the water is calm and you see some people already enjoying the pools, it’s probably safe to carry on with the adventure. Bring a swimsuit, towel, and goggles or a mask to check out the sea life and don’t forget to check out the blowhole that is also found at the bottom of this rocky mountainside.
Photo by Anela A. – Swimming In One Of The Tide Pools at Makapu’u
At the end of the trail lays the last lookout and it’s a rewarding one for sure. From this point, you can see most of the east side of the island, from Waimanalo stretching far past Kailua. It’s also the perfect place to get a view of Rabbit Island, the small uninhabited islet which is not too far from the shore of Makapu’u Beach. Full of activity and life, this corner of Oahu is home to paragliders and bodysurfers alike. You can watch them both from the top while you enjoy a cool Hawaiian breeze before you head back down the hike. For being one of the shorter trails Oahu has to offer, it is arguably one of the most rewarding. See for yourself and bring friends for a short expedition before hitting one of the sandy beaches on the southeast shore. Whether you’re looking for shore-break waves at Sandy Beach or family fun at Makapu’u Beach, they’re both a five-minute drive, one on each side, from this location. Breathtaking views and a quick work-out to match, it’s definitely a must see that is loved by many.
I’ve always been fascinated with lighthouses and have visited a few last summer in the UK. There’s something romantic and mysterious about the lives of those that take care of these massive buildings.