When it comes to trekking in Hawaii, Ka’ena Point is absolutely one of my favorite days out. If you’re looking to get away from the crowds, stretch your legs a bit and immerse yourself in a day full of animal encounters and breathtaking vistas, without a death defying ridge line hike, this is it!
There are a few important things to know when planning your Ka’ena Point adventure. First, there are two ways to get there by car, and two different treks you can make. One is from the North Shore of Oahu and the other is from the West Side of Oahu. This post will highlight the trip in from the West Side. While there are benefits to both approaches to Ka’ena Point, the walking path from the West Side is much more enjoyable in my opinion. There are also restrooms located in the trailhead parking area, and this is often a deciding factor.
Second, this is an adventure that will take a minimum of half a day to be done properly. While you may be able to rush through it in less, you will likely miss out on many enjoyable discoveries along the way. The best time to start is always as early in the day as you can, and if you can possibly do it on a weekday, you will likely be one of very few people there. Make sure you wear your bathing suit under super comfortable clothing and carry a small backpack with sunscreen, water sandals (You need shoes for exploring the tide pools!), towel, lunch, binoculars, and plenty of water (It’s always nice to have a little something to toast with if you want to make a romantic day of it). There are no facilities along the walk after you leave the parking lot.
*Also, carry wallets with you and don’t leave any valuables in the car. If you leave any items in the car, make sure they are out of sight so as to not tempt anyone. This area is known to have frequent break-ins but I’ve followed these rules and have never had a problem…yet.
The first cool thing you’ll encounter is a cave on the right, just before you get to the parking lot, (You’ll see a large parking area on the left and the Ka’ena Point State Park Sign) this is a great place to quickly explore and take photos. Then hop back in your car and drive to the parking area with restrooms. The trek is 3.5 miles each way, with many things to check out along the way.
As you leave the parking lot, you will walk on paved road with a beautiful long expanse of beach on your left and the mountains on your right. In no time at all, the paved road turns to dirt and you just follow this all the way until you reach the point. Keep an eye out for the local fishermen who sometimes drive up and down this mangled dirt road at a surprisingly high speed.
The first thing you will come upon, besides the breathtaking coastal views and bright teal tide pools that beg to be explored, is a blow hole. It will be on your left, and is generally hard to spot if the waves are not strong enough to force a visible stream of water through. The best way to find it is to listen for it. You will hear a deep airy, guttural sound like a seal sometimes makes.
Next, on your left is a sea arch. This offers a fabulous photo opportunity if you are daring enough, as you can easily follow the well-worn path and find yourself standing on top of it. I didn’t stay long, as I found myself calculating the odds of it collapsing in the exact moment I stood there.
As you carry on, you will see that the path is worn away in places to reveal railroad ties. This is because you are in fact walking on what used to be train tracks. This is fascinating to me since there are no trains on the island. Apparently, The Oahu Railway and Land Company built a 70 mile railway in 1889, from Honolulu through Kahuku, to transport sugarcane. The railway was in use until 1946 when it was destroyed by a tsunami.
You will also notice several places where you can scramble down to the tide pools at the water’s edge. If you do this, you must be very cautious in selecting a safe area as ‘sneaker’ waves are known to come out of nowhere and wash unsuspecting people out to sea.
There is one point where a wash-out has made it necessary to stray from the original path. This isn’t difficult to navigate and is easy to spot. You just make a slight detour up the hill and then after approximately 1,500 feet, come down to join the main path again.
Just after this, you will see a tall fence with a metal door in front of you. This is actually the first predator proof fence built in the United States, and it is buried deep under the ground to provide a barrier there, as well as above. This is where the Natural Area Reserve begins in an attempt to keep dogs, cats, mongoose, mice, rats and any other potential predators out and protect the birds who take refuge there. As you walk through the metal door, you’ll likely begin to see the giant Laysan Albatross soaring above your head. Whether you consider yourself an official birder or not, if you like birds, this will be a memorable day. I still can’t believe the shot I managed to get completely by accident when an Albatross swooped down out of the sky and came ridiculously close to me! I was on the path, but I think still a bit to close to his nesting momma and baby. It was very clear that he wanted me to leave quickly!
While in the Reserve you are also likely to see:
- Wedge-tailed Shearwater
- White-tailed Tropicbird
- Black-footed Albatross
- Great Frigatebird
- Red-footed, Brown, and Masked Boobies
- Red-tailed Tropicbird
- Grey-backed, Sooty, and White Terns
- Hawaiian Short-eared Owl
- Wandering Tattler
- Ruddy Turnstone
- Pacific Golden Plover
Make sure you stay in the roped path areas and keep a very close eye on the ground, as many of the birds are perfectly camouflaged in the bushes or holes in the ground.
As you make your way to the concrete structure and tower in the distance, don’t forget to turn back and take in the view at various points. It seems to change drastically and offer even more beauty with almost every step.
Stop and climb up on top of the concrete structure to take in the views all around and take photos. During the winter months, this is a great spot for whale watching! It is also a nice place to sit and picnic if you like, or, you can head straight down from here toward the water and likely find a monk seal basking in a tide pool. Just make sure that you keep your distance from the monk seal and do not disturb them. NOAA’s National Marine Wildlife Service recommends a minimum of 50 yards distance to ensure safety for you and the animal.
From here, you can walk further west around the point staying in the roped pathway closest to the water until you come to an opening. At that spot, walk through and head toward the water to find a very large, easily accessible tide pool. This is a good one to explore and even to take a dip in when the waves are small and not crashing up onto the rocks.
Keep in mind that Oahu traffic can be absolutely nuts and the earlier you head back the better. It’s definitely best to avoid heading back any later than 3pm. However, if you get stuck in it and want to make a stop on the way home at a nice restaurant, try the Monkey Pod but call ahead to make sure you can get in, or Poke Stop is a super casual little place and always a good bet for a phenomenal poke bowl to go.
Another one of my favorite options to consider if you’re not exhausted, is stopping at Ko’Olina Lagoon 4 with take-out dinner and some champagne to dine, swim and watch the sunset from one of the best spots on the island. There is an Island Country Market at Ko’Olina that has a nice selection of wines and several restaurants to grab a quick dinner to go!