Makapu'u Shoreline Loop

Makapu'u Shoreline Loop

by Dayle Turner

I was out on Oahu's east end yesterday (7/8/97, Tues), accompanying a group of high school students on a visit to Sea Life Park. By 2:45, the kids had completed their outing and were on a chartered bus headed back to the UH dorms, so since I had driven to SLP and had time, I figured I'd log some hiking/exercise time.

From the SLP parking lot, I hiked along Kalanianaole Highway toward the lookout that sits above Makapu'u Beach. At first, I gave some thought to walking atop the narrow stone/concrete wall on the makai side of the highway but thought that would appear too tan-ta-da-ish; instead I trudged along the shoulder on the mauka edge of the roadway, moving quickly on this stretch not so much in fear of vehicles whizzing by but more by the thought of being brained by a rock falling from the overhanging cliffs. The loose rock strewn on the highway shoulder told me my fears were warranted.

I reached the lookout, brains intact, and continued down the highway edge toward the gated road that leads to the Makapu'u Lighthouse. Only a couple cars were parked by the gate when I got there, which seemed appropriate since it was a weekday afternoon. On weekends, I've sometimes seen 20-plus cars parked in the area by folks hiking up the road.

I followed the access road for about 100 yards and then veered right off it onto a rutty, dusty dirt road that winds through the low hills and scrub foliage of the area called "Allen Davis," or "Queen's Beach." One book I have, Anne Landgraf's *Na Wahi Pana O Ko'olau Poko*, refers to this valley as Kealakipapa (lit. "the paved road"). Eventually, I reached a small bay and a rock structure I've heard referred to as "Pele's Chair." This feature is easily visible from the highway as one descends from the lookout area toward Sandy Beach. As I approached the "chair," I could see sickening graffiti marring its natural appearance. "Pele will deal with the bums who did this," I thought to myself.

Parked at the point at the road's end were two 4x4 vehicles, one occupied by a lone male and the other probably belonging to a fisherman casting his line out from a nearby rock. I paused briefly to watch him.

About a year ago, a Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club member told it is possible to rockhop north along the shoreline from Pele's Chair to the area where there is a fishing cave, blowhole, and a trail that ascends the cliffside to the lighthouse access road. And while I had been down the trail to the cave and blowhole, I had never traversed the shoreline route from the chair.

Well, today would be my chance.

Ocean-born waves rumbled forcefully into shoreline rocks but with not nearly as much ferocity as I had seen them in the past, and recognizing this, I decided to press on. I mention the waves because a huge Kaiwi Channel roller could easily spoil my afternoon by slamming me into the rocks and dragging me into the deep blue. Wouldn't want that.

For the most part, the boulder and rock shoreline at the base of the cliff was wide enough so that I didn't have to hike near the water's edge. Also, early on, the hillside to the left was gentle enough so that climbing it to terminate my oceanside romp was possible if the conditions and/or my loss of nerve warranted such. But conditions weren't threatening to limb and life and my nerve remained steady, so onward I hiked.

As I moved on, the cliff to my left became increasingly vertical and shoreline sections became narrower and more exposed to dangerous waves. Get washed off here and it would mean washing-machine city and probably the end.

At a couple points, I had to time my dashes across sections of wet rocks, eyeballing the swells surging toward shore and hoping that I had judged correctly, wouldn't slip, get injured, and lay stunned on the rocks at the mercy of the waves. "Never turn your back to the ocean," kept echoing in my mind.

But I think my mind created a more dangerous scenario than really existed, and I moved past these seemingly perilous spots without a problem.

To reach my goal, I had to wade across a waist-deep tidepool to bypass an exposed rocky shelf at the water's edge. While I did, I slipped on the limu-coated bottom, nearly taking a flop backward into the pool. Fortunately, I regained my balance, else I'd have been completed soaked and the cell phone in my backpack fried.

Twice I had to backtrack when I followed ledges that while keeping me far from the boiling waves, ended abruptly at steep dropoffs. When I reached the cave, I could relax since I was in familiar territory. I paused to examine ahu (rock piles) fishermen had left there.

The shoreline traverse to the fishing cave took about 30 to 40 minutes and the steep climb up the trail to the lighthouse access road took another 10. This trail is marked by arrows spray-painted onto the rocks. Midway during the climb, I stopped to watch a group of three exploring the tidepools and blowhole area below. Meanwhile, a wide-winged frigate bird glided without effort on the updrafts of the Makapuu cliffs.

Once I reached the road, instead of following it, I crossed it and picked my way upslope through the low, windswept haole koa, cacti, brush and rocks situated atop the ridge that stands between Kalanianaole and the ocean. Eventually, I reached the high point of this ridge at a first then a second pillbox. The sights from these were awesome and panoramic, offering up views of Makapuu Beach, the sheer, undulating cliffs above it, Manana (Rabbit) and Kaohikaipu islands. Further off was Waimanalo Bay and the Mokulua Islands.

After 15 minutes of taking this all in, I gathered up my stuff, and descended the rocky trail to the car pulloff/lookout. On the way down, I watched dozens of wave riders cutting up the swells at Makapuu and two guys rock climbing (with safety lines) on a sheer, 40-foot face just below the trail. The walk back to my vehicle at Sea Life Park took a handful of minutes.

Notes: The hike isn't long. Neither is it dangerous unless ocean conditions are rough and the seas high. Hiking the coast would be best during times when the tide is low and the sea calm. And starting from Sea Life Park isn't necessary. Sandy Beach, the Makapuu Lookout, or the highway shoulder by the gated access road are other launch points.

Aloha and safe hiking to all,


Gerard Fryer sent in the following feedback:

It's an interesting valley. Back up where the rocks are more exposed towards the Makapuu lookout, you'll find many round boulders that look for all the world like stream boulders. Massive basalt rocks have a tendency to weather spheroidally, so they mimic stream boulders, but the ones in Kealakipapa show no signs of any radial weathering or concentric flaking. They *are* stream boulders. But where is the stream? Look up the valley and you can imagine it: ignore the cliffs at Makapuu and conjure up a steep valley heading off into the clouds to an elevation of at least 7,000 feet. The missing part of the Koolau volcano has fallen off, but the truncated valley remains for us to look at.

George Walker, retired volcanologist extraordinary, figures that Koolau towered far higher than 7,000 feet. In looking at lava flows near sea level he finds lots of tree molds, but above about 1,500 feet he finds none. He figures that that was where treeline was, and that Oahu has subsided at least 6,000 feet. It's certainly possible: we have abundant evidence that the Kohala-Mahukona part of the Big Island has subsided much further.

So how high was the Koolau summit? Perhaps 10,000 feet, the same as Haleakala now.

The graffiti is disgusting. So is the acre or so of broken beer bottles, fast food packaging, and condom wrappers. Oh well, the next tsunami will take care of most of that and and the remainder will be washed inland to a concentrated rime line where it can easily be cleared up.

Don't even consider hiking the shoreline when the waves are high. The same George Walker is blase about danger and took a field trip out there to look at lava tubes. Most of the students came back wide-eyed, wet, and terrified. Fortunately they all came back.

I haven't walked the shoreline myself, but I have taken the lighthouse road many times (I'm the one with the bounding husky on a 10m leash). When the waves are big that blowhole growls, snorts, and booms like a bunch of angry lions demolishing a warehouse. You can easily hear it from the road, even though it is hidden from view. Scramble partway down the cliff (you'll know where, the noise draws you) and you'll see the thing with spray shooting up and then green water welling up through its throat to flood the shoreline bench. As each wave withdraws there is an incredible sucking sound, and if you watch the thing through binoculars, you can see the exhaled spray sucked back into the hole as if the rocks themselves are breathing. Not a good thing to be near when it is active.

Gerard Fryer
Got to Dr. Fryer's Webpage

Pete Caldwell offered this feedback:

You discovered one of my favorite spots! We've gone there many times under various conditions, and you definitely have to be wary when the tide is high and there's a pretty good swell running. But what spectacular views as the waves crash against the rocks. It certainly is a place where you are very wise not to turn your back to the ocean. Getting washed off into the washing machine would really spoil your day to say the least. As paddlers know from going around the point. it can be rougher than the Moloka'i channel itself.

Once past the largest tidepool (there are some real interesting lava formations and exposed tubes and dikes) and just a short distance further, there is a great Jacuzzi-sized pool hollowed out on the shelf where you can soak and watch the waves. It's quite large and fairly deep and has some small fish and usually - fun place for kids on a calm day. One time we were over at the blowhole and noticed a large old piece of foam rubber nearby washed up from some boat. Great fun putting it over the hole and watching it getting launched 50 ft in the air by the next blast.


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