Journey to the Top|
Makapuu located on the eastern end of the island of Oahu is a dry, arid, and windblown desert-like region. It is well known for its famous body surfing beach and an area that is popular with the hang glider crowd. One of the famous landmarks in the area is the Makapuu Point lighthouse. It is an ages old facility that still serves as an active beacon to guide mariners into or out of the waters surrounding Oahu. The only way to see Makapuu Lighthouse is to take a 2.5-mile long hike up a 647 ft. high hill.
The hike was organized and promoted by Chris Baron, an enthusisastic co-worker at my place of part-time employment. He got 23 people together for the trek up the "hill" on that hot Saturday morning. Three of us from the office made the hike: Chris, Virginia (Vo) and myself. The remainder of the group consisted of Chris's friends and acquaintences from places near and far.
I woke up early and prepared a small pack of stuff which consisted mainly of my 35mm camera with 28-85 zoom lens, binoculars and two 16 oz. bottles of water. Put on my "hiking clothes" (nothing fancy) and shoes. I was out of the house by 7:15 and drove to Hawaii Kai where I was met by Chris, Vo and her husband. We drove to the Makapuu area on Chris's trusty old Dodge minivan.
Our hiking party gathered and our adventure began. Our group of 23 was a varied lot of professionals, adventurers, teachers and students. There were several Taiwanese and Japanese college students, their instructor and a man and his part Shar-Pei dog.
The hiking trail is a narrow one-lane, paved road that is used by Coast Guard personnel to drive maintenance vehicles up to the lighthouse. It is not open to general vehicular traffic. Because of this the road has become a very popular hiking "trail". The area sits on a state owned conservation district and is recognized as a local state park.
The area is surrounded by a myriad of dry kiawe trees and tinderbox-ready brush. It's also quite rocky if you deviate from the trail. After a couple hundred feet the trail turns towards the ocean and begins a slow climb uphill. Little did I realize how much of an uphill climb this would be. I think the last time I took a sustained climb up any large hill was when I went up to Laie falls or to the pillboxes behind Hauula town many years ago. Needless to say I was quite tired huffing and puffing my way towards the top.
The young and/or physically fit gradually pulled away from the pack with me dragging up the rear with the small group of college coeds. No big deal as I just took my time to make the climb, stopping a few times to snap pictures of the group and stealing some Kodak moments of the east Honolulu view that was manifesting itself as I slowly gained elevation. It seemed that the climb was taking forever, but before I knew it and after nearly running out of breath, I had reached the first major peak and rest stop of the hike.
This stop is where the hiking trail makes a left turn up to the lighthouse area which was still several hundred yards away and higher up. I did relish the breathtaking view that this first stop afforded me. The nice thing about this "trail" is that the state has provided flattened safety barriers to prevent vehicles from crashing down the steep cliff. The waist high concrete barriers make excellent places to park tired old butts like mine. I took to one of them and spent a few minutes catching my breath before I broke the binoculars out to take in more of the view.
I was not disappointed. To our west, the Hawaii Kai and the Sandy Beach area was clearly visible from this approximately 350 feet high vantage point. To our east was a steep, rocky cliff where the ocean crashed into some unseen spot below. Off in the distant haze, the island of Molokai clearly beckoned us with its presence. Beyond that were the even fainter outlines of the alleged islands of Maui, Lanai and Hawaii. In the near ocean, angry wave caps manifested themselves in the somewhat strong, offshore tradewinds. Looking through my binoculars I could see many of the wavecaps, the island outlines, the majestic East Oahu/Hawaii Kai shoreline, occasional flights of speedy terns (birds), a couple of boats and nearby rocks and shrubbery.
Concentrating on the cap action, I spotted what appeared to be spouting whales. These were very hard to see, given the competition from the ocean caps. It seems that whales (if that is what they were) just barely come to the surface and take a quick gulp of air before disappearing under the ocean. Needless to say when I told the others about the whales, they became quite excited and tried to see if they could spot any whales. Some of them did.
Jutting out beyond the rest area was this rocky outgrowth, which obviously fell into a steep cliff surrounding the churning sea. The college kids and several others gingerly made their way to this rocky perch, where they scrambled for the first of many group pictures. Chris was entertaining them with his stories or knowledge of the area. I waited on the roadway, sitting on one of the stone barriers looking at the view through my binoculars. We spent nearly 20 minutes at this spot before it was time to move on and climb higher up the "gradual" slope.
The uphill climb to the next stopping spot was not as steep as the initial trek. In about 15 minutes, I brought up the near rear again to join the group at the next stopping point, which was a little more than halfway up hill. The area overlooked a spot that faced out toward the neighbor islands. To the immediate right was a small hill which housed an old army "pillbox". A pillbox is an old World War II concrete bunker that was used as lookout points and first line defense positions against the enemy.
Nearby there was a sign noting how to spot whales and the different things they do in the nearby waters. The state through a grant from the federal government has recently set up the sign and a $10,000 stationary set of binoculars affixed to a 5 foot high, permanent, metal tripod. The view through these is quite impressive.
Chris and many of the others hung around this lookout site for several minutes. A few of the other hikers had taken off for the next destination point. I decided to move on and was kind of happy to be somewhat ahead of the pack this time. As usual I took my time hiking up the paved "trail" enjoying some of the sights along the way.
As I got near the top, I snapped a photo of the clump of cactus plants that bordered the trail on both sides. These plants were about the only green things growing in this arid area. They have flat, waxy looking "leaves" crowned with a prickly thorns that can injure anyone foolish enough to tamper with them. This is about the only place on Oahu that I have seen wild cactus. Plants like these are fairly common on the dry South Kohala coast of the Big Island.
Several hundred feet away I could see the top of the hill. I was a bit surprised to see a small building with 2 trucks parking next to it. Obviously some kind of maintenance place. When I got there, Vo, and Lance were waiting.
Below this spot marked by those ever present flat safety barriers, is the famed Makapuu lighthouse. A narrow, secondary pathway breaks off from the maintenance area to the lighthouse. No one is allowed on the path to the lighthouse. The facility is a fully functional, automated navigational aid for ships at sea. The Coast Guard closed off public access to the facility after having problems with vandalism in the 1980s.
The view from this area to the lighthouse makes it very clear that the facility is well maintained. The most striking feature about the lighthouse is its brightly colored, red roof. Secondary to that is the huge lens that makes up the lighting fixture itself, which I believe is always on, as I noticed that a dim but whitish-yellow light could clearly be seen against the backdrop of the brightly lit, daylight sky. I can bet that this place is a real beacon at night. Surrounding the lens and lighting fixture are panes of glass that go full circle around the lighthouse structure, which sits atop a white, concrete base. The building was erected in 1909 which makes it 90 years old. It was once manned by a lighthouse keeper.
In a short time the rest of the group caught up, and they stopped to take a first look at the lighthouse. A short way up the hill the paved trail ends at a summit where two observation platforms offer spectacular views coastline and nearby islands.
Once getting there the view at the top is well worth the climb up. The lower platform offers a panoramic view of Rabbit island, the Waimanalo coastline plus distant Kailua and Kaneohe. The glistening blue ocean offers a majestic contrast to the green and lush Koolau mountains off in the distance. It is a sight to behold. Everyone relished in the view of the spectacular scenery. Eventually most of our hiking group congregated on the somewhat narrow platform for a photo.
After that we hung around for about a half hour, peering into each others' binoculars looking for interesting details of the many things that caught our fancy in the panoramic view plain. The obvious attractions were the ocean, the little islands and the coastline. After scanning the obvious, we began to notice some of the details.
Looking out towards the 2 small, nearby islands, one will notice the stark contrast between them. Rabbit Island stands out as a barren, dry, brown rock. The flat island in front of Rabbit Island is greener and accentuated with patches of sand and black lava rock. Offsetting the areas of greenery were several stationary white objects. At first I thought these were like little tents. Upon examination through binoculars I was told that the white objects, were pairs of nesting Albatross or "gooney" birds. Both islands are wildlife sanctuaries.
Before long I was looking westward towards Kailua-Kaneohe. Mt. Olomana could be clearly seen from this vantage point. Off to the left of the observation platforms is a rocky hill a short distance up. Here is where I noticed two old military bunkers. They reminded me of Fred Flintstone's house in the old TV cartoon series. A few moments later I also noticed two guys from our hiking party up at the pillboxes. I later read that the pillboxes stand at the peak of Makapuu Point, 647 feet above sea level.
On the opposite site of the lookout was the lighthouse, perched on its rocky ledge a couple hundred feet below our vantage point. Off to the east was the ocean and the faint outlines of Molokai and the other Hawaiian Islands. Darting in and out of our binocular views were the constant streaming of the speeding seabirds who probably make this area their home. Our search for whales from this vantage point was rather futile, and frankly, I don't think anyone was really trying to look for whales anyway.
Actually one of the best thing for me to do at the top was just to sit... for a long time. The hike up was somewhat tiring and this was a nice place to rest, take in the sights and drink all of my water. I knew for sure that the rest of the hike would be a quick downhill trek. No more hills for this old guy.
Of course, if there is a hill, there is always someone who wants to climb it. This would not be the exception for the more adventurous and less tired bunch of our group. After soaking in the sights at the main lookout points, most of the group decided to venture the short distance up the next hill to visit the concrete pillboxes. The pathway to the pillbox is a narrow, rocky foot trail, not like the paved walkway that lead hikers to the main lookout points. Since I've been to pillboxes before and was pretty much tired of hilly climbs for the day, I passed on the invitation to make this one last climb.
The group slowly marched up the jagged and rocky hill and made it to the top in less than 10 minutes. Eventually they were all standing on the roof of the pillbox, taking in panoramic views and snapping more pictures. In the meantime I found a nearby pine tree which offered a shady spot to sit under. I looked at the rest of my hiking companions through my binoculars.
With some clouds beginning to roll in, the hikers from atop the pillbox eventually came down. It was almost time to leave our heavenly summit and make our trek down the "mountain".
The walk downhill was 200% easier than the climb uphill. In no time we walked past the now-familiar sights that we had marched uphill to see. Of course the downhill walk was no run, and we did make the same stops along the way to take in the sights one more time and snap a few more pictures.
About three hours after our hike began, we made it back to our cars and went to Waimanalo, where we had lunch at the beach park there.
All in all the hike was a great way to spend a Saturday morning. I would recommend this hike to anyone who craves some kind of adventure without the hassle of danger or very treacherous trails. Be sure wear sturdy, but comfortable shoes and to bring sunscreen, water, binoculars and a decent camera. Do note that the climb uphill is somewhat strenuous even though the slope is not very steep. The sights to behold from the lofty perch at the end of the climb are well worth the time getting there.
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Text and Photos Copyright 1999 Melvin Ah Ching Productions. Updated: April 21, 1999.