I was born and raised here on Oahu. But, despite calling Oahu home for 25 years (after deducting those 5 years spent in MN), I have never made it out the most western point of the island. Since moving back to Honolulu last fall I’ve been slowly working in a few hikes to enjoy the beautiful outdoors. While the southern trail to Kaena point is more of a walk down a dirt road than a hike, it still affords some stunning views and the rare opportunity to encounter wildlife such as monk seals and albatross.
We spent the night at my father’s house in Ewa Beach to be closer to trailhead (we live out in Hawaii Kai). While this trail does not have much in the way of elevation gain or rugged terrain, it does have plenty of sunshine and almost zero shade. We wanted to set off early in the morning to beat the heat. Even from Ewa Beach it took us about 50 minutes to drive to the trailhead at the end of Farrington Highway.
TIP: Given the remote location, cars are susceptible to break-ins. Do not leave valuables in sight!
The entire trail skirts the coastline cliffs all the way to Kaena Point. This affords hikers beautiful views of the ocean. Although we are nearing the end of their seasonal visit to the islands, I was lucky to spot a humpback whale or two off in the distance. There is not much in the way of sandy beaches along the coast until you reach the point, but the natural rock formations and crashing waves provide much to look at as you make your way out west. You’ll also want to keep a close eye out for monk seals, which can be seen sleeping or sunbathing on the rocks.
Just a mere 20 minutes into our journey my wife spotted this monk seal taking a little nap on the rocks near some tide pools. The dark coloration can make these seals easy to miss against the rocks. These monk seals are one of only two mammal species endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, and are classified an endangered species. While it is exciting to come across one out in the wild, please remember to be respectful and keep your distance.
As I mentioned before, this trail is almost completely devoid of shade. We were lucky to not only be out early in the morning, but also to have some partly cloudy skies that helped keep us cool for the hike out. On the way back the sun came out in full force and the hike felt ten times hotter. Remember to bring plenty of water and sunscreen!
The trail continues on for a couple of miles with very little elevation gain. At most times the trail is very wide, able to accommodate a full size truck (we ran into a few all-wheel drive trucks along the trail). However, especially toward the end near the point, there are a few sections that are partially washed out. These areas start to narrow and some sections can be just a foot or so wide.
As you continue down the coast you’ll see many different rock and cliff formations. One that stands out is this arch that stretches down to the waters edge. It’s a very popular spot to stop and take photos. Judy ventured out on to the arch and took a seat for this photo. You can get a sense of how large the rock formation is to scale with a person.
As you approach Kaena Point you’ll be met by this gate, which was put up to provide protection for the birds who nest in this area. Dogs are not allowed beyond this point in order to protect the albatross and shearwaters.
Shortly after the security fence you’ll enter the nesting sanctuary area for two species of birds: shearwaters and albatross. The shearwaters are much smaller, dark colored birds that dig into the sand to create burrows in which to nest. You may hear the occasional cooing of a shearwater, magnified in volume by their burrows. We also happened across these two hanging out just off the trail. The trail through the nesting area is roped off and hikers should not venture outside of the ropes.
One of the main wildlife attractions of Kaena Point are the albatross. These sea faring birds can fly for thousands of miles in search of food, ranging out as far as Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. They return to nesting grounds like the one at Kaena Point to rest and take care of their young. These are impressive birds with fairly large wingspans. You’ll see one or two soaring high around the nesting area, which gives you the chance to appreciate their full size.
What would a nesting round be without little baby birds? Well in the case of the albatross, their babies are not so little. These little puffy balls of feathers can be seen from the roped area, often safely far off the trail. This one was staring us down from afar, presumably waiting for its parents to return.
A little farther west of the nesting grounds is a sandy area followed by some rocks and tide pools. This area marks the most western point of the island. If you’ve come prepared with reef walkers or otherwise amphibious shoes you could check out the numerous tide pools along this area. Just be on the look out for monk seals, who can suddenly appear from the ocean and come up on to the rocks for a rest.
We were standing around taking in the views when a loud barking sound alerted us to the presence of a monk seal exiting the ocean to come up on the rocks. It proceeded to slowly belly flop its way into a comfortable spot, where it remained for the rest of our time exploring the area. In all we encountered four different monk seals on this hike, which I would imagine is on the higher side for a short visit to Kaena Point.
This was an easy but very rewarding hike. Not only is your destination a significant geographic landmark on the island of Oahu (its most western point), but you also have the opportunity to encounter wildlife that are seldom seen elsewhere in the islands. By the time we set off from Kaena Point back to the car it was about 10:30am, and the sun was already starting to beat down on the trail with some fair intensity. My recommendation for those looking to enjoy the natural beauty of this hike is to head out early and beat the sun as much as you can.
You can also make it out to Kaena Point on a northern trail which starts in Mokuleia. Perhaps we’ll explore that route some day in the future!