In the Hawai’ian language, Kaʻena means “red hot” or “glowing”. Kaʻena Point, a Natural Area Reserve, is located at the westernmost tip on Oʻahu. This 853-acre (3.45 sq. km) reserve has some of the only remaining coastal sand dune habitats on the island.
Kaʻena Point is a dormant shield volcano – a type of volcano built almost entirely of fluid lava flows. At 5 million years old, it is the oldest volcano on Oʻahu. It is said that it formed about 15% of the island and stood 3,000 feet tall when it became dormant 4.2 million years ago. Today, this scenic, remote, and protected area is home to rare native plants and seabirds.
To the Native Hawai’ians, Kaʻena Point is a sacred cultural site; it was known as the place where souls depart from the earth, a leina a ka uhane, or “jumping off place”. According to Hawai’ian folklore, after a person dies, the soul finds its way to a leina a ka uhane. The exact
point was called ka leina a ka uhane, meaning “the leap of the soul.”
There is a rock in the ocean just off Kaʻena Point. According to legend, the rock, Pohaku o Kauai (Rock of Kauai), was named after Maui, the Hawai’ian demi-god. He took his magic fish hook, mana i ka lani (devine power of heaven) and threw it across the Kaʻieʻie Waho
Channel to snag Kauai. Once hooked, he tugged hard on his line, but could only loosen a large boulder. The boulder flung back and fell into the ocean at the Point, where it remains today.
Kaʻena Point is so remote that no road leads to it. The only way to get to the Point is by hiking. There are two dirt road trails which eventually converge at and follow along an old railroad bed. In 1899, the Oʻahu Railway and Land Company constructed a railway that encompassed the 70 miles from Honolulu through Kahuku. It was used to transport sugar cane around the Point until a tsunami destroyed most of the tracks in 1946. Cross timbers can still be seen through the trail in some spots. It is said that nearby Yokohama Beach was named after one of the railway workers.
Kaʻena Point can be reached from the Leeward Coast side at Waiʻanae, and from the Mokulēʻia side. If you decide to start from Waiʻanae, you will start from Kaʻena Beach State Park, characterized by boulder beaches, tide pools, and even a couple of small blowholes.
Cliffs rise above on the right, and in some spots, the old road has entirely eroded away. If you are entering from the Mokulēʻia side, you can park at the end of the paved road and follow the dirt roadway back to the trail, about 2.5 miles. The shoreline on this side is much
less rugged with its sand and dunes instead of black lava rocks. This side of the island is also wetter, so vegetation is more plentiful than on the Leeward side. There are a number of trails you can take to get to Kaʻena Point, but just remember that the shoreline routes are dangerous when the sea is high.
During the winter months, Kaʻena Point typically has waves up to 49 feet (15 m) high, and in 1998, several people reported seeing waves with 60–80-foot (18–24 m) faces. During that same famous swell, professional surfer Ken Bradshaw was photographed riding a wave with a reported 85-foot (26 m) face; this day became known as “Biggest Wednesday”.
Due to the remoteness of Kaʻena Point and having limited rescue capability, surfing is not as popular here as other North Shore locations. In addition, the Pointʻs geography makes for hazardous ocean conditions resulting in dangerous undertows and rip currents.
A hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water are highly recommended. Stay on the trail. Stay away from the wave-exposed coast unless you are familiar with hazardous ocean conditions.