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Tip: A bird sanctuary island that is 3 miles off Maui's south shore.
By Rasa Fournier
A trip to the westernmost tip of Oahu is like a visit to the ends of the earth. The area is called Kaʻena Point and because it’s so remote and only accessible by foot, the flora and fauna is much like that of the pristine northwestern Hawaiian Islands known as Papahanaumokuakea. Try saying that three times fast! Or don’t, because out here nothing is hurried. Time slows even as you drive to this part of the island. Once you step onto the dirt road that leads to the preserved tip of Kaʻena, it’s just ocean and mountain views for miles: the tall Waianae Range on the right and the mighty blue Pacific on the left. Waves roll dramatically onto the rocky shoreline, which is all craggy cliffs and tide pools and locals are stationed here and there along the way, tending to their fishing poles.
In one spot the path is eroded so drastically that it necessitates a decision to either climb down a pile of fallen boulders or maneuver upwards along a makeshift path. Choose the former on the way in for some adventure and you’ll be glad to be able to depend on the latter, safer route for the way back. Just after the scramble over loose boulders, the dirt road ends at a fence that keeps dogs and rodents out. Enter through a gate and the land opens up to sand dunes. Protected seabirds nest in the dunes, which stretch to the sea. Naupaka bushes, the stuff of Hawaiian legends, with their little white flowers forming half of a corolla, unintimidated by the scorched sand have dug their roots in, forming islands of green oases in the otherwise barren land. Occasionally, a loud squawk is followed by a flapping of wings as a bird leaves its earthen cave and takes flight. The albatross have such an impressive wingspan that when they come swooping over your head, for a moment you’re thrown into a flashback of the famous crop duster scene in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.
Catching sight of a nesting bird is a special treat. They give off a strangely dignified appearance with their erect heads, gracefully curving beaks and eyes that appear to be darkened with kohl. A less dignified, but awfully intriguing resident of the area, is Hawaii’s monk seal. They tend to blend right in with the rocks, so that if you’re running down a dune toward the ocean, be sure that large lump you’re about to trip on doesn’t have whiskers, flippers and a nice set of pearly whites.
Sand gives way to a beach made up of ivory chunks of sun bleached coral, which is beautiful to behold, but painful if you’ve already stripped off your shoes and socks to get your bare feet into the beckoning, shallow pools. A leisurely dip helps cool the head enough to look out and appreciate the camera-craving view, from the expansive, cloud streaked blues in the firmament above to the black lava rock jutting from the glistening liquid blue below. And in between, tan dunes, easily shifted by the wind, stretch toward the stalwart Waiʻanae mountains, whose slopes are slashed with a palette of earthen hughes, their dry golden grasses exposing clumps of steely rock, brown earth and spots of clinging greenery. The place is wild and windblown, stark and gorgeous, the contrasting colors and textures making for a crisp panoramic landscape. The short dip in the sea provides a perfect dose of revitalization before turning back and retracing your steps to the peopled cityscape.
TRAIL: Kaʻena Point Trail/Waiʻanae Side
LENGTH: 5 miles round trip
HOW TO GET THERE: From Waikiki, get on H1 Freeway heading West. Continue as it becomes Farrington Highway and keep going until the road ends at Kaʻena Point State Park.
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