Pull Off at the Pali Lookout

By Hawaii.com Team
Photo:  melfoody.

Photo: melfoody.

The Pali Highway, one of Oahu’s three eye-popping rides out of town, is crowned by a place called the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout. From this windswept vantage point, the communities of Windward Oahu, the sparkling sweep of Kaneohe Bay and the restless surface of the Pacific spread for miles below. Here, too, the ghosts of ancient battles murmur through the emerald-forested cliffs, their wails muffled by the hum of traffic and the winds of time.

Sweeping Views of Oahu’s Windward Side

Less than a half hour from Waikiki, the Lookout is a good place to gain perspective on this island, which is home to about 75 percent of the state’s population and almost 90,000 visitors a day. Here some 1,200 feet above sea level, with 3,000-foot pali, or cliffs, towering above, it is possible to see beyond the city and Waikiki to the other side where bedroom communities like Kaneohe and Kailua thrive and residential neighborhoods gradually give way to the even more sparsely populated villages of the North Shore.

To the right, the waters of Kailua Bay dance in the sun. To the left, Kaneohe Bay, floating above a beautiful barrier reef and punctured by four tiny islands, is a watercolor brush of billowing white sails flying from brightly colored craft.

King Kamehameha’s Historic Battle

Time has all but erased the violent history of this spot, once a bloody battlefield where Hawaiian warriors fought for control of the island. More than two centuries ago in the spring of 1795, the King of Oahu, who also ruled Maui, Moloka’i and Lana’i, sought to defeat Kamehameha, ruler of the Island of Hawaii. With the use of newfound firepower acquired from a trading vessel, Kamehameha forced the defenders of Oahu back into Nu’uanu Valley until they reached the Pali. Refusing to surrender, many warriors jumped over the cliff. With the victory, Kamehameha gained significant momentum in his drive to unite the islands, an event that occurred in 1810 when Kaua’i, which had proved unconquerable, finally agreed by treaty.

In 1897, more than a century after the Nu’uanu Pali battle, a government contract was awarded to build the first paved road across the mountains. During construction, which required significant blasting, workers found an estimated 800 skulls at the foot of the cliffs, the remains of Hawaiian warriors lost in battle 100 years ago.

How to Get to the Pali Lookout

To get to the Lookout from Honolulu, take the H-1 freeway to the Pali Highway off-ramp. Once on the Pali, you can take a scenic detour off the highway on your way to the Lookout. Turn right onto Nu’uanu Pali Drive, which winds through lush rainforest, then return to the Pali and watch for the signs to the Lookout.

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