Hiking, Biking, and Bird-Watching in Leeward O‘ahu

A fledgling albatross stands with its wings outstretched with another younger bird and the ocean visible in the background.

Laysan Albatross fledglings at Ka’ena Point. Photo © David D., licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

The leeward side is notoriously dry, sunny, and hot, so hiking or biking is best done early in the morning or late in the day. No matter when you go, bring plenty of water, a hat, and sunscreen.

The volcanic coast is breathtaking, with tidepools, natural stone arches, and surf surging onto rock outcroppings.

In Ka‘ena Point State Park, hiking out to Ka‘ena Point is a special experience. The rough and rocky trail, a little over five miles round-trip, follows a well-worn dirt road along the cliff out to the point. The volcanic coast is breathtaking, with tidepools, natural stone arches, and surf surging onto rock outcroppings. The road has washed away not far from the point, so follow the narrow side trail around the cliff. You’ll reach a formidable fence designed to keep out invasive species; enter through the double doors. Once you are inside the Ka‘ena Point Natural Area Reserve, an ecosystem restoration project, it is of the utmost importance to stay on the marked trails as not to disturb the seabird nesting grounds. The dunes are covered with native Hawaiian plants and home a handful of Hawaiian and migratory seabirds. Continue down to the shoreline past some old cement installments and look for Hawaiian monk seals basking in the sun. There are no facilities along the hike and no water, so bring plenty of fluids. To get to the trail, follow Farrington Highway to Yokohama Bay. Drive along the beach till the paved road ends. Park in the dirt parking area and proceed down the dirt road on foot. The state park is open from sunup to sundown.

Explore the deep valley behind Wai‘anae, in the shadow of O‘ahu’s tallest peak, Mount Ka‘ala. The six-mile Wai‘anae Kai loop trail is full of ups and downs with a final climb to an overlook. It then follows an ancient Hawaiian trail back to the main route. You’ll find native Hawaiian trees, shrubs, and herbs along the hike and the likes of the Japanese bush warbler. There are views of Wai‘anae, Lualualei, and Makaha Valleys. The trail is unimproved and rough, so proper footwear is essential. To get there, follow Waianae Valley Road to the back of the valley. Continue on it after it turns into a one-lane dirt road. Park in the dirt lot across from the last house at the locked gate. Continue past the locked gate and followed the dirt road on foot.


Biking

The leeward coast does have a gem of a mountain biking trail, the road to Ka‘ena Point. Part of Ka‘ena Point State Park, the trail is flat, so there’s no climbing or downhill involved, but the rocky, rutted, and curving cliffside dirt road is a challenging ride none the less. At 2.7 miles one way from the parking area to the point, the ride is extremely scenic, passing rocky coves, sea arches, and crashing waves. Once at the fence to keep out invasive species from the natural reserve portion of the park, you can bike around the point along the perimeter of the fence to the Mokule‘ia side and continue up the North Shore, or you can walk your bike through the double doors in the fence. However, the trails inside the reserve are narrow and sandy. The sun is intense, and there is no shade in the area, so bring plenty of water and wear sunscreen.

To get to the trail, follow Farrington Highway to Yokohama Bay. Drive along the beach until the paved road ends. Park in the dirt parking area and proceed down the dirt road on foot. The state park is open from sunup to sundown.

Hale Nalu (85-876 Farrington Hwy., #A2, 808/696-5897, 10am-5pm daily), in Wai‘anae, rents mountain bikes for $30 per day, $60 for three days, or $90 for one week.


Bird-Watching

The Ka‘ena Point Natural Area Reserve inside the Ka‘ena Point State Park is the premier bird-watching area on the leeward coast. The 59-acre reserve is an active ecosystem restoration project designed to restore the native ecosystem on the point and bolster the number of endangered species, both flora and fauna, that call the area home. Look for Laysan albatross, wedge-tailed shearwater, and white-tailed tropicbird that nest in dunes. Nesting begins in November, with the adults departing in late spring and juveniles leaving the nests by late June. The area is also home to several species of native Hawaiian birds including the great frigatebird, red-footed, brown, and masked boobies, sooty and white terns, and the Hawaiian short-eared owl. Other migratory birds like the wandering tattler and the Pacific golden plover also frequent the area.


Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon O’ahu.


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