The southeast stretch of O‘ahu, from Kahala to Makapu‘u, and north to La‘ie near the island’s northern tip on the windward coast, is a lot of coastline to cover, about 50 miles. With a 35 mph speed limit on both the Kalanianaole Highway and Kamehameha Highway, it’s not a drive you want to rush. Not to mention, some of the attractions can easily become a full-day activity.

The windward side is wet to say the least, with the highest amounts of precipitation falling between Kane‘ohe and La‘ie.If you’re heading to a windward locale and want to extend your scenic drive, taking the Kalanianaole Highway at least one way is a great option. There are numerous lookouts to see the rugged, dry, and wave-pummeled coastline. But it will add at least an hour to your day just to get from Kahala to Kailua.

Otherwise, a full day can easily be spent enjoying the unique southeast coast. Hiking the Koko Crater stairs, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, taking surf lessons or diving in Maunalua Bay are all half-day activities at least. Or there’s bodysurfing at Sandy Beach or hiking and watching whales at Makapu‘u. Round it out with a meal in Hawai‘i Kai and you’re ready for bed.

Makapu‘u marks the rugged and dry eastern tip of O‘ahu.

Makapu‘u marks the rugged and dry eastern tip of O‘ahu. Photo © Carl Clifford, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

On the windward side, other than the ranch tours at Kualoa Ranch and the Polynesian Cultural Center, everything is centered around the ocean. Whether you’re snorkeling, fishing, stand-up paddling, or walking along a deserted stretch of sand, the beaches are the main attractions. If you see a nice spot along your drive and feel the need to pull over and swim, do it! The closer you look, the more you’ll find the hidden gems. Don’t forget, there are a few good hikes, if you don’t mind mud and mosquitoes.

The weather changes quickly on the windward side. A typical day might start out with sun in the morning, change to clouds by midday, and bring heavy showers by the afternoon. Or, depending on the wind, it could be raining all morning, with the sun finally poking through in the late afternoon. Either way, on the windward side, you have to get out and explore or you’ll never know. Don’t trust the weather report.

When the wind picks up, sailboarders and kitesurfers take to the water in Kailua.

When the wind picks up, sailboarders and kitesurfers take to the water in Kailua. Photo © Patrick Rudolph, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

The predominant trade winds blow out of the northeast and push air heavy with moisture evaporated from the ocean up against the Ko‘olau Range. As the warm, humid air rises, it cools, condenses, and forms clouds, which become saturated and dump their payload, freshwater raindrops, down on the coast and the mountains. The windward side is wet to say the least, with the highest amounts of precipitation falling between Kane‘ohe and La‘ie. In times of extremely heavy rainfall, the Kamehameha Highway often floods and closes to through traffic.

Still, typical rain showers are often fleeting, localized events. Just because a shower is passing by doesn’t mean you need to pack up the beach gear for the day. And the farther south along the Ko‘olau Range past Kane‘ohe you go, the less rainfall hits the ground. On the dry, southeast tip of O‘ahu, Koko Crater receives 12-20 inches of rain annually, compared to the average 100 inches of rain that Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden in Kane‘ohe gets every year. The best thing to do if you’re planning a beach day on the windward side is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. At least it’s still warm when it rains.

Map of Windward O‘ahu, Hawaii

Windward O‘ahu


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.