Makapu'u Beach Park
East Oahu Beach Park
Next to the Ku Heiau and across the road from Sea Life Park, just south of Waimanalo on the south east point of windward Oahu, is a beach that is well worth a visit.
Makapu’u Beach Park is semi-circled by sheer black cliffs and can barely be seen from the highway that hugs the cliff edge. The whole area surrounding Makapu’u Point is picturesque and powerful, and there is a lot to see in a small locality. Makapu’u Point is the stunning headland that towers over the azure blue bay and is a remnant of a volcanic ridge that rises 647 feet from the sea. The name Makapu’u is said to mean ‘bulging eye’ in the Hawaiian language. According to Hawaiian legend, Makapu’u was a Tahitian god that had eight bright eyes and lived in a cave in the area. Interestingly, there exists a modern kind ‘bright eye’ at Makapu’u now - the cliff here forms the eastern tip of the island and is the site of a prominent lighthouse.
The Ku Heiau, situated to the left of the parking lot at Makapu’u Beach Park, is an area sacred to Hawaiian people and looks as if it may have been hidden by overgrowth until recent years, like many of the sacred sites of Hawaii. The heiau is now being beautifully preserved and cared for by local people.
Makapu’u Beach Park is a popular place for bodyboarders and surfers alike, with rip currents and a powerful shore break. The jagged black lava rock tide pools closer to the Heiau can be calmer in summer, but winter surf can erode the beach and expose large boulders in the shore break. Dozens of surfers brave the huge, sapphire blue waves daily. Swimming at Makapu’u Beach is not recommended unless you are a seriously strong swimmer or surfer and are prepared to fight some strong waves to get outside of the break.
The highway is gouged into the side of the sheer black lava-rock mountain, and winds along the cliff in a rather majestic way, forming one of the most scenic stretches of highway on Oahu, around the headland to Koko Head Crater.
Traveling towards Makapu’u from Kane’ohe, through the green, lush regions on the windward side of the Ko'olau range, the landscape takes on a noticeably different characteristic at Makapu’u Point, where the shelter of the mountain range gives way to a drier, rocky environment. Where the highway surmounts the cliff just before turning south and descending the saddle, there is a parking lot and lookout with fabulous views of the entire area. Old World War 2 bunkers dug into the cliff can be seen here, and these were once an opportune hiding spot from enemy forces. Oahu has many hidden military bunkers dotting coastal hilltops. The bunkers at Makapu’u were built to guard against battleship attacks on Pearl and Honolulu Harbors.
The 1¾ mile hike to the Makapu’u Lighthouse can be accessed from this parking lot and affords even more expansive panoramic views of Manana Island (better known as Rabbit Island), Black Rock (also known as Kaohikaipu Island) and the eastern shore of Oahu. On a clear day, the islands of Molokai and Lanai may be visible.
Makapu’u is approximately 1.2 miles south east of Waimanalo Beach on the Kalanianaole Highway (Route 72), or if traveling from Honolulu, it can be located by traveling east from the city past Sandy Beach Park. The beach is almost hidden, especially when driving from the Honolulu side. As you begin to climb the hill, your attention will no doubt be on the wide expanse and panoramic views of the bay. As you look to the right, you will catch a glimpse of the concealed beach. Perhaps its relative obscurity explains why it is a less crowded beach than most on Oahu.
Lifeguards patrol the beach – always check for conditions before entering the water, and obey all signs and warnings. There are amenities here – picnic areas, BBQ grills, restrooms and showers.