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One small corner of Oahu is only accessible on foot; roads from both directions end at this westernmost point. This makes it impossible to drive completely around the island, but preserves one of the last intact dune ecosystems in the main Hawaiian islands.
From ancient times, Kaena Point was known as the “leaping place of souls” where the spirits of the recently dead could be reunited with their ancestors. It is now home to endangered sea birds and is a nesting site for sea turtles and the Hawaiian monk seal. During the winter breeding season, humpback whales also frequent the area. Just as we moved from the water onto a beach covered with coral, a monk seal swam up to rest. It seemed willing to ignore us if we kept our distance, and it was large and imposing enough that seemed like a really good idea.
Kaena Point may be reached by hiking about two and a half miles from either Waianae on the Leeward coast or Mokuleia past the North Shore. I have seen it described as a “family” hike, and we were passed by a Boy Scout troop on the day we made it, but it is not easy. We went from the Leeward side, which began along what had been a highway. The pavement gave way to a trail and at one point the planks that had been placed over an open space along the cliff had broken, so we had to climb along a rock path. The path was not difficult, but for a flat-lander like me, it was disconcerting to look down the cliff to the rocky shore far below. It may be less challenging to enter from the other side.
Either way, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources warns that the Kaena Point is usually hot and sunny, cautioning that hikers should take ample water, wear cool clothing and a hat, and sunscreen. I would add that restroom facilities are not always reliable, so it is a good idea to expect no facilities. Obviously, pack your trash back out and do not bring dogs, as they disturb the bird nesting areas. If you walk gently, you will be rewarded with one of the rarest experiences on earth.