I’ve lived in Hawaii for almost three decades, primarily in the southern part of the island in an area known as Hawaii Kai. If you’re on Oahu, I highly recommend stopping in this community before heading along the coast. This community is the gateway to Hawaii’s most beautiful coastline; the Ka Iwi Coast, located approximately 15 miles south of Waikiki.
Getting there is an easy, short drive from Waikiki, and along the way is Koko Marina Shopping Center. It’s the perfect stop for an early morning breakfast before exploring the coast or spending the day at Hanauma Bay. Here, you’ll find local shops, restaurants, and the famous Leonard’s Malasada truck. Malasadas are Hawaii’s answer to doughnuts, and people flock from all over the world to try them.
This coastal stretch spans about 8 miles and features numerous must-see attractions. I frequently hike along this coastline, which has made it an intimately familiar place, and I consistently find it awe-inspiring.
Ka Iwi” in Hawaiian means “the bone,” and there are multiple interpretations of how it was named. However, it is generally believed that the name serves as a reminder of the significant importance that bones hold, as they are believed to contain “Mana,” or a person’s soul. It is also thought that Ka Iwi coast was one of the first landing sites for the Native Hawaiians who arrived from Polynesia on Oahu.
You can take as little or as much time as you like to explore the coast, and there are a couple of stops where you can pause and spend the day, if you wish. For example, you could spend the day at Hanauma Bay or combine the Makapuu Lighthouse hike with an afternoon swim at Waimanalo Beach, a little further up the coast.
If you want to take a scenic drive, the coast is perfect for that and will take about an hour to complete, with short stops at the various lookouts along the way.
These are the highlights to explore;
Just South of Koko Marina, you can discover China Walls. It’s accessed from the Portlock residential neighborhood via a park at Hanepepe Place.
It’s known for its dramatic natural rock formations, which create a series of cliffs and ledges along the shoreline. Visitors should know that cliff jumping can be dangerous and should exercise caution if considering it.
As you continue south on Kalanianaole Highway, you’ll see a lookout on the left side with a view of Koko Crater. Feel free to park your car and capture some photos, and be sure to glance back toward Waikiki for a spectacular view of the south side, including Diamond Head.
After passing Hanauma Bay, you’ll come across Lanai Lookout. On a clear day, you can spot the islands of Lanai and Molokai, which is how it got its name. During the winter months, which is whale-watching season, you might even catch sight of whales breaching in the ocean.
The next attraction is the Halona Blow Hole as you proceed along the coast. It’s a natural geyser that ejects a spray of water when wave energy collides with the rocky shoreline. Additionally, there’s an access point to Halona Beach Cove, which you can reach via a steep pathway adjacent to the parking area. This may look familiar since it’s a popular filming location for Movies and TV shows.
Sandy Beach Park
Sandy’s, as locals commonly call it, is a stretch of golden sandy beach situated at the foot of Koko Crater. The beach isn’t particularly safe for swimming due to the strong shore break. However, if you are an experienced boogie boarder or bodysurfer, this is the ideal spot for you. Alternatively, I recommend simply driving through and making a stop at the tide pools just beyond the beach. You can dip your toes in the water or wade in if you prefer.
Makapuu Lookout and Lighthouse
The final destination along the coast is Makapuu. This picturesque area consists of two main parts: the lookout and the trail to the lighthouse. If you’re solely interested in a scenic drive, you can park and leisurely walk up to the lookout to enjoy stunning views and take selfies.
If you have more time, you can embark on a scenic hike, which takes about 2 hours round trip, leading to the lighthouse lookout. For more adventurous explorers, there’s a path to Pele’s Chair, with an opportunity to visit a secret beach. This path is accessible just before the final ascent to the lighthouse, and you’ll find signs to guide you along the way.