Looking left from Makapu’u Beach toward Rabbit Island on a stunning day in Hawaii.
MAKAPUU BEACH PARK
41-95 Kalanianaole Highway, Waimānalo, Hawaii 96795. This is very near “Sea Life Park” and “Sandy Beach”. The pronounciation is Makapu’u (mak-uh-poo-ooh).
WHERE IS MAKAPUU STATE PARK?
Makapu’u is located at the furthest point east on Oahu, Hawaii. Just past Sandy Beach going counterclockwise around O’ahu island on Kalanianaole Highway (State Route 72). The Makapu’u trail leading to the lighthouse is just before Makapu’u Beach, also on the right. GPS Coordinates:
HAWAIIAN HISTORY – MAKAPU’U, THE HAWAIIAN LEGEND
Ancient Hawaiian legend tells of Makapu’u being a god that arrived from Tahiti to live at Makapu’u point in a cave named, Keanaokeakuapōloli. Now the point of Makapu’u has been named after her. Makapu’u had eight bright eyes, and so the locals called her that which in Hawaiian means “bulging eye”. Perhaps coincidence, or maybe not, another very bright eye – the lens in the lighthouse at Makapu’u was set in place and turned on for the first time on the tenth of October, 1909.
WHAT IS MAKAPUU BEACH ALL ABOUT?
Makapuu has about 500 feet of sand and has “God-given Surf.” This is one of my all-time ultimate favorite beaches in the Hawaiian islands. I first learned to bodyboard (boogie-board) here in 1985 with some friends. I had a cheap board, cheap fins, and I was learning how to ride 3-4 foot (Hawaiian scale) waves. I had absolutely the best time of my life. Makapu’u is an almost hidden beach as you drive from Waikiki northeast counter clockwise around Oahu. You’ll drive past Hanauma Bay and Sandy Beach and start climbing a hill. Just as you come though the volcano cliff-lined highway – bam you have this wide expanse and amazing view. If you don’t quickly look to the right you’ll miss Makapuu, and you’d be missing something indeed. This is next to the world famous “Halona Cove” which was the location for filming the famous beach scene in the movie “From Here to Eternity”.
Waves? Makapuu is one of the ultimate surfing and bodyboarding spots in the islands, and the world. Waves can break for well over 100 meters, and epic 250 meter rides are possible if the waves are strong, big, and fast. The wave crest sometimes doesn’t break until it hits the shallows all the way where beach meets sand. The perfect conditions sometimes exist for riding excellent waves at this beach. As I write this, I have a twisting feeling in my stomach as I think of some of the awesome bodyboarding sessions I’ve had at this epic beach.
Kids? Makapuu beach is not highly recommended for those that are not good swimmers, or children on most days. The currents can be strong, the shore-breaks – wicked, and the waves big. There is a coral reef and rocks on the the north side of the beach that must be avoided. The water drops off quickly to adult chest height – again, not ideal for most kids.
Makapuu Beach encompasses about 38 acres and the good sandy beach is about 150 yards long and sloped. It has deep sand, and most people on the beach are tourists like you. Many in the water will be locals that love the waves there and have been riding since they were kids (keiki).
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Many people bodysurf, some surf, some bodyboard, some just swim and have fun in the waves. The shore-break isn’t always dangerous, often times it is mild and can be fun for most members of the family. Everyone takes photos though, it is a very picturesque Oahu location and you won’t be able to help pulling out your camera and firing off some shots. The steep cliffs of Makapu’u plunge into the right side of the bay and the left side is open, leading to an amazing view of two islands, Manana (Rabbit Island), and Kaohikaipu.
Makapuu is also a favorite place for residents and visitors to view humpback whales as they come to Hawaii every winter to spawn before traveling back up in the northern pacific to have their offspring. Best times to see whales is between December and March.
Occasionally sharks are sighted at this location. There have been no attacks that I can find in a search of news online. I have been there scores of times and never seen a shark there or talked to anyone that had. Here’s one of our top visited pages on this site – Hawaii Sharks.
This is not a good location for snorkeling because the water is deep, the cliffs block out much of the light, and there are a lot of bodyboarders if the waves are ridable. Hanauma Bay is a good place to go snorkeling on the island of Oahu.
Makapu’u Point Lighthouse
A 46 foot high beacon to help ships find their way in the coral filled Pacific near Oahu. This US Coast Guard lighthouse was built and functioning since 1909. In 1974 the lighthouse became automated and didn’t require anyone to manually take care of it. The lighthouse is filled with a 12 foot high French fresnel hyper-radial lens, the largest lens still in use in the USA. It can magnify the illumination of a 1,000 watt 120 volt light bulb enormously – allowing ships to see it miles out to see on clear nights.
Hiking up to the lighthouse from Kalanianaole highway is a fun trip, the endpoint being the Makapuu lighthouse. The lighthouse itself is restricted from access by locked gates. The road winding its way up the Makapu’u cliffs is paved and open to pedestrians, not vehicles. The lighthouse trail is about 1 3/4 miles in length to reach the top. Molokai and Lanai can usually be seen from this vantage point, with the occasional bonus in clear air of seeing Maui just past them. During the months of November through April you may catch site of the humpback whales that visit Hawaii each Winter to mate. At last check there was a big binoculars set to look through at the end of the trail by the lighthouse. If you walk down a ways you can see a blowhole that is pretty strong on good days.
Fishing from the cliffs near the lighthouse is some of the best on Oahu. Night time brings deep sea fishermen to the cliffs to throw octopus out on heavy line to try for the elusive (and big, over 100 pounds!) Ulua. These are Jack Crevalle type fish that are very strong and fast and provide a lot of fun in catching.
EXPLORING THE MAKAPUU TIDEPOOLS
Tidepools are rough lava spots that get covered over by incoming waves during the high tides and are left exposed during low tide. This presents a great opportunity for walking around on them (in sports sandals or better, sports shoes) and exploring the wildlife. Various fish, crabs, opihi, and other wildlife can be found in the small pools of water that get trapped on the lava. Watch for the mudfish – the jumping fish that crawl around and jump from tidepool to tidepool!
There are two islands just off Makapu’u. The first, Manana Island, is comprised of 64 acres. It resembles a rabbits head in shape and so was nicknamed Rabbit Island. A rancher once released rabbits there and they populated the island profusely. Currently the island is a protected bird sanctuary. It is illegal to set foot on the island without permission from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The second beautiful island off the coast is named Kaohikaipu. It’s a low island, also the result of volcanic activity, like every island in the Hawaiian island chain. Kaohikaipu is also a protected bird sanctuary by the State of Hawaii.
Makapuu is a world-class hang gliding spot and on days with just the right amount of wind you’ll be treated to many of them launching off the cliffs behind Makapuu Beach park.
SEA LIFE PARK
A large Sea World type facility with aquariums and shows to educate the public about Hawaiian wildlife. It’s set on the mauka (mountain) side of the highway. Update – Hawaii has become the first state in the union to forbid all performances by animals! Awesome news. I do hope this park closes.
A very long pier juts out into the Pacific ocean which was built by the State government of Hawaii to help scientists do marine research. Makai pier has some marine engineering companies and the Hawaii Underwater Research Laboratory (HURL). Occasionally, and incredibly, some companies located on the pier advertise in Craigslist Honolulu for some technology jobs that must be some of the greatest locations to work in the entire world. Keep an eye out for them if you want to live and work in Hawaii and know computers or are a marine biologist.
TIPS FOR VISITING MAKAPUU BEACH PARK
- Theft occurs OFTEN here in the parking lot area as well as directly from the area you lay your towels down. Don’t attempt to hide a purse or camera, just don’t leave them. Do not leave anything of value in your vehicle because there are many “smash & grabs” and you’ll end up paying for your rental car window to get fixed, and maybe the locks replaced also. Usually it’s best to keep your windows half rolled down so a thief could open the door and see there’s nothing in your car to steal. That’s locals style anyway. Saves buying windows all the time!
- Don’t leave any child unattended in the water. Waves on Oahu are not predictable, except that there are regularly larger rogue waves that surprise many people – in the water and out. Locals are always watching the water for the bigger rogue waves that could catch them unaware… you should too! The water at Makapu’u is deep, the undercurrent is sometimes strong, and the shore breaking waves can be 5+ feet high and dangerous to anyone in the water.
MAKAPUU BEACH ESSENTIALS
- Open during daylight hours, I would NOT go at night to the beach.
- Lifeguards – though not always on duty. Ditto that for security in the parking area.
- Deep sand ideal for laying out. Less windblown sand like Sandy Beach because the hill behind, and the cliff beside Makapu’u Beach protects the beach from most of the wind.
- Picnic area with tables and benches
- Public BBQ grills
- Freshwater Showers
- Free parking – maybe 40 spots available
- Makapu’u trail leading to the Makapu’u Lighthouse is close by, though you’ll probably choose to drive down to it instead of walk the sometimes dangerous hairpin turn highway through the lava.
- Tidepools to explore
- Good fishing at night on the cliffs by the lighthouse trail for Ulua.
Great overview of Makapu’u Beach
Video shot from a hang glider’s perspective flying over Makapu’u.
I did pretty good on a sea-doo out at mokapu’u in the late 1990’s. I had the cooperation of the life guards that said when to go so I could make a really good jump, which I did. I’m thinking if you could find the footage (there were a lot of witnesses, as the waves were big) you could use it on this site. There was no mention of jet-ski’s or sea-doo’s at all. It’s a great place for such crafts if you can pull off legal coordination.
Maybe there are laws about not riding them over there? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a jetski – seadoo over there at all. There are too many bodyboarders and it wouldn’t be the safest thing to have guys jumping waves on seadoos. No idea though. I sure do miss that place…
Great article on Makapu’u, Vern! Aside from the beaches at Waimanalo, Makapu’u is another favorite of mine. Love the hiking around that area as well, particularly to the tidepool area. LOST fans might recognize a few familiar spots.
The parking at the beginning of the hiking trail to the lighthouse now has a cop car on standby most of the time, but theft is still quite common (unfortunately speaking).
Oh yeah, you’re not kidding. That place has always been one of the worst for parking your car and hoping you still have all your windows when you are ready to leave the beach. It’s too secluded and the security guys are sometimes there, sometimes not, in my experience. Better to leave the windows down and take all your valuables.