By Richard Melendez, Digital Editor
So, you may have heard that the Pali Highway is closed until at least August. While there’s limited access during rush hours, for the most part, this vital—and scenic—artery connecting Honolulu to the Windward side of the island is off limits.
Don’t fret, though. If you were planning a circle island drive or a jaunt over to Kailua-side, you can still get there through a few other routes. Likelike Highway is probably the least-disruptive as it runs basically parallel to the Pali. H-3 also works well, depending on where you’re starting from. Both offer scenic vistas that rival or even surpass the Pali’s.
However, my favorite—and, IMHO, the best alternate route to take to the Windward side is Kalaniana‘ole Highway. It may not be practical if you’re trying to get to and from work in a reasonable time, but if you’ve got a few hours to kill for a leisurely drive, this is the way to go.
Referenced on maps as Route 72 (though you’ll never hear locals call it that), Kalaniana‘ole Highway is the eastbound route from Honolulu out to the farthest reaches of O‘ahu before rounding the corner towards Waimānalo and Kailua. Kalaniana‘ole starts off right where H-1 Freeway ends, just east of Diamond Head in the upscale neighborhood of Kahala. The first few miles are a fairly straightforward beeline through the neighborhoods of ‘Āina Haina, Niu Valley, Kuli‘ou‘ou and Hawaii Kai. If house-hunting above your means is your thing, some of the side streets along the way might be worth your while. There are also a few shopping centers along the way that are worth checking out for a bite to eat or to take in some shopping.
Things really get interesting after you pass the Koko Marina Shopping Center and start leaving civilization behind. You’ll know you’ve entered this new chapter of your journey when the roadway starts to incline. Koko Head Crater looms large on your left and there’s also a scenic lookout on your left that you can stop at if you like. (There will be several more stops along the way, so don’t worry if you miss this one.)
Towards the top of the incline is the entrance to the legendary snorkeling spot, Hanauma Bay. The lot often fills up quickly so if snorkeling is part of your day’s plan, you should get an early start. From here, the highway starts its pleasantly winding way through the east side of O‘ahu, traversing a path between ocean vistas and striking landscapes. When the conditions are right, you can see the island of Moloka‘i in the distance, and you might even see the peaks of West Maui behind it.
Now is a good time to mention that the scenic lookouts along this stretch of Kalaniana‘ole are great for whale watching. During January through March, you can regularly see Humpbacks swimming through the channel. The spouts in the distance are the usual tell. If you’re lucky, now and then you’ll catch one breaching, a sight which will make the day of even the most jaded traveler (or local).
One of these lookouts is home to Halona Blowhole, where incoming waves push through a rocky formation, causing a phenomenon that resembles, well, a blowhole. It’s a spectacular sight, but you have to catch it on the right day. If the waves are mellow, you may not get to see much action here. The views of the ocean and coastline from here are still worth the stop, though.
At the far right of this same parking lot is a footpath that descends down to a beach known locally as Cockroach Beach, but also by the more pleasant-sounding Halona Cove. It’s also commonly called From Here to Eternity Beach because this is where the iconic kissing scene from the classic movie was filmed. If you like bouncing around in the waves, it’s a fun, unique beach to spend a little time. The terrain is rocky and the waves can get rough, so be cautious.
A little further down, and visible from the Halona lookout, is Sandy Beach, a popular beach spot among locals. Former President Obama makes time to body surf here during his visits. Personally, I prefer Sandy’s over Cockroach, but your mileage may vary. At the very least, the latter is worth checking out for the “I can say I was there” factor.
Drive a little ways after Sandy’s and you’ll come upon Makapu‘u Lighthouse Trail which takes you close to a historic lighthouse nestled into the hillside. The vistas along the way are amazing and you’ll get a decent workout, too, as most of the path is uphill. You can only see the lighthouse from afar, though, as visitors aren’t allowed in. The views along the way more than make up for it.
Shortly after Makapu‘u Lighthouse, the highway starts descending back down to sea level. On your left will be Sea Life Park where you can experience dolphins, green sea turtles and other sea creatures from the islands and around the world. Directly across the street is Makapu‘u Beach and the Makapu‘u tidepools, which is a great place to stretch your legs, do a little exploring and take a quick dip.
Beyond that lie the towns of Waimānalo and Kailua. Those are an adventure worth their own entry, and perhaps weʻll do a write-up on them soon.