Exploring O‘ahu's East Side

Posted in: Culture & History, Environment, Things to Do

Without a doubt, this side of the island has its share of natural beauty with a list of things to check off your to-do list. Here are a few of them:

ON THE WAY:  Did you know that The Kahala Hotel & Resort is home to a family of dolphins? These ocean ambassadors live in a large naturalistic ocean-fed lagoon, and are part of Dolphin Quest’s mission to better connect people with marine mammals, other marine life and our oceans.

Through educational, experiential learning programs, the human-animal bond is strengthened, and is meant to educate and inspire guests with compassion, empathy and the desire to make a difference in the future of dolphins and all ocean wildlife.

In addition to being a fun and educational experience, swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Quest directly supports wild dolphin conservation efforts.

To date, Dolphin Quest has contributed over $4.8 million in support of vital marine mammal conservation, education and scientific studies. These efforts directly aid wild dolphin populations, and it’s all due to guest participation—you can make a difference with Dolphin Quest. Map E:C16.

Once you get off the H-1 Freeway and onto Kalaniana‘ole Highway, you’ll be surrounded by high-end neighborhoods, shopping areas and lots of places to stop for a snack or meal. But don’t get sidetracked.

Keep going and you’ll eventually hit natures’ jackpot—Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve (our best advice is to get there early so you can make it into the parking lot) where you’ll see an abundance of colorful marine life at their best. Closed Tuesdays.

Venture into the 60-acre Koko Crater Botanical Garden on the inner slopes of Koko Head Crater, then continue on to see dramatic Halona Blowhole doing its thing during high tide. Sandy Beach Park is a beautiful beach, but swimming isn’t advised due to a powerful shore break. 

Once the road turns left, you’ll be near Makapu‘u Lighthouse and its popular two-mile (both ways) paved path. Park at the small lot or carefully along the roadside and start walking! On your right is amazing Koko Head, but once the trail heads to the left, the Pacific Ocean on your right will leave you breathless! From here, continue on with an option to hike to the red-roofed Makapu‘u Lighthouse built in 1909; it’s protected by a fence and closed to the public, but you can still see it. Better views are from above.

The end of the trail brings stunning views of the windward coast and two offshore islands home to wildlife sanctuaries. On a clear day, you may even see the islands of Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i. This is also an excellent place for viewing Humpback whales until May, so bring binoculars! Map G.

Sea Life Park Aerial
Aerial view of Sea Life Park, with Manana and Kaohikaʻipu (aka Rabbit Island and Black Rock) in the background

Anchoring East O‘ahu is Sea Life Park, a must-do for anyone who wants to get up close and personal with marine life. Dolphin encounters offer the chance to touch and play with bottlenose dolphins, and you can swim with sea lions, Hawaiian rays and sharks. It’s small enough to enjoy on foot, but diverse enough to enjoy as a full-day destination.

Try the interactive shark experience—Shark Tank Scuba. Novice and experienced divers are invited to immerse themselves in the 300,000-gallon tank and swim among native Hawaiian sharks and rays. Scuba equipment, general and one-on-one instruction are provided. Shark Tank Scuba is available daily; call for reservations.

Literally translating to “the ocean,” Ka Moana is part of Ka Moana Lū‘au, situated at Sea Life Park, overlooking the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean. Best of all, lū‘au guests get to enjoy two experiences for the price of one!

“Every lū‘au ticket includes admission to Sea Life Park,” says Dean Calibraro, Ka Moana Lū‘au’s vice president of sales and marketing, “and guests have the option to either start their day with Sea Life Park and cap their night with Ka Moana Lū‘au or attend the lū‘au, and have up to seven days to return to the park with their admission.”

At the lū‘au, everyone has the opportunity to participate in cultural activities such as lei making, ‘ukulele lessons, hula lessons, coconut weaving, and even get a temporary tattoo to commemorate the night.

What makes Ka Moana Lū‘au special? “Easily, the people,” states Calibraro. “I could tell you it’s our world-class production company or the second-to-none venue, both worthy of recognition. But the people set us apart from any other activity out there. From the moment you’re greeted and adorned with a lei, you know you’re in for an incredible evening where everyone has the single goal to go above and beyond to make this lū‘au experience the best part of your vacation.

“All of us at Ka Moana Lū‘au are fortunate to be able to share the aloha with our guests, wherever they’re from,” says Calibraro. “Their smiles, joy and comments make what we do so fulfilling. They keep us striving to improve the experience and strengthen our connection with them.”


Further reading about cruising O‘ahu's east side:
Alternate Routes: The Pali is Closed? Consider Kalaniana‘ole Highway


[A version of this article appears in print in the pages of This Week O‘ahu]


keywords: east oahu east side windward waimanalo hawaii kai makapu‘u lighthouse sea life park dolphin quest humpback whales kahala hotel resort ka moana lū‘au island scenic drives driving views

Aerial view of Sea Life Park, with Manana and Kaohikaʻipu (aka Rabbit Island and Black Rock) in the background


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