Hawaii in a Campervan | Oahu’s Leeward Side + Kane’aki Heiau

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From the North Shore we had this idea that we could drive all around the North part of Oahu until we reached the other side — the Leeward Coast. Once again, our poor planning and reliance on a nonexistent Google maps meant that we drove West all the way around the Northwest tip of the island and juuuust as we thought we were going to hit the highway that would take us down the Leeward Coast…the highway ended. YOU SHALL NOT PASS! I swear we looked at a version of a map that made it seem as if a road continued around Kuaokala but I think we must have mixed up a trail map and a road map because nope. (Note: I googled this actually there *was* once a road that connected the 930 to 93, and even googling images of Oahu road maps STILL shows that a road exists around that point. Several travel sites have mentioned that the road has been closed to the public for about 25 years or so because parts of the road were washed out. You can apparently get on the road via off-roading vehicle + a permit. Nice one. You can still hike/bike without permit around Kaena Point.) After literally hitting a road block, we backtracked and drove through pineapple fields until finally reaching the Eastern side of the island.

There were pros and cons to this side of the island. On the one hand, there didn’t seem to be many tourists — even less than we saw on the North Shore (at the time, anyway) and it felt the least developed of all the areas we visited in Oahu. On the other hand, a lot of the beaches were completely filled with what seemed to be long-term permanent campers that inhabited make-shift beach tent cities. Row after row of tents and folding canopies were crammed together like sardines on every square inch of sand and big black garbage bags full of trash littered both sides of the coastal highway. If not for the natural beauty of the ocean and mountains, it would have felt almost post-apocalyptic.

It turned out that these were large homeless camps which was pretty crazy and, considering all the restrictions on beach camping that we encountered, interesting that it was overlooked on this side of the island. The Leeward Coast couldn’t have been more different from Waikiki or even the North Shore. It was quite literally a different side of Oahu that we did not know existed. I don’t know if these homeless camp-cities still exist anymore — some more updated info I have read said that the beaches were cleaned up (where did the people go?) and others say that the camps were still there. The photos I have found online don’t even look remotely close to the number of packed in tents that we saw back then. Sadly what hasn’t changed since 2008 is that homelessness (or houselessness?) is still a big issue on Oahu and the other Hawaiian Islands.

But back to our travels, which now seemed so trivial. I think we had an entire Road to Hana part 2 style checklist of all the stuff we wanted to see on the Leeward Coast but after seeing all the tent communities our spirits were a bit deflated. We made a few stops, mostly at unoccupied beaches. At Yokohama Beach we got our snorkeling gear out and surveyed the water. Big dark clouds hovered over an eerily empty beach. I chickened out. I may not like being surrounded by other tourists but I certainly do not enjoy snorkeling when I’m the only person in the water. No way.

Our final stop was Kane’aki Heiau in Makaha Valley. According to wiki:

The ancient gods of Hawai’i made specific places on the island sacred. One such ancient Hawaiian heiau can be found deep in Makaha Valley and is one of Hawaii’s best maintained archeological sites. The Kane’aki Heiau was built in the fifteenth century and was known to be both an agricultural heiau and a war temple. As a war heiau human sacrifices were performed on the first prisoners of war.

Getting to Kane’aki Heiau was in itself interesting. I believe we had to drive on and through private land (again) and past some kind of security guard/gate? Somehow we figured it out and once we found the place realized we were the only people there. And once again we both had this feeling of where the heck were we? It felt as if we had walked through a jungle (or parking lot) and emerged on the other side in some lost ancient world. (NOTE: I’m not sure if this is open to the public any longer, at least not via the security gate entrance. It seems (like SO many closed places/trails/routes in Hawaii) to be a way to get there it via a back entrance.)

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