Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dragon's Nostrils and Makapu'u

Makapu'u Lighthouse is one of Hawaii's most familiar landmarks along the Windward (Southeast) side of O'ahu. It is actually on the South Easternmost tip of the island.  The lighthouse was built in 1909 and automated in 1974.  There is a 2-mile paved trail that leads to the lighthouse and along the way has a fantastic view of the entire coastline and the island of Molokai in the distance (The Molokai Channel runs past Makapu'u Lighthouse).  A little over a mile up the trail, there is a "whale watching plaque."  This plaque talks about Humpback Whale watching that is supposedly spectacular from this viewpoint during their mating and birthing seasons from December through April.

Getting there is really easy.  From Waikiki take Kalakaua Avenue past the Honolulu Zoo and Kapiolani Park. Turn right onto Diamond Head Road. Follow the signs going East (to your left) to Kalanianaole Highway (Route 72). You can also just jump on the H-1 East and stay straight.  H-1 turns into 72.  You'll pass Hanauma Bay (closed on Tuesdays, so no review yet), Sandy Beach Park, and the Halona Blow Hole until you get to the Hawaii Kai Golf Course. About ½ mile past the golf course, the entrance to the trail is on the right.  You'll also likely see about a half dozen paragliders gliding in the air above the mountains.  This is where all the hang gliders and para gliders come to jump off.

The hike is fairly easy, though it can be a little steep and it's 2 miles long.  You don't have to be in great shape to walk it, but definitely bring water.  We forgot (mostly because we didn't expect to be hiking at all, but just sort of stumbled on it) and by the end you're desperate for water.  Also, make sure the tide is UP when you go.  Going back to the whale watching plaque.  The trail follows the coastline, so you get some great views of the water along the way.  If you stop at this plaque, though, look down the 400 ft cliff.  The entire cliff wall is dried lava.  It will slightly slope down to a lava bed just out into the water, but still attached to the land.  If the tide is up, you'll notice the "dragon's nostrils."  The ocean has somehow carved holes and caves into and under the lava. When the water rushes underneath, the air and water are pushed under the lava and violently shoots through the blow holes (about 4-5 of them).  Well, there are two holes right next to each other that quite accurately depict a dragon's nostrils.  The sound is incredible and the geysers shoot easily 25 feet in the air.  You can hear it and see it from the trail even though it's about 350-400 feet down the cliff.  You may even see people swimming in the wading pools around there (see below).

It is a 400 ft hike down the lava cliff to the pools.  The trail to the Dragon's Nostrils (if you can call it a trail) starts near the whale watching sign. It is more of a scramble up and down. There are white arrows painted on the rock, but you can't really see them until you are on your way back up. So going down is kind of a guess if you haven't done it before. As you're climbing down the cliff trying not to fall to your death, lava rocks are loose and slipping under your feet.  This part of the hike (which is NOT on the paved trail) requires you to be in good shape (and to have a strong sense of adventure).  Getting down the cliff took us about 35 minutes or more.  It's slow and finding the trail down is next to impossible.  So we climbed/crawled down, took some pictures and video, waded in the pool with some locals (though, if I live here now, do I get to claim local status?), and tried to admire the sheer size of the cliff we just descended (and tried to get over the loud sound of the nostrils).  It sounds like there is a giant T-Rex caught or trapped underneath the lava shelf just itching to escape and attack anything in sight.  Pretty cool stuff.

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