Kaʻena Point – Seabird Sanctuary and Natural Area Reserve

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As we began our early ascent up the leeward coast, the Wai’anae mountains rose overhead, casting shadows that stained the ocean black. We were only 20 minutes from the harbor, and with about 5 miles still ahead of us, I was excited about pelagic birding and freediving. Soon we were nearing the beautiful and isolated Keawaula or “Yok’s”. Ka’ena Point lay just ahead.

Kaena point oahu seabird sanctuary dive spot narJust as the native Hawaiians knew that Ka’ena Point was the soul’s departing place from the physical world, we were now migrating from the comfort of solid landmass. Beyond Ka’ena Point was the seemingly endless ocean. White water exploded against the rocky shore of the raised sand dune. Basalt climbed out of the deep ocean and led to the dramatic, volcanic peaks forming the peninsula. There was an entire universe below our vessel. We are never really alone or isolated.

On land, albatross are very awkward and often have difficulty taking off and landing. However, they are graceful and impressive in flight. An albatross in flight can be so perfectly attuned to wind conditions that it may not flap its wings for hours, or even for days, as it can sleep while flying. It takes advantage of the air currents just above the ocean’s waves to soar in perpetual graceful motion.

Laysan Albatross soars overhead during nesting season on Oahu's Ka'ena Point

Laysan Albatross soars overhead during nesting season on Oahu’s Ka’ena Point

Albatross are such beautiful flyers that superstitious sailors believed they were the reincarnated spirits of dead sailors who were searching the oceans for their lost friends. Albatross can be seen nesting at Ka’ena Point, or on our ocean wildlife tours during the winter months.

Ka’ena Point

“Ka-leina-a-ka-'uhane” The soul’s leapKa’ena Point has historically been used for fishing, opihi picking, and recreation. Designated a Natural Area Reserve in 1983, it is a seasonal nesting area for Laysan Albatross, a resting area for Hawaiian monk seals, and home to endemic native plants. It is also a significant area to Hawaiian culture, home to many legends and the “jumping off place” (pictured) to Po, the eternal resting spot of the gods, where land, sea and time are woven into one fabric of space and time. The point offers views of the Waiʻanae coast, Mokulēʻia, and the Pacific. 

The Legend of Ka’ena Point

On the northwestern coast of Oahu is a point of land called Ka’ena Point. Nearby is a huge boulder called ‘Pōhaku o Kauaʻi’ or ‘Rock of Kauaʻi.’ Legend has it that both of these landmarks came to be because of the actions of one man on a dark, stormy night many years ago.

On this night, when the wind raged, lightning struck, thunder rumbled and the rain beat down from the heavens upon the islands of Hawaii, a baby boy was born. The storm was so vicious that the unrelenting rain that fell from the black clouds washed the red soil down through the valleys and soon the flooded streams and thundering waterfalls churned as red as blood.

As the storm raged on, a rainbow appeared above the house in which the baby was born. It was still there the next day when the storm died down, the sky cleared and the sun came out. It was thought that the child was special, and that rainbow was a sign of his power.

The boy was named Haupu. He displayed incredible strength at an early age and eventually grew to be a brave and powerful warrior. He was known throughout the islands – respected for his amazing strength, but feared for his quick temper.

One night, Kaena, an Oahu chief, organized a night-fishing expedition. He gathered many people from the village and they set out in canoes of all sizes, with torches and their largest fishing nets.

This same night, Haupa was sleeping in his royal home on Kaua’i, some thirty miles (48 km) from Oahu. He awoke to strange noises out on the water, and when he looked out he saw faraway lights dancing in the black distance. Half asleep, Huapu imagined a group of warriors coming from Oahu to attack his people, and so he rushed to the edge of a nearby cliff, heaved up a huge boulder, and flung it out across the channel between the two islands.

The canoes were smashed and shattered into tiny pieces, and Chief Kaena, who stood proudly in the middle of his people, lost his life along with many of the fishermen. The boulder hit the water with such force that the resulting waves washed huge amounts of sand onto the shore, forming a point of land.

The survivors of the disastrous fishing expedition made their way back to the shore of Oahu, and thereafter named the cape ‘Kaena’ after their fallen chief. The boulder, they named the Rock of Kauai.

Ka’ena Point Whale Watching

“For a small-craft whale-watching experience to Ka’ena Point, locals recommend Wild Side Specialty Tours. Founded by marine biologists, this company brings people not just near the whales, but right alongside their habitat. There’s an educational element to the excursions, which are typically led and narrated by marine biologists. Observation easily intensifies into actual conservation research if that’s something that interests you. Excursions head out to Oahu’s west coast, particularly off Kaena Point.”

Hawaii vacations: Top whale-watching tours | Orbitz Blog

Diving Ka’ena Point by Boat

While Ka’ena Point is renowned site for hiking and bird watching, it also offers a pristine hidden gem for diving enthusiasts, away from the crowded dive spots elsewhere.

Unique Diving Experience

Diving at Ka’ena Point offers an opportunity to explore pristine underwater landscapes. The waters here are known for their clarity, providing excellent visibility for divers. The area is characterized by dramatic underwater topography, including lava tubes, arches, and caverns, which create an adventurous diving experience.

Rich Marine Life

The marine life at Ka’ena Point is abundant and diverse. Divers can expect to see a variety of tropical fish, including parrotfish, butterflyfish, and surgeonfish. The area is also home to larger marine species such as Hawaiian green sea turtles, manta rays, and Hawaiian monk seals. During the winter months, divers will hear the songs of humpback whales migrating through the area.

Conservation and Respect

Ka’ena Point is a protected area, both above and below the water. The Ka’ena Point Natural Area Reserve aims to preserve the unique coastal and marine ecosystems. Divers are encouraged to respect the marine environment by avoiding contact with coral reefs and marine life. Practicing good buoyancy control and following the principles of “leave no trace” helps in preserving this underwater paradise for future generations.

Accessibility and Conditions

Reaching Ka’ena Point can be an adventure in itself. The area is accessible via a hiking trail from either the Wai’anae or Mokuleia side. This means divers should be prepared for a hike with their gear or arrange for boat access. Due to its remote location, it’s crucial to check weather and sea conditions before planning a dive. The waters around Ka’ena Point can be unpredictable, and it’s recommended to dive with an experienced operator familiar with the area.

Diving Tips

  1. Plan Ahead: Due to its remote location, ensure you have all necessary equipment and supplies.
  2. Dive with a Buddy: Always dive with a partner and inform someone on land about your dive plan.
  3. Check Conditions: Verify weather and sea conditions prior to your dive to ensure safety.
  4. Respect Wildlife: Maintain a safe distance from marine animals and avoid touching the coral reefs.

For more information on diving conditions and guided tours, you can visit local dive shops or check resources like the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources for the latest updates on marine conditions and conservation efforts.

References

  • Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources: dlnr.hawaii.gov
  • Dive Oahu
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

By optimizing your dive trip to Ka’ena Point with these tips and information, you’ll ensure a safe, enjoyable, and environmentally conscious adventure in one of Oahu’s most captivating underwater locales.