Makapu’u Tidepools is my “go-to” when I have nothing to do on Oahu. It’s fun, it’s easy to get to, and you get some of the best views driving around the east side of the island. This is the ultimate half-day activity if you’re visiting or out of ideas on a Saturday morning. Depending on what month you go, you either get a laidback swimming experience or witness the sheer force of nature.
How to get there
Take H1 east until it turns into Kalanianaole highway (don’t try to say it out loud, I’ve lived here for 4 years and I still can’t). Then ride that bitch all the way past Hanauma Bay and Sandy’s beach until the road curves left and you see the parking lot down on the right.
Parking is horrendous here so look for street parking instead of journeying down the hill to the parking lot and waiting for all the Japanese tourists to figure out how to park a car (they never will).
Walking up the trail and down the rocks
As far as difficulty goes, hikes don’t get much easier than this. There’s a MASSIVE freshly paved trail that takes you all the way from the parking lot to the lighthouse. Unfortunately, there are no bikes on the top so you can ride down (yet, I’m working on it) but the trail is minimal difficulty and takes about 45 minutes to get to the lighthouse.
Like most of the best hikes in Hawaii, in order to get to the Makapu’u tidepools wait until you see a sign that says “DON’T HIKE HERE” then walk right past it and climb down the rocks. There’s not really a defined trail, just walk/climb where you feel comfortable until you get to the bottom.
In the summer when the tide is calm, the pools are still and made for lounging. In the winter, the tide is violent and provides a much different experience. The main attraction is this massive blowhole that shoots like a geyser every time a large wave goes underneath (every 10 seconds).
The water was especially rough that day which was a nice surprise. If you’re visiting from December – February/March, you can expect this experience. Don’t go down there thinking you’re going to swim all day, it’s more of a sightseeing adventure. If you go any other month, this spot looks completely different. Check the surf report and see how rough the waves are to figure out what kind of day you’re going to have.
Or just wing it, you really can’t have a bad time here.
Drip or Drown
Usually, there are gentle, calming tides washing over you as you float in the saltwater pools. When you go in February, those calming tides turn into giant, dangerous waves that explode over the tidepools. It’s way more entertaining, but it also makes swimming impossible unless you want to have a mosh pit with some lava rocks (you don’t). I saw a group of tourists taking photos that found that out the hard way.
If I’m being honest, and this blog is nothing if not honest, the photos make it look much worse than it actually was.
I will say, there was an Eastern European tourist woman that got much closer to the right side of the tidepools and took a horrible fall along the rocks. It looked like she went swimming with glass. Don’t feel bad, it was clear how dangerous it was and she still decided that she was tougher than the ocean. Imagine thinking you’re tougher than the ocean.
As you can see from the above photos/videos, the tidepools are these glassy looking mini-hot tubs that you can swim in. Pretend the wall of white water isn’t there and you have a good idea of what it’s like on a calm day.
This place is dope
Winter, spring, summer, fall, any season you want to go to the tidepools is a good season. Make sure to get some slow-mo vids of the waves and stop by Kona Brewing Company and/or Bubbies on your way back. Or, if you’re a true American, make sure to hit the Outback Steakhouse with the best view in the country.
- Avoid the parking lot at all costs, park on the street
- Bring some water and sunscreen – there is no shade at the Tidepools
- Make sure to hike up to the lighthouse after or before, it’s worth it