Windward Oahu – The Other Hawaii

When most people think about Hawai’i (1), Honolulu and Waikiki beach typically come to mind. However, there is a part of the island of O’ahu that is less known, but equally attractive – windward Oahu. I am extremely fortunate to live on this eastern side of the island and want to share some of the many attractions that you don’t want to miss if you ever get the opportunity to vacation in Hawaii.

Location

You’ll find windward Oahu on the east coast of the island. It gets its name from the fact that the cool, negative-ion-rich trade winds blow from east to west, hitting the eastern coast first, instead of from west to east as winds flow across the U.S. mainland. Windward Oahu is, indeed, windier than the rest of the island and is known for its lush vegetation and scenic beaches. It is separated from the rest of the island by the 2,000-foot Ko’olau (“windward” in Hawaiian and pronounced “ko oh LAU”) mountain range, the greenest mountains on the planet, in my humble opinion. The mountains extend from La’ie (pronounced “la-EE-ay) in the north to Waimanalo in the south.

Oahu, Hawaii
(Click the map to go to Google Maps to see more details.)

The windward coast of Oahu spans approximately 28.4 miles (as the crow flies), stretching from the city of Kahuku in the north to Waimanalo in the south and is nestled between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Travel distance between these two points is approximately 36 miles and takes about an hour to complete, depending on traffic.

Routes into windward Oahu from Honolulu Include:

  • West to east, through the mountains, via the Pali and Likelike (pronounced “lee KAY lee KAY”) Highways, or
  • East to west and then north, along the scenic route, via Kalani’ana’ole Highway, a breath-taking drive that you don’t want to miss.

You can also take Interstate H3, which you connect to from Interstate H1, but I would recommend this route only if you are driving south on the H1 and are north of the Likelike Highway. On the other hand, the view as you come through the mountains on the H3 is so spectacular that you might want to take this route just to see it.

Climate

Many people aren’t aware of the fact that the Hawaiian islands have a number of distinct “micro-climates,” including snow at the higher elevations of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii. Windward Oahu also boasts a micro-climate, with higher levels of precipitation and temperatures that are several degrees cooler than the rest of the island. This unique micro-climate is due to the warm, moist air coming in from the east, moving up the Ko’olau Mountains, and then condensing as it cools.

Windward Oahu – The Other Hawaii

Cloud-capped Ko’olau Mountains
(c) 2011 Patrice Walker

Unlike most of the U.S. mainland, Hawaii has two seasons: winter and summer. During winter, also known as the rainy season, temperatures range from the upper 70s during the day and can dip as low as the upper 50s (considered “cold” for Hawaii) at night. But, typically, night-time temperatures during the winter stay within upper 60- to low 70-degree range.

The rainy season occurs from October to May, during which rainfall averages around 20 inches for the island as a whole. It can get as high as 200 inches annually on the windward coast, with a typical winter day including at least one downpour. I remember driving at night and being caught in a downpour that dropped 11 inches of rain in an hour. Not an experience I want to repeat. As a result of this rainfall, windward Oahu abounds in lush, vibrantly green vegetation.

Summer temperatures on the windward side reach into the upper 80s, although this summer (2011) there have been several 90-degree days because of a long stretch of weather, during which the trade winds stopped blowing and the heat index rose as a result of high humidity. Night time temps fall into the upper 70s. The UV .ndex, even in winter, is high, ranging between 6 and 7, which is higher than Florida’s UV index.

Major Cities

Many small towns dot the windward coast of Oahu, including Kahuku in the north, Hau’ula, Ka’a’ava (pronounced “ka ah AH va”), and Kahalu’u (where I live). The four largest cities are:

  • Kane’ohe, perched at the mouth of Kaneohe Bay.
  • Kailua, at the mouth of Kailua Bay
  • Waimanalo, at the mouth of Waimanalo Bay
  • Laie, home of the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Each of these cities has its own unique personality and is complete unto itself, so much so that residents rarely have to travel through the mountains to Honolulu and points west to get their shopping, educational, and entertainment needs met.

Activities

Windward Oahu – The Other Hawaii

Strolling along ‘Flagpole’ Beach, Kailua Bay
(c) 2011 Patrice Walker

Windward Oahu has more than enough activities to keep you thoroughly entertained during your Hawaiian vacation, including swimming, wind and board surfing, and kayaking on its beautiful beaches (e.g., Kailua Beach Park, Waimanalo Beach Park); hiking up rugged mountain trails; golfing at several private and public courses; and shopping at the Windward Mall and Kailua Town Center.

Sightseeing

As for interesting places to visit, windward Oahu offers you a host of choice spots such as:

  • The beaches of Kailua and Waimanalo Bays
  • Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens
  • Valley of the Temple Memorial Park, home of the Byodo-in Buddhist Temple
  • Nu’uannu Pali Lookout
  • Maunawili Hiking Trail and Falls
  • Kualoa State Park and Ranch
  • Ulupo Heiau, one of many archeological sites on the island
  • Kaneohe Marine Corps Base
  • Polynesian Cultural Center
  • Sea Life Park
  • Makapu’u Lighthouse.

You probably need several weeks to take in all of these fantastic sites and enjoy the many activities that are available to you on windward Oahu. But if you can get to one or two of them on your next visit to Hawaii, you’ll thank yourself for having done so. In the coming days, I’ll be writing articles about each of these sites, as well as the major cities, so that you’ll have a fairly complete picture of what you’ll be missing if you decide not to travel off the beaten path to visit windward Oahu.

(1) The first appearance of the more complex Hawaiian words is italicized written as it appears in the written form of the Hawaiian language (to the degree that my text editor allows). Subsequent spellings are anglicized.

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