Digest>Archives> July 2004

The Lighthouses of Oahu Continue to Call us Back

By Randy C. Hemstad

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Barbers Point Light
Photo by: Randy C. Hemstad

What a tremendous combination, Lighthouses and beautiful Hawaii!! My wife and I have had the wonderful opportunity to travel from Minnesota to Hawaii on five different occasions. We have been to Maui, the Big Island, and Oahu. Our island of choice has to be Oahu. Once you learn to get outside of busy downtown Honolulu, and with a very short drive time in any direction, you’ll see what we enjoy about this tropical paradise.

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Makapuu Point Lighthouse
Photo by: Randy C. Hemstad

One of the most interesting parts of our travels always seems to include searching out the lighthouses in the area. We most certainly enjoy the other wonders of Oahu like the waterfalls, the unbelievable foliage, the awesome coastlines, the many secluded sand beaches, the mountains, luaus, the wonderful native people, Waikiki Beach, the breath taking sunsets, rainforests, and so much more.

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Diamond Head Light
Photo by: Randy C. Hemstad

However, it’s the lighthouses of Oahu that continue to call us back. These lighthouses of Oahu are as diverse as the thousands of visitors to these unbelievable islands. Like Diamond Head Lighthouse, it stands as a testament to beauty with its Fresnel jewel still shining over the Pacific - in contrast, the Ka’ena Point Lighthouse has fallen over in defeat and lies in the sands of Ka’ena Point. Ka’ena Point Lighthouse is listed on the Lighthouse Digest’s Doomsday List.

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Aloha Tower
Photo by: Randy C. Hemstad

How many lighthouses really are there on the island of Oahu?

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Pyramid Rock Light
Photo by: Randy C. Hemstad

Well, many major publications will picture two or three, the lighthouse purist (like my wife and I) will say six. We have actually visited five of the six lights on Oahu, with the sixth one being on a Marine Corp Base and we were unable to get to it. We have taken numerous pictures of all of these lights. Just like people, we should not judge a lighthouse, or even if it is a lighthouse, based on its physical appearance or size. If it has served to aid and guide mariners through those countless rocks and reefs surrounding Oahu, then perhaps that’s what we need to look at.

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Ka’ena Point Light sadly fallen over and ...
Photo by: Randy C. Hemstad

On our latest visit to Oahu, in April, we drove to Diamond Head Lighthouse, which was originally built in 1899, for another visit.

Diamond Head Point Lighthouse is easy to drive to but is an active lighthouse that houses the Coast Guard Admiral in charge of the region. Therefore, a tall fence and a locked gate stand guard over this gem of the Pacific. You can get a fair view of the tower from a nearby roadside parking area and en even better view from Diamond Head Crater. You need to enter Diamond Head Park and make a long hike to the top to get an astonishing view.

Sometimes, however, you get lucky! This year my wife and I had a lighthouse opportunity of a lifetime, the gate to Diamond Head Lighthouse was open and we could see people on the grounds and even in the tower!

Seeing the opportunity before us, we quickly parked our rental car and ran over to the gate. While we were viewing the grounds the Admiral in charge approached and welcomed us to Diamond Head Light. We visited with him and his wife, and then they invited us to walk up the tower! Diamond Head is a beautifully maintained light with its third order Fresnel lens in place, what a spectacular view.

The next day we continued our lighthouse travels with a return visit to Makapuu Point Lighthouse, built in 1909. Makapuu Point is about a 15 minute drive from the Waikiki area and involves a fair hike up Makapuu Point, it’s long - but is an easy walk (about 35 minutes). It’s worth the hike. Along the way we spotted several whales off the coastline. Normally you get to the top of Makapuu and have a very good view looking down to the ocean’s edge. This time we got off the beaten path and worked our way down to the ocean’s edge and got a much different and much closer view of the light then seen from the top of Makapuu. Makapuu Lighthouse is active and still has its beautiful Hyper-Radiant lenses, visible 28 miles out to sea. What a jewel amongst the rocks and jagged coastline!

Our next visit brought us to Barber’s Point Lighthouse built in 1888. Barbers Point is about a 45-minute drive west of the Waikiki area. In contrast to the rocky coastline that Diamond Head and Makapuu Lights stand on, Barbers Point Lighthouse rests on a beautiful sand beach with palm trees framing it for that perfect “Hawaiian Light Look.” Barbers Point is also, sad to say, surrounded by an industrial facility and is adjacent to one of the islands larger Luau parks. You simply park in the Luau parking lot and walk a very short distance to the beach to view Barbers Point Lighthouse, topped with a modern beam.

So that’s three lighthouses, where are the other three? We just discovered Ka’ena Point Lighthouse (built in 1920) during this April trip, and learned of Pyramid Point Lighthouse in the Kaneohe Bay area of Oahu. Also, Aloha Tower in the Honolulu Harbor is listed as an early Oahu light.

Ka’ena Point Lighthouse is about an hour drive west of the Waikiki area. You will park where the road dead-ends. It is another good one-hour hike to the end of Ka’ena Point to view the light. The view is fabulous all along this 2.5-mile hike of coastline. The point has protected bird sites, whale watching, and the world’s most awesome ocean view. Here’s where the beauty ends! The Ka’ena Point Light has sadly fallen over into the sand and has been marred with graffiti. The entry door has fallen off and lies inside the original lighthouse interior. In place of the once white concrete light is a rusting pole with a modern beam at its top. My opinion is that it would be quite feasible to upright and paint the original tower. It was a great experience to see yet another light, even though it has fallen to ruins.

Aloha! This is the welcome in Hawaii, just like the old Aloha Tower built in 1870 has been a welcome to boats into Honolulu Harbor for many years. Aloha Tower has been written up as a guiding light into the harbor. As a matter of fact, there is a U.S. Coast Guard plaque at the Diamond Head Lighthouse gate that gives a very brief history about Diamond Head Lighthouse. A part of this history states that Aloha Tower is the oldest light on Oahu, followed by Barbers Point and Diamond Head Lights.

Finally, we come to the Pyramid Rock Light on Pyramid Rock Point in the Kaneohe Bay area. As mentioned earlier, we were not able to view this light as it was on a Marine Corps Base. The guard mentioned that he gets about 10 visitors a day that ask about the lighthouse. He didn’t seem to know an awful lot about the light, but it was actually at the point. If you have any Marine Corps connections, perhaps you can get a look.

Our many trips to Hawaii are always renewing and filled with beauty beyond belief. The many different lights on Oahu are just that awesome extra for two lighthouse enthusiasts like us. Oahu is an exciting island with countless adventures, and we truly recommend it to all you lighthouse enthusiasts that might just like the added wonders of this tropical paradise.

This story appeared in the July 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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