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Ko‘olau Loa is only a short drive from urban Honolulu—same island, oceans apart. Abraham Akau, paniolo, Kualoa Ranch
Vol. 10, No. 2
April / May 2007

  >>   The Drive-By Coast
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The Drive-By Coast 

story by Curt Sanburn
photos by Dana Edmunds


For most locals and visitors, the northeast coast of O‘ahu is remembered as a lovely afterthought. On their way to or from the twin attractions further north—the Polynesian Cultural Center in La‘ie and the surfing Mecca that is The North Shore—’round-the-island day-trippers have no choice but to take in the lush, intensely tropical, ten-mile stretch of windward shore that lies at the heart of the district of Ko‘olau Loa. Call it the drive-by coast.

Sure, first-timers “ooh!” and “ahh!” as they wend their way north along the beach-hugging, two-lane Kamehameha Highway, thirty minutes out of Honolulu: Beginning at Kalae‘o‘io beach at the base of the 2,000-foot-tall headland called Pu‘u Kanehoalani; winding past Ka‘a‘awa’s magnificent valley and narrow ribbon of beach; around the perfectly placid bay at Kahana; then along the coconut-shaded beach colony at Punalu‘u and the fisherman-dotted reefs of Hau‘ula. And sure, they might pull off the road for a moment to take in the salty trade winds and the panoramic splendor, and click one or two digitized keepsakes. But there are few compelling dining spots, shops or other attractions to hold their attention—at least as far as most guidebooks are concerned.

The drive was lovely, they might say; and O‘ahu is, indeed, a beautiful island, they might finally conclude. But then they return to the jangle of south O‘ahu and Honolulu, where freeway traffic, clotted acres of concrete and Waikiki’s hurly-burly reasserts itself. And Ko‘olau Loa recedes to little more than an impression, a tantalizing perfume lodged in memory, redolent of O‘ahu’s deeper, older nature.