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Point Taken: Exploring Oahu's remote Kaena Point

Kaena Point is the island of Oahu's westernmost landfall.

We weren’t even three minutes into the craggy dirt roadway to Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve when one of our companions busted a tire on his bicycle. A not-exactly welcome, if unexpected chance to absorb my surroundings.

It was the first time in years I had been on the coastal trail traversing remote Kaena Point, one of the last intact sand dune ecosystems in the main Hawaiian Islands. Oahu’s westernmost promontory, Kaena Point rewards hearty hikers with sweeping views of the island’s still rugged north and leeward coastlines.

The uneven 5-mile trail around Kaena Point can be entered from two locations—Keawaula Beach (aka Yokohama Bay) at the end of Farrington Highway on Oahu’s western coastline, or Mokuleia at the same highway’s north coast endpoint. Far removed from Oahu urbanity, Kaena Point is one of the island’s last easily accessible pockets of nature left largely untouched. For more than a quarter century, the state has protected nearly 60 acres of land at the point, first as a nature preserve and, more recently, as an ecosystem restoration project for endangered and protected coastal plants and seabirds.

With motorized vehicles verboten in the reserve, the Kaena Point Trail is well suited for hiking and biking—the latter, preferably on durable mountain bikes. Straddling the coastline from our Keawaula Beach starting point, the trail passed steep cliff faces dropping into the ocean and stands of bright green beach naupaka shrubs. On our two-hour trek to the point, we encountered shoreline fishing enthusiasts and families with kids playing in shallow tidepools.

A wedge-tailed shearwater takes flight above Kaena Point's sand dunes.

The coastline, in fact, appeared largely unchanged since the last time I explored it save for one new feature we found as we reached Kaena’s sand dunes. There was now a large fence stretched across the entirety of the peninsula.

In April 2011, the Hawaii state Department of Land and Natural Resources installed a 6.5-foot-tall fence to keep out predatory animals and invasive plant species that had been devastating native and endangered flora and fauna. Painted to blend with natural surroundings, the stainless steel, fine-mesh fence, which crosses a half-mile of the peninsula from the south to north coast, had an immediate positive effect. The area’s population of wedge-tailed shearwater fledglings increased from 300 to more than 1,700 within a year of the fence’s installation. Laysan albatross fledgling populations are up 25 percent this year and native plants such as ohia and sandalwood are now covered in fruit.

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