The "Mokes" as seen from Kaiwa Ridge Trail, better known as the Lanikai pillbox hike. 

Photo: Kevin Allen

4 historic and scenic Kailua sites you don't want to miss

These are just a few of the treasures to be discovered on Oahu’s windward side.

Even for people who live on Oahu, the windward town of Kailua is a sanctuary, an escape from the urban bustle of Honolulu. It’s a genuine small town, friendly, relaxed and beachy. It’s also one of the most beautiful towns in Hawaii. On one side, it’s sheltered by the dramatic green sea cliffs of the Koolau Mountains. On the other, the “Mokes,” twin Mokulua islets, dot the clear offshore waters. Here are just a few of the hikes and historic sites you don’t want to miss on Kailua side.

Ulupo Heiau

Ulupono Heiau was originally an agricultural temple to celebrate the fertility
of the Kailua area.
Photo: Phil Agustavo/Getty Images

This massive terraced platform was built with rocks from all over the island, perhaps as early as 900 A.D., certainly by 1750. Measuring 140 by 180 feet, with walls up to 30 feet high, it served originally as an agricultural temple to celebrate the fertility of this area, which was an important source of food for ancient Oahu. Later, as the struggle for control of the island intensified, it may have become a heiau luakini dedicated to success in war. This cultural site belongs to the state of Hawaii, but has been restored and cared for by a group of volunteers called Ahahui Malama I Ka Lokahi.

Kawai Nui Marsh

The beautiful Kawai Nui Marsh is a wetland sanctuary for endangered native species.
Photo: David Croxford

Just 200 years ago, this 830-acre wetland was a freshwater fishpond so rich Kamehameha the Great and his army camped here before conquering Oahu. Although much of Kawai Nui appears solid, it’s actually a floating mat of ferns and grasses, some 60 feet deep in spots. It’s home to red-beaked Hawaiian moorhens (alae ula), white-beaked coots (alae keokeo), endangered Hawaiian ducks (koloa) and beautiful long-legged Hawaiian stilts (aeo), as well as introduced species such as mynah birds, spotted doves and red-headed cardinals. A walking path runs along the marsh’s edge.

Kaiwa Ridge Trail

The pillboxes at the top of Kaiwa Ridge Trail are a colorful, communal affair.
Photo: Mike Karas

Be sure to wear sturdy hiking shoes for this one-mile (each way) trek, which climbs the ridge behind Lanikai on a steep, sometimes slippery, undeveloped path. Intrepid adventurers will be rewarded with spectacular views encompassing the Koolau mountains, Mokulua islets, and Kailua and Lanikai beaches. To get to the trailhead in Lanikai, turn left on Alala Road, which becomes Aalapapa Drive. Turn right on Kaelepulu Drive and continue for a short distance until you see Mid-Pacific Country Club on the right and the Bluestone gated townhome community straight ahead. Find parking on the street. On the left side of Kaelepulu, before the entrance to Bluestone, look for a sign that says “Private driveway.” Walk to the end of this short street and you’ll see a sign marking the start of the trail.

Maunawili Falls Trail

Experience jungle and scenic views on the Maunawili Trail.
Photo: Meghan Miner

This relatively easy, albeit usually muddy, 1.5 mile (each way) hike begins among coffee and mountain apple trees; crosses Maunawili Stream in several places; and winds past stands of ginger, mango, monkeypod, kukui and ironwood. Scenic highlights include views of Kaneohe Bay, the Koolau range, Konahuanui Peak, Awaawaloa Ridge, triple-peaked Mount Olomana and 25-foot-high Maunawili Falls. You can swim in the waterfall’s pool. To get to the trailhead, head toward Kailua on Pali Highway. Turn right at the third stoplight after the tunnels, which is Auloa Road. Bear left onto Maunawili Road and continue on it through the subdivision. The trail begins near the intersection of Maunawili Road and Kelewina Street.

This story appeared in the Spring/Summer 2012 print issue of Huakai, a bi-annual publication published by aio Media in partnership with Starwood Properties.