The Leeward Coast also known as the Wai’anae Coast is one of the most interesting places on Oahu – if you aren’t interested in resort hotels, manufactured tourist attractions, and over-developed promotion of a phony Hawai’i that has never really existed anywhere but in people’s imaginations.
Wai’anae” means “Water of the Mullet.” These rich fishing grounds were important to the Hawaiian people and the fierce and sometimes inhospitable landscape made it worth the efforts it took to survive here even when other areas on Oahu offered an easier way of living.
Long before Captain Cook arrived in Hawaii, there were thriving villages on the Leeward coast. After contact, populations tended to grow faster where the living was easier – parts of the beautiful valleys of the Waianae Mountains were used for garbage dumps and bomb practice. Which, by the way – are both atrocious and awful ways to treat a stunning landscape that is host to many endangered species and sacred cultural sites.
In the North there is Makaha and Yokohama Bay – south of there you will find Waianae and Nanakuli – both communities with more than 10,000 residents each. Makaha means fierce or savage in Hawaiian language – and it is likely in reference to the pounding winter surf, jagged reefs, and extremely hot temperatures. There are some beautiful beaches and bays on the Leeward Coast – but most visitors will never see them.
Most locals think of the Leeward Coast as being a predominantly ‘local’ area – and they are correct. There is a much higher concentration of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders living in this area than the North Shore or Honolulu. In general, there are fewer people of European descent on the Leeward Coast – but – there is actually still a significant military presence – like everywhere on Oahu.
The U.S. Army has a recreation center at Pokai Bay, there is still a military presence in the Makua Valley where sacred landscape has been bombed into uninhabitability, and Kolekole Pass – the shortest way to get from the Leeward Side to another part of Oahu is accessible only to military members and their families – which, if you ask me – is some serious bullshit.
The largest homeless camp in Hawaii is located on the Waianae Coast. It’s a 20 acre shantytown called Pu’uhonua o Waianae. There are many homeless on the Leeward Coast – a result of gentrification on other parts of Oahu, skyrocketing housing costs, and policies which sweep the homeless from other areas but allow them to stay on the West Side. Civil Beat has done an excellent series on the camp.
Nanakuli is home to one of the oldest Hawaiian Homesteads areas. The name Nanakuli means ‘look at knee’ in the Hawaiian language. The Hawaiian Homesteads Act was the brainchild of Prince Johan Kuhio and enacted in 1921.
Fighter Max Holloway (MMA champion) and actor Jason Mamoa (Aquaman) both come from the Leeward Coast. Both men are a good example of why you should treat the land and the people of Leeward Oahu with respect if you do choose to visit.