There are three little communities on the Windward Side of Oahu that I love. None of them will take you more than a minute or two to drive through and chances are that you won’t get out of your car or spend any time in them. I’m okay with that, and probably most of the people who live in these communities are okay with that.
Kahalu’u means diving place. All told there are about 2300 people in Kahalu’u. Most of them are Chinese and Hawaiian descent people. This was an area where many Canton Chinese settled in the mid 1800s. The most famous resident was probably Senator Hiram Fong. He was the first Asian American to be a U.S. Senator, the first to run for his party’s nomination for President of the USA, and to date, the only Republican Senator to ever come from Hawaii. I used to take people to Senator Fong’s Plantation in the early 2000s – he died at 97 in 2004. It was always a pleasure to chat with the Senator in his gardens. The plantation continued for about a decade as a fine tourist attraction for about a decade after his death but is now is well past its prime. I’m not even sure it is open to the public anymore but I’ve heard that you can book private walking tours there. Another couple of fun stops in Kahalu’u are the Sunshine Arts Gallery and the many Orchid greenhouses. Like Senator Fong’s Plantation though – these attractions now feel neglected and dated. There used to be one of the very few food trucks in Kahalu’u – Surf Tacos – but that and Mike’s Huli Chicken are both gone now. FDR made a stop in Kahalu’u back in the 1930s.
Driving North from Kahalu’u you will go by the Coral Kingdom, a strange and high priced tourist shop that from my perspective, doesn’t offer much. You should stop at the Macadamia Nut Farm, Chinaman’s Hat, and Kualoa Ranch.
Past the Kualoa Ranch, you will come into sweet little Ka’a’awa. K’a’a’awa means Wrasse. About 1,379 people live in Ka’a’awa. Nicholas Cage’s character gets stuck there in the movie ‘Honeymoon in Vegas’. You can bet some pretty decent Southern BBQ at Uncle Bobo’s restaurant. I love the beaches in Ka’a’awa. They are narrow strips on the ocean side of the road but rarely crowded and usually the people there are local people fishing, swiming, and talking story. On the North Side of Ka’a’awa you will find the popular Crouching Lion hike behind the now being refurbished Crouching Lion Inn.
Past Ka’a’awa you reach one of the most important places on Oahu – Kahana Valley and Kahana Bay. I’ll save that for another post. Coming around Kahana Bay you will see the red and white of Keneke’s Restaurant and that means you are in Punalu’u.
Punalu’u means ‘coral dived for’. It is home to about 881 people – and is where some of the oldest inhabitation remains found on Oahu are located. Ching’s Market and Kaya’s Market are the only two stores. These are windward everything stores and carry everything residents might need including food, fishing supplies, hardware, and 5-toed reef shoes called tabies. The Kawananakoa Beach House is located here – it was the summer home of the Kawanakoa Family (heirs to the Hawaiian throne). I lived in Punalu’u back in 2002. I managed and helped build a hostel called Countryside Cabins – it was an amazing period in my life and I learned much of what I love about Hawaii from the residents in Punalu’u who taught me about aloha, the Hawaiian way of life, and local Oahu culture. Punalu’u has fallen on some fairly hard times these days. The cabins fell into disrepair when I left and eventually folded. You will find the first of the shrimp trucks near the market’s in Punalu’u.
While very few of these places I’ve mentioned will ever make it to anyone’s Top 10 of Oahu – that is probably a good thing because Punalu’u, Kahalu’u, and Ka’a’awa all remain truly authentic places. You can’t get them by stopping for a few minutes and you won’t find hotels in any of them.