We usually stay in Popiu on Kauai and this is the hike we do most often. We enjoy walking paths around Keoniloa Bay to Shipwreck Beach, then we climb up to the top of the Makawehi Bluffs and follow the headlands along the shore.
“The lithified sand dunes that form Makawehi (also known as the Paa Ridge) accumulated as sand dunes during the last “high stand” of the sea, about 125,000 years ago. As sea levels lowered at the peak of the Ice Age (about 18,000 years ago), reaching its lowest point of around 360–400 feet below the present sea level, the dunes occupied a more inland position. From there, volcanic ash deposited onto the dunes and a coastal forest began to flourish. Rain percolated through the sand which partially dissolved some of the skeletal and coral grain sands. Calcite crystals grew around the sand grains and within the pore space between the grains, locking together to produce the cement that changed the carbonate sand into carbonate sandstone, also known as limestone. As the Ice Age ended, huge glaciers that had covered much of the earth melted, resulting in a rise in sea level. Waves eroded much of the dune and formed what is now Keoneloa Bay. Prior to that erosion, the sand dunes would have extended almost continuously between the two points. Today Makawehi point is being undercut by continual wave erosion. The huge blocks of limestone that lie at the base of these cliffs are examples of that erosion.” (Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail – www.hikemaha’ulepu.org)
All routes across the lithified dunes are fascinating. The shoreline area is incredibly rugged, but we often hike down to rock shelves to look for tidepool life. On the upper shoreline are sculpted limestone and sandstone pinnacles, caves, crevices, and ridges. Farther back on the dunes are sandy hills with patches of ironwoods and naupaka.
On our last trip we spotted whales dozens of times. Most often we saw male humpbacks leaping out of the water as part of their mating rituals. We also spotted a (whale) cow and calf feeding not far from the shoreline. Sea turtles graze in the surf off rocky headlands and monk seals lie in the afternoon sun on warm shelf rocks. Overhead, white-tailed tropicbirds and wedge-tailed shearwaters cruise over the headlands and skim the waves.
We sometimes hike all the way from Po’ipu Beach area to Maha’ulepu and back, a total of about 12 kms, but the section from Shipwreck Bach across these lithified dunes is about 2.5km return. For first timers to Makawehi, drive along the Poipu Road past the Hyatt and turn right just before the golf course onto Ainako Street. Park at the end. Go toward the beach, but turn onto a trail that goes through ironwoods toward the point. Follow this trail to the top. Many trails branch out on top of the dunes, but we stay on the edge of the bluffs on the oceanside as much as we can. The trails come to a final point and shallow bay not far past the Standing Soldiers, a group of ragged pinnacles facing the sea. Beyond this point, the trail does continue to Maha’ulepu, but it follows the edge of the golf course, then the stables, and some route-finding is needed here and there.
When all of Kauai is wrapped in cloud or rain, the edge of this route is often the only sunny or dry spot on the island, in the rain-shadow of the Hoary Head Range. It is the first place we go on Kauai and will return a few times each trip.