Leeward (West), Oahu
Separated from the rest of the island by the Waianae Mountains, this side of Oahu has some of the last undeveloped coastline. With magnificent sapphire blue waters and uncrowded espanses of golden sand beaches, it offers a safe haven from the commercialism and crowds of Honolulu! Easily accessible, there is one main highway which follows the coast all the way up to majestic, impressive Yokohama Bay. As you drive, you will have the Waianae mountains on one side, and on the other side plenty of beach choices, just off the highway! You will also drive through lots of small towns whose communities take pride in their Hawaiian roots, going back centuries, and you will see a slice of everyday life for those who reside on this side of Oahu. There are a few resort developments on the southern end, but for the most part, Leeward Oahu is a taste of true old Hawaii…uncrowded, unrushed, and unbelievably beautiful.
Leeward Oahu Area Guide: Major Cities
Like many towns on Oahu, the town of Aiea was once a sugar plantation town. However, it quickly grew from an agricultural into a suburban community once the plantation shut down after World War II. It is now an important suburb of Honolulu. One note of interest is that many of the photos taken during the bombing of Pearl Harbor were from people living in the Aiea hillside.
Pearl City &Pearl Harbor
Now largely an urban area, Pearl City was originally where the Pearl River ran, from which both it and Pearl Harbor derive their name. The Pearl River was named for the bountiful oysters once found in the river, but, alas, the landscape was changed by time and agriculture and the oyster population declined. Today businesses thrive here instead. Pearl City is located above the north shore of Pearl Harbor. Long ago, before Pearl Harbor became the Military outpost of the United States Government, it was a tropical lagoon fed by streams form Oahu’s mountains and home to fishponds of the Ali`i (royalty) of Hawaii.
Before western civilization set foot in Hawaii, this was considered the “capitol” of Oahu. Royalty would gather to enjoy the fresh water from the Waipahu spring. Waipahu means “water gushing forth”. Later on it became a major producer of sugarcane and was one of Hawaii’s last plantation towns. Nowadays, it is a residential and business community.
Just south of Mililani and north of Waipahu is the small residential community of Waipio. It has a history in ancient Hawaiian times as the site of an important battle, but its most recent history is the International Little League World Series winners of 2008, as well as, U.S. champions in 2010! That alone tells you what an “all-american” town they are now doesn’t it?
Just west of Pearl Harbor lies the Ewa Plain, where the town of Ewa is located. In an area once covered in sandalwood, then in sugarcane and pineapple fields, Ewa is now a residential and business community. The U.S. Air Force and Navy lay claim to large areas of land here, so many military personal also populate the town. Amazingly, the Waipio team, mentioned earlier, weren’t the only ones to impress the world with Hawaii’s Little League players. Ewa’s team won the championship title in 2005!
A planned community begun in 1992, Kapolei is a growing residential town with high-end homes overlooking lush golf courses, as well as more modest homes geared to first time buyers. Many who live here work in Honolulu, but prefer the quiet lifestyle here and the close proximity of uncrowded beaches. This town takes its name form an extinct volcanic cone in this area called Pu`u O Kapolei, which means hill of beloved Kapo (sister of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of Fire and Volcanoes).
The biggest little town on the Leeward coast is home to one of the largest populations of Native Hawaiians on Oahu. Many of its residents live in the valley that lies nestled at the foot of the Waianae Mountains. This is a very family oriented residential community, and the busiest spot in town, on weekends, is the beautiful beach they have here. You might be jealous to see that even their school sits right by the beach!
This is another of the small residential communities you will pass through if driving up the Leeward coast. Ma`ili was named for the pebbles found at one end of its beach, which were important in ancient Hawaii and were used for fish sinkers, game pieces, musical instruments, and more. Not all of the beach is covered in stones however, and many who live here, along with those who visit, enjoy the expanse of beach found here.
With its protected beach and small boat harbor, Waianae is a center for boating and fishing on the Leeward Coast. While this is the dry side of Oahu, many farms are found here at the foot of the three million year old Waianae Mountains, and this town is another in the long list of plantation communities that have grown and thrived, even after the plantation days have come and gone.
Set beneath towering Mount Kaala, highest point on Oahu, you can still feel the past in this town, whose roots go back centuries in Hawaiian history. There are ruins here, still sacred, such as the Kaneaki Heiau. Makaha has also been a surfing town since olden days and continues that tradition today with its annual surf competitions. On another “note”, forgive the pun, many fine Hawaiian musicians have come from Makaha!