Upper Makua Cave has been on my radar for some time now, ever since photos began popping up a little over a year ago. An avid Hawaii based hiker, looked up and took notice of the cave, and thus a new hiking destination was born. I had been waiting for the perfect time to go and I was finally afforded with that opportunity.
After a short hike up Puu O Hula with the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club, we (Joel, Allison, and myself) decided to drive further up the Waianae Coast to check out Upper Makua Cave. The upper cave is located to the left of the much popular lower Makua Cave. The lower cave, is located just across the street from the Kaneana Park parking lot. If driving toward Kaena Point, the cave will be on your right and the small parking lot will be on your left.
As soon as we parked our car, we noticed a pair of hikers going directly in the direction of Upper Makua Cave. We thought that was a bit weird, since the upper cave is relatively unknown. Not too many people hike up to Upper Makua Cave. I quickly jumped out of Joel’s 4Runner and followed the pair of hikers. Indeed, their objective was Upper Makua Cave. A few feet from lower Makua Cave, you will encounter a 45-mile-per-hour road sign. That’s the trailhead. Turn right and walk into the meadow of tall grass. From this vantage point, you should be able to see the cave if you look up and slightly to your right. Just to the left of the cave will be what looks like three parallel cliff lines. In order to access the cave, we hooked a right on the second tier cliff.
I think that the best way to describe this hike is by breaking it up into three parts. Part one involves bushwacking through tall grass, shrub, and dry trees. You’ll get very scratched up if you’re not wearing long pants and long sleeves. There is no visible trail here. Our objective at this point was to simply find a way to those three parallel cliffs. This was probably the most annoying portion of the hike, but also the easiest.
The second part of the hike involves a brief, yet steep, scramble up loose dirt and rock. You’ll encounter small rocks, big rocks, and have to navigate large boulders. The tricky part here is that these rocks and boulders are not stable and have the potential to dislodge and go rolling down. Keep ample distance between you and the person hiking in front of you. Rocks will go falling down.
Just beyond the rock scramble portion, you will have reached the lower cliff tier. This marks the final portion of the hike. For many, this will also be the most nerve wrecking portion of the hike. You’ll now make your way across the second tier cliff. When we visited, there was a very noticeable trail, albeit a very narrow one. Pay attention here, if you slip then you could potentially go tumbling to your right, which will result in you tumblind down a very tall cliff. This portion involves some risky business and should not be taken lightly.
Within 30 minutes, you should reach your destination. Upper Makua Cave actually consists of two caves. You’ll first encounter a small cave and just beyond the small cave will be the much larger cave that has now become known as Upper Makua Cave. The views from the cave are obviously spectacular. You’ll have a bird’s-eye view of Makua Valley, Makua Beach, and Yokohama Beach in the distance.
When we reached the cave, we were greeted by the pair of hikers that we had seen at the trailhead. We talked story for a bit and then discovered that we actually knew each other via a hiking group on Facebook. We also had some mutual friends. It turned out that one of the hikers was Jenelyn Castillo, an avid hiker who often hikes with Baron Yamamoto and Cory Yap. Such a small world.
As we took turns taking photos, we began to hear someone yelling. Yelling at us? We peeked out of the cave and there was a man in his white pickup truck, yelling toward the mountain to “get down.” Was he talking to us? We then remembered two other hikers that we had passed on our way up. They were making their way down from the cave and had continued straight toward a fence line when we turned right toward to the cave. The man could have been yelling at those two young hikers. Maybe he was on their land? We’re not sure. Anyway, a few moments later, the hikers that we had passed while going to the cave, eventually returned to where we were. They asked if we had “heard the man yelling?” We told them that we did. She then told us that they had called the cops and had told the cops that there was a man on the road yelling at them to stop and to get down.
At that point, we all started looking at each other. Internally, I think we all were thinking, “OMG, you just called the cops? You do know that we are all on an unsanctioned trail and that we are all probably/maybe/possibly trespassing right now. And that it is possible that the cops might ticket us for being up here.” Three cops eventually did show up, however, they spent all of 5 minutes looking for the white truck and then looking up towards the mountains. They probably could not see us. They eventually left.
We eventually made our way down after having our fill of Upper Makua Cave. The cave indeed offers excellent views, however, I probably won’t be returning soon. It’s important to consider the possibility that this cave might have been a sacred burial cave during ancient Hawaiian times. It was normal for ancient Hawaiians to climb precipitous cliffs so that they could burry the bones of the deceased. This was done as a way of ensure the preservation of the individuals mana (power) and aid in the spirit’s transition to the next world. The thought of sacred bones being burried in the cave is enough to keep me away.
Explorers: Allison Baird, Coty Gonzales, and Joel Sabugo.
Total Distance: < 1-mile
Total Time: ~30-45 minutes one way.
Upper Makua Cave Tips:
- You want to visit this trail on a cool, slightly overcast day. There is no shade on this trail and so a sunny day will make this hike particular harsh. Also, be sure to use sunscreen.
- A great early morning or late afternoon hike.
- Shoes with good grip is a must.
- I’d recommend long pants and long sleeves if you want to avoid getting all scratched up during the first part of the hike.
Directions to Upper Makua Cave: From Honolulu you will drive west bound on H1 Freeway towards Ewa/Waianae. Follow H1 past Ewa, eventually it will become Farrington Highway and you pass Nanakuli, Makaha, and Waianae. Just past mile-marker 17 will be Makua Cave on your right hand side. Park across the street on your left in the dirt road parking lot. In the parking lot you will see a sign indicating that you are at Kaneana Park.