Exploring The Inside of The Makapuu Lighthouse

The closest that most people get to the Makapuu Lighthouse is a distant view from the nearby Makapuu Lighthouse Lookout at the end of the paved trail. A few risk takers find ways to bypass the locked gates to get a close-up view of the old lighthouse. Only a handful of people have access to the inside of Makapuu Lighthouse. The lighthouse keeper and the maintenance crew are a part of that handful. Exploration: Hawaii was granted an opportunity to visit the lighthouse, go inside of it, and get up-close-and-personal with the bulbs that light it.

The Makapuu Lighthouse. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The Makapuu Lighthouse. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Getting close to the lighthouse. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Getting close to the lighthouse. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Getting even CLOSER to the lighthouse. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Getting even CLOSER to the lighthouse. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

One of the signs that you see when you enter the lighthouse. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

One of the signs that you see when you enter the lighthouse. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

Looking into the lightbulb room from the outside. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

Looking into the lightbulb room from the outside. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

The sunrise was an afterthought. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

The sunrise was an afterthought. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

The funny thing is, our lighthouse visit almost never happened. In a twist of fate, we had found ourselves waiting for Joel at Makapuu Beach. We had planned for a sunrise shoot, but Joel missed the memo and drove to Waikiki instead. As we waited for him to make the long drive to east, we fumbled with the idea of doing our shoot at the beach, instead of hiking up to the lighthouse. When Joel arrived, we quickly tossed that idea out of the window and began our trek up the short Makapuu Lighthouse Trail.

The new plan was to bypass the lookout and have a peak at the lighthouse. Surprisingly, the gates leading to the lighthouse were open and unlocked. We were all a bit perplexed by this. We immediately thought that the lighthouse keeper was present. Despite this, we forged on. As the lighthouse came into view, we noticed three people hanging out atop the lighthouse! For a moment, I didn’t know what to do. Should I turn around? A few seconds later, a friendly voice said “come on up.” Ahnate and I looked at each other for a second. I wondered whether this was legit. I thought they were calling us up so that they could scold us. I asked Marvin, “should we go up?” He said that this was a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.” I agreed with him.

Once inside the lighthouse, we were quickly startled. Two human sized dummies we guarding the inside of the lighthouse door. WTF. Great photo opportunity. We walked up a set of spiral stairs, similar to the ones you go up when visiting Diamond Head Crater. Within a few seconds, we were hanging out atop Makapuu Lighthouse. The view was spectacular.

Marvin and Joel. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Marvin and Joel. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Glass and islands. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

Glass and islands. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

Glass and islands. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

Glass and islands. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

We were greeted by a friendly haole man, and a couple from New Zealand. As it turns out, the man was part of the Coast Guard and had been covering the lighthouse for the regular maintenance crew. He was nice enough to let us in. We were definitely happy with the decision to ditch Makapuu Beach.

The sun began to rise, but we paid little attention to it. Instead, we were all a bit fixated on the fact that we had just been given access to a restricted lighthouse. He later asked if we wanted to checkout the lightbulbs. Oh hell, of course we were interested. He let two of us in at a time. He reminded us not to touch anything, or else more than 11,000 volts of electricity would go surging through our body.

Me outside. Ahnate and Joel inside. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Me outside. Ahnate and Joel inside. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Heading to the lightbulb room. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Heading to the lightbulb room. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Inside of the lightbulb room. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

Inside of the lightbulb room. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

This powers the lighthouse. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

This powers the lighthouse. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

The light of the Makapuu Lighthouse. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The light of the Makapuu Lighthouse. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The electronics. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The electronics. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Erected in 1909. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Erected in 1909. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

I had never been inside of an active lighthouse before. I expected the bulbs to be extremely powerful and blinding. They really aren’t. The prisms within the lighthouse intensify the light. A second backup up lightbulb is present, and automatically goes on if the first bulb goes out. It’s actually a very simple setup.

This experience was transformative. Literally. As we exited the bulb room, a new breed of explorers were born. The Animal Head Super Team had just erupted from a mystical Hawaiian vagina and out popped a squirrel, panda, giraffe, and unicorn. A real fucking unicorn. The rest is, as they say, history.

Explorers: Marvin Chandra, Coty Gonzales, Ahnate Lim, and Joel Sabugo.

Directions to the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail: Get on H1 and head east bound toward Koko Head Crater. Eventually, H1 will turn into Kalanianaole Highway (Hwy. 72). You will continue on Kalanianaole Highway past Hawaii Kai, Koko Head Crater, Hanauma Bay, and Sandy Beach until you reach a park on the right hand side with a sign indicating the Ka Iwi State Scenic Shoreline. Turn right into the park and park in the parking lot at the end. The Trailhead is just beyond the parking lot. If atemping to see the sunrise, the parking lot to Ka Iwi State Park will be closed until 7am, see [1] below.

Panda is born. Photo by Unicorn.

Panda is born. Photo by Unicorn.

Your friendly neighborhood squirrel and unicorn. Photo by Panda.

Your friendly neighborhood squirrel and unicorn. Photo by Panda.

Oh hai Squirrel. Photo by Panda.

Oh hai Squirrel. Photo by Panda.

The Animal Heads Super Team is born. Photo by Friendly Random Stranger.

The Animal Heads Super Team is born. Photo by Friendly Random Stranger.


1. The parking lot leading to the Makapu’u Lighthouse trailhead is chained off during closed hours. The parking lot does not officially open until 7:00 am. We decided to park at the Makapu’u lookout point a few feet ahead. Park here at your own risk. Alternatively, many people simply park on the side of the road just after the gate leading to the trailhead.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.