A Mahaulepu Moonrise Hike | Best Things To Do In Kauai

I admit, there is a deep sense of satisfaction when I can keep my husband off balance. The look on his face when he hears an unexpected answer to his question is priceless. Mouth agape, eyebrows arched, followed by a bewildered stare into space. Oh, he does come back but I have never seen a re-entry in under 30 minutes. That’s exactly how it transpired when I answered yes to a moonrise hike along the south coast of Kauai Hawaii with the Sierra Club.

Hike Kauai

Hiking the Mahaulepu Trail

It was billed as a late afternoon hike along the majestic coastline of the Mahaulepu Trail to watch the moonrise, and to observe the whales. As it turned out it was much more.

A mix of 16 local residents and visitors gathered at Shipwrecks Beach adjacent to the Grand Hyatt Kauai in the late afternoon. Bob, our Sierra Club leader surprised us with the announcement that he had made arrangements for us to tour the archaeological dig at the Makawehi Cave.

Touring the Makawehi Cave

It had been years since I had visited the cave. Once, easily accessible to the public, it was closed in 1995. Dr. Burney, of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens discovered the site and recognized the historical and cultural significance to the southern coast of Kauai. However, throughout the 1980′s it was still a bit of a secret to most residents of the south shore. We took only our closest friends or family to crawl through the rock into a vast green ballroom that was surrounded by steep walls of rock that opened to the sky and lead to a mysterious cavern.

I set off from Shipwrecks Beach remembering the many trips to the cave with a spring in my step anxious to see and experience it once more. The path is well maintained with sections that are sandy, but most of the trail is crumbly coral and hardened limestone that is easy to walk upon. The easy hiking enables you to get lost in the views of the blue Pacific with whales breaching about 1/2 mile from shore and turtles swimming in the surf just below the path. The afternoon sun was strong but the reward of spectacular vistas quieted all complaints.

hiking kauai is a great thing to do

Late Afternoon Atop The Makawehi Cave

We arrived at the cave from the west side. A bit unconventional since the standard access path is along the sands of Mahaulepu Beach and up the stream.  A few visitors climbed to the top rim of the sinkhole to see the plantings of endemic species. These species evolved over millennia to withstand drought conditions and salty ocean winds, sending root systems deep into the limestone soil for nutrients.

Don’t expect carnival like colors and showy flowers in these plants, but admire their characteristics for survival in these conditions. Narrow leaf structures and surface textures make it difficult for water to be lost through evaporation and transpiration. These are the plant species that greeted the earliest Hawaiians.

Inside the cave we were met by a knowledgeable volunteer who gave us an overview of the significance of Makawehi as it relates to local history and a brief lesson on its geological characteristics. Our history lesson included its use by early Hawaiians as a place of refuge. In the 1900′s a local Hawaiian Shaman would build a fire and tell your fortune by reading the spiraling smoke created by the natural air flow as it swirled around the wall formations  and sent smoke out of the cave.  In the Hawaiian language Makawehi means spiraling smoke.  The Shaman’s final resting place is believed to have been the cave as many bones of deceased Hawaiians were found tucked away in cracks and hidden creaveses deeper in the cave.  It was a meeting place for many clandestine groups and  known to be used by a Wicken group in the early 90′s.

Hiking Kauai

Moon Over Mahaulepu Trail

After our diversion to the past we continued walking down the beach and into the present to watch whales breaching and spewing geysers into the air. The sun was giving way to a near full moonrise that lit our way back on the trail. This is a special time on this part of the coast. Grove Farm Co. officials lock the gates at 6pm hence most visitors make their departure well before then, leaving us with the beach and thoughts to ourselves as we made our way back to the trail along the limestone cliffs.

Know Before You Go For A Moonrise Walk

Hydrate, the sun at 4pm is hot. Wear sunscreen and a hat.
Do not leave your car at Mahaulepu. The gate is locked from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Park at Shipwrecks adjacent to the Grand Hyatt Kauai.
Carry a flashlight.
The cave is open to the public every Sunday from 9 a.m. till 1 p.m.

Hiking Kauai is one of the best things to do in Hawaii.

About F. Lee Morey

Aloha, I have been fortunate to live on Kauai for 30 years, I have two wonderful daughters and two grandchildren. I have owned and operated Turtle Cove Realty for 20 years and I write extensively on real estate and land issues on our island.


  1. Nice article Lee! Pinned to my Kauai board on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/pin/78320480989705873/

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