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Exploring East Honolulu

We explore beyond the cul-de-sacs to find East Honolulu’s friendly personalities, hidden treasures and where your lost fins ended up.


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Koko Crater’s Backside


The StairMaster-from-Hell hike along the old railway track to the peak of Koko Crater is great for both the aerobic exercise and the views. But the nonstop parade of other hikers huffing and puffing their way to the 1,208-foot summit makes this the wrong mountain for those seeking solitude. Unless, that is, you take the back way. A lesser-known route to the top starts along Kalaniana‘ole Highway near the Hālona Blowhole Lookout. It’s a steep, three-quarter mile trek over crumbly rock and loose dirt, with a precipitous natural arch to traverse, and a spectacular but not-for-the-faint-of-heart walk along the narrow crater rim to the summit. The Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club traditionally celebrates the New Year by tackling this hike on Jan. 1. If you join them you’ll forfeit the solitude (dozens of people turn out), but you’ll get use of the rope the club strings along the arch for safety. 




Koko Crater’s Double Secret Surprise

Then and now. 
Photo: Elyse Butler 


Out of sight, out of mind. That probably explains why so few people know what’s really inside Koko Crater. For the uninitiated, it’s this: a 60-acre xeriscape garden and horses. The Koko Crater Botanical Garden is the dry-land cousin of the better-known Foster Botanical Garden. It features desert flora from four parts of the globe—Africa, the Americas, Madagascar and Hawai‘i—planted along a two-mile, unpaved loop trail. The garden is a must for botany buffs, a great spot for quiet strolls through the guts of an extinct volcano, and one of the few places in Hawai‘i where you’ll encounter a baobab tree. Next door, Koko Crater Stables offers everything good stables should: riding lessons, horse shows, birthday parties with pony rides, and plenty of oats and straw. Emogene Yoshimura, who began riding there as a child in the 1960s, grew up to become a veterinarian, and bought the place in 1990. She’s forever amazed by how many long-time Honolulu residents are clueless about the crater’s horses. “The stables have been around for 50 years,” says Yoshimura, “and people still don’t know they’re there.” Botanical garden admission is free; open from sunrise to sunset. For Koko Crater Stables, call 256-1317. 




The Lost and Found of East Honolulu

Anyone who bodyboards at Makapu‘u will tell you: If you lose your fins there, you’ll likely find them five miles down the coast in Hanauma Bay. There’s no specific current that runs directly between the two spots, but during a high tide rise, the normal current pulls from Makapu‘u to Hanauma Bay, then moves in the opposite direction during the dropping tide. The result? A stash of lost items from Makapu‘u gets trapped in Witches’ Brew, a natural catch basin in the bay’s rocky cove. 




Save Sandy Beach

As seen in HONOLULU Magazine in 1989.
Photo: Courtesy Brett Uprichard

Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the historic Save Sandy Beach Initiative vote that stopped development of 31 acres of the Ka Iwi coastline on the island’s southeast end and kept the area as a natural green space. In 1987, Kaiser Development Co. got the OK from the Honolulu City Council to build about 200 homes on this rugged stretch of coastline mauka of Sandy Beach. A year later, a very determined group of activists, surfers, students and residents collected 40,000 signatures to spark an islandwide vote to protect this area. The public voted an overwhelming 2-to-1 to stop development. The coastline was preserved even though the Hawai‘i Supreme Court invalidated zoning by intitiative. HONOLULU named the coalition Islanders of the Year in 1989.




The Eight Eyes of Makapu‘u

Makapu‘u means “hill beginning,” as well as “bulging eye.” In legend, it’s associated with a supernatural being of the same name. Makapu‘u was no beauty. She had eight glowing eyeballs. In one story, Pele’s sister Hi‘iaka travels to O‘ahu by canoe and is invited ashore by Makapu‘u, who has prepared a meal. But Hi‘iaka’s companions are too frightened by Makapu‘u’s appearance to land, and they continue paddling, leaving Hi‘iaka to hike back to see her fearsome friend. It may be a coincidence, but from atop Makapu‘u’s 647-foot summit, the mountain offers lovely views in all eight directions of the compass rose (north, northeast, east, southeast, south, southwest, west and northwest). Today, there’s just one glowing eye there, that of the Makapu‘u Point lighthouse. 

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Honolulu Magazine July 2020