Nuaanu Pali Lookout, Jet Set With Mary

Nuaanu Pali Lookout, Oahu

The other day I looked at Pete and said, “Let’s go on a little road trip today, and head up the Pali to the lookout.”

One of the most scenic drives on Oahu is the Pali Highway, connecting the Windward side of the island to the downtown Honolulu area. Although we’ve been on the Pali many, many times, we had never taken the exit for the lookout — a scenic spot with panoramic views of the Windward Coast and a historic landmark.

Nuaanu Pali Lookout, Jet Set With Mary

After parking our car (which is free for residents, and $3/car for visitors) and walking towards the stone terrace, we were nearly blown over by the strong gusts of wind sweeping over the Koolau cliffs. The interesting thing to me about this lookout is the history this spot symbolizes. In the 1800s, there were only two ways to travel between the two sides of the island: a long canoe ride around the southeastern tip of Oahu or a treacherous hike over the Koolau Mountains. The pali (cliff) hike was the fastest and most direct route, albeit dangerous for visitors and those unfamiliar with it. The Hawaiians had no trouble navigating this trail by foot, and used this route to travel from the Windward side of the island to sell their chickens, pigs, and goats (amongst other wares) in Honolulu.

Nuaanu Pali Lookout, Jet Set With Mary

In 1845, the foot trail was widened and paved to allow easier access for horses. At this point, a typical journey from one side of the island to the other took about three hours. In the late 1800s, a new route, called the Carriage Road, was built below the horse trail. This road was about 20 feet wide, wound around the mountain, and was supported by stone walls. This very busy road was still quite dangerous, however, due to the strong wind gusts that would occasionally blow carriages off of the road.

Nuaanu Pali Lookout, Jet Set With Mary

During the Carriage Road construction, over 800 skulls were found, believed to be remains of warriors who fought in the Battle of Nuaanu. The Nuaanu Pali pass played a pivotal role in Oahu’s history, and in 1795 it was the site of a key battle between King Kamehameha I and Kalanikupule. (Kamehameha was trying to unify the Hawaiian islands, and up to this point had conquered the Big Island, Maui and Molokai; Oahu was next on his list.) During the battle, Oahu’s defenders (Kalanikupule’s warriors) were trapped above the cliff and eventually fell to their deaths.

Until the 1950s, this was still one of the only way to get from downtown Honolulu to the Windward Coast. A more traditional highway was built, complete with tunnels that run through the Koolau Mountains, making transport between the two sides of the island easy and efficient.

Image credits: Jet Set With Mary

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