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Relating to Hawaii's Reknowned Makapu'u Lighthouse. 

*Scroll down for History and information about the Lighthouse.

Artist Patrick Ching has a special connection to Hawaii's lighthouses having lived and worked at the Kīlauea Lighthouse on Kaua'i as a wildlife ranger for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He also has lived near the Makapu'u Lighthouse for many years of his life.

 

In 2009, Ching's Naturally Hawaiian Gallery hosted the 100th Anniversary of the Makapu'u Lighthouse Celebration which included an art exhibit, a hike to the lighthouse with some of the folks who cared for the lighthouse, and a centennial T-shirt designed by Ching and drawn

by Nick Black. 

This year, a colorized version of the original centennial T-Shirt design is available.

Click on design to Order 

Inside the Light Pictures Below
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Makapu'u Centennial

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On October 1, 1909 the Makapuʻu Lighthouse shone for the first time. Its twelve foot tall hyper-radiant lens is the largest in the world. Artist Patrick Ching has a longtime relationship with lighthouses. In the 1980’s and 90’s, he lived at the Kīlauea Point Lighthouse on Kauaʻi before moving to Waimānalo town in 1992. At Waimānalo, he spends many of his mornings surfing the bay below the Makapuʻu Lighthouse or running the path that overlooks it.

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Makapu'u Lighthouse

America's most powerful lighthouse shines from the cliffs of Makapuʻu on Oʻahu's east shore. The twelve foot hyper radiant lens sends out a beam of light that can be seen from a boat fifteen miles out to sea. Before the lighthouse, the great frigate bird called ʻIwa displays its seven foot wingspan. Beyond the lighthouse are the peaks of Mount Olomana, and the area of Waimānalo.

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Light Waves

Early morning surf breaks beneath the Makapuʻu lighthouse on Oʻahu's east shore. Red-footed booby (birds) passes over the waves of Makapuʻu each morning on the way to their ocean feeding grounds. This is one of Patrick Ching's favorite surf spots. This painting was inspired by a beautiful wave that threw him onto the jagged rocks.

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Makapu'u Sunrise

A glorious sunrise at Makapuʻu Bay on Oʻahuʻs east shore. This is a beloved surf spot of the many island residents including the artist.

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Moon Light Makapu'u

On Oʻahu's eastern point known as Makapuʻu (bulging eyes) sits one of the world's strongest working lighthouses. When the moon is full it rises in golden glory behind the Makapuʻu light creating a majestic silhouette. The colors of the sky show the bluish shadow of the Earth fading into a pinkish twig light glow.

Makapu'u Lighthouse

On a majestic perch upon ancient cliffs on the easternmost point of Oʻahu, a beacon of light has been shining at Makapuʻu Point every night for over a century. While many lighthouses have become obsolete due to technological advances, Makapuʻu continues to serve as a crucial navigational aid and has been since it was built in 1909. 

 

According to the United States Coast Guard, the light emanating from the lighthouse can be seen from a distance of 28 miles away. In comparison, Diamond Head Lighthouse can be seen from 17 miles away.

The Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail is a two-mile (round trip) trail within the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline and is managed by the Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural resources. The trail is open daily.  While the trail is paved, there is quite an incline, and conditions can be challenging, so bring plenty of water and be prepared for sun and wind exposure.

On a typical day, the sun can be intense. While it is a harsh environment, resilient plant life clings to the cliffs and bluffs around the lighthouse. Interesting wildlife, both marine and terrestrial, can be found if you pay close attention. 

 

Expansive views along the trail include the island of Molokai and, on clear days, sometimes even Maui. 

 

Mānana is the light colored island just off shore. Mānana can be translated in english as floating or buoyant. Mānana is also known as "Rabbit Island". It was nick-named that because  rabbits from nearby Waimānalo town were taken there during the sugar plantation era so that they would not wreak havoc on the crops. The rabbits lived on Mānana for more than a century and were last seen there in the 1990's.

 

The dark island near Mānana is known as Kāohikuipu. (An older map calls it Moku Hope). Kāohikuipu refers to the 'ipu or container which is probably a reference to the cove that is shaped like an 'ipu that is visible from Makapu'u. Both Mānana  and Kāohikuipu are wildlife sanctuaries.

 

There are sweeping views of the Koʻolau Mountains and the Kaiwi coastline going up and down the trail. The view towards land from Makapuʻu Point overlooks an old valley, and boulders still in the area today are evidence of the ancient streambed. 

History

With the Kaiwi channel to the East and Honolulu harbor a short distance to the west, Makapuʻu Point was a historically important location for ocean-going vessels. The absence of light along the shoreline was a real threat for vessels approaching Oʻahu during the night. 

 

Although seafarers had petitioned the Hawaiian government to build a lighthouse at Makapuʻu Point as early as 1888, after an incident when the S.N. Castle wrecked nearby, the Territorial Government of Hawaii did not begin plans to build a lighthouse until 1901. It wasn't until 1906, when commerce between the U.S. and Hawaii began to increase,  that the U.S. Government approved funds to begin construction of Makapuʻu Lighthouse. Ironically, two months after the funding was approved, the passenger liner Manchuria ran aground between Mānana and Waimānalo. While  no lives were lost and the ship was eventually able to sail again, itʻs likely the accident could have been prevented had a lighthouse been already in place.

 

In addition to Makapuʻu Point, Mānana, located just to the north, was considered as a location to build the lighthouse. In the end, Makapuʻu Point was the chosen site, and the lighthouse was built 390 feet above sea level.

 

Hiking up the trail today, itʻs hard to imagine how challenging it must have been  to build the lighthouse in such a rugged location. To this day, the benefactors of the lighthouse, as well as visitors to this special place,  surely owe a debt of gratitude to the men and mules who worked under harsh conditions, first constructing a road, and then building the lighthouse, on steep cliffs with no shade or infrastructure during the construction process. 

 

A unique feature of Makapuʻu lighthouse is that it was fitted with the hyperradiant lens–the only lens of this type ever used in a US lighthouse. The lens, which still illuminates the lighthouse today, is about 9 ft across and 12 feet high.  Interestingly, the lens was designed by cousins of famous author Robert Louis Stevenson and had previously been displayed at the Chicago Worldʻs fair in 1893, the same year the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown. It must have been an incredible feat to haul both the lens and lantern up the rocky cliffs from a ship,  especially with winds blowing and waves crashing below.

 

The lens was installed and began functioning in 1909. Lighthouse keepers and their families lived in dwellings near the lighthouse so it could be monitored 24 hours a day. The lighthouse was originally fueled by kerosene but was converted to electric power in 1932. Tragically, before the conversion, an accident took place in 1925. Lighthouse keeper Alexander Tooney was killed and John Kaohimanu was severely burned when an explosion occurred while they were tending to the lamp.  A visit to the lighthouse warrants a moment of silence to honor these two men and the sacrifices they and their families made to keep others safe.

 

The lighthouse was automated in 1974 and from then on the lighthouse keepers living at the point with their families were no longer needed there.


While the lighthouse continued to serve as a significant aid to navigation, there has been at least one shipwreck in the area since the lighthouse began operating.   A British ship thought the Makapuʻu Lighthouse was the Diamond Head Lighthouse and ran aground.

 

The Makapuʻu Lighthouse was also tragically mistaken for the Barbers Point Lighthouse, disorienting a  World War 2 pilot who crashed into the cliffs with 9 crew aboard, all of whom lost their lives.  A plaque paying tribute to these men was installed in 2006 and can be seen just before reaching the top of the Makapuu Lighthouse trail. 

Culture

Makapuʻu Point is mentioned in Hawaiian legends and is located just a few miles down the road from one of the earliest known settlements of the first peoples who arrived in the Hawaiian islands. 

 

Archaeological excavations have recorded three heiau, or ancient Hawaiian temples,  and one Puʻuhonua, or place of refuge in the area.  There is also a fishpond called Pāhonu down the road from the lighthouse that is thought to have been built to hold honu, or sea turtles, for Hawaiian royalty to harvest.

 

According to Hawaiian lore, Makapu’u referes to bulging eyes. Makapu’u was a female kupua (demigod)  said to have traveled to Hawaiʻi from Tahiti. She was a shapeshifter, meaning she could take on many forms.  In ancient times, a stone was located on the point below where the lighthouse exists today and was said to have had eight protrusions resembling human eyes. The stone, a kinolau—the physical manifestation of Makapuʻu—is no longer on the cliff, and itʻs a mystery as to where the stone is today.

 
 
 
 
 

Plants

Due to the harsh environment, the area around the lighthouse is sparsely populated with plant life. While at one time native Hawaiian coastal plants well adapted to the windswept cliffs and harsh sun salt spray likely populated the area, today most of the plants along the lighthouse trail are introduced and many  are considered invasive species in Hawaiʻi. 

 

One notable plant you will no doubt encounter is the prickly pear cactus or pānini, which is prevalent along the trail. Pānini,  which is edible, was brought to Hawaii in the early 19th century from Mexico.  Pānini, which means “fence wall” in Hawaiian. It is a fitting name given the number of spines on this cactus, so use caution if you decide to try tasting one.

 
 
 
 
 

Animals

Inside The Light circa 2009
Vandal's shot to the lens
  • Bat

The opeʻapeʻa (Hawaiian hoary bat), is endangered and is the only non-marine mammal native to the Hawaiian Islands.  They have been detected on rare occasions in the area surrounding Makapuʻu Lighthouse.  If you are extremely lucky, you might spot one at dusk or daybreak.  This bat is a subspecies of the North American hoary bat and federally listed as endangered. Opeʻapeʻa does not roost in caves like many bat species, but rather, are solitary and roost in trees. 
 

  • Birds

Several native seabirds can be viewed from the lighthouse. If you are lucky, you may catch a view of the   ‘iwa (frigate bird)  soaring overhead,  or koaʻe ʻula (red-tailed tropicbird) flying along the coast or heading out to sea. 

 

Known for their two long, streaming red tail feathers, koaʻe ʻula  can sometimes be seen flying in backwards circles during their courtship displays.

  • Humpback Whales

Makapu'u provides an ideal location for viewing koholā, or humpback whales, with several viewing points along the trail where you can observe them during the months when they winter in Hawaii. Each year, thousands of koholā travel to the Hawaiian Islands from Alaska during the breeding and calving season from October to March. While some scientists believe these xx foot long marine mammals may have only started showing up in the Hawaiian Islands about 200 years ago,  someplace names around the islands indicate the presence of large whales in the islands long before western contact. 

 

Especially on calm days, koholā can be easily identified by their up to 20 foot high blows seen on the surface of the water. If you happen to see a whale rounding its back on the surface of the water followed by a tail fluke, you can be sure the whale is preparing for a deep dive.  If you see a whale slapping the water with its pectoral (front) fin, it may be trying to communicate to other whales. . Spy hopping, where the whale will poke its head vertically from the water surface, is another amazing sight to see.  If you are really lucky, you might see a spectacular display called breeching where the whales will jump out of the water and slam down into the surface of the water creating quite a splash. This reason for this behavior is unknown, but may be another way these incredible whales communicate with each other.

Other marine life that can be seen from the vantage points include the 'īliokauaua  (Hawaiian monk seal), or honu (green sea turtle).

 
 
Light itself
Tom Dutton, Patrick Ching and Dean Hayward 2009
Centennial Hike. Wearing the original centennial
T-shirts. The two men in white took care of the light.
Upside down islands
Dean with the Original centennial T-shirt looking to Makapu'u.
Dean with the New Makapu'u
T-shirt design recreated in 2020