“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it be to sail or to watch – we are going back to whence we came.” - John F. Kennedy
Seaspray gently kissed my face while waves violently crashed into the jagged cliffs below me. I stood steadfastly on that small peninsula for what seemed like a lifetime but in reality, it was probably only a few fleeting moments in time. Emotions unexpectedly welled up within me as the salt air filled my lungs and I felt utterly and completely tied to the ocean.
The Pacific Ocean was smashing into the volcanic rock more than 20 feet below me but I could taste the saltwater on my lips. I was practically entranced by the rhythm of the giant rolling waves. The feeling of being so close to such awesome power was intoxicating but I snapped out of it when water crashed over the point and filled in the weather-worn holes around my feet.
Summer, my wife was waiting at the top of the scenic overlook with our young son Luke. They were enjoying the view from up high while I checked out the footing on the remarkable rock formations that led down to the water’s edge. I turned away from the ocean and began my trek back up the remnants of a long-dormant volcano. My mission at that point was to convince them to join me on the other side of the wall.
The small parking lot at the Lanai Lookout holds about 15 vehicles and was already packed with cars when we arrived in the early morning. Finding this place that quickly became one of my favorite spots on any of the Hawaiian Islands was completely serendipitous. In fact, none of us had ever even heard of the Lanai Lookout before we pulled into that tiny parking area.
Our original plan was to visit the world-famous Haunama Bay for a morning filled with snorkeling and relaxing on the idyllic beach. We arrived bright and early when the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve was scheduled to open. To my dismay, the parking lot at Hanauma Bay was completely full and we were told that the wait time for being able to enter the nature preserve could be more than an hour.
Sitting in a parking lot for an hour, or longer did not seem like the best use of our time in Hawaii so we decided to drive up the coast and explore. The island of Oahu’s southeastern shore is quite possibly one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the entire world. The drive along the Kalanaiana’ole Highway only takes you part of the way but packs a lot of incredible scenery into just a few miles. The highway traverses peaks that offer magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean and down to sea level where you will find some of the most gorgeous beaches in Hawaii. Eventually, the Kalanaiana’ole Highway merges with Highway 61 and then the Kamehameha Highway which covers the rest of the windward side of the island.
We pulled out of the Hanauma Bay parking lot and looked left to see the dormant Koko Head volcano. The ancient tuff cone volcano rises 642 feet above sea level. Although its last eruption happened nearly 35,000 years ago the impact of Koko Head on the landscape of Oahu is just as visible today as it was millennia ago.
We had only been back on Kalanaiana’ole Highway for a couple of minutes when we crested a hill. The azure water of the Pacific Ocean popped into view at the summit and I decided to pull into a lookout area on the right side of the road. We had no idea what was in store for us when I made that turn.
There are so many stunning sights on the windward side of Oahu that some treasures are easily overlooked. Hanauma Bay, the Makapu’u Lighthouse, Koko Crater, the Halona Blowhole, and Halona Cove are all wonderful. The notoriety that these and other sights on Oahu get is well deserved but that tiny scenic pullout known as Lanai Lookout touched off the tuning fork within my soul.
The parking lot for the Lanai Lookout is quietly tucked away between Hanauma Bay, Koko Head, and the breathtaking Halona Cove on the Kalanaiana’ole Highway. Halona Cove is also referred to as Eternity Beach because it served as the location of the famous love scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in the 1950s classic film, “From Here to Eternity”. There are no tourism websites for the Lanai Lookout, nor is it featured in movies or television shows but I found it enthralling.
While space is very limited there is no charge to park or entrance fee to enjoy the grand scenery of the Lanai Lookout. What awaits you are uninterrupted vistas that magnify the effulgence of the Pacific Ocean. The islands of Lanai, Molokai, and even Maui can be seen from atop the lookout on a crystal-clear day.
Other landforms are not the only thing you will find while gazing across the mighty Pacific Ocean from this awe-inspiring spot. Humpback whales can often be spotted frolicking just off the rocky coast of Lanai Lookout from December through May. The whales leave their summer feeding areas in Alaska to spend winter in the warm waters around the Hawaiian Islands.
The striking rock formations created by the combination of lava flowing to the sea from Koko Head and volcanic ash falling from the sky make for a truly special place when added to the magic of the ocean. It did not take much convincing to get Luke to join me on the other side of the wall for a closer look at the landscape. Despite a sign warning people of the dangers that might be encountered beyond Luke happily clambered over the stone wall. Summer demurred and told us to be safe.
Luke and I zig-zagged our way down the terraced formations toward the tumultuous sea while Summer admonished us once again to be careful. The two of us were lost in our own world, however, and ventured further and further away from the wall. An otherworldly landscape that appeared void of any signs of life offered a stark contrast to the life-giving ocean.
Vibrant blue swells rolled through the Pacific Ocean beyond the rocks and grew into massive waves. It is not unheard of for waves to reach heights of more than 25 feet on the windward side of Oahu. Rogue waves can be a danger in the Lanai Lookout area and have occasionally swept unsuspecting tourists into the water so I made certain that Luke remained a safe distance from the edge of the cliffs.
The ever-inquisitive Luke asked me why the layered rock formations looked so strange compared to other parts of the island. I explained to him that they were formed by volcaniclastic deposits. Volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago spewed ash high into the atmosphere while lava flowed down to the ocean. Eventually, the ash fell to the ground as sediment and formed layers of rock. The larger and heavier ash particles fell to the ground first so each layer of rock represents a separate moment during the eruption. The individual layers that became stacked on top of each other have since been molded and changed by wind and water erosion to form the dramatic landscape that can be seen today.
We finished our discussion and I pulled out my GoPro to take a picture of us with the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing against the rocks in the background. When we turned around I was surprised to find Summer standing right behind us. She simply couldn’t resist the allure of the deep blue water.
Our family has always been tied to the ocean but this place was so primal that it felt like we had originated from its very soul. We had just stopped at those cliffs by the sea to watch but the wonder and love etched on the faces of my wife and son gave me that unmistakable feeling you get when you finally return home after a long time away. We were indeed back to whence we came.