Poking around Oahu’s Pokai

Around eight hundred years ago, Pokai Beach Park in Waianae on Oahu’s West Side was the happening place in Hawaii. If it hadn’t been, Hawaii may not have happened at all. Pokai, the park’s namesake, was the top navigator among the first wave of Tahitians who migrated in open canoes across 2,500 open miles of ocean to come upon the shores of their mythical homeland, Hawaii. Back then, Hawaii had none of the tropical fruits we now associate with the Islands——none of the “canoe plants” that the Tahitians brought with them. With the wisdom and strength of Pokai and his counterparts, the Polynesian vessels were able to complete the back-and-forth voyages that sustained what became the Hawaiian nation.

Few tourists see this park today, in spite of its charms: a breakwater that protects a large swimming beach, a nice curve of sand and palms, scenic mountains rising inland, and a grassy point that is the site of an ancient temple (Kuilioloa Heiau). Rough Waianae is too singed around the edges for most visitors, who turn their rental cars around and head back to Waikiki. But if you brace yourself for some true grit, Waianae may become one of your favorite spots, where a dime’s worth of respect for the locals will get you a buck’s worth in return. Old Hawaii rules the communities on the West Side. (See Oahu Trailblazer pages 191-213.)