Māhā’ulepu Beach on Kauai’s South Shore

Māhā’ulepu Beach on Kauai’s South Shore

Photo Courtesy of Al Haslim on AllTrails

On Kauai’s south shore, a favorite coastal walk is to follow the Māhā’ulepu Coastal Heritage Trail to pristine and secluded Māhā’ulepu Beach. The trail starts at a trailhead at Keoneloa (aka Shipwreck’s) beach fronting the Grand Hyatt Kauai on Keoneloa Bay (free public parking is available along Ainako Street.)

For the first mile or so, the trail meanders on top of 125,000 year-old lithified sand dunes known as the Makawehi cliffs, passing groves of kiawe trees, limestone formations and beautiful rocky inlets with various shades of aqua blue waters— havens for sea turtles and endangered Hawaiian monk seals.

Māhā’ulepu Beach is a two-mile long stretch of coastline, magical in its isolation and remoteness, as if time has stood still here. The beach goes from Punahoa point, made of dunes formed about 350,000 years ago, and a popular fishing area, to Paoo point and is separated into three different parts: Gillin’s Beach, Kawailoa Bay, and Hāula Beach.

Lava tubes, rocky tide pools, and stretches of white sand beaches make this a perfect strand for beach combing. 

Water Sports: Māhā’ulepu Beach is best suited for experienced swimmers and snorkelers as the waters here can be rough, with strong currents, sharp coral and big swells breaking on the rocks. Stronger trade winds on this coastline make it a haven for windsurfers and experienced kite-boarders—an entertaining show from shore.

Shade: Groves of kiawe trees line Māhā’ulepu Beach, offering beach-goers some shelter from the sun. As with all Kauai beach visits, a sun umbrella or tent is always useful to bring along.

Food: For picnic provisions before heading out to Māhā’ulepu Beach, pick up sandwiches and/or Puka Dogs at Brenneke’s Beach Deli opposite the public parking lot at Poipu Beach, or Mexican fare from Da Crack Mexican Grinds, 2827 Poipu Road, near the Kukuiula shopping center in Koloa.

Parking: Access the coast from Shipwreck’s public parking on Ainako Street alongside the Fairmont Kea Lani. The beach can also be reached by the rough but driveable  two-mile dirt road that ends just past the CJM horse stables. 

Annual Events: To learn more about the preservation of Māhā’ulepu Beach, contact Malama Māhā’ulepu, a nonprofit working to protect the area.

Historical Opportunity: Before descending to pristine and lightly visited Māhā’ulepu Beach, the unmarked trail meanders to the Makauwahi Sinkhole, site of Hawaii’s largest limestone cave and the richest fossil site in the islands.

To tour the site, you crawl through a narrow opening in the rock into the sinkhole, where volunteer docents at the cave offer fascinating tours of this prehistoric site rich in natural and native Hawaiian history daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Find more details at cavereserve.org.)

Gillin’s Beach, the center section, is known for petroglyphs that are carved into the rocks, though they are rarely exposed. Fossils of extinct birds have been found in sand dunes along the shoreline, including the Kauaʻi Stilt-owl, a flightless rail, and three species of goose.

What’s In a Name: Mahaulepu means “falling together” in Native Hawaiian and the beach was named after a battle staged here in the 1300s when Kauai warriors defeated invaders from the Big Island, ergo the name for warriors “falling together.”

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