In addition to its opulent hotels and popular beaches, the south shore of Kauai is home to Makauwahi, Hawaii’s largest limestone cave. The hike to reach the cave provides excellent ocean views and up-close looks at the area’s marine geology. If you are visiting Kauai and don’t have time to venture into the island’s remote interior, the hike to the Makauwahi Cave provides a family-friendly adventure that can be easily done in a morning or afternoon.
TIPS FOR L.A. HIKERS
Getting to Kauai: A few nonstop flights are available from LAX to Lihue. (If you are coming from SNA, ONT, BUR or LGB, expect to have to change planes in Maui or Oahu). The flight is about 5 hours. Hawaii is 2 hours behind Los Angeles from November to March and 3 hours behind for the rest of the year as the state does not observe Daylight Savings Time.
Staying on Kauai: There are multiple options for accommodations in Poipu and Koloa on Kauai’s southeast shore. For more information, click here.
Weather: Like the rest of Kauai, the island’s south shore has moderate temperatures, ranging from average lows of 65 degrees in January to average highs of 85 degrees in August. However, the towns of Koloa and Poipu receive an average of only 44 inches of rain per year – less than 10% of Waimea Canyon’s annual rainfall.
Cell phone reception: Good for most of the route between Shipwreck Beach and Makauwahi Cave, but weak in some spots and none in the cave
Dogs: Dogs are allowed on the trail but not inside the cave. Bringing pets into Hawaii requires an elaborate process that must be started at least 120 days in advance. If you are unable to bring your dog from home, you can borrow a dog for the day from the Kauai Humane Society in Lihue. Exercise caution on warm days and be careful around steep cliffs. If you are renting a car, make sure you check the company’s dog policy.
4 miles round trip, 150 feet of elevation gain; allow 3 hours
From the parking area on Ainako Street, walk toward the beach and look for a trail on the left, heading up the cliffs. The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail is several interwoven routes that follow closely along the edge of the bluffs or inland below the trees. The jagged, weather-beaten cliffs make for some fantastic scenery as you head northeast along the shore.
You pass by some temple ruins and then reach the golf course, where you may well have to share the route with carts (keep an eye out for errant golf balls as well). After leaving the course, the trail heads back toward the ocean, passing by some stables before reaching the entrance to the Makauwahi Cave Reserve, a nonprofit organization founded in 2004 to preserve the heritage of the area. Follow the signed foot trail away from the ocean, past an alternate parking area, and head toward the cave. The trail splits with the left fork skirting the higher edge of the cave and the right fork providing a view below. To reach the actual cave, continue following the trail after the forks have merged. The trail bends to the left, following a stream inland. After passing a footbridge, you will see the signed entrance to the cave. The opening is about three feet tall and two feet wide, requiring you to move in on all fours. A carpet(!) has been laid out to make the process more comfortable.
Inside is an otherworldly environment where the cave opens into a wide bowl full of wild palms and other vegetation. The open area was once the largest “room” in the cave until about 7,000 years ago when the roof collapsed. On the opposite side is another, deeper cave, home of an endangered blind spider (I asked the naturalist if the spider was poisonous and she said, “I don’t think so.”) Also here are exhibits describing the archeological and geological histories of the site.
After exploring the cave, you can continue heading northeast along the coast by crossing the footbridge, but the scenery becomes less interesting, so the cave is an ideal turnaround spot.
Text and photography copyright 2018 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.