He'eia State Park: The Complete Guide

He’eia Fishpond on Oahu
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Heʻeia State Park

Address
46-465 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe, HI 96744, USA
Phone +1 808-235-6509

One of Hawaii’s most underrated state parks, He'eia State Park consists of an 18-acre peninsula on the windward (east) side of Oahu. The coastal site offers opportunities for picnicking, sights of an ancient Hawaiian fishpond, and views of the Ko'olau Mountains. The biggest draw of the park, however, has to be its location on the waterfront of stunning Kaneohe Bay.

He'eia State Park is managed not by the state of Hawaii but by a local non-profit called Kama'aina Kids. The organization was awarded a 25-year lease on the park in 2010 to increase awareness towards the cultural and environmental significance of this unique spot. Today, He'eia State Park only sees about 12,000 visitors each year, but Kama'aina Kids has continued to serve the local community by providing enrichment programs, organizing a community center, funding restoration projects, running a successful eco-adventure company, and even partnering with a local campground.

Cultural Significance

The land inside He'eia State Park isn’t just wonderful to look at, it also holds a special place in Hawaiian culture and history. The peninsula here was formerly known as Ke'alohi and served as an important food source thanks to its proximity to the sea. You’ll find an abundance of indigenous plants, like beach hibiscus (hibiscus tiliaceus), as well as preserved examples of early aquaculture in the park’s fishpond. Similar to Ka'ena Point State Park on the opposite side of the island, He'eia State Park was regarded as a “leaping point” in ancient Hawaiian culture, a sacred place where the souls of the departed were believed to leap into the afterlife. 

Field and Mountains in He'eia state park

Lee Harkness / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 / Flickr

Things to Do

He'eia is open to the public for self-guided walking tours during normal business hours (Monday through Sunday, 7 a.m. to sunset), so visitors can explore the different areas of the park, including its coastal views and various plant life. If you do only one thing in He'eia State Park, make sure it involves getting in (or on) the water.

He'eia Fishpond is a privately-owned, kuapa-style fishpond that dates back approximately 600 to 800 years ago, and the best vantage to view it is on the southeastern side of the park. There’s a private non-profit, Pae Pae O He'eia, that’s dedicated to protecting and restoring the fishpond and its 88 acres of brackish water. The pond has a 1.3-mile-long wall that extends away from the shoreline out into the sea to create a natural pond, trapping large fish inside the rocks and herding them into the shallow tidal areas. While the trapping technique isn’t unique to Hawaii, the walled coastal ponds where the fish are held and bred for food certainly are special.

Water Sports

Kaneohe Bay is Oahu's only barrier reef, so it is unsurprisingly one of the best places to snorkel on the island, and its shallow depth, warm temperature, and calm conditions free from open ocean swells or currents only add to the appeal. These protected conditions allow the coral to grow larger and healthier, which leads to a more diverse variety of marine life.

Kama'aina Kids runs a watersports program specializing in kayaking and snorkeling that’s certified sustainable by the Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawaii. Visitors can book organized kayak tours, catamaran tours, snorkel tours, or combination tours, but there is also the option for rentals as well. Another popular activity is paddling to the Kaneohe Bay Sandbar—a long bank of sand that is almost always between waist and ankle-deep—a few miles offshore. If you don’t want the workout or would prefer to stay dry, there are a few companies (like Captain Bob’s Picnic Sail) that offer boat tours to the sandbar with additional water sports and lunch.

Best Hikes and Trails

Although He'eia is more of a sightseeing destination than a hiking one, visitors are encouraged to take a self-guided walking tour of the grounds (give yourself about 20 to 30 minutes) to take in the views. There’s also the option to schedule a free guided tour by calling 808-235-6509 or emailing info@heeiastatepark.org. The guided tour takes about 45 minutes and will give visitors a more enriching look at the historical and cultural aspects of the park as well as insider info into the park’s flora and fauna.

Where to Camp

Camping is not allowed inside He'eia State Park but there are a few options nearby. Kama'aina Kids is affiliated with Malaekahana Beach Campground, located about 40 minutes north of the park with beachfront campsites and ocean access. For a closer option, there are a few coveted campsites inside Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden. Alternatively, you can check out the beautiful beach camping at Bellows Beach Park Campground or the more forested Waimanalo Park a bit further. Campsites at Bellows, Ho'omaluhia, and Waimanalo will require advanced reservations through the City and County of Honolulu website, while Malaekahana can be booked through the campground's own website.

a lifted platform inside the park

Courtesy of He'eia State Park

Where to Stay Nearby

Most travelers to Oahu choose to book hotels in bustling Waikiki, but there are plenty of great options outside of the main tourist area closer to Heʻeia State Park.

  • Paradise Bay Resort: This bayfront boutique hotel is located just minutes from He'eia in the town of Kaneohe. A quiet hideaway, especially when compared to properties in Waikiki, Paradise Bay Resort also offers yoga and meditation classes (free for guests), massage services, and sandbar excursions.
  • Hawaii's Hidden Hideaway B&B: A charming bed and breakfast with just two rooms, Hawaii’s Hidden Hideaway can be found in one of the most sought-after neighborhoods in Kailua town. This spot is perfect for those looking for a luxurious, yet local, experience.
  • Tiki Moon Villas: About 35 north of He'eia in the small town of Laie, the Tiki Moon Villas offers oceanfront beach bungalows in a low-key setting just steps from the beach.
  • Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore: Just across the road from the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, the Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore may be a bit pricer, but it is certainly convenient for travelers who plan on spending a lot of time on Oahu’s east and north sides.

How to Get There

He'eia State Park is located on the east side of Oahu about 14 miles from downtown Honolulu. Drivers can take either the Like Like Highway (HI-63 North) or the Pali Highway (HI-61 North) to HI-83 North to get there; The Like Like tends to be slightly faster, but the Pali has more scenic spots—specifically the famous Pali Lookout that provides one of the best mountain views on the island.

From Haleʻiwa on the North Shore, take the H-2 South through Pearl City to the H-3 East for the quickest route (about 36 miles), or take Kamehameha Highway all the way around the entire northeast side of the island to make a quick 90-minute road trip out of it. 

Accessibility

There is plenty of parking inside the park, including accessible stalls. Near the banquet hall, there are restrooms, trash receptacles, and accessible sidewalks, but the remainder of the grounds are primarily grass. Around the park, there are also outdoor picnic tables and benches as well.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The east side of Oahu has plenty more to offer besides He'eia, including beautiful beaches, lush botanical gardens, and cultural sites. Pair a trip to He'eia State Park with a visit to nearby Byodo-In Temple, a replica of the 950-year-old temple in Japan, or Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden, one of the best botanical gardens on Oahu. Popular Kualoa Ranch is also less than 10 miles away.
  • Paddling to the Kaneohe Bay Sandbar will likely take over an hour. Once there, it's completely exposed with no shade or dry land, so be sure to go prepared with sun protection.
  • He'eia Fishpond is privately owned and not a part of He'eia State Park, so you’ll have to go through Pae Pae O He'eia to actually access the fishpond.
  • During Makahiki season, typically from October through January, visitors can watch traditional Hawaiian games at He'eia State Park. Makahiki involves a variety of games to showcase a contestant’s strength of mind and body, such as spear throwing and konane, a two-person strategy game similar to checkers.
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He'eia State Park: The Complete Guide