Nu'uanu Pali Lookout

  • Nu'uanu Pali State Wayside Park, Oahu

    Nuuanu Pali Lookout
    Douglas Peebles / Getty Images

    The Nu'uanu Pali Lookout is a popular stop for most first time visitors to Oahu and most island tour companies.

    Located directly mauka (towards the mountains) of downtown Honolulu, the Nu'uanu neighborhood of Oahu is home to the Nu'uanu Pali State Wayside Park, one of the Most popular state parks in Hawaii.

    Getting There

    The park is easily accessible from a clearly marked access road off of the Pali Highway (Highway 61). Driving from Waikiki, you can reach the Pali Highway by driving into Honolulu on Ala Moana Boulevard or on H1. It's about a 30-minute drive, depending on traffic. If you're planning on visiting Kailua or Lanikai, it's a great place to stop along the way.

    While there is no entrance fee for Hawaii residents, visitors to the park who arrive in rental vehicles are required to pay a $3.00 entrance fee per vehicle. Visitors who come to the park in tour groups should rest assured that the entrance fee is included in the cost of their tour.

    What's in the Name

    In the Hawaiian language, the name Nu'uanu Pali is comprised of three Hawaiian words nu'u (elevation or height), anu (cool) and pali (cliffs). Thus Nu'uanu Pali means "cool elevation cliffs." As anyone who has visited the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout can attest, it is often extremely windy on the lookout, but the views make it all worthwhile.

    What You'll See

    From the lookout, you can see a large part of the Windward Oahu coast from the Kaneohe Bay all the way to Kualoa Regional Park and Mokoli'i (Chinaman's Hat) to the north. You'll have great views of Kailua, the Ko'olau Mountains and the Mokapu Peninsula which is home to the Kane'ohe Marine Corps Base.

    Historic Significance of Nu'uanu Pali

    The area of the Nu'uanu Pali Overlook is one of the most important places in Hawaiian history. It was here that in 1795, Kamehameha I, from the island of Hawaii (the Big Island) defeated the forces of Maui's Chief Kalanikupule, who had previously conquered the island of Oahu. Both sides had received arms from European merchants and military, including muskets and cannons to go along with Hawaiian weapons, consisting mostly of spears. However, Kamehameha's weaponry, obtained from British Captain George Vancouver, was superior.

    After several battles elsewhere on Oahu, Kamehameha was able to drive Kalanikupule's forces high up into the valley to the area of the current lookout where there is a near 1000 foot drop to the coastal plain below. Battle of Nu'uanu, called Kaleleka'anae (leaping of the 'anae fish) by Hawaiians, refers to the men forced off the cliff during the battle. With Kamehameha's victory on Oahu and the peaceful surrender of the island of Kauai by its king, Kaumualii, in 1810, Kamehameha became the first king of the Hawaiian Islands.

    Before the Days of the Pali Highway

    Of course, it has not always been easy to get from Oahu to the windward side of the island.

    While today it takes under an hour to drive from Honolulu to Windward Oahu, in the early 1800's you either had to hike around the southeastern part of the island or hike over the Ko'olau mountains on the Pali Trail which was quicker and more direct, but much more dangerous.

    In 1845 the Pali Trail was paved with stone and widened to six feet shortening the trip on horseback to about three hours. In 1897, portions of the cliff were blasted away and a new 20-foot-wide "carriage road," supported by stone walls, was built below the old trail. That road, able to handle the newly invented automobile, continued to be used through the first half of the 20th century.

    It was not until the 1950's that construction of a paved highway began. Tunnels were excavated through the mountains and the Pali Highway was opened in 1957.

    Today island residents and visitors use the Pali Highway regularly, rarely thinking of the history of the area. Folks who stop at the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout can take a few minutes to appreciate the view and reflect on the past at this historic part of the island.

    Hawaiian Author O.A. Busnell

    In his 1972 book, set in 1853 Oahu, author O.A. Bushnell paints a wonderful portrait of his protagonist, Hiram Nihoa, stops near where the lookout is situated today. Bushnell writes:

    Standing a body's length away from the precipice, respecting it most carefully because I know how sheer the cliff is, how far below the bottom lies, I was holding the lauhala hat upon my head with one hand, clutching my jacket with the other, looking out upon the awesome scene. I was makaleha, as we say: gazing with eyebrows raised in astonishment at such beauty. Never, even after all the times I have seen it, does this place fail to humble me, to make me marvel that the earth, the sky and the sea can meet in such grandness. Silence, I believe, the silence of prayer, is the only manner in which a visitor can show his respect for such a gift. In a silence of my own, unbroken by the rush of the wind or the shouts of the sailorboys, I stood like a pilgrim in a holy place, offering up my tribute to the beauty beyond.

    You can view several other photos taken from the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout.