Kailua's Historical Landmarks

Kawainui Marsh Sacred to Hawaiians, Kawainui Marsh, the largest remaining emergent wetland in Hawaii and Hawaii's largest ancient freshwater fishpond, is located in what was once the center of a caldera of the Koolau shield volcano. The marsh provides primary habitat for four of Hawaii's endemic and endangered waterbirds, including Laysan Duck and Hawaiian Goose or Nene, and contains archaeological and cultural resources, including ancient walled taro water gardens (lo'i) where fish were also cultivated. Kawainui Marsh stores surface water, providing flood protection for adjacent Kailua town, one of the largest towns on the windward side of O'ahu.

Hamakua-marsh-sign.jpgHamakua Marsh is a smaller wetland historically connected to and immediately downstream of Kawainui Marsh, which also provides significant habitat for several of Hawaii's endemic and endangered waterbirds. The Ae‘o, or Stilt, is a native of Hawaii and, standing 16 inches on bright pink legs, it is the tallest shorebird.  The Stilt is one of four endangered native Hawaiian waterfowl that live in the Hamakua Marsh.  To see them, all you need to do is walk along the stream or sit and watch for a while.

work-in-loi-kalo-at-ulupo-heiau.jpgUlupō  Heiau measures 140 by 180 feet with walls up to 30 feet in height. The construction of this massive terraced platform required a large work force under the direction of a powerful ali'i. The massiveness and quantity of rock carried many miles hint at its cultural importance. Tradition records Kualoa, more than 10 miles away, as one source of these stones. 

It is likely that the function of this heiau changed over time. It probably began as a mapele or agricultural heiau with ceremonies and rites conducted to insure the fertility of the crops grown in Kawainui. In later times, it may have become a heiau luakini dedicated to success in war.

If you come here, you’ll enjoy nice views of Kailua Bay and Kawainui Marsh. Many fruit trees grow at the heiau, such as bananas and noni. Taro is also being grown here. Show respect when you visit the heiau and stay on the trails.

The Ulupo Heiau is located in Kailua, right next to the Kawainui Regional Park and off of Kailua Road, behind the YMCA.   

Maunawili Valley

Maunawili The population center on the Windward side 100 years ago was Maunawili, not Kailua.  Maunawili was a hub of urban traffic and a bustling town.  Five stores near the intersection of what is now Highway 61 and Auloa Road catered to the Chinese, Hawaiian and Japanese clientele that made up most of the population.

Establishments included a general store, a barbershop, a tailor shop, a pool hall and  the only store still open today: Kalapawai Store; although it has moved to Kailua Beach.

Twenty minutes past Maunawili falls is the area Queen Lili’uokalani used as a summer retreat.  In the 1870s, this is where people of power and influence gathered for parties.  Nearby it is the Queen’s bath, and 10 minutes from the Queen’s Bath is the Kukapoki Heiau.  Built over 500 years ago, this was where the Hawaiians brought their offerings of produce.  

Private tours of Maunawili valley are rare but worthwhile; available through the Kailua Historical Society with Dr. Paul Brennan. (Read an article about Historical Maunawili. Page 1    Page 2)

-Pill-Box-View-of-Kailua-0.jpgLanikai ‘Pillboxes’: One of the favorite spots for Kailuans is the view from atop Ka Iwi Ridge behind Lanikai. The short, steep hike to the “pillboxes” offers breathtaking views of the Mokulua Islands and Koolua Mountains.   While it is unclear how many were actually constructed, we do know that both the Lanikai and Diamond Head pillboxes were part of the island’s defensive system. They reportedly were observation posts built between World Wars I and II, which could alert shore artillery batteries to any approaching enemy ships. Eventually they were stripped out and left abandoned by the military.


Lanikai Marker:  This stone and concrete marker was built in 1924 by Charles Frazier at the entrance of the New beach subdivision Lanikai.  Approximately 300 acres of land was acquired from Harold Castle’s holdings and W.G. Irwin Estate and renamed Lanikai for this development.  Lots were being sold on easy terms by the Trent Trust Company, Ltd.  There are beautiful views of Kailua Bay and Flat Island from where this marker stands. 


hill-top-houseThe Hilltop House:  This historical house is perched up on the hilltop overlooking Lanikai and Kailua Bay; offer 360 degree views. Built by Arthur and Anne Powlison in the 1920’s, this special home was constructed without removing or destroying any of the rocks.  Parts of  the walls, floor and furniture are the rocks. “We can truthfully say that we have not chipped, chiseled, or thrown away any of the rocks…only added a bit of compatible stone” Anne Powlison, Sharing Hilltop Living 1976. For three years during WW2, the military used this home as a training center and vantage point.

Anne Powlison was affectionately known by hundreds of children as the “Bird Lady”, visiting classrooms to teach about Hawai’is bird life, in the 1960’s.  This home is now a private residence and not open to the public for tours or visits.


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