A Visit To Makauwahi Cave Reserve – Kauai
Although you may not find this on the standard Top Ten List of Kauai activities, a visit to the Makauwahi Cave Reserve, on the south shore of Kauai, is definitely worth a few hours of your vacation. I have lived on the north shore for over 20 years, and I finally ventured to the other side of the island to take a look. Many of my friends, who have lived on the island longer than I have, remember going there before it was a tourist destination. At that point, the open-ceiling cave had a sand floor with a huge tree at its center. Now, due to renewed interest and funding, this circular amphitheater, with layers of sedimentary rock created 10,000 years ago, is more accessible to the public. It has become a living museum dedicated to the past and to experiments in native species conservations.
The Reserve includes acres of abandoned farms and quarry lands owned by Grove Farm Company. David and Lida Pigott Burney created the nonprofit organization with fiscal help from Garden Island Resource Conservation and Development, Inc. With the aid of staff and volunteers, the restoration efforts started in 1999. Since then archeologists have found historic samples of pollen, seeds, Polynesian artifacts and animal bones perfectly preserved, and over 10,000 native and Polynesian plants have been reintroduced to this landscape.
Makauwahi Cave is Hawaii’s largest limestone cave and the richest fossil site in the islands. A small, inconspicuous, triangular hole leads into the cave which now has an open-air ceiling due to the fact that the original ceiling caved in over 7,000 years ago. Up until the 1950s a fresh water lake existed inside the cave. The water is gone and now the ground is covered with grass and native plants, including the hawane palms, or loulu by Hawaiians, which were planted as recently as July, 2002, and are now over 40 feet tall.
The entrance is hard to recognize and one must crawl on all fours to get through it. Carpet has been layed down to make it easier on your knees. After about 3 feet, one may stand up and walk to the open area. When the cave is not open, a gate blocks the entrance. If you are unable to crawl through the opening, not to worry, there is a point on the trail where you may look down from above.
Once you are through the opening and inside the cave, there will be a guide to show you around and answer questions. Tours are free but a $10 per adult tax-deductible donation is appreciated. Reservations are not necessary.
You are welcome to have your lunch at the picnic tables near the cave. Public restrooms are available in the Reserve. After spending time in the cave, be sure to cross the bridge and visit the experimental native reforestation project on the adjacent land. Giant tortoises are used to help with the weeding. The males are in separate pens – too much testosterone. The females are in larger areas where a visitor may step over the fence and be among them.
Hiking to the Makauwahi Cave
You have two choices. The first is the shorter version. It is a self-guided trail, less than a half mile long, with numbered sign posts along the way. You will see a sweeping view down to the ocean, native plants, and the sinkhole overlook. Be sure to stay on the trail and not venture over to the equestrian path.
Directions From Poipu (via the Makauwahi Cave Trail)
Grove Farm is currently keeping the gates to Maha’ulepu locked all the time, so to get to Makauwahi Cave Reserve you will need to make a short walk.
- Take Poipu Road eastwards past the Hyatt Hotel.
- At the golf course the route becomes a dirt road.
- Continue until you see the CJM Stables sign.
- Turn right and continue to a fork in the road.
- Take the left fork.
- Drive as far as you dare on the rough road, then park alongside the road without blocking it.
- Continue walking eastwards (ocean will be on your right). You will see signs directing you to the cave.
- When you reach the beginning of the Makauwahi Cave Trail, follow the trail down to the stream.
- At the stream, continue on the trail upstream (don’t cross the bridge) until you reach Signpost #15.
- Enter the cave if the gate is unlocked. The entrance is a small triangular hole in the cliff.
- Keep your head down until you emerge from the cave entrance into a large sunlit sinkhole.
- You have arrived!
For the more adventurous, hike the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail (4 miles round trip)
For this scenic hike, allow a half day, bring plenty of water, and wear a hat for sun protection. This path will take you along the ocean and in front of the Poipu Bay Golf Course.
- Start at the Hyatt’s public parking lot (Shipwrecks Beach parking).
- The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail heads east – look for a grassy area between the beach and the parking lot. The trailhead is here, and heads into the trees.
- At about 1.7 miles (2.7 km), bear left at the signed junction onto the Makauwahi Cave Trail.
- Follow the Makauwahi Cave Trail to the cave – see step #8 above
For a full day’s hike, continue past the cave entrance, along the beach and hike the Maha’ulepu Trail further east (away from Poipu).
Makauwahi Cave Reserve Contact Information
P.O. Box 1070
Kalaheo, HI 96741
Phone Number: 808-631-3409
Makauwahi on Facebook
Whether you have a few hours to spare, a half day, or a full day, try to make Makauwahi Cave Reserve part of your trip to Kauai. You won’t be disappointed.
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