Hawaii Kai: The Past and Present in the Shadow of Koko Crater

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By  – Recently, in the Honolulu Star Advertiser, there was a featured article called ‘The Climb’ by Mike Gordon. It triggered memories of my living out “Koko Head way” in the saddle between both Koko Head and Koko Crater.

It was back in the Territorial days when much was restricted and military was active at the summit. A real tram went up and down the rail, and as a child, I often sat on the back porch and watched it. Now that area and the tram rail has 1,048 steps to the top, filled with  enthusiastic hikers enjoying the challenge.


view of Koko Crater tram line near the Visitor look out

Koko Crater’s tram line seen from the Visitor Lookout on Kalanianaole Hwy

Today, Hawaii Kai in East Oahu, is a prime, progressive community of residences, condominiums, schools, shopping, and other private and commercial activities.

Growing Up in Hawaii Kai

Back in the 1950′s, it was a totally different world. We lived directly on the mauka side of Kalanianaole Highway in the vicinity of today’s ’Lookout’ which has a noticeable drop off of the land with development below. Continuing on the highway and up around the bend is the entrance to the famous and very popular marine preserve and beach of Hanauma Bay of Koko Head. Many decades ago, it was never very crowded and on weekends there was sometimes a shaved ice stand at the upper entrance. A simple, steep walkway road curved way down to the beach.

Sometimes, my sisters and I followed our big brother who had his own ‘short cut’ from the house – we just crossed the highway and hiked through the kiawe bushes on a trail he had made – up the side of Koko Head, over and then down to the walkway…we spent hours playing and swimming to our hearts content with all the pretty fish. A wonderland for children in this beautiful crater with its crescent of sand and clear blue water, and seemingly our parents knew we would be just fine. A different era, for sure.

My father had leased an acre of land from the Bishop Estate and we had our home. One of our neighbors had a carnation flower farm business and the aroma of those flowers was wonderful. Keeping with the surrounding agricultural use, we had many papaya trees planted in the spacious land behind our house. Eventually, my job was to climb a ladder and get papayas for that day. My youngest sister, Malia, was usually right by my side.

Papaya Patch at Koko Head-Jeanne & Malia 1951

New papaya patch – Koko Head mountain in background

Henry J. Kaiser’s concept of Hawaii Kai was just a dream then, and we were not aware of it. The Kuapa fish pond would often flood over the highway from Maunalua Bay.

At the bottom of the Kalanianaole Hill from Hanauma Bay was where “Da Bus” route ended and it turned around to go back to Kaimuki, where riders had to transfer for either Waikiki or Honolulu. I would often take a walk with my little sisters down to get a soda pop from the pub/store (the only one) at the corner of Lunalilo Home Road.

Big sister Jeanne with little sisters going down  Kalanianaole HY to the bottom of hill

Jeanne with little sisters walking down old Kalanianaole Hwy.

Then ’Hawaii Kai’ became a reality and East Hawaii was changed totally; the early years of development, the carving out of land from along the highway to build and mold all the new areas, caused lives to be changed forever, especially those living on leased lands! Our homes and the farms eventually all disappeared, for seldom was there recourse. It was both a Territory and leased land. Kaiser now owned the leases and we all had to move.

Hawaii Kai Today

60 years later, it’s the same hill going down toward Portlock Road and the ocean, but now there are multi-hundreds of properties to consider in greater Hawaii Kai. The growth and success through the decades is astounding. A lifestyle of luxurious oceanfront residences, waterfront condominium living, houses deep in the valley, and others with up slope views.

Todays highway, and the hill we went down.

With its diversity and wide range of values and prices on the properties available to purchase, an average example might be best for what is For Sale. I linked a fine residence located in the section of Hawaii Kai known as ”The Portlock Triangle”. Its particular location is on Nawiliwili Street as it opens to Kalanianaole Hwy. That intersection seems to be pretty near the place our house and acreage would have been, across on the other side.

Since this is ‘Talk Story’ about a past lifestyle and today’s world, and the chosen house for sale also has a ’view’ of Koko Crater and its tram tracks to the summit (albeit – sideways from the pool), it seemed to be a perfect match to feature. Check it out!

Let’s Talk Story!

If interested in more details, call me. In this case, Hawaii Life Real Estate Brokersand I would represent you, the Buyer. I am here to assist YOU in finding that perfect property to enjoy and live in Hawaii. Now is time to start making your own future memories here in Hawaii!

Let us “Talk Story” and find out where it will be – in Hawaii Kai or elsewhere on Oahu or even another island? I will listen to your needs and desires and then, with our resources, give you the best service in any particular area. How? By introducing you to one of our professional Realtors in that particular location you want.

Contact me today, I look forward to it!





  1. I see a lot of prime lots just waiting for a nice home to be built on them. That is assuming, of course, that the mountain isn't a dormant volcano that could erupt at any time.

  2. Touching story! I love to hear stories like this and look at old photos. I'm always interested in the way other people grew up.

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