Pre-contact Hawaiians didn’t believe in land ownership, but they did divide the Islands into sectional slivers called ahupua’a. Running from the mountains to the sea, ahupuaa had enough land and water resources to support a whole community, and the 5,300 acre Ahupua’a ‘O Kahana State Park is one of the few statewide divisions that remains intact and managed as a whole. Surrounded on three sides by the verdant Koolau Mountains, and fronting Kahana Bay, the scenic park includes a dusty neighborhood of mostly ethnic Hawaiian residents, two popular jungle hiking trails —Kapa’ele’ele and the Nakoa Loop—leading back into a deep valley, the remnants of an ancient fishpond and a beach park with year-round camping.
Most visitors, drawn by its forested seaside park and calm tropical waters, stop by the here to snap photos enroute to the North Shore. The bay is very shallow and can be murky thanks to the nearby infusion of Kahana Stream, so swimming is not recommended. Instead, the best parts of this park are both scenic and cultural: Visit the rocky, circular remains of the ancient Huila Fishpond on the eastern side of the bay, or head into the park to speak with residents. The 31 families that live here share responsibilities and assist with interpretive programming. The volunteer-staffed orientation center will help guide you toward the hiking trailheads that navigate Kahana Valley, former site of kalo loi (taro terraces), au’wai (channeled irrigation streams), heiau (temples) and later, during WWII, jungle warfare training.
The orientation center with trail-maps, information and restrooms is visible a short drive into the park, but before the neighborhood houses. Makai (seaside) facilities include include picnic tables, restrooms and showers, but, note there are no lifeguards at Kahana Bay. 10 beach campsites are available by advance permitting only ($18 per campsite of up to six per night for non-residents; permits available via camping.ehawaii.gov).