Southwest of Lihue and southeast of Poipu on Kauai, the Makauwahi Heritage Trail packs a lot of scenery into its short 2 mile route from Shipwreck Beach on Ke’one’loa Bay to the remote Mahaulepu Beach on Kawai’loa Bay. Along the way, you’ll encounter tide pools, sea cliffs and lava formations. While this popular trail is hiked by many tourists, few fully realize its hidden secret.
The Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail starts at Shipwreck Beach in front of the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and runs east for 2 miles one-way to Makauwahi Cave. The entire trail falls within the Makauwahi Cave Reserve. Starting from Shipwreck Beach, head east along the coast towards Makawahi Point passing up over Makauwahi Dunes. The dunes are ancient hardened, sand dunes resembling limestone cliffs. Keep an eye out for carved drawings and petroglyphs in the hardened dunes on the way up to Makawehi Point, which offers a good vista to watch for humpback whales in the winter. Along the way of this unmarked trail, there is about 100 feet of rolling ascent, which would be easy except for the craggy rocks and occasional roots.
From Makawehi Point, continue hiking east along the coastline to the Pa’a Dunes. After the dunes, the trail passes under a canopy of tall Kiawe trees. After the trees, continue straight at the junction to reach Mahaulepu Beach. As you approach the beach, there is a trail running to the north that seems to end at a cliff, which has a narrow slit in the rocks. You'll need to crawl through the slit, some times on all fours. Once through, you'll be inside a small chamber cave that opens in to a spectacular lush ampitheater, recess cave called Makauwahi Cave. Continuing outside the cave, you'll be inside a natural sinkhole, called Makauwahi Sinkhole.
Back out of the sinkhole and onto Mahaulepu Beach, look for the intersection with Waiopili Stream, where there are plenty of petroglyphs that are usually only visible if the waves sweep away the white sand in the right way. The trail officially ends at the northeast end of Ka-wai-loa Bay. But several people carry on their journey to the Papa-mo-i Point.
To reach the Shipwreck Beach trailhead for the Makauwahi Trail from Koloa, head south on Poipu Road. Just past the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort, turn right heading south on Ainako Street. At the end of the street, there is a free public parking area available for about twenty cars.
Overall, Mahaulepu Heritage Trail is the 25th most popular hiking trail of all 45 hikes in Hawaii.