Nuuanu Pali Lookout affords visitors some of the most spectacular views Oahu has to offer. Located midway between Honolulu and the Windward Coast, this scenic stop is perched along a mountain pass at a height of 1,186 feet above sea level. On either side of it are peaks reaching elevations above 3,000 feet.
The 985-foot cliffs of the Koolau Mountain Range flank Nuuanu Pali Lookout, the name of which means "Cool Height Cliff.'' Off to the northeast is Kaneohe Bay, where the cone-shaped volcanic island known as Chinaman's Hat can be seen. The towns of Kaneohe and Kailua shimmer in the distance, and the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean serves as a backdrop to it all.
But Nuuanu Pali Lookout is more than just a sightseeing location. It once played a historic role in the development of the Hawaiian Islands. Back in 1795, King Kamehameha I led his 10,000 warriors in their final battle here, defeating the armies of Oahu by driving them over the steep, forested cliffs.
According to legend, on certain nights the screams of the vanquished can still be heard here. In fact, workers actually did unearth skulls during road construction in 1848, and they are believed to be the remains of those hapless Oahu warriors.
The significance of this particular battle is still taught in Hawaiian schools. Kamehameha's victory at Nuuanu Pali brought about the unification of all the islands as a single kingdom, the legacy of which is the 50th star on the United States flag.
Apart from the breathtaking scenery and the venue's role in local history, the most remarkable aspect of a visit to Nuuanu Pali Lookout is the strong trade winds that blow through the pass like air forced through a wind tunnel. On especially windy days, it is possible to lean into the gusts and let them hold you up. Wearing a light jacket is highly recommended.
The breezes have been known to sweep away hats, sunglasses and even hairpieces, so be sure to remove headgear before venturing out. Small children should be held by the hand and any pets kept on a leash, in order to avoid potentially tragic occurrences.
From the lower end of the lookout, it is possible to hike a short trail and get different perspectives on the view of the Windward Coast. Photographers looking for the best angles will certainly want to give this a try. A wide variety of plants flank the trail, too, and it is not unusual to see seabirds gilding on the wind currents up above as if motionless.
Owing to the strong winds, a particularly interesting optical illusion can also be seen near Nuuanu Pali Lookout - the 200-foot "Upside Down Waterfall'' cascading from the summit of 3,150-foot Mount Konahuanui. On the windiest of days, the descending waters appear to be flowing up, rather than down.
The journey to Nuuanu Pali Lookout is an easy one, following the eastbound H1 highway from Waikiki to Pali Highway Route 61 and Nuuanu Pali Drive. Well-posted signs direct visitors to the lookout, which is open to the public from 9am to 4pm daily, weather permitting. Admission is free, as is parking. The address is Top of Pali Hwy, Honolulu, HI 96817.