The Spirit of Oahu: Touring Ancient Hawaii Today

Oahu is Rich in History and Beauty

By Linda Tagliaferro


Mention the island of Oahu to the average person, and the name conjures up images of the beach at Waikiki, that romantic scene in “From Here to Eternity,” and hula dancers with undulating hips at a well-stocked luau. But, this Hawaiian island has much more to offer for the alternative tourist

Mauka Makai Excursions, a tour company that was established in January 1998, focuses on Hawaiian cultural, historic and ecological perspectives. Their off-the-beaten-track tours offer visitors a glimpse of legendary places and sacred sites that are seldom listed in the average tour guides.

Dominic Kealoha Ahi, the co-owner of Mauka Makai Excursions, takes visitors on walks ranging from relaxed to more demanding, and in the process, gives them a fascinating insight into unknown Oahu.

Travelers typically visit archaeological sites while trekking through imposing mountains and verdant valleys, and view sacred stones, waterfalls, ancient temples and much more amid breathtaking vistas. Upon request, Mauka Makai guides can also arrange custom activities ranging from evening torch fishing to day hikes in remote, lesser-traveled areas.

Dominic arrived at our hotel in the morning, and after a 15-minute drive, we were transported into another world. Just off the Pali Highway, we followed the Old Pali Trail. Instead of trendy boutiques and glitzy hotels, we were surrounded by exotic trees.

There were banyan and banana trees, majestic monkey pods, Java plum, and broad-leaved true kamani trees. The tranquil Nu’uanu stream was by our side, and we heard the sound of rushing water from a nearby waterfall.

This was only the beginning. In just a few hours, Dominic also managed to take us to sites where we viewed petroglyphs — mysterious stone carvings — that looked like human and animal stick figures. Our guide explained that researchers can only speculate on the meanings of these enigmatic figures. Since the ancient Hawaiians had no written language, there are no texts to go with these symbols.

Another stop was the Nu’uanu Pali. The word “pali” is Hawaiian for “cliff,” and we stood on the top of a high place overlooking lush valleys and awe-inspiring mountain views. Not far away was the Kawa’ewa’e Heiau, a war temple that was built in the 12th century. Rectangular in shape, and about 40 yards by 20 yards, this sacred space was used by warriors to ensure victory in battle. The grisly site of human sacrifices, this temple still contains the bones of the first-slain in battles.

Before entering a heiau (say “hay-OW”) or temple, Dominic uttered a prayer to ask for permission from the spirits inside this space. He told us that the ancient Hawaiians believed that everything contains “mana.”

Dominic explains, “It’s a spiritual power. The Chinese called it ‘chi‘ and the Japanese called it ‘ki.'” He adds with a laugh, “And the Jedi called it ‘The Force.'” Even inanimate objects are said to contain this sacred power to one degree or another. There are countless stories of tourists (and an old “The Brady Bunch” episode!) who have entered sacred spaces without seeking permission, who soon after developed headaches or otherwise met with major or minor mishaps.

I had an eerie feeling standing on the grounds of this war temple, so I was glad that Dominic also took us to several agricultural heiau. One such site, Pu’uwani’ani’a Heiau, was dedicated to the Hawaiian god Lono, who is also the god of fertility, rain and peace.

Fenced in by a low lava-stone wall, this circular temple measures about 30 feet in diameter. I could believe that Lono still presides over the site because the temple exudes a peaceful feeling.

Dominic gives an entertaining commentary on the gods and goddesses of the Hawaiian pantheon throughout our tour. He tells the story of Kamapua’a, half man and half hog, who can change his shape at will. As we pass by a kukui tree, Dominic notes that the leaves resemble the shape of a pig’s head. Nearby, there is a fern with stalks like a pig’s leg. The ancient Hawaiians believed that the demigod was present in these plants and that the shape of the leaves and stalks indicated where he was hiding.

When our tour was over, Dominic concluded, “I want to perpetuate the Hawaiian culture. I feel that if I leave my guests with a sense of reverence for the culture and the land, then I’ve fulfilled my mission.”

It certainly worked for me.


Mauka Makai Excursions
Tel: 877-ECO-OAHU

Full day tours begin with a 7:30am pick-up at your hotel, and return at 4:30pm. Half-day tours are $36.46. Full-day tours cost $62.50. Prices include much-needed insect repellent, bottled water, rain gear, backpacks and all beach activity supplies.

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