Looking for Love at Pu‘u Pehe

A romantic stroll in the wake of a romantic story.


View of Sweetheart Rock in Lana‘i.

There’s one rock formation in particular that stands out from the rest. It stands alone, rising up from the water in the shape of a pillar, a stone’s throw from the main coast. It’s called Pu‘u Pehe, or Sweetheart Rock, and appreciated first and foremost for its natural beauty. But its backstory is one for the hopeless romantics.

From Hulopo‘e Beach Park, facing the ocean, walk to the left along the rocky coast. Look for critters and crabs in the tide pools as you go around the corner and reach the vista shown in the photo above. At that point, you can look down over the ridge and find a little beach below (it’s not recommended you climb down the cliffs, but it’s wonderful to access the beach at low tide via kayak). Take a moment here and look across the small bay at Pu‘u Pehe. It’s a great place for a photo, both for couples and friends. From there, follow the cliffs up to the high point to where you can look across and down upon Pu‘u Pehe.

As the legend goes, a Hawaiian maiden named Pehe from Lāhainā on Maui was courted by a young warrior from Lāna‘i. He was so blinded by her beauty that he came to be called Makakehau, or “Misty Eyes,” because her brown body “shone like the clear sun rising out of Haleakalā,” her curly hair bound and tied back with the lehua blossoms of the ‘ōhi‘a trees.

They lived blissfully in a sea cave below Pu‘u Pehe on Lāna‘i, where she was out of sight from other warriors (you can look for the cave when you’re kayaking). But one day a storm hit while he was upcountry getting supplies, and he returned to find the cave flooded and that Pehe had drowned. Destroyed by grief, Makakehau asked the gods to help him summit the steep rock offshore, the 80-foot high Pu‘u Pehe, where he buried her. He then jumped to his death.

Okay, so, you know, pretty sad story, but hey, that’s love for you, and I guess that’s what you get when you keep a beautiful woman trapped in a cave. Anyway, when you get close, you can see a rock formation on top of Pu‘u Pehe. According to the legend, this is her grave. According to researchers, it’s a heiau, possibly a tribute to the sea or the birds, and there are no human remains there. So is it really her grave? No, it’s not.

But as Hemingway would say, isn’t it pretty to think so?


Camping on Lāna‘i Camping on Lāna‘i at Hulopo‘e

Visitors to Lāna‘i don’t have much choice when it comes to where they stay. There are only three hotels, after all. Campers have even less choice if they want to set up at an official campground with bathrooms and tables — there’s only one, at Hulopo‘e Beach Park on the south side, next to the Four Seasons.

It’s not the best homebase if you are looking to move and shake around the island, as Lāna‘i City and the main roads are more than 1,500-feet up the dry hillside. But the isolated area is a great place to vege out, especially as an overnight from nearby Maui. You could do much worse than renting a kayak to explore the coast here, including Pu‘u Pehe.

Hulopo‘e Beach Park is the best-kept on the island, and the coastline has a variety of cliffs and small coves. One of the funny things is that you’re sharing the same scenery with people who have paid out the wazoo to be there. Camping here is not cheap — it is a $50 permit fee plus $15 per night per person — but considering that rooms at the Four Seasons start at more than $1,000/night during the summer, you feel like you’re getting a deal.  You can find more details on the campsite here.

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