According to Hawaiian legend, Makapu`u was a supernatural being who, after arriving from Tahiti, took up residence on the point now bearing her name. This being's defining feature was her set of eight bright eyes, which is reflected in her name Makapu`u, Hawaiian for bulging eye. On October 1, 1909, the light from another bright, bulging eye was seen on the rocky point of Makapu`u as the giant lens in the Makapu`u lighthouse was illuminated for the first time.
Makapuu Point is the extreme southeastern point of the island of Oahu. To the east of it is the Kaiwi Channel, which passes between the islands of Oahu and Molokai, which are about 25 miles apart. The harbor of Honolulu, the principal harbor of the central Pacific Ocean, is on the southern coast of Oahu, a short distance west of Makapuu Point. … There is no light on the entire northern coast of the Hawaiian Islands to guide ships or warn them as they approach those islands. The lack of such a light not only renders navigation at times very dangerous, but in bad weather or at night often compels them to slow down and await clear weather or daylight. With the increasing importance of commerce between the United States and the Hawaiian Islands, and the commerce passing the Hawaiian Islands and stopping at Honolulu, it will be very greatly to the advantage, speed, and safety of vessels that this much-needed aid to navigation be provided.
Makapu`u Point rises 647 feet above the ocean and is composed of a number of lava flows. The three keepers' dwellings, constructed of the abundant lava rock on the point, were built in a depression near the summit. At a height of 395 feet above the water, a notch, large enough to hold the lighthouse, was blasted out of the lava face. A trail linking the lighthouse and dwellings and a road connecting the station to the nearest highway had to be carved into the lava point.
The thirty-five-foot tower was ready to receive its lens by October of 1908, but what size of lens to use in the tower was still being debated. Plans called for a third-order lens, then a second-order lens, and finally a first-order hyperradiant lens. The Lighthouse Board had purchased the 12-foot-tall lens, which had an inside diameter of roughly eight feet nine inches, in 1887. The lens was exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, and then placed in storage for several years before being shipped to Oahu.
Hawaii's first radio beacon was installed at Makapu`u Point in 1927. The signal produced by the beacon could be picked up at a distance of two hundred miles and could be used to determine one's position. A generating plant was established on Makapu`u Point to provide electricity for the radio beacon, and the lighthouse was converted from oil-vapor to 500-watt incandescent electric lamps.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Nearby area open, tower closed.