Exploring the history and uses of different Oahu lighthouses

Written by: 
Bruno Maynez
The Diamond Head lighthouse resides next to Diamond Head crater.

Lighthouses are not only a navigational guide, but students said they are also great locations to take photos and enjoy nice views. The three main lighthouses found on Oahu are located at Barbers Point, Makapu‘u Point, and Diamond Head. There are three other minor lights on Oahu namely Ka'ena Point, Aloha Tower, and Pyramid Rock..


The main lighthouses were constructed because of ships running aground in the vicinity, according to lighthousefriends.com. They were constructed to serve as a warning to future ships.

Located west of Honolulu, Barbers Point was originally proposed after the ship “Arthur” struck a coral reef and sank, according to lighthousefriends.com. The ship was captained by Henry Barber and the point was named after him. The lighthouse was constructed in 1888.

Diamond Head lighthouse, located east of Honolulu, was built in 1899. Before the lighthouse was built, sailors thought they discovered diamonds in rocks found near the crater but in reality, the gems were clear calcite crystals. The name Diamond Head stuck and was attached to the lighthouse.

Southeast of Honolulu shines the Makapu‘u lighthouse, known to have the largest lens in the United States. It was built in 1909, and named after the Hawaiian deity, Makapu‘u. In the lighthousefriends website, it says, 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.”

The Makapu’u lighthouse was constructed after the passenger liner Manchuria ran aground off of Makapu’u Point in 1906.

Why are they important?

According to the National Park Service, lighthouses are like a traffic sign on the sea, serving “as a navigational aid and to warn boats of dangerous areas.” As they project light, those at sea know how to get to their destination.

Stressing the importance of lighthouses, Jatesh Sharma, a senior from Fiji majoring in political science, said, “They are beacons that guide and gives us a warning sign. Without it, we would be lost, misguided, and we can get into some serious trouble. Lighthouses also imply the danger that lies ahead if not given heed to.”

Are lighthouses outdated?

Sharma believes that lighthouses are still relevant. “Despite having technology such as radar and night vision goggles, it is significant that not all can afford those technologies. Not everyone can have access or might not know every detail on how to use it to get around at night.”

Stepping away from the technological side, Steven Yu Dan, a senior majoring in marketing from Taiwan, said, “It also provides aspects of the mental ease and that’s 100% the place where people can seek for the rescue or to land on.”

Tourist destination

Aside from the safety benefits of having lighthouses for incoming ships, they make popular tourist destinations. Sharma said, “The height and location of lighthouses has always been a leading factor that made me visit and see all the time. The design also plays a crucial role in getting my attention. It is mostly located close to the sea shore or on a high ground next to a cliff or rocks that makes the scenery extraordinary.”

Emilio Valenciano, a freshman from the Philippines studying hotel and tourism management, said, “The lighthouses on Oahu are good places to take photos, go on a hike, and enjoy nice views.” Adding on Valenciano’s comment on the views, Dan, said,­ “The scenery is great and there is a spot where people can see the whales.” Humpback whales are commonly spotted off of Makapu’u point during the winter months.


Date Published: 
Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Last Edited: 
Tuesday, August 28, 2018