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Waikiki Beach – Big Issues of An Artificial Shoreline

Waikiki Beach once served as a retreat for Hawaiian kings and queens. Since the jet age it has been the center of Pacific tourism. Even before 1900, several events began shaping the Waikiki of today and its sandy iconic beaches. Here are some things you may not know about iconic Waikiki including one beach that a few years ago was picked best in the USA.

Waikiki Beach Erosion

Following World War II and the onset of tourism and flights to Hawaii, Waikiki beach restoration efforts boomed and have never ceased. Sand was imported to this artificially made beach from the 1920’s to the 1970’s, once by boat and barge from Southern California. A few years ago 1,730 feet of shoreline was replenished at a cost of $2.4 Million following chronic erosion of more than a foot a year.

As long ago as the early 1900’s, plans for the Ala Wai Canal were in place to help with water drainage of wetlands, and seawalls and groins began to appear. These helped build sand at one beach but typically resulted in sand loss at others. Before 1950, the Waikiki beaches were continuous. Since then however, they have become separated into sections, some with sandy beach and others without.

With Waikiki accounting for almost half of the state’s visitor spending, restoring the beaches remains a priority. The Hawaii legislature is getting involved and funds will undoubtedly be allocated to help alleviate the situation.

In 2017, beach erosion worsened with “king tides” along with elevated sea level. Honolulu’s mayor said recently: “I’m not a scientist, but I’ll get a jackhammer in there and remove all the concrete that’s there creating this backwash and sucking out more sand, plus it’s just downright dangerous.”

A long-term solution using sandbags groins may be in the works. Two aging ones were removed in 2012 which worsened the situation considerably.

Eight Beaches of Waikiki

Largely as a result of shoreline development, eight distinct Waikiki beaches exist today. They are Ft. DeRussy, Duke Kahanamoku, Halekulani, Royal Hawaiian, Kuhio, Kapiolani, Queens and Kaimana. Since 1951, nearly 80,000 cubic meters of sand have been added to restore Waikiki beaches. Today, however, it is believed that very little of the added sand remains.

Ala Moana Beach Park, Hawaii’s single most popular beach, is adjacent to but not technically part of Waikiki, and was also artificially made.

Did you know that at the site of today’s New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, on Sans Souci Beach, stood a home from the 1800’s where Robert Louis Stevenson visited? All that remains is the Hau tree with the sheltering bower and railing which can still be seen at the hotel.

Further Waikiki Updates

We’re soon to be headed back from the inaugural flight we took on Monday. See our Hawaiian Airlines A321neo trip report. Look for more updates on Waikiki and its recent changes coming soon.

Duke Kahanamoku Beach was previously picked as one of the best beaches in the USA.

8 thoughts on “Waikiki Beach – Big Issues of An Artificial Shoreline”

  1. Are there any updates as to what will be done with the Natatorium? It is unthinkable to me that San Souci beach would disappear.

  2. There must be aerial photographs of Waikiki showing the ebb and flow of the shoreline. That would be very interesting to see.

  3. People of Manhattan Beach still talk about “their” sand being shipped to Hawaii and they never fail once in a while to mention it in local newspapers (lol).
    I have a friend who lives in Florida (near Fort Myers but more inland). She has a water well that she used to be very proud of. She can’t use the water anymore as the water is now salty. Nature will follow its course, no matter what.
    Thank you for this interesting article, Jeff and Rob!

  4. Hello, We are from Brazil and I’ve subscribed to your blog and I find it very helpful to make our hawaiian vacations. We’ll travel with our “kids” (25, 28 and 35) to Oahu and Maui next spring or summer and, and as we (the parentes) did not like Waikiki the first time we were there, in 2000, we’d like a suggestion as which part of Waikiki should we look for. I guess we didn’t chose right last time and would like to show our family the beauty of Waikiki and Honolulu. Could you help us? Thank you very much!

  5. Hopefully Waikiki beach can be maintained because between tourists an the ocean it’s taking a beating! It’s an iconic place on many a bucket list an rates like one of the 7 natural world wonders….mahlo

  6. What? No mention of Gray’s Beach? Well, maybe it’s a little outdated and not much of a beach of its own right anymore, but it was just East of Halekulani. Mrs. Gray had a boarding house here years ago.

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