A Walk Along the Ala Wai Canal

by Gray Cargill on May 21, 2014

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I’ve mentioned before in this blog that I’m a big fan of walking along rivers and canals in cities. Aside from the fact that it provides more attractive scenery for a long walk than navigating city streets surrounded by nothing but steel and stone buildings, there’s something about walking along rivers and canals that makes me contemplative.

On my first trip to Honolulu, I was aware of Honolulu’s Ala Wai Canal, but didn’t have time to go take a look at it, let alone consider a walk alongside it. And I guarantee you, most visitors to Oahu don’t give this canal a single thought. I mean, who notices a man-made canal when there’s the huge and gorgeous Pacific Ocean with its world-class beaches all around the island?

Ala Wai Canal

Not the ocean. But still pretty.

The two-mile long Ala Wai Canal was built in the 1920s to drain agricultural and wetlands into the Pacific Ocean. It borders the Waikiki Beach tourist corridor on the north, from Kapahulu Avenue all the way past Ala Moana Boulevard, eventually ending in the ocean. Without it, there would be no Waikiki Beach as we know it today.

Map of Waikiki

Waikiki Beach tourist corridor, bordered on the north by the Ala Wai Canal.

The canal has a walkway running the length of it that is used mostly by locals and a bit by visitors. I went for a walk there one evening and passed a handful of people, but mostly it was pretty peaceful and quiet and uncrowded. (Which is one of the things that makes it so appealing: When you become overwhelmed by the crowds along Kalakaua and Kuhio Streets, head for the Canal for a little peace and quiet.)

Ala Wai Canal

The walking path along the canal is a peaceful and quiet walk in the otherwise crowded Waikiki Beach.

As far as Canal walks go, it’s a good one. It provides a picturesque view across the canal of the golf course and the city of Honolulu as it stretches into the hills. You can also watch paddlers in single-person outrigger canoes out on the canal getting some exercise. I encountered two people walking their dogs, a couple of joggers, parents with a baby stroller, and a man pushing his elderly father in a wheelchair along the path here. Here, you get more of a feel for what it might be like to live in Honolulu than you do a few blocks away on Kalakaua and the beach area.

Unfortunately, Ala Wai is not the cleanest body of water in the world. (Then again, neither are the Thames or the Seine.) In fact, it’s pretty polluted. A man died from bacterial infections after falling in the water.  So for God’s sake, don’t go in the water. I also would not eat any fish caught in the Canal.

Ala Wai Canal

Looks clean from this angle. . .but it isn’t.

But for walking purposes and the views, it’s quite lovely. Many people complain about the funky smell here, but I didn’t notice a bad smell. (Maybe I was lucky and caught it on a good day?) You may see homeless people here, but you’ll see them everywhere in Honolulu, so the Canal’s no different.

I’d recommend walking here first thing in the morning or in the evening, mainly for the early morning or late day light. For a change of perspective, cross over one of the bridges that span the canal and walk on the other side for views across the Canal of the hotels along Ala Wai Boulevard.

Ala Wai Canal

In any other city, this body of water would be the highlight. But it’s hard to compete with the Pacific Ocean.

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