Kailua is a town located in the Koʻolaupoko District on the windward coast on the island of Oʻahu. Kailua sits at the waterfront of Kailua Bay within the ahupua’a of Ko’olaupoko between the towns of Kaneohe and Waimanalo.
In the Hawaiian language Kailua means “two seas” or “two currents”, a contraction of the words kai (meaning “sea” or “sea water”) and ʻelua (meaning “two”); it is so named because of the two lagoons in the district and/or the two currents which run through Kailua Bay.
Kailua is primarily a residential community mostly made up of single family homes with approximately 40,000 people. Kailua features a centralized commercial district along Kailua Road with a compact, easy-to-shop business district. Kailua has several public elementary schools, an intermediate (middle), and two high schools, Kalaheo High (Mustangs) and Kailua High (Surfriders). The winward town also has seven private schools.
Places of significance around Kailua include Kawai Nui Marsh, Oneawa Channel, Maunawili Falls, Kailua Beach Park with views of Popoia Island and Lanikai Beach, a small tranquil white sand beach with Na Mokulua in the backdrop. Na Mokulua means “the two islands” in the Hawaiian language. The larger island is called Moku Nui and the smaller, Moku Iki. These islets are commonly known as “the moks”. Lanikai Beach is consistently ranked among the top of the best beaches in the world.
Kaʻōhao is the earliest known Hawaiian name for the place known as “Lanikai.” Kaʻōhao means “the tying” and is derived from an old story in which “two women were tied together here with a loincloth after being beaten in a kōnane game”.
Ancient Hawaiian History
It has been documented that Kailua was home to Hawaiian families at least 1,500 years ago. The earliest settlers are thought to have lived, fished, and played on the slopes surrounding Kawainui Marsh as well as besides a lagoon or bay open to the sea shoreside of Kailua Bay.
During ancient 16th century Kailua attracted many ali’i, Hawaiian Royalty. During the reign of King Kakuhihewa and also his successors, Kailua replaced Waikiki as the residential seat of the Alii Aimoku of O’ahu; becoming the ancient capital of Oahu’s kings.
The largest event to take place in Kailua was when King Kamehameha The Great conquered O’ahu in his quest to unite the Hawaiian Islands in 1795. Kamehameha granted Kawai Nui Marsh and old Kailua, which included large freshwater fish ponds and saltwater ponds at Mokapu, to warriors and chiefs who had helped him. The land was used in various forms for agriculture (e.g., sugarcane, rice, and taro), and eventually was used primarily for cattle raising. Many ancient temple ruins, such as those at Ulupo Heiau State Historic Site are in the area.
Many legends were born, including the menehune, who were known for working at night in Kawai Nui Marsh, and mo’o, who took the shape of a large lizard that attracted fish.