In traditional times, Pi‘inaio Stream was the dominant feature of the western area of Waikīkī.
It entered the ocean as a wide, ribboned kahawai (wide delta,) bringing fresh waters from the mountain valleys and creating an area of abundance. The early-Hawaiians found this plentiful land and marine resources as an excellent place to settle (the early settlers arrived around 600 AD.).
The Stream played a vital role in the geography, and cultural usage, of the ‘ili of Kālia. The meaning of Pi‘inaio is uncertain but it could be an allusion to going inland (pi‘i), to the location of a naio (a sandalwood-like tree – as may have commonly grown in the vicinity.) (Cultural Surveys)
Waikīkī was famous for its fishponds with one listing citing 45 ponds. The ten fishponds at Kālia were loko puʻuone (isolated shore fishponds formed by a barrier sand berm) with salt-water lens intrusion and fresh water entering from upland ʻauwai (irrigation canals.)
The shallow relatively-protected reefs of Waikīkī and the availability of the riparian resources of the Pi‘inaio estuary made the back dune ponds easily adaptable into fish ponds.
The inland ponds may have formed along the coast where existing depressions in the sand were chosen to make the loko puʻuone, and brush was cleared out. During traditional times, the ponds were used to farm fish, usually for the Hawaiian Ali‘i (royalty). The ʻamaʻama (mullet) and the awa (milkfish) were the two types of fish traditionally raised in the ponds.
Kālia was once renowned for the fragrant limu līpoa, as well as several other varieties of seaweed such as manauea, wāwaeʻiole, ʻeleʻele, kala and some kohu.
Limu kala was harvested to make lei for offerings. The lei limu kala was and is still offered at the kūʻula [stone god used to attract fish] by fishermen or anyone who wishes to be favored by or is grateful to the sea.
John Papa ʻĪʻī relates an account from the early-1800s of a catch at a Kālia fishpond: “so large that a great heap of fish lay spoiling upon the bank of the pond.” (The waste was disapproved of.) This abundance of fishponds may have required significant maintenance and would have provided a potentially huge source of food for distribution at chiefly discretion.
The name of the area “Kālia” translated as “waited for” has a sense of “waiting”, “loitering” or “hesitating.” While the nuance is uncertain, one could imagine that the mouth of the Pi‘inaio Stream would be a logical place for travelers to pause.
An ʻōlelo noʻeau (Hawaiian proverb/saying) speaks of the pleasant portion of the coast of Kālia in Waikīkī: Ke kai wawalo leo leʻa o Kālia, The pleasing, echoing sea of Kālia. (Pukui)
Kālia is also mentioned in a story about a woman who left her husband and children on Kīpahulu, Maui, to go away with a man of O‘ahu. Her husband missed her and went to see a kahuna (priest) who was skilled in hana aloha (prayer to evoke love) sorcery.
The kahuna told the man to find a container with a lid and then speak into it of his love for his wife. The kahuna then uttered an incantation into the container, closed it, and threw it into the sea. The wife was fishing one morning at Kālia, O‘ahu, and saw the container. She opened the lid, and was possessed by a great longing to return to her husband. She walked until she found a canoe to take her home (Pukui): Ka makani kāʻili aloha o Kīpahulu; The love-snatching wind of Kīpahulu (Cultural Surveys)
In Fragments of Hawaiian History John Papa ʻĪʻī described “Honolulu trails of about 1810,” including the trail from Honolulu to Waikiki. He said that: Kawaiahaʻo which led to lower Waikiki went along Kaʻananiau, into the coconut grove at Pawaʻa, the coconut grove of Kuakuaka, then down to Piʻinaio; along the upper side of Kahanaumaikai‘s coconut grove, along the border of Kaihikapu pond, into Kawehewehe; then through the center of Helumoa of Puaʻaliʻiliʻi, down to the mouth of the Āpuakēhau Stream.
Based on ʻĪʻī‘s description, the trail from Honolulu to Waikiki in 1810 coursed through the makai side of the present Fort DeRussy grounds in the vicinity of Kālia Road. It is likely that this trail was a long-established traditional route through Waikiki.
Toward the beginning of the 1900s, downtown Honolulu was the destination for Hawaiian visitors, who numbered only about 3,000. While Honolulu had numerous hotels, there were few places to stay in Waikiki.
In 1891, at Kālia, the ‘Old Waikiki’ opened as a bathhouse, one of the first places in Waikiki to offer rooms for overnight guests. It was later redeveloped in 1928 as the Niumalu Hotel; the site eventually became the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
In 1911, the Army acquired 70-acres for the construction of Fort DeRussy and started filling in the fishponds which covered most of the Fort – pumping fill from the ocean continuously for nearly a year in order to build up an area on which permanent structures could be built.
Then, as part of the government’s Waikīkī Land Reclamation project, the Waikīkī landscape was further transformed with the construction of the Ala Wai Drainage Canal – begun in 1921 and completed in 1928 – resulted in the draining and filling in of the ponds and irrigated fields of Waikīkī.
Dredging for the project was performed by Hawaiian Dredging Company, owned by Walter F. Dillingham, who then sold the dredged sediments to Waikīkī developers. The dredge produced fill for the reclamation of over 600-acres of land in the Waikīkī vicinity.
The ʻili of Kālia runs from the ʻEwa end of today’s Ala Moana Center (near Piʻikoi Street) to the vicinity of the Halekūlani Hotel (makai of Kalākaua Avenue.) (Lots of information here from Cultural Surveys.)