The reef runway was first conceived around 1960, and took a very long time to construct. I think it was finally opened to traffic in 1976. I doubt that such an environmentally sensitive project could EVER be constructed in Hawaii today - just look at the hell the environmentalists put the OGG
runway extension through.
The original goal of the reef runway was to reduce jet noise over downtown Honolulu in the evenings. Prevailing winds mean that most departures are to the east - so all departures were routed straight over Sand Island, Kalihi and downtown Honolulu. The reef runway moves those departures south, over the ocean, although aircraft still make a gentle right turn shortly after takeoff.
Taxiing out to the reef runway takes FOREVER - sometimes almost 20 minutes between leaving the gate and actually turning onto the runway. Many of the interisland flights continue to use the 'old' runway 8L
for takeoff, to shorten their taxi times. However, almost all the overseas departures use the reef runway.
At night, departures are usually on 8R (the reef runway), while 4R handles most arrivals. This means that aircraft on finals pass just a few hundred feet over the active departure runway before touching down. It makes for some interesting takeoff sequences!
I'd love to fly into HNL
during Kona weather, and experience a landing from the opposite (26R/L) side, although I understand that happens only a few days a year...