Giant tsunamis, generated by submarine landslides in the Hawaiian Islands, have been thought to be responsible for the deposition of chaotic gravels high on the southern coastal slopes of the islands of Lana'i and Moloka'i, Hawaii. Here we investigate this hypothesis, using uranium-thorium dating of the Hulopoe gravel (on Lana'i) and a study of stratigraphic relationships, such as facies changes and hiatuses, within the deposit. The Hulopoe gravel contains corals of two age groups, representing marine isotope stages 5e and 7 (approximately 135,000 and 240,000 years ago, respectively), with significant geographical and stratigraphic ordering. We show that the Hulopoe gravel was formed by multiple depositional events, separated by considerable periods of time, thus invalidating the main premise of the 'giant wave' hypothesis. Instead, the gravels were probably deposited during interglacial periods (when sea level was relatively high) by typical Hawaiian shoreline processes such as seasonal wave patterns, storm events and possibly 'normal' tsunamis, and reached their present height by uplift of Lana'i.