Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge offers a sweeping panorama of the Pacific, a historic lighthouse complex, and marine and bird life galore.
Depending on the season and the day’s luck, you can see various sea life, including humpback whales (kohola), dolphins (naia), green sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals (ilio holo i ka uaua) in the deep, blue water.
In the air you’ll see thousands of migratory seabirds, including Laysan albatrosses (moli), red-footed boobies, brown boobies, red-tailed and white-tailed tropicbirds, great frigatebirds and wedge-tailed shearwaters. On the green lawn surrounding the lighthouse, you’ll often see nene geese – the Hawaii state bird and an endangered species. (please look, don’t touch).
One attraction of the refuge is how accessible it is. The walk from the parking lot to the lighthouse is just 2/10ths of a mile up a gently sloping walkway. Golf cart transportation is available for those who can’t walk. Once on the lighthouse point, there are multiple vantage points to see both flying and swimming wildlife with ease.
Use the available binoculars to get a closer look – and find out more about the animals from well-informed refuge rangers and volunteers. During breeding and nesting seasons, you may catch a glimpse of courting behaviors or of chicks in a nest.
The refuge, on the island’s northeast corner, is one of Kauai’s most popular visitor destinations. Open since 1985 and managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, it’s a prime birding location and a fantastic spot to take photos.
Its grounds also house many Native Hawaiian coastal plants, including: naupaka kahakai, ilima, hala, aheahea, and akoko. At some times of the year, special guided hikes into more remote areas of the refuge are offered. Ask the staff or check the refuge website.
The Visitor Center features interpretive dioramas highlighting native Hawaiian habitats and wildlife. The refuge office can provide “Kauai National Wildlife Refuge Complex Watchable Wildlife” brochures.
The non-profit Kilauea Point Natural History Association runs the gift shop at the refuge and funnels about $60,000 a year to environmental education programs for Kauai’s youth.
The refuge has restrooms and drinking fountains. You may bring in your own water, but pets, food, drink and firearms are prohibited.
First lit in 1913, the Kilauea lighthouse’s original Fresnel lens is an 8-ton masterpiece of glass prisms that amplified a single kerosene lantern to reach 20 miles across the dark Pacific waters.
“Beautiful is the revolving light of Kilauea, that flashes to the walls of the heavens. It shows forth its beauty, an exceedingly bright light,” is the English translation of the opening lines of “Nani Wale Ka Huila o Kilauea,” a chant by Wahineikeouli Paa celebrating the lighthouse.
In 1976 an automated beacon replaced the lighthouse. But community affection for the original structure is strong enough that nearly $1 million was raised for major restoration work now underway.
Kilauea is one of the most intact lighthouse stations in the country. The 31-acre complex – the concrete lighthouse, three fieldstone keepers’ quarters, a fuel oil shed, cisterns and a supply landing platform – has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979. It is the first of Hawaii’s seven historically significant lighthouses lighthouses to undergo a major restoration.
Its French-made Fresnel lens is one of only seven of its type in its original position in the U.S. The lens originally cost $12,000 and is now worth $1 million.
The Kilauea Point lighthouse was particularly significant as a mid-Pacific guidepost for trade between the Americas and Asia.
Its beacon famously alerted exhausted pilots on a 1927 Mainland-to-Hawaii Army flight that they’d overshot Oahu, enabling them to turn back and land safely at Wheeler Field.
TO VISIT: The Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is open daily 10 a.m.- 4 p.m., except federal holidays and closes at noon the days before Christmas and Thanksgiving. Entrance is $5 for each person 16 or older. Federal recreation passports, a kamaaina (Hawaii resident) pass, and the Federal Duck Stamp are accepted.
Entry is free on the first Saturday in May on “Lighthouse Day,” with special activities celebrating the history of the lighthouse.
DRIVING DIRECTIONS: From Lihue, drive north on Kuhio Highway (about 23 miles) to Kilauea town. Turn right on Kolo Road, then left on Kilauea Road; it is 2 miles to the refuge entrance. Visitors are required to park in refuge parking, which is limited. Call the refuge (808-828-1413) in advance if there are more than 20 people. Passenger vehicles are restricted to vans transporting 15 people or fewer. Buses are not permitted without prior permission.
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