Friday, December 16, 2016

Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

I know I mentioned the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and Daniel K. Inouye Lighthouse in a previous post, but the lighthouse is nifty enough that the Refuge deserves a separate post. The Refuge is, of course, managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. I'll confess that this is the first NWR I've visited that had me seriously wanting to volunteer. Fish is notorious for making its volunteers actually work, e.g., do active trail maintenance, mow lawns, and generally earn your "free" RV site. Toss in the fact that Wildlife Refuges are usually located in the middle of quite literally nowhere and my usual reaction to seeing the listings on is usually "Interesting, but not interested."

Kilauea Point, on the other hand. . . Kaua'i is a little out of the way in terms of where we live now, but I rhink I'd be willing to make the sacrifice. Unfortunately, I don't think it's possible to drive the Guppy there.

The lighthouse itself doesn't seem particularly tall -- it is only 52 feet in height -- and is done in the Classical Revival style popular with the Lighthouse Service 100 years ago. Land for the light station was purchased from a sugar company and construction began in 1912. It went up quickly considering the hassles involved in lifting material up a cliff. The second order clamshell-type Fresnel lens was lit for the first time on May 1, 1913. That lens, incidentally, seems truly humongous when viewed from the ground. (Side note: I tend to buy note cards when I hit gift shops in visitor centers; I still write actual letters. There were cards with a great photo of the lens, but I could not bring myself to buy any because on the back the lens was described as looking "like a beehive." On what planet do beehives look like clamshells?)
Construction, as usual with light stations, was not easy. At the time there was no practical land access to the site; materials were brought in boat and hoisted up an approximately 110-foot tall cliff to the tip of the promontory. One assumes that at one time the light station included all the usual ancillary buildings, but today all that remains is the tower, a building close to it that housed a radio beacon but has been repurposed for informational displays (it was the lighthouse visitor center until a new one was built in 1988), an oil house/paint locker, and two keepers' quarters houses set well back from the light station. Because the primary focus of the site is the wildlife refuge, most of the informational displays in the information building and various waysides around the public area focus on the birds -- albatross, nene geese, shearwaters, frigate birds, and others -- that have rookeries in the refuge. There was no information (at least none that I saw) on what the light station looked like when it was first built or who the keepers and their families were. This type of information might be shared when the lighthouse is open for tours, but that only happens twice a week on Wednesday and Saturday, and we were there on a Friday.

The refuge is pretty nifty in itself, of course. It's done a fine job of preserving habitat for various sea birds. Thanks to a multi-million dollar fence, the nesting area is protected from predation from rats and cats so ground-nesters like the nene geese and albatross are increasing in number. 

The Kilauea Light is reportedly the most visited site on Kauai. I'd love to know how anyone knows that. Every place we went that was any sort of a tourist attraction, right down to the scenic overlook of the Hanalai valley, had enough people there that parking was tight. So who's doing the counting and how? I'm also curious as to exactly when the powers-that-be decided to name the lighthouse after Senator Inouye. It would be nice if they did it while he was still alive, but odds are it happened after his death. Way too many of the honors people receive happen after they're too old or too dead to enjoy them.

Totally (almost) irrelevant bit of trivia: Actor Ben Stiller and his wife, Christine, have donated over $100,000 toward preservation of the lighthouse. There's an honor roll of donors; the Stillers are the only ones who have gone over $100K so far. 


  1. Beautiful! Very interesting, have been to Kauai but not to the lighthouse. Will have to add it to my list!


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