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Exploring Kauai's Northern Coast

Exploring Kauai's Northern Coast


avatar   Stacy
Trip Date 08/19/2017
Posted On 05/13/2018 09:46:48

Destinations | Hawaii | Kauai | Kilauea Point | Driving | Hiking | Lighthouse | Wai Koa Loop



With a rental car coupled with the fact that we had seven days on the island, our goal was to explore as much of Kauai as possible. As we had spent several days on the island during previous vacations, we were trying to explore places new to us. After snorkeling all morning, we drove to the northwest coast of the Garden Island for an afternoon hike and more.

If you have access to a car (or truck or motorcycle, etc.), and are up for some beautiful scenery, a hike and maybe even a low cost tour, read on for a possible half day itinerary in northern Kauai.

Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

As we were nearby, we started with a visit to the overlook for a view of the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse. Although the overlook was a repeat for us, we knew that the stop would be a quick one - just long enough to catch a glimpse of the lighthouse sitting atop the scenic peninsula surrounded by blue ocean water.


Looking Left (top) and Right from the Overlook

Looking Left (top) and Right from the Overlook

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Taking a few pictures of the beautiful scenery took no time, however, once we realized that our arrival was actually during the hours that Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge was open, caused us to rethink our plan. We parked in the lower parking lot in order to get a close-up view of the lighthouse. We soon realized that there was a $5.00 per person entrance fee to walk out to the point, however our America the Beautiful Annual Pass was honored therefore waiving our fee.


Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse

Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse

The refuge was known as one of Kauai's best wildlife viewing sites, and we saw a variety of birds along our 0.2 mile stroll on a paved walkway out to the point - both near the lighthouse and flying over the water and nearby cliffs. During each of my previous visits to Hawaii, I saw "Nene Crossing" signs, however today was my first time to actually see one of the endangered Hawaiian geese that is also the state bird.


Nene - Hawaii's State Bird

Nene - Hawaii's State Bird

Kilauea Point Lighthouse Tour

Upon our arrival at the Visitor Center, I saw signage indicating that a free lighthouse tour was starting in 30 minutes, so I immediately grabbed two spots as the tours were only offered each Wednesday and Saturday on the half-hour. Tana Ball, the guide for our 2:30 PM tour was quite knowledgeable about the lighthouse dedicated in 1913 and decommissioned in 1976. Located on the northernmost point of Hawaii, some of the more interesting facts shared by Tana included:
  • similar to many museums, shoes must either be removed or covered with protective booties prior to entering the lighthouse
  • guests are offered free admission during an annual party on the first Saturday each May commemorating the birthday of the lighthouse
  • the 4.5 ton clamshell lens, manufactured in France, was one of 18 sent to the US, of which only five remain
  • the unique signature beacon of the lighthouse is "flash - flash - 10 second pause - flash - flash
  • during the years that the lighthouse was operational, the kerosene lantern which lit the lighthouse only went dark on one occasion - it took 15 minutes to be relit


4.5 ton Clamshell Lens

4.5 ton Clamshell Lens

Tips for a Visit to Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

Here's a few suggestions for planning your trip to Kilauea Point and the Refuge:
  • The National Wildlife Refuge is open from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM on Tuesdays through Saturdays, and the $5.00 per person entrance fee can only be paid in cash or traveler's checks.
  • If your visit is on a Wednesday or a Saturday (between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM) and you'd like to join a free tour (which requires climbing to the top of the lighthouse), quickly make your way to the Visitors Center to get one of the limited tickets for the next available tour. (Advance reservations are not accepted for lighthouse tours.)
  • If you have no interest in either a tour of (or getting up close and personal with) the lighthouse, just park in the upper parking lot and enjoy the fantastic views of the lighthouse, peninsula and coastline from the overlook.
  • If you enjoy bird watching, make it a point to spend some time in the refuge as it is home to a large bird population including one with an 8-foot wingspan - the great frigate.
  • If your visit happens to be in January, February or March, you might get lucky with a show from some of the marine animals including green-sea turtles, humpback whales, and/or dolphins.

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Anaina Hou Community Park

At the conclusion of our tour, we left the lighthouse in search of the nearby Kauai Mini Golf. We were actually hoping to find the trail recommended by Richard, our guide for our Makauwahi Cave tour. He had suggested that we park at the mini golf course as we'd find the trail behind the course. Through an online query, we had also learned that we were required to complete a waiver, so our first stop after parking was the Anaina Hou Community Park gift store. After completing the simple waiver, we were provided with some basic instructions (most important, bring lots of water), and we were off on foot in search of the trailhead.

Wai Koa Loop Trail

The Wai Koa Loop Trail, open from 8:00 AM until dusk, was a 4.3 mile trail wandering through a part of the 500 acre Wai Koa Plantation, a working farm located on private property. Following the short downhill then uphill jaunt almost immediately after the trailhead, the remaining hike was relatively flat and well marked. We welcomed the shade, first from the Norfolk Island Pine Trees followed by the largest plantation of Honduras Mahogany Trees in the United States, all planted in perfect columns.


Honduras Mahogany Tree Plantation

Honduras Mahogany Tree Plantation

Although the signage directed us to walk the loop in a counter-clockwise direction, we chose to go clockwise at the junction for several reasons:

  • several people that we passed along the way recommended that we not miss the Stone Dam
  • since we were walking in mid-afternoon, it appeared that we would have more shade if we turned left
  • and, finally, we had decided not to walk the entire loop, so by going clockwise, we could cut our total hike down to 3.7 miles yet still make it to the "must-see" Stone Dam


Hiking and Balancing at the Same Time!

Hiking and Balancing at the Same Time!

Shortly after passing a farm with corralled horses grazing in a field, the trail opened up to a view of the West Makaleha Mountains and we were only about 0.2 miles away from the mid-point of our hike.


West Makaleha Mountains

West Makaleha Mountains

We had no idea what to expect, but we knew we wanted to see the much talked about Stone Dam. Although this short distance was probably the hottest park of our hike as we no longer had the benefit of shade, we were not disappointed.


Nearing the Stone Dam

Nearing the Stone Dam

After enjoying the view while seated at the covered picnic table from the lookout above, we headed downhill to explore the beautiful, perfectly manicured gardens. The purpose of the dam, originally built in 1881, was to ensure that Kilauea Sugar had the necessary access to water on the plantation. Today, in addition to providing irrigation to the Wai Koa Plantation, the dam is a small but important part of the tranquil sanctuary where visitors can wander along the path or across the bridge to find the perfect spot to picnic, swim or just plain relax in peace while enjoying the surrounding environment.


Beautifully Manicured Gardens

Beautifully Manicured Gardens


Stone Dam

Stone Dam

After departing the peaceful oasis, we were back in the sun retracing our steps for the 1.85 mile return hike - at least most of it was in the shade! As we neared the trailhead, I began reading the four part poems posted on the short signposts, as I hadn't read them when we entered. My favorite was:

Don't lose your head To gain a minute You need your head Your brains are in it!

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Tips for a Visit to the Stone Dam

  • If you have limited time or no desire for a long hike, we were told that you can still park at Common Ground, a local cafe that has been permanently closed (located at 4900 Kuawa Road; Kilauea, HI 96754). At only 0.2 miles, the hike to the Stone Dam from Common Ground is significantly shorter.
  • Time permitting, consider bringing food for a picnic and/or swimwear - the area is absolutely beautiful and oh so peaceful. I sure wish we had more time to spend during our visit - even just watching the kids swinging on the rope swing and jumping into the water was enjoyable!

Hiking Kauai

For information on a state park (also in the northern part of Kauai) with a variety of hiking options, see our post titled "Our Hike (and Complete Soaking) in Northwest Kauai".

The Garden Island

In your opinion, where are the most beautiful gardens on the Garden Island of Kauai?




Total Health App steps today: 16,389
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Exploring Kauai's Northern Coast







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