Kauaʻi, often written as Kauai, is a beautiful Hawaiian island that lies northwest of Oahu. Also known as the “Garden Isle” due to the outstanding tropical greenery covering most of the island, the natural beauty of Kauai has been attracting visitors for decades.
To complement the rugged nature of Kauai, the inhabitants of island have built multiple lighthouses on the coast. In the past, Kauai lighthouses played an essential role in ensuring the safe passage of ships and airplanes. Today, these tall towers are architectural wonders, both a sight to appreciate in themselves and a viewpoint from which visitors can marvel at the coastline.
The island of Kauai boasts of two exceptional lighthouses worth visiting – Kilauea Lighthouse and Ninini Point Lighthouse. Located on different parts of the island, each Kauai lighthouse offers visitors a unique experience and breathtaking views.
Newly restored Kilauea Lighthouse (Source: Kilauea Point)
Located on a peninsula on the north coast of Kauai is the gleaming white beacon of the Kilauea Lighthouse. The lighthouse is officially known as the Daniel K. Inouye Kīlauea Point Lighthouse. It can be visited as part of the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.
The attractions at this wildlife refuge include the lighthouse, a visitor centre and the PHNHA nature store. Not only that, it is a fantastic place to spot rare animals and plants special to Kilauea and the Hawaiian islands.
As far as lighthouses go, the Kilauea Lighthouse is not particularly tall at only 52 feet. Despite this, the views from the top are spectacular due to the clever choice of location. To gain more visibility and height without adding to the actual construction, the lighthouse was built on a peninsula naturally located 180 feet above the ocean.
History of the Kilauea Lighthouse
1912 – Construction of the lighthouse began in July, alongside three houses for the lightkeepers as well as their families.
1913 – On May 1st, the lighthouse was established as the Kīlauea Point Light Station and began operation.
1930 – Radio towers were added to transmit signals to ships and airplanes.
1976 – The Kilauea Point double flash was shut down by the Coast Guard. The function of the lighthouse was replaced with an automated beacon of light.
1985 – The lands around Kilauea Point were transferred from the Coast Guard to the government, creating the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. The Hawaiian goose or nēnē was introduced to the refuge – they were saved from extinction.
1989 – The Visitor Center was completed.
2013 – The lighthouse was dedicated to US Senator Daniel K. Inouye, who raised funds to support its extensive restoration project from 2006 to 2013.
The Crowning Jewel – The Fresnel Lens
At the top, there is a magnificent lens that catches the eye as soon as you look at the lighthouse. This is the Fresnel lens that weighs a whopping 8000 pounds. Back when the lighthouse was in use, the lens used to rotate on 260 pounds of mercury. The purpose of the lens was to focus the light beam so that it could reach up to 22 miles at sea.
Due to health concerns, the mercury was skipped during the restoration but even today, you can still admire the complex and ingeniously constructed lens in all its glory. To take a closer look at the lens, take one of the free guided tours.
Free Lighthouse Tours
While the Kilauea Point refuge can be visited independently, there are free guided tours available to visit the lighthouse. These tours allow you access into the lighthouse and you can climb the narrow stairs to the top. The guides also talk about the plant life and wildlife around the refuge. The free tours come highly recommended – not only do they let you enter the lighthouse, the tour gives you a better understanding of the surroundings.
Free tours are available two days a week (Wednesdays and Saturdays), at 5 different times (10:30am, 11:30am, 12:30pm, 1:30pm and 2:30pm). Call ahead to confirm timings and availability as tours are run by volunteers.
The earliest you can sign up for a tour is one hour before it starts, so there is no rush to get there. If you are travelling with young kids, children need to be of 44 inches or taller in height to join the tour. Bulky items such as big backpacks or camera tripods are not allowed into the lighthouse.
You will have to take off your shoes before entering the lighthouse, or alternatively slip on the protective booties provided. The tour then takes you walking up the stairs all the way up to the Watch Room at the top. Be aware that the stairs are rather steep.
From the Watch Room, feast your eyes on the awe-inspiring view of the dramatic coastline. Admire the magnificence of the inky blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and don’t forget to keep an eye out for interesting sea creatures!
There is an abundance of wildlife at this reserve. Here are some of the animals that you might catch a glimpse of during your visit.
Hawaiian Monk Seal
This adorable looking mammal is endemic to Hawaii and locally known as ‘īlio-holo-i-ka-uaua. It is unique as there are only two mammals endemic to Hawaii, the other is the Hawaiian Hoary bat. Despite ongoing conservation efforts, it is still highly endangered.
If you are lucky, you might see a monk seal to the east of the lighthouse, over at the rocky coves below. Use one of the scopes along the pathway to get a closer look. You might see more than seals. During calm water days, Pacific Green Sea Turtles can be spotted around these coves.
Another endangered species, the humpback whales migrate to the warm Hawaiian waters in November and December to escape the cold waters of Alaska. Wise move on their part, we say! At Kilauea Point, there is a good possibility of seeing these mysterious giants of the sea as they arrive to mate and give birth in the warm waters. The whales typically remain in Hawaiian waters until April. For more whale watching in Kauai, Blue Dolphin Kauai offers whale watching tours around the island.
If you happen to visit the refuge around summertime, look out for the spinner dolphins (nai`a in Hawaiian). These guys often put on quite a show for visitors as they leap out of the water in big groups before spinning around and diving dramatically back into the water. To spot these dolphins, watch the waters of the bay to the west of the lighthouse.
Hala plant with pineapple-like fruit (Source: Kilauea Point)
During your time in Hawaii, you might come across a tree with long leaves and fruit that looks similar to pineapples. This tree is known as the Hala tree and it is indigenous to Hawaii. It plays a huge role in Hawaiian culture. For example, the leaves are used for weaving (lau hala) and endangered nēnē geese at the refuge eat parts of the fallen fruit. Interestingly, the dried out pieces of the fruit is often used by Hawaiians as paintbrushes – both eco-friendly and practical.
KPNHA Nature Store
After climbing up lighthouses, soaking in the views, and gawking at whales and dolphins, it is time for a little shopping. There is a shop onsite for you to grab a meaningful souvenir to take home. The items sold in the KPNHA Nature Store are mainly educational items about the lighthouse as well as the nature surrounding it.
All proceeds from the store go to the Kilauea Point Natural History Association (KPNHA) for charitable use, making it a worthy cause to support.
One special item exclusively available only at the Nature Store is a book titled “Keepers of the Light, Land and Life”. This book contains detailed information about the lighthouse and the mechanics of its operation, illustrated by drawings. It is a must-have for lighthouse enthusiasts.
Hours and Admission
Opening hours are from 10:00am to 4:00pm on Tuesdays to Saturdays. Do note that Kilauea Point is closed on Sundays, Mondays and federal holidays.
Once you are here, there is plenty to see and do. Give yourself at least 30 minutes to spend visiting this scenic attraction and a little more time if you are able to take one of the free tours.
There is an admission fee of $10 per person to Kilauea Point. Admission is free for children 15 years of age and under.
For longer term visitors, Kilauea Point offers a yearly kamaʻāina pass. For $20, you can get unlimited access to the lighthouse for yourself and up to 3 other guests for the duration of an entire year. This is incredibly great value and definitely warrants serious consideration, especially if you enjoy wildlife spotting.
If you need more information about Kilauea Point, the staff in charge can be contacted at (808) 828-0384 or email@example.com.
Ninini Point Lighthouse
Ninini Point Lighthouse (Source: Kauaitravelblog)
The next Kauai lighthouse is located on the south eastern coast of Kauai Island, in the town of Lihue. Built in 1932, the Ninini Point Lighthouse was constructed on a little tip of land that sticks out of the coastline, giving visitors great panoramic views in all directions.
Ninini Point lighthouse is located very close to Lihue Airport, only 2.9 miles away. Being so near to the airport has its perks. First, for aircraft spotters, it’s an excellent spot to watch the planes fly over the lighthouse for landing. Second, if you rented a car from one of the airport car rentals, Ninini Point lighthouse is a handy stop-off just before you return your rental car. It is a wonderful way to wrap up your time on the Garden Isle of Kauai.
The Lighthouse itself is not open to the public, but the views of the ocean and surroundings are spectacular, making Ninini Point well worth the trouble. As it is not as popular as the Kilauea Lighthouse, Ninini Point is more of an off-the-beaten-track experience, perfect for adventurers in search of unspoilt nature. Go in the evenings and you might even have the place to yourself!
To get here, drive through the Lihue Marriot Resort until the golf course. Continue on this road past the club house. The road becomes an uneven dirt road. Keep on it and drive around the perimeter of the airport to reach the lighthouse.
The dirt road has bumps and large potholes, which are made worse after heavy rain. If you have a smaller car, it might be tricky to navigate. An alternative would be to walk. Park your car at the Marriott golf course parking lot, and there is a walking path leading to Ninini Point.
Since it is not easy to get here, visiting Ninini Point is a peaceful and serene experience.
In The Area
After spending time taking in the panorama at Ninini, drop by Duke’s Kauai for a seafood dinner on the beach. Located in Kalapaki Beach, this seafood restaurant serves up the freshest fish cooked Hawaiian style.
If you are driving around the island depending on Google Maps and GPS, take note when searching for Kauai lighthouses on Google maps.
Do not confuse the actual Kauai lighthouses of Kilauea and Ninini with a destination known as the “Kauai Lighthouse Outreach Center” close to Wailua and Kapa’a on the east side of Kauai. The latter/Kauai Lighthouse Outreach Center is a local church that has no connection to an actual lighthouse.