One of the unique residents of the island of Kauai is the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Over the past 50 years, the Hawaiian monk seal population has fallen over 60%. Today the island is home to just a handful of these animals with 90% of them living in the area of Kauai and Niihau. Despite the fact that these animals are now protected through the Kauai Monk Seal Watch program and by state and federal law, the monk seal population continues to decline. The seal watch organization says that despite recent pup births, the population of Monk Seals may be as low as 25 animals. Efforts to protect this endangered animal continue to try to preserve them.
When you visit Kauai, you may have the pleasure of seeing one of these magnificent creatures. Monk seals do come onto the beach to rest, sun themselves or care for their young quite often. If you are lucky enough to see a monk seal, always stay well behind barricades or posted signs in any seal area. Never approach a mother and pup or attempt to disturb the animals or feed them in any way. Never throw objects or make noises to create good photo opportunities. Never let children approach the seals because these 400 pound animals have been known to bite or attack humans when provoked or frightened. While you are encouraged to enjoy these magnificent animals from a safe distance and with the telephoto camera lens, remember that state and federal laws protect these animals. Disturbing a Hawaiian monk seal could result in fines exceeding $25,000 and up to five years of imprisonment. By working together, the Hawaiian monk seal can be protected so that future generations may enjoy these wonderful creatures.
The Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal
Hanalei Okolehao Trail – just past the cemetery is a parking lot with a .25 mile nature loop that leads to a heiau. The steep powerline trail behind the cemetery serves as the beginning of the Hanalei Okolehao Trail. This trail was named for the okolehao liquor distilled from ki plants along this ridge during prohibition. The 2.25 mile trail takes about 2 hours and offers great views of Hanalei Bay. Another 1.5 miles inland, the main road ends at the easier Hanalei Valley trail which heads 2 miles upstream through fruit and bamboo trees.
Waioli Mission Hall, built in 1841, housed the original congregation for Waioli Huiia Church which is located just after the bridge. At the end of the long driveway between the Church and Mission Hall is Hanalei Mission House. Built in 1837, it was the residence of the Alexander Family, the first missionaries on the north shore. It was restored in 1921 by three Wilcox sisters whose missionary grandparents succeeded the Alexander family here. The furniture in the house were shipped around Cape Horn. The garden provided food for the family. The Hanalei mission house gives a picture of life in an earlier time in “Owhyhee” as it was called then. Tours are offered on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays from 9 A.M. to 3:00 P.M.
As one of the most beautiful locations on earth, Kauai has served as the backdrop for somewhere around 100 movies since the first movie, White Heat, was shot here in 1933. Some of the more famous movies which have Kauai as a backdrop include: Elvis’ Blue Hawaii, South Pacific, the pilot episode of Gilligan’s Island, the 1977 version of King Kong, the 1977 version of Fantasy Island, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Thorn Birds, Waterworld, Honeymoon in Vegas, Jurassic Park, Six Days and Seven Nights, Uncommon Valor, Dragonfly, Lilo and Stitch, Treasure Hunt, and the recently released movie, Avatar. You can find tours of the most famous movie sites from Hawaii Movie Tours where the 5 hour movie site tour (including lunch) begins at in the morning for a cost of $89 per adult and $79 for children under 12. The tour host also provides hotel pick-up and delivery service for guests. Call the tour company for reservations and hotel pick-up times.
Kauai was long known for its sugar production. Although the once great sugar plantations are gone now, the legacy of the laborers hired by the Lihue Sugar Plantation, the Hanama’ulu ditch system still remains. This series of canals and tunnels designed to bring water to the sugar cane fields from the water falls and streams of Mt. Waialeale now offers a chance for a new way to enjoy Kauai. Take a leisurely trip on a giant inner tube through the ditch and tunnel system to enjoy the scenery as well as the cool mountain breezes. Cost is $102 per person for the 3 hour experience and a picnic style lunch including a jeep ride to the Plantation irrigation system location. Ages 5 and older are welcome on this special tour. Wear a swimsuit, beach shoes, sunscreen and a hat for this tour. Water proof insect repellent is also recommended. Reservations can be made online at the Kauai Backcountry Adventure’s website.
Once you have finished driving through the beautiful Waimea Canyon area, head back towards the ocean to explore Kauai’s western shore. From Highway 550, turn right onto Highway 50 if you want to take a drive through the town of Waimea where Captain Cook first set foot in Hawaii in 1778. The town has erected a statue to the great explorer here in Hofgaard Park and a small marker in Lucy Wright Park marks the location where Cook first came ashore in this area. Waimea was Kauai’s first major port city. It was from Waimea bay that King Kamehameha II abducted Kauai’s King Kkaumualii and took him to Oahu in 1821. Ka’ahumanu, the queen regent, then forced both Kaumualii and his oldest son to marry her, thus ensuring Kauai’s allegiance to a unified Hawaii under King Kamehameha’s rule. In Waimea, you can visit a real mill camp on the Plantation Walking Tour every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Tours visit the Waimea Plantation cottages and the Waimea Sugar Company “camp” houses from the turn of the century. Tours take approximately 90 minutes and are limited to 12 people. Tour guides provide story telling experiences along the way to help give a feel of what life on a sugar plantation was like. The Kauai Children’s Discovery Museum provides information about plants, animals and the natural history of Kauai. Cost for the museum is $5 for adults and $ for children 17 and under. Further up the road lies the Pacific Missile Range Facility and lots of beach and sand.
If you turn left on Highway 550, you will arrive at the town of Hanapepe. Founded by Chinese rice farmers in the 1800’s, Hanapepe was once considered a “wild town” and was one of the only towns that was a non-plantation town. Today, it is a quiet little town with local shops, a few artist galleries and displays. Friday nights, visit the Hanapepe Art Night beginning at 6 P.M. Behind the Ele’ele Shopping Center, you can find a Swinging Footbridge across the Hanapepe River. You can visit the Salt Pond Beach Park to see Hawaiian craftsmen creating sea salt in the pools here in the old fashioned way. The beach has a divided area with a fairly safe area for children to swim on most days. You can also head down to the piers where many of the cruises heading to the Na Pali coast can be found. Taking a cruise along the Na Pali coast is one not-to-be-missed experience while on the western coast of Kauai. Stop and visit the Hanapepe Valley Lookout located at mile marker 14 on Highway 50 for gorgeous, valley views.