Kauai’s North Shore

The north shore of Kauai is known for its planned resort area, Princeville, as well as Hanalei Bay, world-renowned for its beaches and surfing. However, it also contains two great places to see native island wildlife: the Hanalei Bay and Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuges.

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We left our condo early to arrive at Kilauea Point just after dawn and miss any island work traffic. We watched many of the seabirds leave for the morning from the lookout above the lighthouse, then headed to the end of the highway: Ke’e beach and the head of the Kalalau trail. We wanted to spend more time at the wildlife refuges instead of hiking, so we just went to the beach to watch the surf come in. If you are planning to hike the trail itself, several entrepreneuring spirits sell burritos, granola bars, and bottles of water from their trunks for those who have forgotten their supplies.

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We pulled over at a shopping center in Princeville on our way back to the lighthouse when someone accidentally rear-ended our rental car. Because of this, we decided to grab brunch at a little cafe with a chess set you can take outside to play while you eat. It was a nice way to calm down as well as wait for the lighthouse grounds to officially open at Kilauea.

By the time we got to the lighthouse, it had warmed up quite a bit, though the constant sea winds keep the humidity from becoming too muggy. Tropicbirds and the occasional pigeon flitted around the edge of the cliffs, set against a dramatic backdrop of deep blue Pacific waves. A few other denizens of the area had grown hungry and were in need of lunch, as well. Magnificent frigatebirds were riding the thermals, waiting for juvenile red-footed boobies to return to the cliffs with their morning meals. As the unwitting grey birds triumphantly returned, one of the frigatebirds would spy it, call out to its buddies, and they would swoop down on their target in pairs or triplets to relieve him of his lunch. It was a very apt reminder as to why these birds share a name with a ship that used to be used by pirates.

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Kiluaea Lighthouse gives the visitor a lot to look forward to despite the relatively small grounds- telescopes give a view of resting monk seals and shearwaters skimming over the shallow waters, and the lighthouse itself has a lot of history behind it. We spent hours in the area, occasionally being followed by a pair of habituated nenes.

The Hanalei Bay National Wildlife Refuge is also accessible just off the highway. The short, single-lane paved road extends back past flooded mudflats and through a secondary forest next to a small river. The refuge has a reputation, in combination with Kilauea, for being home to most of Kauai’s native waterfowl and seabirds. We were able to many of them foraging in the morning with only the occasional vehicle joining us.

Though we spent hours watching the local wildlife, we were still able to get back to the south shore for a snow cone and another beautiful sunset before heading home. Though we have other places we’d like to see in the coming months, Kauai is definitely on our list to see again.

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