Wildlife Refuges in Kauai

Scenes for a number of television shows and films have been shot in Kauai—from Blue Hawaii with Elvis Presley and Gilligan’s Island to Donovan’s Reef with John Wayne and Fantasy Island. Visit Huleia National Wildlife Refuge and you will be treated to sights of the lush locale seen in the exciting opening scenes of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. This beautiful 238 acres of bottomlands and wooded slopes along the Huleia River is one of the finest wildlife refuges in Kauai and protects a number of severely endangered Hawaiian water birds, including the Hawaiian stilt, the moorhen, and the koloa duck, for which nearby Old Koloa Town was named. Because of the fragility of these protected species and their habitat, the refuge is closed to the public but you can take professionally escorted kayaking tours down the Huleia River to get a feel for it, and there is a wonderful lookout from the historic Menehune or Alekoko Fishponds, built overnight according to popular legend by the Menehune (little people) more than 1,000 years ago.

Another of the wildlife refuges in Kauai is the locale where pivotal scenes from the Jurassic Park films were shot. This is the Kauai Wildlife Refuge that, until quite recently, was virtually inaccessible to visitors. Today, you can take helicopter tours that are allowed to land for a short period time so visitors can explore the fragile and breathtaking canyon that protects some of the most endangered plants in the tropical world. The only other way to access the privately owned Kauai Wildlife Refuge is by hiking through the Waimea Canyon wilderness that occupies the northwestern portion of the island. The owner of the property is Keith Robinson, heir of the family that owns all of neighboring little Niihau Island, the seventh-largest of the Hawaiian Islands. It is his helicopter you see in the Jurassic Park films. Seeds and cuttings of endangered plants nursed in the Kauai Wildlife Refuge have been donated free of charge to universities and to public and private environmental organizations for more than twenty years. Robinson is even protecting and nurturing at least one plant species that is officially listed as extinct. The extraordinary story of the Robinson family, whose ancestors purchased Nihau from King Kamehameha V in 1834 and today own 50,000 acres of wilderness, ranches, and plantations on Kauai, is worthy of its own film.

Most of the wildlife refuges in Kauai are, in fact closed to visitors or are difficult to access. An exception is the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in 1985, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took over control of the land and its historic Kauai lighthouse. The ocean cliffs and open grassy slopes of an extinct volcano of Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge create breeding grounds for native Hawaiian seabirds such as the nene, the endangered Hawaiian goose that is the state's official bird. Here you can also see red-footed boobies, great frigate birds, Laysan albatrosses, wedge-tailed shearwaters, and other seabirds. The surrounding National Marine Sanctuary waters house Hawaiian monk seals, spinner dolphins, the threatened honu (green sea turtle), and, in the winter, humpback whales. The lighthouse at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge was built in 1913 and is open to visitors for tours. It is a National Historic Landmark and boasts the largest clamshell lens of any lighthouse in the world.

Top image: HTA / Tor Johnson
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