Hanalei History

Hanalei History


Table of Contents

Part 2: Western Contact to the Great Māhele

Part 3: Royal Visits and the Story of Princeville

Part 4: The Rice Era and the Beach Houses of Hanalei

Part 5: Hanalei Today—Art and Nature

Note: All Hawaiian words in this text include proper diacritical marks, including the ‘okina (hamzah, or glottal stop) and kahakō (macron), except when the word is cited directly as part of a title or in a direct quote, in which case the words are spelled as originally published.

See Appendix 1: Note On Sources for more information about diacritical marks; objectivity; Hawaiian word spellings and meanings; scientific, cultural, and historic information; new research and discoveries; verifying dates and details of historic events; and Hawaiian sovereignty and other native issues.


Perhaps no place on this planet is so blessed by nature as Hanalei—set on a fertile coastal plain, tucked beneath emerald green mountains and surrounded by golden-sand beaches. The lofty peaks are lined with shimmering waterfalls and the landscape is lush and green. Frequent rainshowers energize the streams and rivers and create rainbows that arch across the sky.

The story of Hanalei is a story of a place and a people. Today the native and immigrant descendants of Hanalei’s early residents are interwoven throughout Kaua‘i’s north shore population, living in Hanalei town and neighboring towns, up in the hills or deep in the north shore valleys where they carry on the history and culture of their ancestors.

The word “Hanalei” has been translated as “Crescent bay,”[i] “Lei valley,” and “Wreath making,”[ii] referring either to the rainbows that color the sky like a lei of flowers or the mountains that encircle Hanalei like a wreath.[iii]

“Hanalei” is the name of the valley that winds its way for many miles up into the high mountains, the town as well as the name of the small town that sits just inland from the shoreline of Hanalei Bay. “Hanalei” also refers to the whole coastal plain bordering the bay, and in the broadest sense includes all the lands from Princeville in the east to Waikoko in the west.

The protected waters of Hanalei Bay are ideal for swimming, surfing, or just walking along the shoreline. A hiking trail leads up a ridge overlooking the town and the surrounding valleys as well as Hanalei Bay, one of the state’s largest bays.

The Hanalei River flows down from the rainy heights of Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale at the center of Kaua‘i. From the high mountains the river carves a long course through the upper reaches of Hanalei Valley before meandering along the coastal plain and emptying into the sea at Hanalei Bay, which glistens like a jewel on Kaua‘i’s northern coast.

If you are standing in the hills above Hanalei or floating out on the bay’s clear blue waters and gazing at the majestic mountains all around, Hanalei can seem almost timeless, an enchanted place, ancient and beautiful from the mountains to the sea.

In many ways, Hanalei’s history mirrors that of Hawai‘i as a whole—from first Polynesian settlement to Western contact, and through the eras of whaling, sandalwood, missionaries, rice, sugarcane, and the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor—yet the remote north shore of Kaua‘i was often among the last areas to feel the effects of Western influences and changing world events.

Kaua‘i is set apart from the other Hawaiian Islands by a large ocean channel whose waters thwarted even Kamehameha the Great as his invading armies were forced to turn back in the treacherous seas.

Kaua‘i shares a history with the rest of the Hawaiian Islands, but also has its own distinct history shaped by its relative isolation. Hanalei plays a large part in that history, with its own unique stories that have helped to shape the district you see today.

Hanalei Valley was well-populated in ancient times, supporting a thriving native population and producing bounteous supplies of food from the land and sea. Large and well-irrigated lo‘i kalo (taro patches) grew in Hanalei and neighboring valleys, and Hanalei Bay was teeming with fish that were caught by hook and line as well as with nets and spears.

Hanalei’s earliest residents grew large amounts of kalo (taro), mai‘a (bananas), ‘ulu (breadfruit), ‘uala (sweet potatoes), pi‘a (yams), niu (coconuts), and other food plants that the first Polynesian settlers brought to the Islands on the their voyaging canoes.

British explorer Captain James Cook established Western contact with the Hawaiian Islands in 1778, and soon ships from around the world began arriving on Hawai‘i’s shores.

Many foreigners took up residence in the Islands, and during the first half of the 1800s Hanalei was the site of various agricultural endeavors that produced significant harvests of mulberry leaves (to feed silkworms), coffee, tobacco, cotton, rice, sugarcane, citrus fruits, peaches, pineapples, bananas, dates, tamarinds, guavas, potatoes, plantains, yams, cabbage, lettuce, and other agricultural products.

American Joseph Gardner raised sheep and other animals in Hanalei in the 1840s, and in 1848 he ran a mill and loom with several spinning-wheels manufacturing woolen and cotton cloth. The construction of the Hanalei Sugar Mill was completed on the banks of the Hanalei River in 1862, and by the late 1800s there were formidable attempts to grow and mill sugarcane in Hanalei Valley and on the Princeville plateau.

By the 1870s, the rice era was well underway and the well-irrigated valley lands formerly used for taro were instead being used to grow rice. Cattle ranching became another major land use in the Hanalei region beginning in the late 1800s and continuing into the next century.

Hanalei was visited by many members of Hawaiian royalty in the 1800s. King Kamehameha II (Kalaninui ‘Iolani Liholiho) took a 42-day tour of Kaua‘i in 1821. King Kamehameha III (Kauikeaouli) visited Hanalei in 1852 with a large entourage. King Kamehameha IV (Alexander Liholiho ‘Iolani) visited Hanalei in 1856 with Queen Emma [Emma Na‘ea Rooke; Kalanikaumakeamano; Kaleleonālani] and they came again in 1860, this time with their young son, the Crown Prince Albert [Albert Edward Kauikeaouli Leiopapa o Kamehameha] (1858—1862), whose visit inspired Hanalei plantation owner R. C. Wyllie to name his growing estate “Princeville.”

Princess Ruth came to Hanalei in 1867 with her two white poodles and picnicked on the Hanalei River. When King Kalākaua [David La‘amea Kalākaua] came into Hanalei Bay on the Kīlauea in 1874 he was greeted by a “21-gun salute” fired from improvised cannons made from hollowed trunks of native ‘ōhi‘a lehua trees.

Princess Lili‘uokalani sailed into Hanalei Bay in 1881 and then traveled to Kīlauea where she drove the ceremonial first spike at the Kilauea [Kīlauea] Sugar Plantation. She returned to Hanalei as Queen Lili‘uokalani in 1891.

In the early 1900s, nearly every square inch of Hanalei’s coastal plain was covered with rice. The first rice farmers were Chinese, followed by Japanese, Filipinos, Portuguese, and other ethnic groups, many of whom were former sugarcane workers who had finished their contracts with the plantations.

The rice farmers also built homes, schools, stores, rice mills, churches, and temples, and raised their families in Hanalei. Many descendants of Hanalei’s rice era farmers still live in the region today.

World War II brought changes in the Hanalei region as it did throughout all the Hawaiian Islands. Many influential Japanese and Japanese-Americans in the Islands were detained and sent to internment camps, and the Hanalei Shingon was shut down.

Despite the way they were treated, many Japanese residents of Hawai‘i wished to show their loyalty and volunteered to join the war effort, forming the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, which became the most decorated units in U.S. history.

Recent decades have seen a resurgence in traditional Hawaiian practices in Hanalei and throughout the Islands, including the revival of Hawaiian canoe culture and hula, the restoration of ancient agricultural systems, and academic programs that emphasize the study of Hawaiian language and culture.

These efforts have been energized and enlivened by Hawaiian musicians, dancers, writers, and political activists who have inspired renewed efforts toward resolution of Hawaiian sovereignty issues and other issues of particular concern to native Hawaiians.

Since the 1950s Hanalei has been the scene of many a Hollywood film, and more recently has become a favorite retreat of the rich and famous. Hanalei’s beautiful beaches attract many visitors and also provide surfers with some of the world’s best surfing waves, which are ridden by renowned locals such as famed Hawaiian waterman Titus Kinimaka as well as multiple world champion Andy Irons and his equally amazing brother Bruce.

Hanalei is also home to many ordinary people who love it for its natural beauty and its long and varied history. Much of that history is evident as you drive through the district, but there is also much that has vanished or lives on only in the memories of the elder generation who grew up in Hanalei.

This book is about the place itself—the mountains, valleys, beaches, and bay—as well as the changes that humans have made on this ancient landscape: the fields, farms, churches, ranches, homesteads, bridges, and piers.

This book is also about the people of Hanalei, including the stories and traditions of the earliest residents, the cultural contributions of those who came later, and the enduring aloha of Hanalei’s residents today.

[Photograph: Hanalei scene, raining]

[Photo caption:]

Ka ua loko o Hanalei

The soaking rain of Hanalei

[Photograph: View of Hanalei from ocean showing rivermouth and mountains/waterfalls in background]

“At the time of my visit it was the rainy season. More than a score of cascades were leaping down the perpendicular steeps of those mountains, whose rugged summits, clad with a dense foliage, pierced the clouds at a height of four thousand feet. The valley itself was covered with plantations and pasturelands, dotted with groves of tropical trees. In the distance stood the Mission church and the other buildings comprising the station. Here and there the grass huts of the natives were sprinkled over the open tracts, or half concealed among the foliage. Beyond all, and forming the mouth of the valley, was the peaceful little harbor revealing its fair sandy beach, with the white foam of the surf defining its limits. The final touch to the picture was the beautiful river that meandered through the valley, kissing the wild flowers that clustered on its banks, or bearing a solitary canoe on its bosom, now losing itself among the dense foliage, and now bursting on the vision like a rich vein of silver stealing its way through the perpetual verdure.”

Bates, 1854[iv]


[Photograph: Hanalei Valley Lookout]

[Photo Caption:]

“As a scene of beauty, it is almost peerless.”

Theophilus H. Davies, 1862[v]

[Illustration: Overview map of Hanalei (numbered for driving tour)]

A Drive Through 1,000 Years of History

When you approach Hanalei by car, pause first at the Hanalei Valley Lookout [#], located just above the eastern edge of Hanalei Valley alongside Route 560 (Kūhiō Highway) near the Princeville Shopping Center.[vi]

The scenic overlook provides expansive views of Hanalei’s coastal plain, including the taro patches of the 917-acre Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge [#]. Interpretive signs at the Lookout provide information about the region’s endangered waterbirds.

The Hanalei Lookout is visited by about one-half million people each year. A new Lookout is being planned for a six-acre site about ½-mile up above the former location. The new facility will include a visitor center and bookstore, and will be owned and operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Hanalei’s coastal plain spans across the lower regions of four separate ahupua‘a (watersheds)—Hanalei [#], Wai‘oli [#], Waipā [#], and Waikoko [#]—all of which flow into Hanalei Bay. The massive mountains rising up from the coastal plain are, from east to west, Hīhīmanu [#], Nāmolokama [#], and Māmalahoa [#].

Above the Lookout are the 9,000 immaculate acres of Princeville [#], Kaua‘i’s most famous resort, located on the coastal plateau known in ancient times as Pu‘u Pehu above the eastern side of Hanalei Valley.

The Princeville Hotel [#] is terraced into the oceanfront hillside of Pu‘upōā Ridge overlooking Hanalei Bay. Princeville’s two golf courses—the Prince Course [#] and the Makai Course [#]—are consistently ranked among the best in the nation (Golf Digest magazine ranked the Prince Course number one in Hawai‘i once again in 2007). On the hilltop above it all is the Princeville Health Club and Spa [#].

Along the eastern edge of Hanalei Valley once stood three of the Hanalei’s most historic post-contact homes: Kikiula [#], a two-room stone plantation home built in 1845 and later known as the Princeville Plantation House; the Kellett House [#], once home to Captain Kellett, Hanalei’s “Pilot of the Port,” and the Birkmyre Estate [#], used as the French planter’s home in the 1957 movie South Pacific.

The Hanalei Plantation Hotel [#] was built on the former site of the Birkmyre home, and it later became a Club Med before eventually being torn down. For a few years in the mid-1970s a riverboat shuttle provided transportation across the Hanalei River from the resort to Black Pot Beach Park.

Traveling west from the Hanalei Valley Lookout, you will go down the hill on Route 560 into Hanalei Valley and across the Hanalei River [#]. As you drive from Princeville into Hanalei Valley you will descend from the region’s ultramodern present into Hanalei’s long and colorful history.

Ships lie sunken at the bottom of Hanalei Bay [#], and many more carried royalty or invading forces across the large and unpredictable Ka‘ie‘iewaho Channel from O’ahu.

At the bottom of the hill is the historic Hanalei Bridge [#] built in 1912 to replace an earlier bridge that had been built in 1892. Before that travelers were carried across the river on a ferry pulled on a cable. The wagon road leading down to Hanalei Bridge was so steep that extra horses were required to help carriages up the hill or slow their descent.

Crossing the river in ancient times, according to legend, required the presentation of a gift to the rivermouth’s lizard dragon, Kamo‘o-o-kaumuliwai. When Hi‘iaka, the younger sister of the volcano goddess Pele, became angered that a torrent of water was blocking her path, she turned the lizard dragon to stone.

Beyond Hanalei Bridge the road is lined with fields of taro reaching across the landscape to the base of the mountains and up into Hanalei Valley. Archaeological studies have dated agricultural activity in the river valley to at least A.D. 1200, though it probably began much earlier.[vii]

In ancient times, native Hawaiians built their thatched homes along the Hanalei River, on the hillsides above the valley’s taro patches, and all along the Hanalei Bay shoreline.

In 1778, British explorer Captain James Cook established Western contact with the Hawaiian Islands. Before long, Kaua‘i’s north shore and the Hanalei region felt the wide-ranging influences of the post-contact era, including sandalwood traders, whalers, and missionaries. The first permanent mission station in the area was established at Wai‘oli in 1834.

In 1840, the lands just past Hanalei Bridge were the site of mulberry orchards that supplied food for a silkworm enterprise producing fine silk sold in Mazatlan and Mexico City. In 1842 in Hanalei Valley, the first commercial coffee plantation in the Hawaiian Islands was established. Just downriver, the Hanalei Sugar Mill [#] was completed in 1862 with $40,000 worth of machinery from Scotland, and the mill’s 110-foot smokestack stood until 1919.

[Photograph: Hanalei Sugar Mill]

From the late 1800s into the early 1900s, virtually all of Hanalei was a checkerboard of rice paddies, and numerous rice mills and stores operated throughout the region. Still standing just upriver from the Hanalei Bridge is the restored Haraguchi Rice Mill [#], originally built in 1930 and now Hawai‘i’s only surviving rice mill from the historic rice-farming era. Nearby is the Hanalei Chinese Cemetery [#], also known as Ah Goong San (Grandfathers’ Mountain).

The drive from Hanalei Bridge to Hanalei town is a winding stretch of road that meanders between fields of taro and the Hanalei River. Across the river a herd of bison roams on the marshy grasslands that were known in ancient times as Pā‘ele [#], now the site of the Hanalei Garden Farms and Bison Ranch.

Hanalei is located at 22.2 degrees north latitude and 159.5 degrees west longitude, about 126 miles from Honolulu and 5,151 miles (8,290 km) from Washington D.C. [viii]

As Route 560 enters Hanalei town, makai (seaward) of the road is the Hanalei Liquor Store [#], founded and still run by descendants of early rice farmers. Nearby and across the street is a former Hongwanji Japanese Buddhist Temple [#] that was built in Līhu‘e in 1901 and then moved in 1985 to Hanalei where it now serves as a Bed and Breakfast Inn.

Further west is another local landmark, the Tahiti Nui [#] renowned for its classic, local-style musical performers and authentic Hawaiian hula.

In the center of town is the Old Hanalei School Building [#], built in 1926 and then moved from its original site, which was about ½-mile to the west, where the new Hanalei School [#] is now located. Also in the center of Hanalei town is the old Ching Young Store Building [#], constructed in 1905 and now housing several shops alongside the newer Ching Young Village Shopping Center [#].

Across the street is the Hanalei Center [#] (Wailele Building), housing various businesses and restaurants, and the Say Dock House [#], built in 1895 and now one of the oldest rice farmer homes still standing in the Hawaiian Islands. The Say Dock House is a private residence—please do not go on the property.

Further west is the Hanalei Poi Company[#], which processes local taro into poi, and the Lily Pond [#], dug in the early 1900s by Chinese rice farmer Chock Chin, who also ran a store and rice mill. To the west of the Lily Pond is the Lily Pond House [#], built in 1933 near the shoreline of Hanalei Bay and later moved on coconut tree rollers to its current site. Next door is another rice era home that also served as a Saimin and Pool Hall (now a private residence).

St. Williams Catholic Church [#] was built in 1955 at the corner of Mālolo Road and Route 560 on the former site of a Japanese Language School [#] that began operating around 1903. The Hanalei Shingon [#], a Japanese Shingon Temple, was built on the site in 1934 to host various local events, including weddings and the Obon dori celebration held each July.

The school was closed due to the internment of Japanese teachers and ministers after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1942, which entered the United States into World War II.

Hanalei’s Wai‘oli Park [#] is now the site of many local soccer games, craft fairs, and the Hanalei Taro Festival. At the west end of the park is Wai‘oli Hui‘ia Church [#], built in 1912. Just behind the church is Kaua‘i’s oldest surviving church building, the original Wai‘oli Church, which was built in 1841 and is now known as Wai‘oli Mission Hall [#].

Next to the old church is the Wai‘oli Belfry [#], the only surviving example of this type of bell tower structure in the Hawaiian Islands. Tucked back behind the trees is the Wai‘oli Mission House [#], built from 1834 to 1837, and completely restored in 1921.

Hanalei Pier [#] is located at the eastern end of Weke Road near the Hanalei rivermouth. Originally built in 1892 to serve the region’s thriving rice industry, the pier was rebuilt in 1912 and again after Hurricane ‘Iniki damaged the structure in 1992. Today the pier is a popular place to fish, swim, and enjoy views of the bay’s sparkling blue waters and the towering mountains rising up behind Hanalei town.

On the east side of Hanalei Pier is Black Pot Beach Park [#], named after a big iron pot that was used to cook fish caught during a hukilau, a traditional fishing practice in which everyone cooperates to spot, net, and gather fish.

On the western side of the Hanalei River near the rivermouth once stood a Roman Catholic Chapel [#] established in 1864. A Rectory [#] was built next to the chapel to provide housing for the priest, and around 1900, a tall and slender, wooden Church Belfry [#] was built on the site. The original church bell now hangs in front of St. Williams Church in Hanalei town.

Still standing along Weke Road (beginning on the western end and going east) are several historic structures including Kauikeōlani [#], built in 1896 as the home of Albert Spencer Wilcox and his wife Emma Kauikeōlani Napoleon Mahelona. Nearby is historic Kanoa Pond [#].

On the shore of Hanalei Bay is the Hanalei Pavilion [#], built to replace the Old Hanalei Pavilion destroyed in the 1957 tsunami. The Sanborn Beach House [#] was built in 1910, becoming the first Western-style “beach house” on the bay. The whole home was moved ten feet by the 1957 tsunami and then reposted in its new location. The Fayé Beach House [#] was built in 1915 by Norwegian Hans Peter Fayé, a Kaua‘i sugar plantation developer.

The spacious, wood-framed home called Mahamoku [#] was constructed on the shoreline of Hanalei Bay in 1914 under the direction of Mabel and Charles Wilcox, descendants of early Hanalei missionary descendants Abner and Lucy Wilcox. Mahamoku (“Island of peace”) is notable for its steep roof and cantilevered loft balconies.

Just west of Hanalei town is Wai‘oli Bridge [#] and a bit further is Waipā Bridge [#]. The two concrete, cast-in-place structures were built in 1912 after heavily-loaded, horse-drawn wagons carrying crushed rock for road construction collapsed the previous wooden bridges. An additional span was added to the Waipā Bridge after the 1946 tsunami altered the course of the Waipā Stream. Just past Waipā Bridge is Kumu Road, which leads to the Japanese Cemetery [#].

The ahupua‘a (watershed) of Waipā [#] is being restored by a native-based community group utilizing the valley as a “living classroom” that includes taro patches and an ancient loko i‘a (fishpond). Finally the road crosses Waikoko Bridge [#], which collapsed in the 1946 tsunami. Rocks stacked atop the fallen structure made it functional again, and the hastily repaired bridge remains in use today.

Route 560 then follows the sandy shoreline of Hanalei Bay before climbing a hill and then winding around a bend towards the beaches and valley of Lumaha‘i Valley and out of our story. Within this book are many historic Hanalei sites not mentioned in this brief overview.

[i] Pukui, Mary Kawena, and Elbert, Samuel H. & Mookini, Esther T. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[ii] According to Dickey (1934): “the name HANALEI means wreath making. Two suggestions for the origin have been made, one that the mountains round about are like a wreath; another that its showers are constantly making rainbow wreaths.” p. 2, Dickey, Lyle A. Hanalei Place Names. Read at the meeting of the Kauai Historical Society, Oct. 22, 1934. On file at Kaua‘i Historical Society.

[iii] p. 108, Wichman, Frederick B. Kaua‘i: Ancient Place-Names and Their Stories. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1998.

[iv] Bates 1854: 201-4, 206.

[v] p. 54, Davies, Theo. An Account of the First Visit to the Island of Kauai in September 1860. Transcription from the original journal written in longhand on board S. S. “Ariel”, on the Atlantic, 22nd August, 1862.

[vii] See Hanalei in Ancient Times, Chapter 1.

[viii] [Hanalei Hawaii Resource Guide. Internet site: http://www.pe.net/~rksnow/hiscountyhanalei.htm, 12/27/2002.]