Northwest KauaiThe Nāpali Coast

Northwest Kaua‘i—The Nāpali Coast

Ahupua‘a in the Moku of Nāpali

Hanakāpī‘ai Beach

The Nāpali Coast

 

Ahupua‘a in the Moku of Nāpali

The moku (chiefdom, or district) of Nāpali includes seven ahupua‘a, natural watershed land divisions extending from the ocean to the sea including the offshore coral reefs.

These seven ahupua‘a of Nāpali (“The cliffs”[i]) include (in order from northwest to southwest): Hanakāpī‘ai (“Bay sprinkling food[ii]); Hanakoa (“Bay [of] koa trees or of warriors”[iii]); Pōhaku‘au (“Swimming rock”[iv]); Kalalau (“The straying”[v]); Honopū (“Conch bay”[vi]); Awa‘awapuhi (“Ginger valley”[vii]); and Nu‘alolo (“Brains heaped up”[viii]).

Hanakāpī‘ai Beach

The trail to Hanakāpī‘ai is one of Kaua‘i’s most popular day hikes, taking about 1½ hours at a leisurely pace, including stops to enjoy the beautiful Nāpali scenery. After passing Hanakāpī‘ai Beach, the trail winds along the hillsides and doesn’t dip down to the ocean again until reaching Kalalau Valley (see below).

Hanakāpī‘ai is a sandy, welcoming beach during the summer months, but during winter the sand is pulled out to sea leaving only rocks behind. Hanakāpī‘ai is also Kaua‘i’s most dangerous beach.

More people have drowned at Hanakāpī‘ai than any other Kaua‘i beach, even though many other beaches on the island have a lot more visitors than Hanakāpī‘ai. Between 1970 and 2001, 28 drownings occurred at Hanakāpī‘ai, and most of the victims were never recovered.

The Nāpali Coast

Situated on Kaua‘i’s western side, the Nāpali Coast is one of Earth’s natural wonders. Eroded volcanic pinnacles stand sentinel over deep, ancient valleys.

Coastal cliffs rise up steeply for thousands of feet into pointed spires. Castle-like turrets and razor-sharp ridges are lined with streaming waterfalls. The Nāpali Coast spans for about 15 miles of rugged coastline between the beaches of Kē‘ē on the northwest of Kaua‘i and Polihale on the southwest.

[Illustration: Ahupua‘a of Nāpali]

The moku (chiefdom, or district) of Nāpali includes seven ahupua‘a, the traditional Hawaiian land divisions that follow the natural watersheds and extend from the ocean to the sea including the offshore coral reefs.

The seven ahupua‘a of Nāpali include (in order from northwest to southwest): Hanakāpī‘ai; Hanakoa; Pōhaku‘au; Kalalau; Honopū; Awa‘awapuhi; and Nu‘alolo. These seven major valleys of Nāpali become progressively drier as they extend from Kē‘ē to Polihale.

The remote Nāpali valley of Kalalau is accessible only by boat or by the 11-mile trail that begins at the western end of Kūhiō Highway (Route 560) on Kaua‘i’s northern shore.

Geologists long believed that large collapses of the coast created the Nāpali’s spectacular features, but recent geological research has determined that the steep cliffs and cathedral valleys of the Nāpali were formed primarily by wave action and stream runoff, both of which cause erosion.[ix]

[Photograph: Nāpali Coast]


 

The Story of Kaluaiko‘olau [Ko‘olau], Pi‘ilani, and Kaleimanu in Kalalau Valley

One of Hawai‘i’s most tragic and most touching love stories is the story of Kaluaiko‘olau [Ko‘olau], his wife Pi‘ilani, and their young child, Kaleimanu. Ko‘olau was born in Kekaha, Kaua‘i in 1862, and his childhood sweetheart, Pi‘ilani, was born in Kekaha in 1864. Ko‘olau and Pi‘ilani were married and had one son, named Kaleimanu.

In 1892, Ko‘olau, who had been a cowboy on the Gay & Robinson Ranch on Kaua‘i, contracted Hansen’s disease (leprosy), a disease that, at the time, had no treatment or cure. Ko‘olau was told he must go to Kalaupapa, the isolated leper colony on the island of Moloka‘i, and his beloved wife and child would not be allowed to accompany him.

Ko‘olau and Pi‘ilani vowed to each other that they would never be separated. They left their Kekaha home for the remote valley of Kalalau on Kaua‘i’s western coast. With their young child, Ko‘olau and Pi‘ilani rode horses from their home in Kekaha to the top of Waimea Canyon, and then to the ridgetop above the Nāpali Coastline. Descending on foot down the precipitous trail into Kalalau Valley, they joined other leprosy victims who had also sought refuge from authorities.

In 1893, all the people in Kalalau with leprosy were rounded up and sent to Kalaupapa, but Ko‘olau refused to go. Ko‘olau let it be known that anyone seeking to force him to go to Kalaupapa would be doing so at the peril of their life.

Deputy Sheriff Louis Herbert Stoltz, who was the son-in-law of Reverend George B. Rowell of Waimea, pursued Ko‘olau in Kalalau Valley, intending to capture him dead or alive.

Ko‘olau was a well respected paniolo (cowboy) in the Waimea region, and was known as an expert marksman. Stoltz, with his gun cocked, approached Ko‘olau and his family, and was shot and killed by Ko‘olau.

The news of Stoltz’s death quickly reached Kaua‘i’s acting sheriff, George Norton Wilcox, who then sent the armed forces of Hawai‘i’s Provisional Government to capture or kill the rebellious Ko‘olau. When the soldiers arrived, Ko‘olau and Pi‘ilani and their son retreated to a well-protected cave, known as Waimakemake, beneath an overhanging cliff. By this time, Kaleimanu had also begun to show signs of leprosy.

As the first soldier approached Waimakemake, he was shot dead by Ko‘olau. The next day another soldier pursuing Ko‘olau was also shot dead. The soldiers then left the area to get reinforcements and better weapons, finally allowing Ko‘olau and his family to move to a higher location in the valley. They had endured four days without food and water.

The Provisional Government soldiers soon returned to Kalalau and proceeded to fire powerful artillery guns at Waimakemake, blasting the location for several days until they believed their intended targets had been killed. The soldiers were from Company A, Hawaiian National Guard Auxiliary, and they used a mounted B. L. Krupp gun.

The soldiers left Kalalau Valley without discovering that Ko‘olau, Pi‘ilani and Kaleimanu were still alive and living in the highlands of Kalalau. For the next two years, Ko‘olau, Pi‘ilani, and Kaleimanu lived in the highlands of Kalalau. Then the young Kaleimanu passed away due to the leprosy.

The distraught parents continued their remote existence in Kalalau Valley for another year before Ko‘olau also fell prey to the terrible ravages of the disease in 1896. The grieving Pi‘ilani used a small knife to dig a hole in the earth and bury her beloved husband along with his rifle.

More than three years had passed since they first went into hiding at Kalalau. During this whole time they had not talked to anyone, except two brief encounters with Kalalau residents just a short time before Ko‘olau died.

After the death of her husband, Pi‘ilani remained living in isolation in Kalalau Valley for about two more months. Then she climbed to the to the top of the Nāpali ridge and walked back to her home in Kekaha, where she was reunited with her family and friends who she had left behind more than three years earlier.

After her return to Kekaha, government authorities questioned Pi‘ilani and decided not to prosecute her for being with Ko‘olau when he shot Deputy Sheriff Stoltz and the soldiers.

Pi‘ilani lived out her days in Kekaha, passing away in 1914.[x] She wrote the story of these events in the Hawaiian language, and a translation by Frances N. Frazier, titled: The True Story of Kaluaikoolau as Told by his Wife, Piilani, was published by the Kaua‘i Historical Society in 2001.[xi]

The story of Kaluaiko‘olau, Pi‘ilani and Kaleimanu was also the inspiration for renowned author Jack London’s Koolau the Leper.

[Photographs: Ko‘olau, Pi‘ilani and Kaleimanu; Kalalau]



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

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

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

[v] Translation in Place Names of Hawaii (Pukui and Elbert) is given for place name of Kalalau on island of Hawai‘i. No mention is made of site on Kaua‘i mentioned here.

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

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

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

[ix] Blay, Chuck, and Siemers, Robert. Kauai’s Geologic History: A Simplified Guide. Teok Investigations, 2004.

[x] Frazier, Frances N. The True Story of Kaluaikoolau as Told by his Wife, Piilani. Kaua‘i Historical Society, 2001.

[xi] Frazier, Frances N. The True Story of Kaluaikoolau as Told by his Wife, Piilani. Kaua‘i Historical Society, 2001.