Southwestern Kauai

Southwestern Kaua‘i

Waimea Town / Waimea Bay

When Captain James Cook reached the Hawaiian Islands in 1778, he sailed the Resolution and Discovery into Kaua‘i’s Waimea Bay. This was the first place Captain Cook stepped onto land in the Hawaiian Islands, officially establishing Western contact with the Hawaiian Islands. (See Captain Cook section, Chapter 3.)

Today Captain Cook is memorialized by the Captain James Cook Monument, a statue alongside the main road in Waimea’s Hofgaard Park, Waimea’s town square. The statue of Captain Cook in Waimea is a replica of the original statue that was crafted by Sir John Tweed in Whitby, England (Cook’s hometown).

The landing of Captain Cook at Waimea is also memorialized by a plaque at Lucy Wright Beach Park on the western bank of the mouth of the Waimea River, where Cook first came ashore. Lucy Wright Beach Park is named after Waimea schoolteacher Lucy Wright, a native Hawaiian and prominent local community member who taught in Waimea for 35 years. She passed away in 1931.

Shade trees at Lucy Wright Beach Park make it a nice picnic spot, but the waters may be somewhat muddied by the Waimea River. Camping and picnic facilities are available.

Waimea town’s numerous small wooden buildings and false front buildings give it an Old West feel. The First Hawaiian Bank, built in 1929 in the Neoclassical style, is located near the town square alongside Kaumuali‘i Highway (Hwy. 50).

The restored 1938 Waimea Theatre, built in the Art Deco style, recently began to show movies again.

On Mākeke Road in Waimea is the old Waimea Christian Hawaiian and Foreign Church, notable for its fine stonework. The church was originally constructed in 1846 using limestone blocks quarried nearby, as well as logs from the nearby mountains.

On the western side of Waimea alongside Kaumuali‘i Highway (Hwy. 50) is the old sugar mill of the Waimea Sugar Company, which was established in 1884.

[Waimea Beach Park, 1 block south of Kaumuali‘i Highway (Hwy. 50); look for sign just west of the bridge over the Waimea River).]

Menehune Ditch (Kīkī-a-Ola)

The Menehune Ditch is located about 1¼ miles (18 km) up Menehune Road from Waimea. This remarkable feat of engineering and stonework was built to bring water from the upper Waimea River to the lo‘i kalo (taro patches) in the valley.

As the name implies, Menehune Ditch is said to have been built by the legendary ancient race of people known as menehune (See Menehune section, Chapter 3.) The Hawaiian name for the Menehune Ditch is Kīkī-a-Ola, which translates to “Container [acquired] by Ola. (Chief Ola ordered the Menehune to build a watercourse here; each brought a stone, and the ditch was finished in a single night.”[i])

The aqueduct originally spanned several miles and had walls that were an estimated 24 feet (7.3 m) high, with a footpath along the top of the wall. The small remaining section of Menehune Ditch is about 50 feet (15 m) long by 2 feet (.6 m) wide.

The stones of the Menehune Ditch are flanged and fitted so that the smooth, flattened surfaces fit closely together. This type of cut and dressed stonework is not found anywhere else in the Hawaiian Islands.

The origins and methods used in the construction of the Menehune Ditch remain a mystery. Some researchers theorize that the Menehune Ditch was built by the early Marquesan settlers, who arrived in the Hawaiian Islands about A.D. 200 to 800,[ii] and are thus considered the first “native Hawaiians.”

It is possible that these first settlers of the Hawaiian Islands were responsible for the unique method of stonework used on the Menehune Ditch. This type of craftsmanship is not seen in the projects of later Tahitian settlers, who began arriving in the Hawaiian Islands around A.D. 1.000. (See Chapter 11, Complete Timeline of Hawaiian History, Chapter 11).

The destruction of Menehune Ditch was caused by the creation of Menehune Road as well as the use of the ditch’s rocks for building projects, including Waimea’s Protestant church.

[Menehune Ditch, Menehune Road, about 1¼ mile (2 km) from Waimea (near the suspension footbridge), Waimea Valley.]

Fort Elizabeth

The remains of Fort Elizabeth are located on the east bank of the Wailua rivermouth just east of Waimea town. Fort Elizabeth was built in the design of a six-pointed star, and was once a formidable stone-walled structure.

Today a significant amount of the fort remains, giving a glimpse into a short but significant period of Kaua‘i’s history. Fort Elizabeth at the Waimea rivermouth was named in honor of the consort of the Russian Emperor, Empress Elizabeth (1779-1826).

The walls of the Fort Elizabeth were once up to 20 feet (6 m) high and up to 17 feet (5 m) wide at the base. The fort was built entirely by hand, and included about 1,200 feet (366 m) of length.

The story behind the fort began after the Russian ship Behring became stranded on the shores of Kaua‘i’s Waimea Bay on January 31, 1815. The ship’s cargo of sealskins was confiscated by Kaua‘i’s ruler, Kaumuali‘i, who had already ceded Kaua‘i to King Kamehameha I in 1810 to avoid war.

The confiscation of the ship’s cargo caused the Russian-American Company (the owner of the ship and its cargo) to send Georg Anton Schäffer to the Hawaiian Islands to retrieve the cargo or seek appropriate payment.

On May 21, 1816, Kaumuali‘i signed a document with Schäffer that put Kaua‘i under the protection of the Russian Empire, though neither Schäffer nor Kaumuali‘i had the authority for such an agreement.

On July 1, 1816, Schäffer and Kaumuali‘i entered into a secret agreement to use Schäffer’s (purported) Russian authority to reclaim Kaua‘i from King Kamehameha I, and also to launch expeditions against the other islands that Kaumuali‘i felt he had a hereditary right to rule.

In return, Schäffer was to receive land in those islands, including half of O‘ahu as well as rights to all of the valuable sandalwood (Santalum species; Hawaiian name: ‘iliahi) growing on O‘ahu. While Schäffer was to supply ships, ammunition, and men, Kaumuali‘i would supply 500 men as well as food and provisions for the forces.

On September 21, 1816, Kaumuali‘i gave Schäffer Hanalei Valley in exchange for the ship Lydia. A significant portion of the fort at Waimea was completed by November of 1816, including the walls facing Waimea River and the ocean.[iii]

The Russian flag was raised over Fort Elizabeth, and the fort’s guns were positioned to protect the anchorage’s trading vessels. Thirty-eight cannons stood pointed at Waimea Bay.

Things changed quickly for Schäffer after Russia’s Lieutenant Otto von Kotzebue arrived in the Hawaiian Islands on November 21, 1816, aboard the Russian Navy brig Rurik. Kotzebue repudiated the activities of Schäffer, and informed King Kamehameha I that Schäffer did not have the support of the Russian Emperor.

In May of 1817, Kaumuali‘i was informed that Russia and America were at war, though this was not true, and was instead part of a plot by Americans in the Hawaiian Islands who wanted to make Kaumuali‘i fearful of his association with Schäffer (because an association with Russia would put Kaumuali‘i in a precarious position as an enemy of America).

The plan against Schäffer worked perfectly, and Kaumuali‘i promptly renounced his previous agreement with Schäffer, who was then run out of Waimea by about 1,000 men.

Today the remains of Fort Elizabeth include lava rock walls up to 10 feet (3 m) tall as well as informational displays. Fort Elizabeth was also the site of an 1824 battle when a rebellion against the rule of King Kamehameha II (Kalaninui ‘Iolani Liholiho) was thwarted. (See Chapter 11, Timeline: 1824.) Fort Elizabeth was built on a sacred site formerly known as Pa ‘ula‘ula o Hipo (“Red enclosure of Hipo”)

[Fort Elizabeth, Kaumuali‘i Highway (Hwy. 50), on the east side of the Waimea rivermouth, just east of Waimea town.]

Barking Sands Airfield & Pacific Missile Range Facility

The Pacific Missile Range Facility is a United States Navy test facility where advanced weapons testing takes place. Located on Kaua‘i‘s west side along the Mānā shoreline, the military site encompasses nearly 2,000 acres (809 ha), and is home to Star Wars missile tests as well as extensive submarine exercises.

Barking Sands Beach borders part of the facility’s coastline area. The beach’s name is due to the thin silica coating on the beach’s sand grains, which are known to sometimes make a sound resembling barking dogs. This area was once an army base and a beach near the former officer’s quarters is now known as Major’s Bay, a popular surfing spot.

The island of Ni‘ihau can be seen across the Kaulakahi Channel. Access to the beach is through the gate, just past Mile Marker 32. The naval test facility, which includes an air strip, covers thousands of acres of the Mānā shoreline.

[Barking Sands Airfield & Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kaumuali‘i Highway (Hwy. 50). Access information: 808-335-4229.]

Polihale State Park

Located near the western end of Kaumuali‘i Highway (Hwy. 50), Polihale State Park encompasses 140 acres (57 ha) on Kaua‘i’s southwest shoreline. The expansive beach is up to 100 yards (91 m) wide with sand dunes up to 100 feet (30 m) high (see directions below). Polihale means “House bosom.”[iv]

To get to the swimming area at Polihale known as Queen’s Pond, turn left at the monkeypod tree (see directions below), and go about ¼ mile (.4 km), and then go up the hill on the right. From there it is just a few minutes walk north to Queen’s Pond, a semicircle of coral reef that forms a swimming area usually protected from the surf and currents. If the ocean waves are big, however, a strong and potentially dangerous current pulls toward the southern end.

Polihale’s sand dunes extend far up onto the shoreline, providing great spots for camping or just enjoying the day. An ancient heiau (sacred place of worship), now overgrown with brush, is located near where the beach ends and the Nāpali Coast begins.

The cliffs in this area are known as Hā‘ele‘ele (“Blackish”[v]). According to legend, the cliffs were considered a jumping off point for ‘uhane (spirits) as they left this world.

The vast, wide stretch of sand at Polihale extends all the way back to the town of Kekaha. The 60-foot (18-m) high coastal dunes of Barking Sands (see above) are located at the south end of Polihale.

On the north end of Polihale cliffs block the way toward the Nāpali Coast, which is accessible only by boat or by the Kalalau Trail, which begins on the other side of the island at the end of Kūhiō Highway (Route 560) on Kaua‘i’s north shore.

[Polihale State Park, western end of Kaumuali‘i Highway (Hwy. 50). Directions: go left on the dirt road about ¾ mile (1.2 km) past the Barking Sands military base; drive about 3-1/3 miles (5.4 km) down the dirt road to the large monkeypod tree. Going straight at the tree leads to park facilities, including a pavilion, restrooms, and camping areas. Turning left at the tree leads to Queen’s Pond.]



[i] p. 110, Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[ii] These dates are estimates; see Timeline for a more complete description of dates of arrival.

[iii] At least some of the other walls of the fort were completed after Schäffer’s departure.

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

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