Hawaiian Lighthouses

Hawaii's beacons help mariners stay safe in their journeys.

Kilauea Lighthouse

Kilauea lighthouse in the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai.

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Related Links

Kilauea | Nawiliwili | Barbers Point

Diamond Head | Makapuu | Kalaupapa

Lahaina | Kauhola Point | More Lighthouses

Perhaps it's my landlocked Midwestern upbringing, but to me, the word lighthouse evokes visions of a salt-and-pepper-bearded keeper in a heavy peacoat struggling mightily to keep his lamp lit in the face of a nor'easter. Beacons, of course, are part of the scenery wherever land meets the sea, but I was still pleasantly surprised when I came across the Kilauea lighthouse during my first visit to Kauai. The surrounding landscape on that midsummer day and the lighthouse's stunning location on a lonely point left an indelible impression. More than 100 illuminated navigational aids are scattered around the Islands, and though all of them serve a key function, most are simple towers, architecturally insignificant. Here is a collection of eight lights whose distinction matches their importance.

Kilauea

  • Opened: 1913
  • Height: 52 feet
  • Building materials arrived by sea, and construction on this landfall light for ships arriving from the Orient was slightly delayed while workers awaited an English translation for the lens's French installation instructions. An operating light is now mounted on a 10-foot pole in front of the tower.
  • Located on Kilauea Point in the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, two miles north of Kilauea, Kauai. (808) 828-1413, fws.gov/kilaueapoint.

Nawiliwili

  • Opened: 1932
  • Height: 86 feet
  • This is the fourth light built on Kauai's Ninini Point. A Japanese submarine shelled Nawiliwili Harbor on December 31, 1941, but did little damage to the harbor.
  • Located on Ninini Point just south of Lihue Airport. Enter on Ninini Point Street from State Highway 51. The tower is closed, but admission is free to the grounds, which are owned by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Barbers Point

  • Opened: 1933
  • Height: 71 feet
  • Navigation lights have existed since 1888 at Barbers Point, which is named for the captain of a vessel that sank there in 1796 after striking an offshore coral reef. The Coast Guard leases the site to the city of Honolulu as a public park.
  • From H1, follow Kalaeloa Boulevard south to Olai Street. Turn right to enter the park. The tower is closed, but admission to the grounds is free.

Diamond Head

  • Opened: 1918
  • Height: 57 feet
  • This tower serves as the finish line for the biennial Transpacific Yacht Race from San Pedro, California, to Honolulu. The 2,225-nautical-mile race attracted 47 oceangoing sailboats this June. See transpacrace.com.
  • The lighthouse is on Diamond Head Road near the foot of the volcano. It is located on private property and is closed to the public.

Makapuu

  • Opened: 1909
  • Height: 46 feet
  • One of the world's most powerful Fresnel hyperradiant lenses, and the only one used in the United States, still operates on Oahu's easternmost point.
  • View the lighthouse from Makapuu Head, a 1.3-mile hike that begins at a gated dirt road about a half-mile north of the Hawaii Kai Golf Course on State Highway 72.

Kalaupapa

  • Opened: 1909
  • Height: 138 feet
  • Hawai‘i's tallest lighthouse is also its most remote, as it is surrounded by the ocean on three sides and by Moloka‘i's steep cliffs to the south. The original Fresnel lens is in storage for display in a future National Park Service museum devoted to the Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement.
  • A permit from the Hawaii Department of Health is required to visit Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement. Damien Tours (808-567-6171) handles this for people who book with them.

Lahaina

  • Opened: 1939
  • Height: 39 feet
  • Whalers popularized this Maui port because it charged lower fees than Honolulu. Hawaii's first lighthouse—it began operating in 1840—was built on this site. The current light is the fifth.
  • The lighthouse is located at the west end of Lahaina Harbor. The Lahaina Restoration Foundation (lahainarestoration.org) maintains the site.

Kauhola Point

  • Opened: 1933
  • Height: 86 feet
  • Mariners off Hawaii Island's northwest shore have received navigational assistance here since 1897. The current structure resembles the towers at Nawiliwili and Barbers Point and dates from the same era.
  • Follow State Highway 270 to roughly two miles east of Hawi. Turn north on Halaula Road. Unless you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, you'll likely need to walk the last mile or so.

More Lighthouses

Visit lighthousefriends.com for more information about these and other Hawaii lighthouses, plus lighthouses throughout North America.

Photography copyright ©2009 AAA Hawaii, LLC. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

This article was first published in September 2009. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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