Description: Hawai`i's only navigable river, the Wailua River, is found on Kaua`i, however, no natural deepwater harbors exist along the island's entire coastline. To remedy this situation, a portion of Nawiliwili Bay, near Lihue, was dredged and protected by a breakwater to form Nawiliwili Harbor.
The origin of the name Nawiliwili is disputed. One claim is that it comes from Wiliwili trees, which once grew in the area. A more imaginative claim is that it comes from the profile, in the nearby Haupu Ridge, of Queen Victoria. According to tradition, the queen is shaking an admonishing forefinger at her unpredictable nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm, and saying "Now Wili Wili!"
The light's first keeper, Manuel Souza, was born on the U.S. mainland to Portuguese parents. His future wife, also of Portuguese descent, came to Hawai`i from the island of Madeira as a contract laborer for a sugar plantation. Souza bought out her contract, and together they lived at the lighthouse for six years.
Each evening before sunset, Souza would climb the tower, light the oil lamp, and place it along with its reflector behind the glass window that formed a corner of the small lamp room. The light would have to be tended during the night, and then around sunrise, Souza would extinguish the lamp, polish the reflector, and prepare the lamp for the next evening.
Besides caring for the light, Souza also maintained the tower along with the keeper's house and grounds. For his efforts, he was given a meager monthly salary, which arrived irregularly forcing him to obtain credit from the local store to feed his family. In 1902, Souza wrote to the Hawaiian government with his grievances.
I have been working steadily for five years in a place that is about 3 miles from any house or supplies. ... Can't my wages be raised for my present payment is too small to support my family. Besides my food, water costs me 50 cents a bucket and firewoods are the worst of all. I also spend my own money in preparing the lighthouse, such as painting it with white wash, etc. So with these few words I await your answer. P.S. Answer soon.
His plea must not have been answered to his liking as Souza resigned the following year. Conditions at the station continued to degrade until the United States assumed control of Hawaii's navigational aids in 1904. In a report that year, the Lighthouse Board found that, "The lamp was out of repair, and the room on the tower needed to be rebuilt. ... The tower is dilapidated and unsafe. The dwelling is not fit for human habitation. There is no oilhouse."
The original Nawiliwili trestle tower was torn down and replaced with a lens lantern atop a thirty-three and a half foot tall mast. The new light was first exhibited on December 22, 1906, and was rebuilt in 1923. As keeper, Oliver Kua would climb the mast to service the light each day via galvanized spikes set into both sides of the pole.
As Nawiliwili Bay had become the principal port on Kaua`i, George Putnam, the Commissioner of Lighthouses, felt that the present station on Ninini Point was inadequate and requested that $48,100 be appropriated for a high-powered, long range lighthouse to served the harbor. The money was soon made available, and the present eighty-six -foot concrete tower was constructed in 1932 along with a new three-bedroom keeper's dwelling set on concrete block footings.
Keeper Kua was retained as keeper of the new lighthouse and served for a total of twenty-one years at the station, final retiring in 1939 when the Coast Guard took control of the light.
During World War II, the Nawiliwili Lighthouse, along with all others in the Hawaiian Islands, was darkened. On December 31, 1941, a Japanese submarine surfaced near the entrance of the bay and shelled the harbor. Fortunately, several of the shells, including one that made a direct hit on a large gasoline storage tank, failed to explode and damage was limited to about $500. Fears of a possible Japanese invasion, led to the stationing of additional Coast Guard personnel at both the Nawiliwili and Kilauea light stations.
The Nawiliwili Lighthouse was automated in 1953, however an attendant remained at the station and was responsible for routine maintenance of the Nawiliwili Light and seven minor lights on the island. The tower's fourth-order Fresnel lens was replaced by a DCB-36 beacon in 1984. The lantern room has been removed from the tower, compromising the structure's beauty.
Head Keepers: Manuel Souza (1897 – 1903), Carl Blum (1904), John McLaughlin (1904 – 1909), John H. Kanekoa (1909 – 1912), Edward L. Miller (1913 – 1915), Alexander D. Toomey (1916 – 1917), Oliver Kua (1918 – 1939), William C. Dooley (1939 – 1941).
Located on Ninini Point just south of the airport in Lihue. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds open, tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds open, tower closed.
Notes from a friend:Kraig writes:
An unforgettable experience on Kaua`i is taking a helicopter tour of the island. The helicopters leave near the airport in Lihue, and a good view of the Nawiliwili Lighthouse is had shortly after takeoff. As you pass over the island, you will see the amazing Waimea Canyon, the incredible Na Pali Coast, and numerous waterfalls lacing the verdant hills. If it is within your budget, a stay at the Kaua`i Marriott provides excellent views of the lighthouse as well as two great golf courses and Kaua`i's largest pool.Marilyn writes:
I walked through the golf course to visit the light. Not being a golfer myself, I felt a little weird being out there with no equipment or cart, but the lushness of the golf course only added to the surrounding beauty of the light.
See our List of Lighthouses in Hawaii
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.