Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

InsightBird lovers, take note: Kilauea Lighthouse on Kauai’s north shore is a wonderful place to spot a range of beautiful species without too much physical exertion.

Arriving at the reserve's 10 a.m. opening time, for example, will likely allow travelers to park their rental cars just a few hundred yards from the lighthouse. From there it’s five minutes of walking up the gentle rise, and a $5 dollar entrance fee, for a gorgeous view over the Pacific and the home of one of the largest populations of nesting seabirds in the major Hawaiian Islands.

On a recent visit, I was impressed by just how much information one can pick up through the informational ShaneNelsondisplays and colorful signage posted throughout the park, including not only a wealth of information about birdlife but also about native plants, flowers and trees. However, stopping by the Kilauea Point website, run by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service here (www.fws.gov/refuge/Kilauea_Point/), is an excellent way to brush up on all of the species before a visit.

Formally established as a preserve in 1985, Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is home to a diverse collection of birds, including red-footed boobies, the site’s most visible species; the Laysan Albatross, which has a wingspan of more than six-and-a-half feet and can live up to 40 years in the wild; and, of course, the nene, Hawaii’s endangered state bird, which often reminds visitors of Canadian geese.

Sighting the nene can be tough throughout Hawaii, due in part to the many predatory mongooses found elsewhere in the state that feed on nene eggs and newborn chicks. You won’t find any mongooses on Kauai, though, and at Kilauea Point you’ll generally spot the toddling grey-and-black nene as they search the grass for food around the lighthouse (which, by the way, was constructed in 1913 and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places).

From December to early May, Kilauea Point can also be a terrific whale-watching location. Humpbacks calve and mate in the warm waters just off shore, blowing out regular spouts and frequently flashing their flukes or putting on an aerial display of playful breaching.

Travelers who visit the refuge on Saturdays can stop afterward at the popular Kilauea farmers' market, about a 10-minute drive from the lighthouse, near the North Shore’s Kauai Mini Golf attraction on Kuhio Highway. Shoppers will find fresh local fruits, vegetables, products like jams or butter -- and an excellent opportunity to interact with some friendly Kauai residents.

The Hanalei farmers’ market is also open on Saturday; it takes place in the morning next to the Hanelei Community Center, about a 15-minute drive from Kilauea Point.

For lunch, a stop at Bubba’s Burgers just down the road rarely disappoints. Order the double Bubba Burger, a chocolate shake, and the "frings", a combination of fries and onion rings. Be sure to spend a minute or two looking at the impressive collection of photos documenting the celebrities who’ve eaten at Bubbas over the years, including Robert Downey, Jr., Jennifer Garner, Matt Damon and President Bill Clinton.  

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