Almost 100 years old, the Kilauea Lighthouse is truly a local treasure embodying the town’s 20th-century history. Around the turn of the last century, lighthouses and navigation aides were constructed all over the Islands to guide commercial shipping traffic that flowed between the islands and to all sides of the Pacific. After about one year of construction, a process whereby most materials had to be shipped in and then hoisted more than 100 feet up the cliff face, the lighthouse became operational in 1913. Since then, most of the lighthouses have succumbed to the corrosive marine environment, making the Kilauea Light house one of the last of its kind.
The Lighthouse was built on Kilauea Point, which is the northernmost spot on the inhabited Hawaiian Islands. Able to be seen more than 20 miles at sea, the lighthouse was often the first sign of land for ships arriving from the Western Pacific.
The amazing clamshell lens was manufactured in France, and weighs more than 4 tons. It used to project double beams of light, 10 seconds apart.
When construction started, the site of the lighthouse proved weaker than surveys originally estimated. So crews dug into the soil until they hit rock. The result is that this in one of the few lighthouses in the world to have a basement.
One of the lighthouse’s greatest moments came in 1927 when two Army aviators attempted the first flight from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii. More than 20 hours into their flight, and on the verge of completely missing the islands at night, the pilots spotted the Kilauea’s beam. They circled the lighthouse until the sun came up and then proceeded to a safe landing in Oahu. The flight of the Bird of Paradise is remembered as one of the great flying feats of early aviation history.
Home Sweet Lighthouse
For decades, the lighthouse was tended by a keeper who lived on the site. It was their job to keep the lamp fueled with oil (when the lamp lit by flame), keep the lens clean, and wind the mechanical clock every 3.5 hours. The flame was replaced by an electric bulb that could produce .5 million candlepower in 1930, and the clock was replaced by an electric model in 1939 (though the mechanical once was maintained just in case there was ever a power outage).
Three years after it was decommissioned, the lighthouse was added to National Register of Historic Places in 1979. In 1985 it was deeded from the Coast Guard to the Fish and Wildlife Service to act as a Wildlife Refuge. Today, the lighthouse’s oceanside locale is one of the most popular destinations on Kauai for its scenery, history, and the many endangered birds that inhabit its lands.