A Weekend on Napali: Part Two
Yesterday, I wrote about my arrival at Nu‘alolo Kai along Kaua‘i’s Nāpali Coast State Park. Today, I share some of the earliest written accounts of Nāpali and Nu‘alolo--all by non-Hawaiians. Hiram Bingham and his entourage first arrived in Hawaii in 1820, on behalf of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. In 1821, he voyaged along Nāpali Coast in a double-hulled canoe. Here is a snippet of his arrival at Nu‘alolo Kai.
“The mountains along the shore, for eight or ten miles, are very bold, some rising abruptly from the ocean, exhibiting the obvious effects of volcanic fires; some, a little back, appear like towering pyramids, around which the warring elements had swept away the more moveable and combustible matter; others, equally lofty, are partly covered with trees and shrubs. Into the nooks between them a few houses are crowded, but they are almost inaccessible, except from the sea. It would seem, however, that some hundreds of the natives live in this forebidding part of the island, subsisting, doubtless, chiefly on fish. They pass from one little neighborhood to another, in canoes. Here, about mid-way of what the natives call the Parre [Pali], we landed, where is an acre or two of sterile ground, bounded on one side by the ocean, and environed on the other by a stupendous rock, nearly perpendicular, forming at its base a semicircular curve, which meets the ocean at each end. In the middle of the curve, a stupendous rock rises to the height, I should say, of about 1500 feet. Near one end of the curve, the rock projects about 50 feet from its base, and is here about 300 feet high; so that ten houses of the little village are built under it, and defended, generally, from the rain and tempests, and always from the direct rays of the sun till some time after noon. The cool shade of this rock, when we were all present, between 10 and 11 o’clock, extended more than 100 feet from its base. Never was I so forcibly impressed, by any scene in nature, with the lively figures, by which Isaiah sets forth our savior, --”as an hiding-place from the wind; and a covert from the storm; as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” The highest part is called “the fire Parre”. Here, the natives sometimes exhibit their fire works in the night, as they did a few nights since, when the kings lodged there. Along a winding, difficult ascent, which commences by a rude ladder hanging over the sea, they climb to the very summit, and throw off firebrands, or torches, ingeniously constructed, which sail off a great distance, and fall in the ocean below.”
1822 “Extracts from the Journal of Mr. Bingham, while at Atooi”.
Missionary Herald, Vol. 18, No. 8., pp. 248-249. Honolulu,
In 1845, Judge Gorham Gilman traveled the Nāpali Coast by canoe and made the following observations about Nu‘alolo.
“When we had passed about two-thirds of the pali we came to a little bay making in between two arms or points of land, on the shore of which we noticed several canoes, and a few miserable huts…. The little bay is a gathering place for canoes passing between Waimea and Hanalei, as well as those that go over to the island of Niihau, which can be seen here at a distance of about 25 miles.
“A few rods back from the beach rise the cliffs, in some places perpendicular 500 feet, forming an amphitheater. Along the base of one side are ranged the houses, which form a striking contrast with the black mass of rock rising behind them. All their food comes from above, where it is said there is a fine valley (Nualolo) which the feet of white men have never profaned.”
“Journal of a Canoe Voyage along Kauai Palis, Made in 1845” Gilman, 1908.
Eric Knudsen, descendent of the pioneering Sinclair family, traveled Nāpali Coast on a couple of occasions in the late 19th century. Here are accounts from his excursions.
“Nualolo is really divided into two parts, the valley proper and the landing known as Nualolo Kai. The valley ends abruptly and the stream goes dashing down a steep bank for a few hundred feet and empties into the sea amidst a mass of huge boulders that lie half submerged and over which the waves splash and roar. No boat can land there, you have to swim and take your chances of getting ashore. A dangerous spot; no enemy could land a surprise attack there, nor is there a safe road to the landing. The old trail was quite exciting. It starts from the shore and after a climb of some fifteen feet one must crawl along a narrow ledge right above the sea and as you look down the waves boiling against the cliff of rock below you with the big black crabs scurrying about, your heart skips a beat.”
“At the end of the ledge the old Hawaiians had a ladder made of two long olopau sticks lashed to the cliff with olona ropes. This carried the climber up to another ledge and by the aid of hand holds cut in the rocks you could climb up another eight or ten feet which came upon a narrow trail cut in the rock and leading up and around the base of a huge mountain, Kamaile, and at last you were in the main valley. If the raiders came from the sea all they had to do was pull up the ladder and they were blocked.”
“Towering over the landing beach is the great: peak of Kamaile and in the ancient days it was a famous place for holding an "Oahi" or fireworks exhibition. The cliff is concave and the trade winds rush up forming a cushion on which the blazing sticks of wood come coasting down the cliff. The papala was the favorite tree but it is scarce and only used for royalty. It must have been a gala day when the king of Kauai paid his royal visit to Nualolo and the whole population turned out to celebrate.”
“Here in Nualolo Kai the fishermen built and kept their canoes and the beach must have been lined with them for the landing is most always safe as the channel is narrow and a big reef to the north protecting it. To find the passage in daylight is easy but at night it is not. The old Hawaiians who were night-bound watched the top of Kamaile standing high up against the sky. You can't miss that landmark and when they got the rock on top straight across the center of the canoe they turned toward shore and paddled in on that line.”
“It is said that there is no water in Nualolo Kai but in the far left corner of the flat lauhala trees grow and there a heiau or temple stands and hidden by lantana
and other weeds are two little round wells. The last time I was there I cleaned them out and a few hours later found them full of clear and sparkling water. Did the clever old priest who built the temple trade a calabash of water for a nice fat fish? I wonder.”
Knudsen, Eric A.
1991 A Trip Around the Island and Some Personal Experiences on
the Na Pali Coast. In The Kauai Papers. Kauai Historical
Society, Lihu‘e, Kauai.
For even more detailed accounts, read the Nu‘alolo Kai, Nā Pali Educational Sourcebook on Nā Pali Coast ‘Ohana’s website.