The Kilauea Lighthouse, one of the most beautiful spots on Kauai for viewing wildlife including endangered birds, dolphins and whales, celebrates its 100th birthday this month with a $2.5 million facelift and a new name, the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse, in honor of the late United States senator who was integral in securing federal funding for both the renovation work and procurement of additional lands to expand the wildlife refuge.
On the northernmost point of Kauai, 180 feet above sea level, the light of Kilauea lighthouse was long a navigational aid to sailors of all types, letting them know they had found land. The lighthouse was electrified in 1939; a small, automatic and efficient beacon now provides the warning for modern seafarers.
While the renovated lighthouse gleams in the sunlight, fresh coats of paint applied after all rust was removed, long cemented-over windows opened to allow light into the tower, it’s the beautiful original 7,000-pound Fresnel lighthouse lens that remains the most fascinating part of this building.
Installed on May 6, 1913, then the largest clamshell lens in the world, The Garden Island newspaper declared it, “… like the Cyclops of old, which swept the sea with their one fierce eye, (the Kilauea Point Lighthouse) burst forth its shining eye of warning to the mariner …” The light could be seen for 20 miles.
Park Ranger Padraic Gallagher says the original lens, made of 400 hand-ground glass prisms, was floated on a bed of a gallon of mercury and when balanced correctly using compressed air, the lighthouse keeper could rotate it with one finger. The Fresnel lens was decommissioned in 1976 because of mercury exposure.
The Kilauea Lighthouse renovation was the culmination of a four-year project led and funded by volunteers who raised $1.5 million, plus a $1,000,000 donation from the U.S. government, mahalo to Sen. Inouye for that. Tours inside the renovated lighthouse interior are planned to be open to the public in a schedule to be determined.
The Kilauea Lighthouse and wildlife refuge receives 500,000 visitors per year, the fourth highest of all U.S. Wildlife Refuges. For more information, visit www.fws.gov/kilaueapoint.
For more Kauai stories by Pamela Varma Brown, please visit www.kauaistories.net.