Exclusive refuge on Kauai is for the birds

Kauai is called the Garden Island for its natural beauty. One refuge on this Hawaiian island is so exclusive, you can’t visit — no human can. The Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge is reserved for birds and the crops they crave.

The wildlife refuge is housed in the beautiful Hanalei Valley on the north shore of Kauai. It was established to help support five endangered water birds that rely on the valley for nesting and feeding. They are: the koloa (Hawaiian duck), the alae keokeo (Hawaiian coot), the alaeula (Hawaiian moorhen), the aeo (Hawaiian stilt), and the nēnē (Hawaiian goose). Some 45 other species of bird also use the refuge.

The flat river valley is surrounded by steep, wooded hillsides. Water from the Hanalei River is perted to irrigate the taro fields and wet pasturelands. This photo is from our visit last November, in a fairly wet time of year. To protect the birds and minimize disturbance, the wetlands is closed to humans. You can see it from the Hanalei Valley Overlook across from the Princeville Shopping Center. Parking at the overlook is limited, but when we visited vehicles were taking turns. Several informational signs explain the purpose of the refuge, the birds protected and the plants that have been cultivated to feed them.

It is also possible to hike nearby. We did not take advantage of this experience, but I hope to on a future visit. There is a trailhead on Ohiki Road, about half a mile from the Hanalie Bridge. The trail crosses a small footbridge across an irrigation ditch and then turns from refuge to state land. I am sure it is as beautiful as the other hiking trails we did experience on Kauai. As with all of them, it is important to stay on the trail — it is senseless to damage the delicate ecosystem you are enjoying by tramping off the designated path. In Hawaii, straying off the trail is also dangerous. These are young islands, with unstable landforms, unique plant and animal life, and unparalleled views. I am so happy that refuges such as this support wildlife indigenous to the islands, I don’t mind being on the outside looking in.

Posted by: Bruce Fisher