Kilauea Wildlife Refuge on Kilauea Point is open daily 10 AM to 4 PM, and closed on federal holidays. Entry fee is $5 for adults 16 and older. Free for children under 16, and free for all on Lighthouse Day (the first Saturday in May) and Nene Awareness Day (the last Saturday in September).
The wind that blows in Kilauea is named Waimio (fast-moving water), and it buffets your car as you drive down to the lower parking lot. As you get out of the car, the wind grabs your hat and sails it across the parking lot. You forget about the hat as you take in the famous bird cliffs rising across the bay. Covered with the white flecks of nesting birds, the cliffs are layered like a huge chocolate Napoleon. A red-footed booby turns overhead on wings black against the sky.
The walk up the hill takes you past the Visitor Center, which has a great selection of memoirs and educational resources, including Hawaiian bird, animal, flower and fish coloring books.
You look down a hundred foot cliff to surf below, pounding on black rocks swirled in the ancient rivers of lava that formed here five million years ago. The wind blows fiercely, and bold black-winged white birds ride it like a stallion, pointed wing tips working.
Far below, white foam swells in and out of a great sea-cave. In Europe we marvel at the great cathedrals and the ancient roads. Here the marvels are what wind and rain have carved from the layered shapes of frozen lava, in a vast Volcano Moderne architecture of earth. Here the carved corbels are fantastic gestures of stone worn into form one grain at a time by this fierce and predatory wind; here the great beams are arches of rock worked by the salt spray of centuries.
You walk towards the lighthouse, a squat stumpy tower of plastered stone. A red ball and spire top the lens casing like a Moscovian cherry, and black and white shearwaters curve away, defeated by the spike.
A little island rises off Lighthouse Point like a fifty-layer cake of chocolate lava. On top like strange frosting there is a layer of red dirt and green grass, clinging to the black lava. Birds stand on the jagged shapes of black stone in assemblies and conventions, feeling the wind with uplifted wings, leaping sometimes up into it.
A trio of white-tailed tropic birds with long white tail-streamers get caught in a freshet of wind blowing between headland and island. They scream, flapping furiously, tumbled over and over by the wind. It is a huge and glorious game in the vast space of rushing air. Their antics carry them right over-head and for a moment you see them clearly – white birds bright as stars, with apricot blush under their wings, and their long white tail feathers like string ties tracking the wind behind them. Then a gust whisks them screaming and somersaulting away across the water.
Overhead like a wind shadow sails a huge black bird with a white head and curved, drooping wings – the Great Frigate Bird, seven feet from wing tip to wing tip. He curves towards the cliff. Following his trajectory, your eye finds a jagged black hole broken in the lava wall of the cliff across the little bay – thirty feet up a sheer rock face above pounding waves. What lies within? Pirate treasure? The biological jewel of a new cave-dwelling species? It is a secret of Bird Land, not for us to know.
We can’t tour the Bird Cave, but the lighthouse will be open next year. It is being restored for the lighthouse’s upcoming 100th birthday party in 2013. However, some secrets will soon be revealed. As part of National Wildlife Refuge Week the second week in October, free hikes to spectacular vantage points, accessible only to guided visitors, will be provided on different days by a local historian, a forest ranger and a seabird biologist.
Check out our next blog about how the northernmost point of Kauai came to have the westernmost lighthouse in America.