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Noted Visits


Ha`ena in 1924

A 1924 photograph of Ha‘ena show the lowland area is still free of forest.
Photo from the Hawai‘i State Archives

Famed for its beauty, it's cultural importance, and its geographic isolation, Ha‘ena received many noted visitors. First among these would be Queen Emma, widow of King Kamehameha IV (Alexander Liholiho). In 1871 she came to Kaua‘i, a visit most famous for her trek into the Alaka‘i Swamp atop Wai‘ale‘ale mountain. But in Ha‘ena she is remembered for being celebrated with the last exhibition of fire-throwing ever done from Makana mountain.

Less noble visits came in the form of scientists and officials, whose encounters with local inhabitants sometimes demonstrate the cross-cultural differences between Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian perceptions characteristic of the period. Several records show in particular the different perceptions these outsiders and non-Hawaiians had of the famous caves at Ha‘ena.



Judge G. Gilman visited the caves in 1845 accompanied by Rev. Mr. Johnson and 20 or more Waioli school boys. He wrote the following description of Wai-a-Kanaloa:

"A short distance and we arrived at the Third Cave. The mouth or entrance is much easier of access than that of the second, there being but a slight ascent and descent to the water which begins at the mouth of the cavern. The natives were here enjoying themselves in high glee. The sides of the lake are very bold and a few feet from the brink the water is very deep. The boys would clamber along the sides of the rocks until they reached a ledge about 30 feet above the water, then with a bound they would throw themselves off, and enter the water with a chuckling sound like that of a thrown pebble.

"This cavern is divided into two apartments. The first and outer one is much the larger and more grand, its lofty arch rising over the water to the height of 60 or 70 feet. It is 80 feet in length and 60 wide. As the sides, rise perpendicularly from the water, we engaged a canoe which was soon brought to us, and having a large torch we commenced our sail on the cavern lake. The canoe was small, and the natives were obliged to swim along by the side to keep us from being upset, the one at the bow holding the torch. The native boys seeing us set off, swam on before us and clinging to the rocks awaited our approach. We passed under a small, low, but almost perfect arch, which separates the first and second apartments. The second is a large circular room, but not so large as the first, and rom it a passage leads off narrowing as you proceed.

"As we passed under the arch and shot into the dark room, lighted only by our torch and a faint light through the arch, the boys commenced a loud yelling which rang through the vaulted chamber, as though all the demons of the mountain had assembled to give us welcome. As we were ferried as it were by unseen agency, the boys threw themselves from the rock, where their dark skins so much the color of rock had renders [sic] them invisible, into the water around us and continued their splashing and yells, not cries, with their eyes glistening in the light of the torch, and their heads appearing and disappearing as they dove around us. It was highly exciting, and it was impossible to make ourselves heard amid the tumult. It was the passage over the Styx and a short stay among the lost spirits of Pluto's regions, a scene never to be forgotten.

"We went on till we came to the termination of the passage and could go no further. We picked a few stones from the rocks as mementos and substantial proofs of our visit to the infernal regions. A native tried to sound the depth of the water but was unable, it was probably 40 or 50 feet. As we were ferried out, the young imps gave us a parting yell, and I was not sorry when we shot through the arch into the drawing-room of His Infernal Majesty which is much the more pleasant of the two. The secret chambers, like so many others, do not have their privacy invaded. Mr. Couthony, a member of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, was pursuing his researches within the arch when his canoe was upset, his light was extinguished, and he was left to struggle in waters. His arms were full of valuables, and he, by great exertion, swam out with his canoe by his feet until a native went to his assistance. The temperature was the same as in the other cave, 72 degrees and 76 degrees…"



Cars at Cave

"Cars at cave, Ha‘ena," early 1900s.
Undated Hawai‘i State Archives photograph.


Eric Knudsen, of a prominent Kaua‘i ranching family, visited the caves with his friends in 1895. Here is his story:

"Crossing the flat lands of Wainiha and Haena we came to the big dry cave which we all rode into and then on to the Wet Caves. The road followed the beach and all the land between the shore line and the cliffs was planted to taro. We tied up our horses and walked along the kuaunas between the patches and soon reached the nearest cave. We all raced to see who would be first in the water -- it looked so inviting after such a long dusty ride. But when we dived in the water seemed bitterly cold. Our leader called 'follow me,' so we swam on into inky darkness -- it was most uncanny and I remembered a story I had heard years before of a big dragon or mo‘o that sometimes visited that cave and lived back in its recesses.

"Our leader kept on and we came to the end of the cave and there was a ledge that we climbed on to and sat and looking out we could see the light from the entrance shining on the cliff. we gave the college yells -- Harvard, Yale and M.I.T., Rah, Rah, Rah, and then dived into the black water and swam towards the light and when I passed the end of that cave and could see the entrance I felt much better."




"Haena Wet Cave." Tourists visiting Wai-o-ka-Pala‘e cave, probably 1950s-1960s. Undated Hawai‘i State Archives photograph.


An even more distinct change in attitudes towards these caves comes in the form of a license application from the Kaua‘i Civil Defense Agency, dated December 10, 1962, to make Maniniholo Cave into a fallout shelter for use in the event of an air raid:

"A proposal to use Ha‘ena dry cave as a community fallout shelter. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported that the cave if used as is would support 34 people at the innermost section of the cave. This same area, being provided with a ventilating system by the U.S. Government, would accommodate 132. The US. Army Corps of Engineers further points out that if the U.S. Government be permitted to erect a shielding material at the entrance of the cave, 1680 people would be accommodated. The placing of a wall at the entrance is not considered advisable by this agency. We do however feel that the cave could be used if burlap bags were stored in Ha‘ena ready to be filled with sand immediately after a disaster, to provide the necessary shielding, then removed after the danger is passed."

A license was drawn up but apparently not signed. Fortunately, a fallout shelter has never been needed.



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