Located on the northwest coast of Kauai, the Nā Pali contains some of the Pacific Islands most spectacular wilderness area.
There was a string of former Hawaiian fishing villages in the seven main valleys on the Nā Pali Coast of Kauai. These remote communities relied on harvesting the fish from the sea, and growing taro in the fertile soil of the valley floors.
One of these is Nu‘alolo Kai, it’s located in a protected inlet along the Nā Pali Coast. You can’t get there by land, you must arrive by boat.
And, you need a permit from DLNR to do so.
“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”. (Hiram Bingham, 1822)
“Here, about mid-way of what the natives call the Parre, 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.” (Bingham)
“Like Kalalau they had a trail from the table land above over the top of Kamaile and zigzagging down through the cliffs some 3000 feet to the valley below but even this trail was difficult. At one place you have to jump a crevice only three feet wide …”
“… but it goes down straight like a chimney and if you slipped you would only fall 800 feet to the rocks below. They call it the Puhi.” (Knudsen, late-19th-century)
“Here, the natives sometimes exhibit their fire works (ʻŌahi) in the night (from “the fire Parre”,) 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.” (Bingham)
“The two most famous ʻōahi places on Kauai were Kamaile peak, rising 2500 feet over Nuuololo [Nu‘alolo] landing on the Na Pali Coast, and the high cliffs that tower over the wet caves at Haena.” (Knudsen)
“Here in Nuʻalolo 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.” (Knudsen)
Bishop Museum archaeological investigations, starting in 1958, noted buried structure floors and artifacts, including fishhooks and coral files, were found as deep as 6 feet below the surface.
Radiocarbon dates later showed that people first began to live at the site between AD 1300 and 1500. The presence of historic artifacts, such as glass beads and metal jewelry, told archaeologists that the site was still inhabited even after Europeans arrived in the Hawaiian Islands.
About 100 people, mostly commoners, lived in Nuʻalolo Kai. They farmed terraced taro fields, collected shellfish, and gathered coral from the fringing reef to shape their bone and shell fishhooks. Reef fish included rudderfish, unicorn tang and parrotfish.
Raw and cooked urchins were popular, and urchin gonads were used as a condiment with fish, poi (cooked taro), and sweet potato. (National Geographic)
“Their method of taking the fish from the sea is remarkable. Diving down, they place a vegetable poison among the stones at the bottom, which being greedily eaten by the fish, immediately produces on them an intoxicating effect.”
“The natives then dive or swim after them, and catch them in their hands, or, sitting in canoes, or standing near the shore, take them easily in scoop nets.” (Bingham)
Ceremonies were celebrated with ʻawa, a ritual drink also known as kava, while hula dancers chanted and pulsed to the beat of the drums. Young men hurled firebrands from the cliff of Kamaile.
Even King Kamehameha II made a trip to the island to witness the ceremonies. It’s still unclear why the site was abandoned, but Hawaiians permanently left Nuʻalolo Kai in 1919 for more populated parts of the island, including Hanalei and Waimea. (National Geographic)