The Natural Area Reserves System (NARS) (administered by DLNR) was created in 1971 to “preserve in perpetuity specific land and water areas which support communities, as relatively unmodified as possible, of the natural flora and fauna, as well as geological sites, of Hawai‘i”.
The NARS is based on the concept of protecting ecosystems – not merely single species. Because the natural resources of Hawai‘i are under constant threat from invasive species, human encroachment, feral ungulates, climate change, and other threats, the NARS seeks to protect the best remaining examples of the State‘s unique ecosystems.
Kauai is the oldest of the eight major Hawaiian islands, and the island consists of one main extinct shield volcano estimated to be about 5 million years old as well as numerous younger lava flows (between 3.65 million years to 500,000 years old).
The island is characterized by severe weathering, which has formed the spectacular cliffs of the Nā Pali coast and Waimea canyon areas.
Hono O Nā Pali Natural Area Reserve encompasses almost 3,600 acres on the north coast island of Kauai. The Reserve was designated in 1983 and expanded in 2009 to preserve native natural communities in the Hanalei and Waimea Districts, including the Hanakāpī‘ai, Hanakoa and Waiahuakua ahupua‘a.
The Reserve stretches from sea level along the picturesque Nā Pali coast to the highest point at Pihea (4,284 feet.) The Reserve encompasses parts of Hanakāpī‘ai and Hanakoa streams and all of Waiahuakua Stream; the southern boundary of the NAR is the south side of the Alaka‘i Swamp Trail.
The Reserve can be broadly classified as containing three major ecosystems including lowland mesic (which includes a variety of grasslands, shrublands and forests,) lowland wet (here, typically dominated by Kukui,) and montane wet (the forest canopy is a mix of ʻōhiʻa and other native trees.)
The lowland coastal ecosystems also contain steep cliffs characterized by plants found in drier areas. The coastal areas and cliffs provide habitat for a number of other seabirds including ‘iwa, brown booby and both red and white-tailed tropicbirds.
Hono O Nā Pali Natural Area Reserve has been described as “one of the best remaining forest ecosystems in Hawai‘i, as well as the rare and endangered plant and animal species it supports.”
Land use records from 1856-1857 show that lands in this area were being used for the cultivation of kalo, olona and kula. In the late-1800s Hanakoa and Hanakāpīʻai were also used for coffee cultivation. Kalalau was abandoned in 1919 and then used for cattle grazing in the 1920 for a limited time. (DLNR)
“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)
“There is a tract of country on the west coast of the island, through which no road is practicable.” (Bowser, 1880; Maly) “For twenty miles along the northwestern coast of Kauai there extends a series of ridges, none less than 800-feet high, and many nearly 1,500-feet, terminating in a bluff that is unrivalled in majesty.”
“Except for a very narrow, dangerous foot-path, with yawning abysses on each side, this bluff is impassable.” (The Tourist’s Guide, Whitney, 1895)
The trail was originally built around 1860 (portions were rebuilt in the 1930s) to foster transportation and commerce for the residents living in the remote valleys.
Local labor and dynamite were used to construct a trail wide enough to accommodate pack animals loaded with oranges, taro and coffee being grown in the valleys. Stone paving and retaining walls from that era still exist along the trail.
It traverses 5-valleys (and the NAR) over 11-miles, from Hāʻena State Park to Kalalau Beach, where it is blocked by sheer, fluted cliffs (pali;) it drops to sea level at the beaches of Hanakāpīʻai and Kalalau. The first 2 miles of the trail, from Hāʻena State Park to Hanakāpīʻai Beach, make a popular day hike. (DLNR)
“During the Māhele, the King granted lands to the Kingdom (Government), the revenue of which was to support government functions. In the Nāpali District, the ahupuaʻa of Kalalau, Pohakuao, Honopu, Hanakāpīʻai and one-half of Hanakoa were granted to the Government Land inventory.”
“Portions of the lands that fell into the government inventory were subsequently sold as Royal Patent Grants to individuals who applied for them.”
“The grantees were generally long-time kamaʻāina residents of the lands they sought… Thirty grants were sold in the Nāpali District to twenty-seven applicants; the lands being situated in Kalalau and Honopu.” (Hawaiian Government, 1887; Maly)
The upper region of the area was put into Territorial Forest Reserve (Nā Pali – Kona Forest Reserve) for protection in 1907. Even before that time, the concern for native forest prompted cattle eradication activities in this area during 1882 and 1890.