A pua ka wiliwili,
A nanahu ka mano;
A pua ka wahine uʻi,
A nanahu ke kanawai.
When flowers the wiliwili,
Then bites the shark;
When flowers a young woman.
Then bites the law. (Emerson)
Most sources suggest Nāwiliwili, Kauaʻi takes its name from the wiliwili tree (nā is the plural article, as in “the wiliwili trees” or “place of the wiliwili trees.”) A native tree, its flowers and pods are used for lei, and its light wood was once used for surfboards, outriggers and net floats
“… somewhat as Honolulu was originally called Ke Awa o Kou, or Kou Landing, from the groves of that seaside tree known there in primitive times, so not only this southeasterly bay of Kauai, together with the stream emptying into … took their name from the blossoms of the wiliwili trees which grew in great numbers on the rocky slopes above the bay.” (Damon)
One of the first things that William Hyde Rice saw on landing in this bay in 1854, as a boy of eight, was the orange-red flash of wiliwili blossoms on trees clinging to the cliff above the beach. And one of the last things he did for his beloved home-island was to plant young wiliwili trees above the bay that the significance of its name might be kept in fresh remembrance. (Damon)
Handy suggests a kaona (hidden meaning) for the name Nāwiliwili based on a reduplication of the word wili, which means “twisted,” as in the meandering Nāwiliwili Stream. (Cultural Surveys)
The ahupuaʻa of Nāwiliwili and the surrounding area was permanently inhabited and intensively used in pre-Contact times. The coastal areas were the focus of permanent house sites and temporary shelters, heiau, including koʻa and kūʻula (both types of relatively small shrines dedicated to fishing gods) and numerous trails.
There were fishponds and numerous house sites and intensive cultivation areas within the valley bottoms of Nāwiliwili Stream. The dryland areas (kula) contained native forests and were cultivated with crops of wauke (paper mulberry,) ‘ʻuala (sweet potatoes) and ipu (bottle gourd.)
The archaeological record of early Hawaiian occupation in the area indicates a date range of about 1100 to 1650 AD for pre-contact Hawaiian habitations. A land use pattern that may be unique to this part of the island, or to Kaua‘i, in general, in which lo‘i (irrigated terraced gardens) and kula lands in same ʻāpana (portion of land,) with houselots in a separate portion. (Cultural Surveys)
Hiram Bingham, walking from Waimea toward Hanalei in 1824 noted, “a country of good land, mostly open, unoccupied and covered with grass, sprinkled with trees, and watered with lively streams that descend from the forest-covered mountains and wind their way along ravines to the sea, – a much finer country than the western part of the island”.
In the 1830s, Governor Kaikioʻewa founded a village at Nāwiliwili that eventually developed into Līhuʻe. The name Līhuʻe was not consistently used until the establishment of commercial sugar cane agriculture in the middle 19th century; and from the 1830s to the Māhele, the names Nāwiliwili and Līhuʻe were used interchangeably to refer to this area. (McMahon)
Līhuʻe (literally translated as ‘cold chill’) dates to when Kaikioʻewa moved his home from the traditional seat of government, Waimea, to the hilly lands overlooking Nāwiliwili Bay on the southeastern side of Kauaʻi.
He named this area Līhuʻe, in memory of his earlier home on Oʻahu. The name, Līhuʻe, was unknown on Kauaʻi before then; the ancient name for this area was Kalaʻiamea, “calm reddish brown place.” (Līhuʻe on Oʻahu is in the uplands on the Waianae side of Wahiawa; Kūkaniloko is situated in Līhuʻe.) (Fornander)
In early sailing ship history, Nāwiliwili Bay was deemed to be virtually the only natural harbor on Kauaʻi. However, since the bay opened directly to the tradewinds, other protected anchorages at Kōloa and Waimea Bay, on the west side of the island, were used.
“It is doubtful that anywhere on earth, in a supposedly usable landing place, have ladies and children – and even men – been subjected to so much nerve-wrecking hardship and danger as they have met with here during and immediately following the holiday season. It has been necessary to toss passengers from gangways into small boats (hit or miss) as the waves surged; and to take them aboard in the same dangerous fashion.”
“Baggage and valuables have been overturned into the bay, and have been lost. It seems like a miracle that, not a few, but many, lives have not been sacrificed; and this can only be accounted for, perhaps, by the fact that the sailors of the ships are expert in manipulating their landing boats and handling passengers in turbulent waters.”
“In the winter months passenger traffic at Nāwiliwili is paralyzed and there is no such thing as freight business on account of the exposed condition of one of the most beautiful and serviceable harbor prospects of which we have knowledge. The great sugar industry has to draw away from its largest, most natural and most convenient port, and carry on its shipping in a “catch-as-catch-can” sort of fashion, in small bays.” (The Garden Island, January 9, 1917)
“Nāwiliwili Bay, situated on the south eastern coast of the island of Kauai, is divided naturally into an outer and inner harbor by a reef extending north and south. Inside of the reef is a basin of considerable area, which consists of several deep water channels with shoals between, but is not accessible to vessels under present conditions, as harbor improvements have never been undertaken.”
“The present anchorage, which has been used for many years, is in the outer harbor, about a mile from the landing, which is the passenger traffic terminal of the island, in former years this also was the shipping point of Lihue and Grove Farm plantations, also of the merchants and farmers of the surrounding country.”
“Owing to the difficulties and delays encountered through the necessity of vessels lying at such a great distance from the landing, Nāwiliwili was abandoned as a shipping point by the plantations.” (Forbes; The Garden Island, December 7, 1915)
Then, in the early 1920s, (largely financed and directed by GN Wilcox) a breakwater was built making for a safer passage. Later, a seawall was built and wooden landing jutted out into the Bay.
After agriculture became an important industry with the growing of sugar cane at Līhuʻe Plantation, the development of a modern harbor facility at Nāwiliwili began. Congress approved funds for a breakwater and dredging of a turning basin and on July 22, 1930, thousands celebrated the arrival of the “Hualālai” to the new facilities at Nāwiliwili.
Other improvements by the Territorial government were subsequently carried out. After Statehood, the State government continued to make additional improvements. (Okubo)
The image shows Nāwiliwili Bay around 1892. (Alfred Mitchell, Bishop Museum) In addition, I have included more related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.