When Captain James Cook first made contact with Hawaiʻi, he travelled around the island of Kauaʻi looking for a good anchorage. When skirting Kauaʻi’s southeast coast, he described the view across Kīpū Kai as:
“…The land on this side of the island rises in a gentle slope from the sea shore to the foot of the Mountains that are in the middle of the island, except in one place, near the East end where they rise directly from the sea; here they seemed to be formed of nothing but stone which lay in horizontal stratus.”
The first drawing of Hawai‘i by a European is William Ellis’ depiction of the Māhāʻulepū – Kīpū Kai coastline, with Mt. Hāʻupu as its focal point.
William Hyde Rice (1846–1924) was a Kauaʻi rancher; in 1879, he bought a section of the Kalapaki ahupuaʻa from Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani and ran Līhuʻe Ranch on it.
By 1881, he sold most of this land to Līhuʻe Plantation and bought the Kīpū ahupuaʻa from Princess Ruth, he continued to raise cattle, as well as grow sugarcane on Kipu Plantation.
In 1891, Queen Liliʻuokalani appointed Rice to be the Governor of Kauaʻi, a position he held until overthrow in 1893; Rice was the last Governor of Kauaʻi.
Rice married Mary Waterhouse in 1872 and they had eight children. Rice passed away on June 15, 1924; a monument on Kipu Road was “Erected In Loving Memory By His Japanese Friends” on June 15, 1925.
John Thomas (Jack) Waterhouse (1902 – 1984) was a member of the fourth generation of his family in Hawaiʻi. (Waterhouse descended from missionaries who came to Hawaii in the 1830s, and from William Alexander, who co-founded Alexander & Baldwin (A&B) in 1870.
A&B is one of the “Big 5” companies that dominated sugar and pineapple in Hawaii until the latter part of the twentieth century. (Roth)
Jack Waterhouse joined A&B in 1930; he became corporate secretary in 1936 and vice president and treasurer in 1958. He served as director at A&B for 40-years and was also president of Alexander Properties and Waterhouse Investment Co.
In 1948, Waterhouse bought Kipukai Ranch from Rice, his in-law.
For the next 35-years, Waterhouse built roads, planted grass, developed water, irrigation and electrical systems and cared for the land that he loved. (Princeton)
“Kīpū Kai’s two-mile shoreline consists of four beaches separated by low rocky points, set against a backdrop of coastal wetland, green pastures, a perennial stream and soaring cliffs. Public access by land is not allowed. Kīpū Kai teems with birdlife, including many native species, and the coastal marine resources appear to be in pristine condition.“ (NPS)
“Towering above Kīpū Kai valley is the Hāʻupu mountain range, which runs inland nearly eleven miles to Knudsen Gap.” (NPS)
Kipukai Ranch has one of the state’s oldest solar photovoltaic systems (installed in 1988;) it powers the ranch houses and barns (with diesel generators as backup.)
Waterhouse housed a couple dozen nēnē on the property. (Although remains of ancient nēnē have been found on Kauaʻi, the first wild nēnē were not seen in modern times on Kaua‘i until the early-1970s.)
His birds were subsequently released (or escaped during hurricane Iwa (1982,)) adding to the recovery of nēnē on the island.
In 1977, Waterhouse agreed to deed the property to the State.
“(George Ariyoshi) visited Kipukai and wrote a note in the guestbook that it was ‘a treasure worth preserving for generations to come.’ Subsequently (Waterhouse) deeded the land to the State of Hawaiʻi with the provision that it be used as a natural preserve.” (George Ariyoshi)
“The State is to take possession when the last of the nieces and nephews are gone, and it will cost the public nothing.” (George Ariyoshi)
Waterhouse’s heirs control the property until that happens. In addition to visitor tours/ATV attractions, the land has been the backdrop and subject of various films – the latest was The Descendants.
Kīpū Kai encompasses several separate beach areas. Until the land transfer to the public and access protocols are established, the area is not accessible to the public.
The single road that leads over the ridges of the Hāʻupu Range into Kīpū Kai is private property and blocked by gates. Most visitors arrive by boat or kayak.
Most of the public recreation at Kīpū Kai occurs at ‘Long Beach,’ with swimming, snorkeling, bodysurfing, bodyboarding, surfing, fishing and beachcombing.
A small cove in the arc of Mōlehu Point at the north end of Long Beach is a popular snorkel site for tour boats. By agreement between commercial boat operators and Kīpū Kai landowners, onshore tour activities are confined to the adjacent beach area.