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Beacon Light Tweakin'

A resolution passed in the state Legislature this session calls for renaming the Kīlauea Point Lighthouse the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse.


Photo: courtesy kilauea point natural history association

One of Hawaii’s most-visited landmarks celebrates its 100th anniversary next month with a much-needed restoration. The Kilauea Point Lighthouse, which sits in a bird sanctuary on the northernmost peninsula on Kauai, now sports a host of repairs and improvements, both functional and aesthetic, including the stabilization of its huge, Fresnel lens and the restoration of its formerly bricked-over windows.

In all, the project cost more than $2 million. A large chunk of that came from the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, who, after attending a restoration fundraising kickoff at the lighthouse in 2009, pledged to appropriate $1 million in federal money towards the historic monument. “It’s so fortunate we got the funding when we did, given that those kinds of earmarks aren’t happening anymore,” says Jane Hoffman, executive director of the Kilauea Point Natural History Association.

The official relighting happens on Saturday, May 4, but, while the lighthouse will once again be shining brightly over the sea, one thing the restoration doesn’t do is make the 52-foot structure a functional beacon.

For one thing, keeping the antiquated technology alight would take round-the-clock supervision. And although the lens illuminates just fine, it’s stuck in one position. “The lens used to float in liquid mercury that let it rotate, which was pretty dangerous, as you can imagine,” says Hoffman. “I got here in ’98, and I remember, even at that point, HAZMAT teams coming in to remove mercury. In order to get it rotational, they’d have install additional ball bearings.”

Going to be on Kauai between May 1 and 5? The National Wildlife Refuge will be conducting daily tours of the lighthouse’s inner workings, as well as hosting other festivities. Check kilaueapoint.org for details, or call (808) 828-0384.

The completion of the restoration may lead to increased public access going forward, too. Since the lighthouse was decommissioned in ’76, it’s only been open once a year, on the first Saturday in May, but there are plans to expand tours to a monthly or even daily basis.

Book: The DeWire Guide to Lighthouses of Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific Territories

Hungry for more on local lighthouses? Author and longtime lighthouse nut Elinor DeWire can help. This book includes a wealth of information on 10 different Hawaii beacons, including arcane technical details (did you know, for example, that the hyper-radial lens inside the Makapuu Lighthouse is 12 feet tall and made of 1,188 prisms?) and quirky historical anecdotes (the first keeper of the Nawiliwili Lighthouse, Manuel Souza, wrote a letter in 1902 asking for a raise, complaining, “My present payment is too small to support my family … besides my food, water costs me 50 cents a bucket and firewoods are the worst of all.”).
$19.95, Paradise Cay Publications.

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Honolulu Magazine April 2019
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