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On Walkabout At: Koke’e State Park, Hawaii

Basic Information

  •  Name: Koke’e State Park
  • Where: Kauai, Hawaii
  • More Info: Koke’e Museum


In my prior posting I recommended that anyone traveling to the Hawaiian Island of Kauai to make Waimea Canyon a must see destination during their visit.  Another must see destination on the island that is only a short drive up Highway 550 from Waimea Canyon is Koke’e State Park:

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The park is located high up on the Mt. Waialeale volcano in thickly forested land that stands in sharp contrast from the red rugged cliffs of the neighboring Waimea Canyon:

The best place to start a visit to the park is at the Koke’e Museum:

The museum is easily spotted from the road due to the large grass field in front of it.  The field is usually filled with the unofficial bird of Kauai, chickens:

It is not uncommon to see some of the roosters there fighting each other to determine who is the biggest and baddest chicken on the block:

Besides chickens the grass field is also a good place to view native birds that also occasionally decide to hang out in the field:

Inside they have some very good maps of hiking trails throughout the park as well as Waimea Canyon.  The museum also had a well done topographic representation of the area that allowed me to really visualize the lay of the land around the park:

The museum also had this topographical representation of the entire island of Kauai which once again allowed me to have a better visualization of the terrain of the island:

As this model shows, Kauai is a very rugged island due to it being the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands and thus the subject to the most erosion.  Looking at the model it is easy to picture how this island was once a large shield volcano like what is seen today on the Big Island of Hawaii.  However, the island due to the heavy rainfall it receives has been eroded into the beautiful peaks, valleys, and canyons seen today, while the Big Island of Hawaii is the youngest of the main islands and thus no where near as eroded as Kauai.

Something else of interest inside the Kokee Museum is the display of animal heads which represent the wildlife that roam this park:

Yes at some point in the past both deer and goats were released into the wild by Western settlers and since they have no natural predators they were able to expand their populations quite quickly.  Likewise for the boars which were brought to Hawaii by Polynesian settlers about a 1,000 years ago.  Over population of these animals can threaten the plant life of the native eco-system and thus the park every year has a hunting season to thin out the herds of these animals.

The museum also has a display of the various birds that call the park home as well:

Something else I really enjoyed at the museum was looking at some of the Hawaiian historical items they have on display such as this petroglyph:

Here is a display of some of the tools that the early Hawaiians used:

Since Hawaii is a volcanic island this means that land has no metals to mine compared to civilizations that developed on the continents.  Without metal the Hawaiians instead learned how to make tools out of stone which they became very skilled at doing to help them accomplish every day tasks such as processing nuts and sharpening axes.

The walls of the museum also have a number of pictures that show the historic as well as the more modern past of the park.  Something I found of interest was this picture that shows that Koke’e State Park does occasionally experience frost during the winter:

In February 1986 the park reached its lowest recorded temperature of 29 degrees Fahrenheit.  Even though Hawaii is in the tropics the high elevation of its volcanoes causes it to see some cold temperatures from time to time.  In fact on the Big Island of Hawaii the two large volcanoes that rise over 13,000 feet, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea are snowcapped every year.  Since the visitor center at the park is 3,600 feet in altitude it doesn’t receive snow but it is high enough to see some frost like the picture above shows.

The visitor center also has a picture of the summit of what locals call “The Wettest Spot On Earth” the summit of Mt. Waialeale which is probably one of the most difficult summits to access in the United States:

Mt. Waialeale rises to a height of  5,148 feet (1,569 m) and receives 452 inches (11,500 mm) of rain a year.  The museum has a very good history about the mountain to include how difficult it was in early years to measure rainfall on the summit.  In the early 1900’s expeditions had to be mounted to measure rainfall on the summit because of the difficulty of getting up there.  The summit is so difficult to access because of the steep canyons that surround its summit leaving only the Alakai Swamp accessed through Kokee State Park as a route to the summit.  The Alakai Swamp is thickly forested and very muddy due to all the rain it receives.  This makes hiking to the summit very slow and difficult.  With the invention of the helicopter measuring rainfall on the summit became a matter of hours instead of the days it took in prior years.

There is much more to see in the museum and my wife and I spent about an hour there before driving over to Kalalau Lookout at the end of Highway 550 and a short distance from the museum:

At the lookout there is a large parking lot with plenty of parking spaces that is backdropped by a large radar tracking station:

The lookout provides another one of Hawaii’s most iconic views which is of the steep cliffs of the Kalalau Valley:

The lookout is 4,000 feet high and provides an incredible view into the beautiful Kalalau Valley and the Pacific Ocean down below:

The Kalalau Valley is one of the many valleys that compose the now uninhabited Na Pali Coast on Kauai’s north shore.  Though the valleys of the Na Pali Coast are no longer inhabited they once were the cradle of Hawaiian civilization.  This is because the first settlers to Hawaii, likely from the Marquesas Islands settled the Na Pali Coast it is believed around 350 AD and the isolated valleys afforded each tribe protection from the other.  These early settlers were eventually displaced by the Tahitian settlers that arrived in 1000 AD who were much larger and better armed than the small Menehune people.  Today the Menehune are remembered on Kauai as folk stories similar to leprechauns in Ireland.  The communities that were established in these valleys lasted until the early 1900s when the remaining native Hawaiians decided to move to larger communities for an easier life than what was afforded in these isolated valleys.

I can remember reading a Jack London story about some of the last people to call the valley home which were lepers that were hiding from government authorities trying to move them into isolation on the island of Molokai.  One of these lepers was a Hawaiian named Koolau that hid in the Kalalau Valley and led an armed resistance against government troops trying to capture them and move them out of the valley.  Today the valley is only accessed by boat or the famous Kalalau Trail which is a hike I definitely going to undertake one day.


Overall I found the Koke’e Museum to be very well done and highly informative.  I highly recommend that everyone visit the museum before heading over to the Kalalau Lookout.  The museum is very well done and provides plenty of information about hikes, wildlife, plants, and history of Kokee State Park.  I especially liked reading about the Hawaiian royal, Queen Emma who traveled to Kokee by horse in 1871 with a large contingent following her.  Queen Emma was known at random times to stop the procession and have people begin hula dancing because of how beautiful a certain spot was.  In honor of Queen Emma’s trip to Kokee a festival called the Eo e Emalani i Alaka’i Festival is held every year.  I think that just about every traveler today to Kokee that travels to the Kalalau Lookout would understand why Queen Emma would want to break out into a hula dance when surrounded by all the beauty of this place.

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