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Nature watching on Kauai.

WATCHING BOOBIES and frigatebirds whirl overhead and spying dophins and humback whales slicing through the waves have long been attractions at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, on Kauai's northern tip.

Now, visitors will discover a newly expanded refuge--more than three times the size of the original 32-acre preserve--and hiking programs that allow you to explore a part of Hawaii's largest seabird colony.

Efforts are under way to further protect this wildlife-rich region: a proposal to establish the waters along 3 miles of ocean shoreline as a state marine life conservation area could be approved this year. If passed, the zone would provide additional protection for the humpback whale, monk seal, spinner dolphin, green sea turtle, and more than 60 species of fish in these waters.



Guided hikes lead you through the refuge's new section, which stretches east a little over a mile from the landmark 52-foot-high lighthouse. Docents take you beneath drooping ironwood trees (they were introduced to the islands as windbreaks) and across a grassy knoll that eventually climbs to the top of 568-foot Crater Hill, the highest tip of the now-collapsed crater that forms these seaside cliffs.

Along the way, you'll learn about the red-footed booby colony that nests on Crater Hill--the largest bird colony in Hawaii that's easily accessible. About 2,000 of these mostly white birds live here, and in the spring they build their nests in trees or shrubs. Although boobies are hefty and typically have a 5-foot wingspan, they're surprisingly graceful fliers.

Other birds that nest or roost in the refuge include the enormous Laysan albatross, which has a 6 1/2-foot winspang; the great frigatebird (males have inflatable red pouches beneath their long beaks); long-tailed tropic birds; and the wedge-tailed shearwater, which skims the waves in search of small fish and squid.

The summit offers sweeping views of the Pacific, where you can search the whitecaps for spinner dolphins (groups of up to a hundred are commonly sighted), Pacific green sea turtles (check the cove at the base of Crater Hill), and endangered--and rarely seen--Hawaiian monk seals. From November through May, look for humpback whales, which mate and give birth in the warm offshore waters.

The 2-hour hikes (free; limited to 15 people) start at the lighthouse at 10:15 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Reservations are required; call (808) 828-1520.

Wear shoes with tread, especially if the weather is damp, and expect windy conditions. Short stretches can be strenuous.

While visitors can't yet hike on their own into the refuge addition, the high bluffs of Kilauea Point are excellent vantages for viewing birds and marine life. If you don't have binoculars, you can borrow some (free of charge) from the visitor center near the lighthouse.

To get to the refuge from State Highway 56 (Kuhio Highway), take Kolo Road for two blocks, then turn north onto Kilauea Road and follow it about 2 miles to the parking area; it's a short walk down to the lighthouse. The refuge is open from 10 to 4 daily, except on federal holidays. Admission is $2 per family.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Hawaii's Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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