Ancient Hawaiian land divisions are called ahupua’a. On the north shore of Kauai, the areas of Haena, Lumahai, and Wainiha are part of the Halalea ahupua’a. These communities possess a different and distinct quality about them. Somewhat remote, resting on the edge of tropical wilderness, the region has a revered history embraced by the native population that calls this place home.
In ancient times and until the 19th century, an ʻōahi, a fire throwing ceremony, was performed on Mount Makana (“gift” or “reward” in Hawaiian). This ritual marked special observances, like the visit of an aliʻi (high chief) or the graduation of students from the hālau hula (hula school) at Kēʻē. Skilled fire throwers scaled the steep cliff face to the top of the mountain. When darkness fell, they lit dry logs of pāpala or hau on fire, then hurled them out over the ocean. The burning wood was deflected upward by ridge lifts, resulting in a luminous display of curving light.
Two heiau (temple), above Keʻe Beach at the base of Mount Makana, are devoted to the sacred art of hula. The ancient names of the two hula heiau at Ke’e are Kaulu Paoa (The inspiration of Paoa) and Kaulu-o-Laka (The inspiration of Laka). Since it required complete dedication, students were isolated with their kumu hula (teacher of dance) during their term of study. Then and now, hula remains important for the preservation of Hawaiian history and culture.
Amid the shadow of the Mount Makana mountain ridge lies the Limahuli Valley (meaning “turning hands” or “turned hand”). With resources like fresh water, good soil, and an abundance of food provided by the Pacific, this valley was one of the first locations on Kauai settled by ancient Hawaiians. Kalo (taro) was grown in terraces in this region. Visitors can tour the Limahuli Garden and Preserve, which displays and showcases Kauai’s botanical history, and learn about the relationship between the Hawaiian people and nature. This connection appears in the beliefs and folklore regarding the Menehune, mythological dwarf people who were artisans, that built heiau, fishponds and canoes.
Located down the road, east of the botanical garden, stands the Maniniholo dry cave, a popular landmark worthy of a visit. About 300 yards deep, the cave has a large entrance and relatively flat floor, making it easy to explore. Several legends, relating to the Menehune, are associated with how this cave was formed. One story describes how Manini-holo, the chief fisherman, and other Menehune dug the cave to capture an akua (supernatural spirit), who was stealing the fish that the Menehune caught.
Lumahai Beach is one of the postcard faces of paradise on the north shore. Made popular by the musical film, South Pacific, the beach is approximately a 4,000-foot coastline bordered by the Lumahai River and ironwood trees to the west and black lava rocks to the east. The beach is a great place to walk along the sand, but due to strong surf and undertow, swimming is considered unsafe.
Hawaiian folklore talks about three groves of trees planted at Lumahai: Kahala-o-Mapuana, Na'ulu -o-Weli, and Ka-hau-o-Ma'ihi. The panadus of Mapuana (meaning wind-blown fragrance) is an evergreen bearing red fruit and celebrated for its fragrance. Weli was a Menehune konohiki (headman of a land division), who planted breadfruit trees on the Lumahai plains and the “hibiscus tree belonging to Maihi” is named for Maihi-lau-koa, a Menehune, who built a heiau soon after his arrival at Lumahai.
The longest valley on Kauai is found in Wainiha, literally translated as “unfriendly or hostile water.” The Wainiha River is aptly named, due to its tendency to flood during heavy rains. Though the moniker may sound harsh, the area is lush and tropical, and a prime example of why Kauai is called the Garden Island.
The valley was once renowned for the awa, also known as kava, grown there. Traces of lo’i, terraced fields, and home sites were also found in the region, indicating settlements of ancient Hawaiians. Approximately, eleven square miles of Wainiha Valley is part of a private, nature preserve, committed to providing a protected habitat for the flora and fauna of this expanse. It's easy to appreciate the external, natural beauty of the Halalea ahupua’a. Breathtaking views of Mount Makana, the pounding blue surf of Lumahai, and the overwhelming green landscape of Wainiha all contribute to the majesty of the north shore. However, the native mythology and cultural history of these places offers those unfamiliar with it to a better appreciation of this biodiverse paradise.