Kaua’i is lush, mountainous and full of history and culture. From its volcanic birth to the ancestral Polynesians and Marquesans, Kauai history is absolutely fascinating.
Kauai History was Born from a Volcano
Kaua’i is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, and like the rest of the chain, it’s the cooled magma that erupted from a massive hot spot five million years ago. As underwater volcanoes erupted, they eventually formed enough hardened lava to float to the surface. Mount Wai’ale’ale, the main volcano that formed Kauai, last erupted more than 5 million years ago.
Today, the volcanoes still are dangerous. In the summer of 2018, Kilauea wiped out 700 homes when a fissure opened up and poured out lava. It can be easy to forget that Kaua’i is built upon the back of an active volcano.
Kaua’i is where earth, water and fire clash like nowhere else. The island is born from fire, settled in water and covered in tropical rainforests. The greenery you see today on Kaua’i is thanks to millions of years of growth and evolution. Scientists estimate that a new plant arrived every 10,000 to 100,000 years or so, a new plant arrived on the wings of birds, on the backs of fish or carried by vegetation floating in the sea.
Historians believe that Kauai history indicates the first settlers were the Marquesans and other Polynesians who sailed here around 500 A.D.
The Polynesians brought with them sugar and taro, a root vegetable that’s now a staple in Hawaiian cooking. Taro is used to make the traditional Hawaiian poi, which is taro ground into a paste.
Kaua’i was the first island to be visited by white settlers and missionaries. Captain James Cook is considered the first European to come to the islands. In January 1778, he arrived in Waimea, on the west shore of Kauai.
The first missionaries arrived in 1820 to convert the Hawaiians. They came from as far as South America. Some of those first missionaries included Samuel Whitney and his wife, Mercy Partridge Whitney, and Samuel Ruggles and his wife, Nancy Wells Ruggles. Together, they established a mission in Waimea in 1820.
Into Modern Times
Just before the missionaries arrived, Kaua’i was the last nation to join King Kamehameha I’s unified Hawaii when King Kaumualii of Kauai agreed to become a tributary kingdom in 1810.
The economic powerhouses of early Kaua’i were first sugar then pineapple. The first commercial sugarcane plantation was started at Koloa, Kauai in 1835. The sugar and pineapple plantations did not last long, however. Today, tourism is the biggest industry in Kaua’i.
You can explore Kaua’i rich history through museums and historic sugar plantations. Our concierge specialists can help you find the best ways of experiencing island history while you’re here. Call us or visit our website today to book your next vacation rental and to learn more Kauai information!