Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer
Back to Captain's Blog

History of Kauai: The Oldest Hawaiian Island

a small boat in a body of water

Kauai, also known as the “Garden Island” is Hawaii’s oldest main island. From when and how it formed to how it got to where it is today. This place of paradise has a long history, both geographically and culturally. Read on to learn more about Hawaii’s natural wonder and the history surrounding Kauai.

Where It Began

Similar to the other Hawaiian Islands, Kauai was formed over a period of millions of years through volcanic activity. It is believed that the volcano that created Kauai started erupting approximately 10 million years ago, and the actual island of Kauai is said to be 5 million years old. Wai’ale’ale and Kawaikini peaks are the remains of the once 10,000-foot tall volcano that created Kauai, which has now eroded down.

Kauai has a breathtaking 552 square miles of land in its entirety, with thriving mountainous jungle regions in the middle, and beaches covering close to half of its shorelines.  It is home to some enormous canyons and the famed 5,148-foot Mount Waialeale in the barren center of Kauai.  

One of the most breathtaking parts of this island is the Na Pali Coast. Its rough and jagged cliffs that rise hundreds of feet out of the water make for a unique view. If you’re interested in seeing the Na Pali coast, check out the best ways to see the Na Pali Coast and find out what is right for you.

Cultural Significance

It is believed that the very first settlers of this island were the Marquesans and other Polynesian travelers that sailed to Hawaii around 1500 years ago. These cultures traveled with the guidance of the stars and had incredibly sophisticated navigational techniques. It’s also believed that these original settlers were overpowered and forced out by the Tahitians, which is where many traditional Hawaiian gods and belief structures evolved from.

The Polynesians and Tahitians brought with them important foods and plants that still inhabit the island today. Most important is taro, which is called “Kalo” in Hawaiian. It became a staple of the Hawaiian diet and culture as it can be used to make many different Hawaiian dishes.

One thing to keep in mind is the historical importance of whales in Hawaii.  These amazing animals have been around for a long time, and are extremely significant in Hawaiian culture. They are well-documented in native Hawaiian chants, legendary tales, and artifacts.

How Modern Kauai Came To Be

A lot of the infrastructure and growth seen on the Hawaiian islands can be attributed to coconut, pineapple, and sugarcane plantations. Most importantly is sugar, which Kauaians used for medicinal preparations and used by priests as a love potion. Sugar became an extremely profitable crop once the extraction of the juice was perfected. The very first sugar extraction mill was built on the South Shore of Kauai, in the town of Koloa in 1835. 

Because of the American and European interventions, Kauai and the other Hawaiian islands are now a melting pot of cultures and people. A large part of the population on Kauai are immigrants that came to work the plantations from all over the world. Japan, China, Germany, Spain, the Philippines, and many other countries had some of their population move to Kauai for work on these plantations. 

After a while, pineapple and sugar had fueled the economy of Kauai until around the 1950s, when labor strikes had occurred. This had a huge impact on the plantation industry, and Hawaii as a whole changed massively when it became a state in 1959. Around this time the new big business in Hawaii transformed into something entirely different – tourism.

Tourism and Kauai

Throughout all of Kauai’s fascinating and long history, it has turned into the tourist haven that it is today. Tourism and filming became super popular around the 1960s and as a result, Hawaii became a vacation destination for people all over the world.

Kauai and what it’s known for today is a long line of history that can be hard to explain in one article, so we recommend reading further if this interests you.

Kauai Today

As much as Kauai has changed and been altered throughout the years, it is still a fantastic destination to experience a different culture and amazing views. There are a variety of ways to explore Kauai and its beautiful coastline. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and it’s helped you learn more about the history of Kauai. If you are planning a trip to Kauai and have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact us. Our experienced staff is more than happy to help you out. Enjoy your vacation!

  • Posted in: