LIHUE — Residents and Ocean Course golfers at Hokuala in the Timbers Resorts of Kauai can get a close-up view of historic lighthouses that have aided navigation for more than a century along its rocky seaside cliffs.
Nestled between Nawiliwili Bay and Lihue Airport, the two lighthouses continue to shine light on the property and its storied past.
Constructed of concrete and wood in 1906, the 86-foot-tall Ninini Point Lighthouse aids navigators from sea and air after becoming automated in 1953. Decades later, the nearby land was altered by a series of developers, like Kauai Surf Hotel, Westin Kauai, Ritz-Carlton and Kauai Marriott, and now, Timbers Kauai.
“A lot of the architecture you see at the Timbers Kauai is centered on the lighthouse at Ninini Point,” said Debbie Edgerton, senior sales executive for Timbers Resorts. “Aside from history and stories, the lighthouse is essentially a main focal point in the architectural vision of the property.”
In January 2015, Timbers Resorts purchased the 450-acre property near the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club for $60 million.
One of the original property developers of the 1980s, Christopher Hemmeter, designed lavish accommodations with two golf courses, shopping and restaurants before Hurricane Iniki destroyed his dream. Hemmeter brought in exotic animals like kangaroos, zebras and monkeys, plus mahogany water taxis to navigate the man-made lagoons.
“The beautiful part of having that history is having the framework in place,” Edgerton said. “We won’t have zebras running around, though. Now the focus is the five endangered bird species that live here on the property, and the miles of trails we have.”
Observers can see nene, iwa (great frigate birds) and ‘a (brown and red-footed boobies) flying over the lighthouses, and humpback whales spouting in the distance during winter migrations.
David Nagao, association director at Hokuala, has seen many changes while being employed on the property for 27 years. He remembers Hemmeter’s mega-resort development with gaudy statues and its “Peter in Wonderland” theme.
“We worked through a lot of developers, including Shinwa Golf, who bought the land and transitioned to other developers,” Nagao said. “So it’s not one concrete building but spread throughout the property with more open green space. Marriott joined ventures with that and took over from there to make it better, then sold to Timbers Resorts to get it running and create a more natural environment.”
The remnants of the Lagoons Course become preserved land that has flourished with the original golf cart trails intact. Hokuala recently put up signage for running and hiking its Hokuala Trail System to make it more easily accessible to the community.
It is connected with the Shoreline Trail surrounding the resort perimeter to feature more than 17 miles of hiking, biking and running trails.
“Hemmeter’s plan was really not Kauai,” Nagao said. “We’re delivering on what is the natural experience here. Residents can get back into being healthy again. It’s meant to be inclusive of the community.”
When hikers, runners, bikers or golfers near Hole 16 on the Ocean Course, Ninini Point’s sister lighthouse — Kukii Point — comes into view. The 22-foot pyramidal, concrete tower that was originally powered by acetylene gas rests at the entrance to Kalapaki Bay across the bay the Nawiliwili jetty.
“(The Rev.) Lady Ipo Kahaunaele-Ferreira came out to bless the property in fall of 2015 when it transitioned from Kauai Lagoons to Hokuala,” Edgerton said. “She was very emotional because her father had built the lighthouse. She was so connected to it, since he was one of the first caretakers of the lighthouse.”
Hokuala plans to keep that connection with the community, so residents can still enjoy the lighthouses and land. Its signature Jack Nicklaus golf course was recently named to the list of “Top Ten Greatest Lighthouses in Golf” by Golf Advisor.
“We are also renovating and bringing back some commercial spaces,” Edgerton said. “So we are bringing a great amenity to this area with shops and restaurants. It’s really going to kind of bring back some vibrancy to this resort and the community.”