Kauai's Nawiliwili Harbor

History, Weather, & Things to Do

The Garden Isle of Kauai is a verdant paradise of lush valleys, rugged mountains, and beautiful beaches; a place where nature reigns supreme. And if your travel plans include a cruise to this enchanting island, you may very well dock at Nawiliwili Harbor, the island's main port.

Nawiliwili Harbor is located about 1.5 miles southeast of the small city of Lihue, along Kauai's southeast coast, and has been the main harbor on the island since 1930. However, the Nawiliwili Bay area has a long history of being an integral part of life on the island.

Nawiliwili Harbor Image

Nawiliwili Harbor History

When Captain James Cook arrived in 1778, he observed that Nawiliwili was the physical and cultural heart of the area; fishermen used the bay to sustain their communities, and the area was also a popular place to farm taro, a staple in the Native Hawaiian diet which also plays a key role in their creation beliefs.

By the beginning of the early 19th century, Nawiliwili Bay was becoming an important harbor on the island. However, sailing vessels and interisland steamers could not safely enter fully into the bay, as the area near the shore was too sandy and risked the vessel being smashed onto the rocks by the waves. Therefore, passengers had to climb down the sides of the vessel and use a plank to transfer to a smaller boat to be shuttled to the pier.

It wasn't until 1930 that Nawiliwili had a safe harbor for passenger and cargo ships; sugar baron and philanthropist George Wilcox donated funds to make the harbor an ideal place for larger vessels to dock safely. The harbor's name comes from the many Wiliwili trees which once flourished there. You may even recognize the area, as it was the backdrop for the movie Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Nawiliwili Harbor Weather

You'll want to make sure to have some rain gear handy for your visit, as Nawiliwili has an average of 50 inches of rainfall per year, which makes the island so lush and filled with tropical plants. In fact, Kauai's Mt. Waialeale is the wettest place on Earth. Be sure to check out our Kaui Weather page for more detailed island information. 

Aerial shot of Nawiliwili Harbor

Aerial shot of Nawiliwili Harbor

Nawiliwili Harbor Things to Do

If you plan to do some shopping, the closest options are located at Kalapaki Beach, about 1/2 mile from the dock and an easy walk away. The nearby Kauai Marriott Hotel also has several shops. Both locations offer a large assortment of souvenirs and gift items. You might want to consider a lovely Niihau shell lei. Niihau is a private island west of Kauai that is home to a very small Native Hawaiian population. It does not have electricity, restaurants, hotels, plumbing, or any other modern features. The island's residents take great pride in making the Niihau Shell Leis, a tradition that has been handed down for generations. The shells are painstakingly matched, making the leis highly treasured.

Kauai offers a wide variety of great activities, and your cruise ship is sure to offer many excursions for you to enjoy during your time in Kauai. Traveler favorites include helicopter tours of Waimea Canyon, Mt. Waialeale, and the NaPali Coast, the fern grotto, Poipu Beach, Old Koloa Town, and snorkeling.

There are a number of cruise lines that will take you to Kauai's Nawiliwili Harbor, including Carnival, Princess, Holland, Royal Caribbean, Disney, Silversea, Hapag-Lloyd, and Oceania. So pick your favorite one and explore the beautiful Garden Isle soon!

Our Recommended Kauai Things to Do

Hiking and sightseeing tours? Check! Snorkeling, surfing, and kiteboarding? Check! Ziplining and helicopter tours? Of course! Dinner cruises and pampering? Naturally! How would YOU like to experience the enchanting land known as the Garden Isle? 

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