Ahupuaa O Kahana (meaning “the heat of the land”) is a Hawaiian term for an area on the eastern side of the island of Kauai, between the towns of Kekaha and Lhain. The park consists primarily of dormant volcanic terrain with many extinct craters. It has several dormant volcanoes that are accessible via hiking trails including Mount Waialeale, Mount Kamokila, and Mount Halapepe. These mountains are part of the larger shield volcano complex that stretches from the Big Island to the east coast of Kauai. In addition to these three main peaks there are numerous other smaller vents scattered across the landscape that have become covered by lava flows or eroded away.
Today, only about 200 native Hawaiians live in the region, most of whom rely heavily upon subsistence farming. Despite this, erosion continues to take a toll, and much of the upland ridge has been extensively logged. To make matters worse, non-native species such as pines, eucalyptus, and macadamia nuts have been planted far beyond their natural range, which has led to significant environmental problems, particularly soil erosion. Because of this situation, conservationists have long sought to protect at least part of the forest within the park. However, because it is privately owned, any attempts to secure protected status have met with resistance from the owners.
In 1970, after more than 30 years of failed negotiations, environmentalists succeeded in getting the state government to purchase 256 acres of private property, resulting in the creation of the park in 1971. Although the state owns less than half of the park, it manages almost all of the resources, including staffing, equipment, and funding. Most visitors see nothing but nature trails, beaches, and parks; rarely do they get a chance to interact with the local population. Even so, locals often complain that tourists never leave enough money behind when they check out of the hotel, thus forcing residents to serve as tour guides. There are no trash cans anywhere in the park, and little graffiti.
Visitors should be warned that although the park looks pristine, it is littered with unexploded bombs from World War II, and unexploded shells from the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. On April 17, 2010, five people were injured while trying to defuse a bomb found near the campground. On May 28, 2012, two men were arrested for allegedly stealing firewood from the park. On March 2, 2016, four women were arrested for allegedly entering the park illegally. They had entered the park overnight, and left before sunrise without paying the required fees. They were charged with theft. If convicted, each woman faces up to six months in jail and/or a fine of $500.00.
Camping facilities include 37 campsites divided into tent sites and full hookup sites, 3 yurts, and 4 cabins. Only registered campers can access the campgrounds, and all campers must have proof of camping permit issued by the Department of Land and Natural Resources. No pets are allowed. Facilities include hot showers, restrooms, parking lots, picnic tables, and playgrounds. There are no drinking water sources in the park, and no food permitted except for emergency rations.
The geological formation was created over 1 million years ago when an eruption emanated from one of the summit calderas. A portion of this magma intruded into the crust along fractures, formed deep underground and then burst through the surface in what is now the East Rift Zone. As a result, the region now occupied by the park saw frequent seismic activity and devastating floods that swept down the slopes.
Nearly all trees were destroyed, leaving behind jagged blackened trunks known as kii tree ‘o ka lae (“tree of death”). Much of the shoreline was also burned. However, some areas escaped damage and even saw a rise in sea levels due to the collapse of land directly above the erupting vent. Over hundreds of thousands of years, rainwater and snowmelt percolated through the kii tree trunks until they reached groundwater level. This water then flowed south-west towards Keawaula River and eventually out to the Pacific Ocean.