Kalaupapa National Historical Park protects habitats ranging from the ocean to the upland rain forest. The park’s boundary extends for a quarter mile offshore and includes 2,000 acres of ocean, two small islands and wet shorelines. All support a wealth of fish and wildlife resources. Over 30 federally-listed threatened and endangered species of plants and animals have been identified within the park.

The relict loulu forest on Huelo Islet is typical of lowland forest ecosystems in Hawaii before human settlement.

Photo by Ken Wood, National Tropical Garden.

Loulu Palm Forests

Sediment cores from widespread archaeology studies show that loulu palm forests predominated in Hawaii's prehistoric lowlands. Polynesian colonists arriving in about 300 AD introduced new competing plants, the Polynesian rat, and cleared and burned these native forests for agriculture. Thereafter the endemic palm forests went into steep decline. Today they survive intact only on this tiny Huelo Islet near Kalaupapa's east boarder. The island is far enough from the coastline of Moloka'i to keep the loulu palms safe from rats that eat the seeds and alien competing plants. Huelo Island cannot be visited, but it can be viewed from Judd Park in Kalawao.

low vegetation with pali in the background.
Coastal spray zone on the northeast shore of the Kalaupapa Peninsula.

NPS / Hailey Shchepanik

Coastal Spray Zone

The coastal spray zone, located along the northeast shore of the peninsula, contains predominantly native plant communities. This habitat contains several federally endangered plants including the endemic haha, and alani. The endangered Carter's Panic grass can be found on the Kuka`iwa`a Peninsula. Native Hawaiian vegetation in the coastal spray zone includes `illima, hinahina, and naupaka.

Tall green pali sea cliffs rise out of the ocean.
The North Shore Cliffs--these and the ocean define the isolation of Kalaupapa.

NPS photo / Michael Langhans

Na Pali

Na pali, or sea cliffs, rising thousands of feet above the peninsula and ocean, separate the peninsula from the rest of the island of Moloka`i. Native vegetation such as `awikiwiki, and makou survives here because of the relative inaccessibility. Hala trees are native to Hawai`i and can grow from the shorelines to 1,000 foot elevation on the cliffs. This area has been designated as the North Shore Cliffs National Natural Landmark (1972), recognized as a significant remaining example of sea cliffs in the nation’s natural heritage.

An aerial view of a crater below cliffs.
Kauhakō Crater

NPS / Rob Ratkowski

Kauhakō Crater

Unique and native species can also be found within Kauhakō Crater. Endemic `ohe makai and wiliwili forest in the crater is the only remaining windward coast community of its type, low elevation dryland forest, known in the state of Hawai`i.

A lake at the bottom of the crater, less than one acre in surface area, is more than 800 feet deep and contains a sub-species of shrimp, which may be unique to this lake.

a wide and green valley with sky above and water below
View of Waikolu Valley from the ocean.

NPS / Shaun Wolfe

Waikolu Valley

Waikolu Valley contains the park's sole perennial, or ever-flowing, stream, and one of only four such streams on the entire island of Moloka`i. The stream contains all five native diadromous (goby) fish species, native snails and shrimp. Surface and groundwater withdrawn from Waikolu is the source of most water for the entire western half of Moloka`i.

Pu`u Ali`i-`Ohi`alele Plateau, on top the cliffs to the east of Waikolu Valley, is one of the best examples of `ohi`a rain forest in Hawai`i. It provides essential habitat for rare native forest birds, including the `Amakihi, `Apapane, and the `I`iwi. In this intact native forest are varieties of ferns and peperomia.

A lava tube with an opening at the top and some vegetation growing in it.
A lava tube near the coast of the peninsula.

NPS / Michael Langhans

Lava Tubes

Twenty known lava tubes and caves on the peninsula contain endemic invertebrate species and as yet incompletely inventoried flora and fauna. The Kauhako Trench, a collapsed lava tube about one mile in length and running north from Kauhako Crater, contains vegetation established in an environment protected from wind and ocean spray as well as browsing and trampling by deer, pigs, horses, and at one time, cattle.

Last updated: December 5, 2022

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Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 2222
7 Puahi Street

Kalaupapa, HI 96742


808 567-6802

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