According to legend, before the Polynesian voyagers settled the Hawaiian Islands, Kaua‘i was inhabited by a mythical race of diminutive and inventive people known as Menehune. Similar in stature to leprechauns, these industrious men and women built massive earthworks, roads, walls, and feats of engineering designed to tame the wild island. Many of these can be glimpsed today, including the Menehune Fishpond(known as Alekoko) on the Huleia River just above Nawiliwili Harbor.
The Legend of the Menehune Fishpond
The Menehune were mischievous forest dwellers, hiding from the larger ancient Hawaiians by day and emerging to do their building, farming, and fishing at night. The ponds are no exception; legend says the Menehune Fishpond was built in a single night when the Menehune formed a giant line and passed freshly cut stones hand-to-hand, all the way from the village of Makaweli 25 miles distant. These stones were laid down to section off ponds in the riverway, with an outer stone wall 900 feet across and five feet high sectioning off the stream. Passing fish would then get caught in the collecting pools, and a natural larder, reserved solely for feeding the ali`i (“elite”), was formed.
Huleia National Wildlife Refuge
Today the Menehune Fishpond in Kauai and surrounding river wetlands comprise a wildlife refuge (designated in 1973) that is home to numerous species of fish, amphibians, and endemic water birds. The rock walls are still present, remnants of the Menehune golden age, but are now covered in mangrove trees and emerald green mosses.
About half a mile from the Nawiliwili small boat harbor, the Alekoko Scenic Overlook on Hulemalu Road affords sweeping views of the beautiful river, the ancient Menehune Fishpond in Kauai, and the exotic flora and fauna of the island. Alternative to visiting on foot, you can rent kayaks or join a guided kayak tour and explore the Huleia River for yourself. Paddle right alongside these massive stone edifices, explore exotic fern grottos, and peek into the depths of the fish ponds; just remember, they are for royalty only, and entrance is forbidden (it is a wildlife refuge, after all). Alekoko is on the National Register of Historical Places, and is one of the finest examples of ancient Hawaiian aquaculture, whether you believe in Menehune or not.