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By Jeanne Cooper

The National Park Service can’t claim any sites on the Garden Island — often to the surprise of those who visit majestic Waimea Canyon or hike the breathtakingly strenuous Kalalau Trail. However, the three preserves in the Kauai National Wildlife Refuge Complex, all managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have deservedly found their way onto Instagram as well as more venerable travel media.

If the 199-acre Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge acts like a beacon to visitors, that’s because it has one — a beautifully restored 1913 lighthouse now named after the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, open for a half-dozen free docent-led tours on Wednesday and Saturday.

But the North Shore preserve is also a powerful magnet for endangered feathered beings, which flock to the point and Nihoku, the hill across the cove, newly protected by a predator-proof fence. “We’re known for seabird species and the nene,” says Refuge Ranger Jennifer Waipa proudly, referring to the indigenous Hawaiian goose that’s also the state bird.

The North Shore’s 917-acre Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge is home to endangered native wetland birds such as stilts, moorhens and coots, as well as nene. Waipa recommends viewing the emerald quilt of privately owned taro patches lining the Hanalei River from the overlook off the Kuhio Highway before the road dips down into Hanalei.

On the southeast side, the 241-acre Huleia National Wildlife Refuge is closed to visitors to protect similar endangered species. You can spy its wetlands along the Huleia River from the Alekoko (Menehune Fish Pond) Scenic Overlook, between the airport and Poipu. As with the Hanalei refuge, kayakers can get the closest look at wildlife.

“A lot of folks tend to overlook the wedgetailed shearwaters, which give that eerie cry that sounds like a baby,” Waipa notes. March through November, they nest in burrows, sometimes a few inches from walkways at Kilauea Point.

“They’re the most readily seen that close of any of the seabirds,” Waipa says. “It’s a great experience, especially for children. When they start hatching around August, you’ve got these adorable little fluff-balls right at the level of kids.”

The refuge is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and admission is $5 (cash) for ages 16 and older. But during any daylight hour, you can enjoy free wildlife watching from the parking lot overlook at the end of Kilauea Road.

“It offers a great vista of the lighthouse in the distance and you can look down into the cove and perhaps see monk seals resting on the flat rocks, or red-footed boobies nesting in some of the ironwoods nearby,” Waipa says.

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