The origin of the name Nawiliwili is disputed. One claim is that it comes from Wiliwili trees, which once grew in the area. A more imaginative claim is that it comes from the profile, in the nearby Haupu Ridge, of Queen Victoria. According to tradition, the queen is shaking an admonishing forefinger at her unpredictable nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm, and saying "Now Wili Wili!"
Nini Point, which marks the northern entrance to Nawiliwili Bay, was leased by the Hawaiian government from the Lihue Plantation in 1897 as a site for a lighthouse. Several light structures have served at the point over the years. The first was a wooden, frame tower, forty feet high and surmounted by a lamp room, which housed a light and reflector at an elevation of seventy feet above the sea.
The light's first keeper, Manuel Souza, was born on the U.S. mainland to Portuguese parents. His future wife, also of Portuguese descent, came to Hawai`i from the island of Madeira as a contract laborer for a sugar plantation. Souza bought out her contract, and together they lived at the lighthouse for six years.
Each evening before sunset, Souza would climb the tower, light the oil lamp, and place it along with its reflector behind the glass window that formed a corner of the small lamp room. The light would have to be tended during the night, and then around sunrise, Souza would extinguish the lamp, polish the reflector, and prepare the lamp for the next evening.
I have been working steadily for five years in a place that is about 3 miles from any house or supplies. ... Can't my wages be raised for my present payment is too small to support my family. Besides my food, water costs me 50 cents a bucket and firewoods are the worst of all. I also spend my own money in preparing the lighthouse, such as painting it with white wash, etc. So with these few words I await your answer. P.S. Answer soon.
His plea must not have been answered to his liking as Souza resigned the following year. Conditions at the station continued to degrade until the United States assumed control of Hawaii's navigational aids in 1904. In a report that year, the Lighthouse Board found that, "The lamp was out of repair, and the room on the tower needed to be rebuilt. ... The tower is dilapidated and unsafe. The dwelling is not fit for human habitation. There is no oilhouse."
As Nawiliwili Bay had become the principal port on Kaua`i, George Putnam, the Commissioner of Lighthouses, felt that the present station on Ninini Point was inadequate and requested that $48,100 be appropriated for a high-powered, long range lighthouse to served the harbor. The money was soon made available, and the present eighty-six -foot concrete tower was constructed in 1932 along with a new three-bedroom keeper's dwelling set on concrete block footings.
During World War II, the Nawiliwili Lighthouse, along with all others in the Hawaiian Islands, was darkened. On December 31, 1941, a Japanese submarine surfaced near the entrance of the bay and shelled the harbor. Fortunately, several of the shells, including one that made a direct hit on a large gasoline storage tank, failed to explode and damage was limited to about $500. Fears of a possible Japanese invasion, led to the stationing of additional Coast Guard personnel at both the Nawiliwili and Kilauea light stations.
The Nawiliwili Lighthouse was automated in 1953, however an attendant remained at the station and was responsible for routine maintenance of the Nawiliwili Light and seven minor lights on the island. The tower's fourth-order Fresnel lens was replaced by a DCB-36 beacon in 1984. The lantern room has been removed from the tower, compromising the structure's beauty.