Naalehu, Hawaii County, Hawaii

The center of activity in Hawaii's Kau region, Naalehu is the perfect place to experience authentic Hawaii. Black sand beaches and lush green sceneries await those who would venture to this southernmost city of the Big Island. Being located in the south does not leave Naalehu lacking with its own allure; this quaint town is definitely worth a visit.

Even though Naalehu's ideal location is shielded from Mauna Loa's lava flows, the town is named "volcanic ashes." But the town is far from being an ugly remnant of a volcanic eruption. Naalehu is actually known for its green pastures, lush valleys, and hilly terrain. The town displays beautiful countryside panoramas, breathtaking seaside vistas, and picturesque rural community.

With latitude of 19.063N and -155.585W, Naalehu is distinctly known as United States' southernmost town, a title previously attributed to Key West, Florida. A census-designated area in Hawaii County, it has a land area of 2.2 square miles or 5.698 square kilometers and elevated at 400 feet above sea level. Naalehu's 919 population (as of the year 2000) is a melting pot of different ethnicities--- Asians and Caucasians account for a huge percentage in the community population, while there are still many native and part Hawaiians who live in the region. The 30.6% of the population are comprised of people aged 18 years and below, while the remaining percentage are comprised of people older than 18. The cost of staying and living in Naalehu is 25% higher when compared to the US average.

Naalehu's History

Naalehu plays a major role in the Hawaiian history. Since it is situated in the southernmost part of the Big Island, the area in which the town is located is deemed to be the place where the early Hawaii inhabitants set foot. It was during 300 AD to 500 AD that Polynesians were believed to have first arrived on the Hawaiian islands. These first settlers were thought to have originated from the South Pacific, where Polynesia lay. The discoverers either came from Marquesas Islands or Tahiti, sailing northward where their first sight of land would be Hawaii Island's southmost tip. These sailors did not have sophisticated navigation instruments and only relied on Mother Nature to provide them with directions, but they successfully found their way to Hawaii.

Although much of this is logical theory, there are archeological proofs that back it. The lava tubes found in the region, were believed to have been used as dwellings by the early settlers. Other archeological findings trace back occupation on the Hawaiian islands and in the town as far back as 124 AD.

Naalehu also played its role in Hawaii's sugar industry. Like most of the towns and cities in the South Point, Naalehu also once relied on the sugar industry for its economy. Many of the locals, including immigrants of Asian and Hispanic descent, came to work at the plantations. Naalehu flourished with the help of the sugar industry, as the sugar companies provide their workers' towns with important community buildings such as hospitals and theaters. Nowadays, even though sugar industry is not as booming as it once been, historical stuctures, like the Naalehu Theater, still stand and are continuously preserved.

Naalehu's Attractions

Aside from being the southernmost town, Naalehu is known for its magnificent seascapes that can be viewed from its cliff shoreline as well. The town has plenty of interesting shops, restaurants, historical edifice, nearby golf courses, and black-sand and green-sand beaches for those who want to have rest and relaxation without being detached from the necessary comforts. Visitors who want to get a taste of Naalehu can swing by Punalu'u Bakeshop, makers of the famous, delectable Hawaiian sweetbread. They can also stay at the Shirakawa Motel, which offers affordable lodging for Naalehu tourists. The motel's serene atmosphere, mixed with the traditional Hawaiian aloha, guarantees a pleasurable stay. To engross in a little Naalehu history, the Naalehu Theater and Museum is the perfect place. Built when the sugar industry is still at its peak, the theater is a silent witness to Hawaii's significant era.

For the more thrill-seeking people who want to admire the beauty of nature, the nearby Kau Forest Reserve and Volcano National Park provide a one-of-a-kind adventures. Nature-lovers would surely love a hike in the Kau Forest Reserve, where Mother Nature showcases her splendor; Volcano National Park, on the other hand, exhibits Mother Nature's power. It is in this park that one can find the most active, yet safest, volcano on earth.

There are also numerous festivals and celebrations in Naalehu for people who want to immerse in a little of Hawaiian culture. The Hawaiian Hula Festival is celebrated yearly during Labor Day. In this day, people gather at the Naalehu Park to enjoy food, music, crafts, and of course, hula. There is also a Naalehu Rodeo, where bullriding and roping activities and contests are held.

Naalehu's Economy

While tourism remains a good money-spinning venture for the town, Naalehu locals do not solely rely on their town's remarkable tourist attractions for income. Farming is also doing well in the local trade. Macadamia trees grow in abundance in the region, while coffee and some medicinal herbs are also planted by other farmers. Sugar cane once grew plentifully in the town, but the number of fields has gradually decreased when farmers opted for other crop alternatives. Fishing is also another source of income for local residents.

Aside from farming and fishing, Naalehu residents also get jobs in hotels, restaurants, shops, and the local shopping mall. The biggest percentage of the local residents are engaged in management, which is about 23.9% of the employed population. Those who are in sales and associated jobs rank second with 17.8%, followed by employment in personal service occupations with 17%. Employment in productions has the 12.7 percentage while the constructions business has a 12.3 employment percentage. Farming and fishing remains a strong trade with employment percentage of 16.3.

According to the 2000 census, Naalehu has a 3.80% unemployment rate, despite the 4.47% job growth in the region. There are 16.92% future job growth, but it is hard to tell whether it can decrease the 20.4% poverty rate of the town. With household income of $34,130 as compared to $44,684% US average, the town's income per capita reaches $12,636, almost half of the US average $24,020. Sales taxes is 4% lower, while income taxes reached 10% as opposed to the 6% and 5.02% US average respectively.

Naalehu Statistics:

Population: 919
Households: 290
Median resident age: 35.6 years
Median household income: $31,750
Median house value: $78,100|
Land area: 2.2 square miles
Elevation: 674 feet
Latitude: 19°3'N
Longitude: 155°35'W
Zip code: 96772
County: Hawaii
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