I had never been to Kauai, but it had
fascinated me for years. I had heard it described as a lush paradise, with associations
with whalers, Russians, Captain Cook, and a race of two-foot tall indigenous people who
lived in Kauai before the arrival of the first Polynesians. The island also was reported
to be the home of Puff, the Magic Dragon.
I can report that it is all true. It
certainly is lush, the greenest of all the islands in the Hawaiian chain. The center of
the island, in the vicinity of two peaks that exceed five thousand feet, is the wettest
spot on earth, averaging five hundred inches rainfall per year. The coastal areas, where
the population centers and most attractions are located, are considerably more moderate.
visitors arrive at Lihue airport, a twenty-minute flight from Honolulu. Car rental
agencies are adjacent to the terminal. Unfortunately, you cannot see Kauai without a car
or on a tour bus. Kauai has no public transportation system suitable for tourists, so the
roads are usually busy.
There are two drives that will take you to most of the island's attractions. One leads
west of Lihue and terminates at the spectacular Waimea Canyon. It is wise, before setting
out on this drive, to telephone the forest ranger to ask about the weather, 335-5871. The
canyon often is obscured by fog. If that is the case, save this drive and hope for a clear
The other drive heads northward on Highway 56 (Kuhio Highway) along the eastern and
northern shore. It is only forty miles to the end of the road on the north coast, but set
aside the entire day for the round trip.
Only a few minutes north of Lihue, you arrive in Kapaia. Watch for the sign on the left
for Wailua Falls. Drive about three miles through cultivated fields to the signposted
overlook. The distant view of the falls and its gorge are worth the trip. Now turn around
and return to Kapaia. Continue northward on Highway 56 to Hanamaulu. Stop a few minutes at
the Museum for a glimpse of old Kauai, both before and after contact with outsiders. Snack
and craft shops are nearby. If you fancy a morning swim, ask directions to Hanamaulu
Beach. It is a quiet little strip of sand, with a tree-shaded picnic area.
Back on Highway 56, you soon come to the mouth of Wailua River, one of the best-known
and historic spots in the islands. It was here that the first Polynesians landed and
settled. Today, at Lydgate State Park, there is a rock-protected lagoon where children
bathe safely, and snorkeling is popular. Cross the highway and drive up the road on the
south side of Wailua River to the Wailua Marina Restaurant. Dining on the shaded terrace
is not elegant, but fun. It is less crowded in the evening.
The reason it is so busy during the day is that the same building that houses the
restaurant also includes the ticket offices of the two charter boat services that take
hundreds of visitors daily to Fern Grotto, probably the most popular attraction on the
The trip in covered, barge-like boats takes 1 1/2 hours and costs $7 for adults. You
are entertained en route with Hawaiian music and hula dancers, anecdotes and jokes. At the
landing upstream, passengers disembark and file together through a lush tropical forest to
the beautiful, fern-shrouded cavern where the musicians sing the "Hawaiian Wedding
Song." Then the group walks by a different route back to the waiting boat. If you can
enjoy the river and the forest in spite of the regimentation, then see Fern Grotto.
Otherwise, skip it.
Drive back to Highway 56 now, and cross the Wailua River. A hundred yards on the left,
you will see the Coco Palms Hotel. It is one of the select few fine, gracious, old island
hostelries that year by year grow in popularity (and, alas, in price, though the minimum
rate of $78. is not outrageous by resort standards). If you want to have just one good
bash in Kauai, have dinner at Coco Palms and watch the dramatic torch-lighting ceremony on
the lagoon. If you want the drama without the price, stand on the walkway outside the open
dining room and watch. Finish the evening with drinks and dancing at the bar adjacent to
the dining room.
Just a bit farther north take the left turning on Highway 580. A pleasant drive along
the picturesque Wailua River takes you to a viewpoint for the Opaekaa Falls, tumbling
dramatically over a high cliff. After enjoying the view, return to Highway 56. A short
drive takes you to the Coconut Plantation complex of hotels, restaurants and the best
shopping on the island: the Market Place. This is an attractive grouping of about eighty
shops in an integrated, beautifully landscaped setting, selling everything from Kona
coffee and Niihau leis to jeans and needlepoint. There are also movie theatres and a
variety of snack shops and restaurants. If you must shop, this is the place.
Back on Highway 56, drive about eighteen miles to Kilauea. Keep a sharp lookout on the
right, and turn at the sign for the lighthouse. A hundred yards or so after turning
off the highway, you will see on the right the Christ Memorial Episcopal Church. The
Church of England, the preferred denomination of King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, began
its ministry in Honolulu in 1862. An Anglican mission was opened in Kauai about twenty
years later. Following the annexation of Hawaii by the United States, the Church of
England in 1902 transferred its work in the islands to its daughter church, the Protestant
Episcopal Church of the United States.
The present building was constructed in 1941 of native lava rock on land donated by the
Kilauea Sugar Company. The handsome stained glass windows were fashioned in England. The
graveyard surrounding the church dates from the days of the Hawaiian Congregational
Church, which preceded the Anglican church here.
Just past the church, turn left, still following the signs to the lighthouse. Shortly
after the turning, there is (at least, there was) a small fruit stand displaying ripe bananas and mangoes. The fruit was grown in the orchards
adjacent. Three small children, wide-eyed and friendly, helped us make our selections. A
bright, little five-year-old gave us an informed description of the feel and look of a
ripe mango. The small fruit stand, flying the United States and Hawaiian flags, was not
attended. Prices were marked, and we dropped our coins in the dish provided. Shades of
1930s America! I walked away with a light step. As we drove away, I decided that one of
the small, tree-ripened bananas would not ruin my appetite for lunch. I ate four.
At the end of the road, a one-lane paved track leads to the parking area for the
Kilauea Lighthouse. Walk up to the grassy plateau, stopping often to look at the wild
spectacle below where the waves crash on the rocky shore line. Watch the boobies and great
frigatebirds with their seven-foot wingspread and other graceful sea birds overhead,
drifting almost motionlessly in the brisk wind. This is a bird sanctuary, and the variety
of species is surprising. Exceptionally knowledgeable uniformed volunteers explain the
habits and habitat of the local birds. We watched a distant squall as it approached, then
ran with others to the little visitor center at the foot of the lighthouse.
On the way back to Highway 56, stop at Kong Lung Company in Old Kilauea Town. Watch for
it on your left. Dating from 1881, Kong Lung Company originally was a Chinese general
store that catered to the needs of the workers of the Kilauea Sugar Plantation. The
interesting building, with exposed beams and traditional corrugated iron roof is now a
modern emporium, selling aloha wear, muumuus, Hawaiian crafts, jewelry and antiques.
Traditional Hawaiian music provides a pleasant background for browsing. There is a new
Italian restaurant next door, with tables on a broad, covered porch.
On the next street, stop at Jacques of Kauai bakery for morning coffee. We arrived just
before a soft rain began to fall. We had our coffee and tea and light, flaky Danish at a
table on the narrow porch, enjoying the shower. After your respite, take away a hearty rye
molasses baguette. Jacques is an authentic Frenchman, and his breads and pastries are
authentically French. I hope his plans for modernizing the bakery will not prove the end
of its charm.
Back on Highway 56, the road begins to climb. After about five miles, watch carefully
for the Hanalei Valley turnout on the left side of the road. You will be treated here to
the best view on the island. Below, the placid Hanalei River flows through
the patchwork valley of neatly-terraced taro patches. In the background, the mountain
ridge, green-black with sharply eroded canyons, is often shrouded in a gauze-like fog. Sit
and contemplate an early Hawaii, the Hawaii of dreams and fantasies. If your schedule
permits, come back to see the same view at sunset.
The highway now drops down into the valley. Stop for lunch at the Hanalei Shell House
Restaurant. It has a delightful island atmosphere, with open sides, slat shutters and
corrugated metal roof. Order one of the half-pound hamburgers
with vegetables, and share it with a friend. The clam chowder is excellent, especially on
a cool day. If you are lucky, it will rain while you are enjoying your lunch. When I was
there, there was a magnificent cloudburst, with blowing sheets of rain and rolling
thunder. A young man came running toward the door, fell headlong and slid in the mud. He
came inside, laughing and joking, dripping mud. Anywhere but Hawaii, he likely would have
turned the room blue with his anger. Everyone enjoyed his predicament with him.
Nearby, the Old Ching Young General Store is now the Native Hawaiian Trading and
Cultural Center. Time and weather permitting, it is worth a stop.
By all means, don't miss the Waioli Mission House. Built in 1837, the two-story frame
house has been lovingly restored by descendants of the first missionaries and is furnished
with pieces of that period. The house is located behind the Waioli Church, a perfectly
delightful small frame church. The building is an architectural gem, painted green and
trimmed in white. It fronts on the highway.
Back on the road, you now pass by some of the most beautiful beaches in the islands,
the Hawaii of the imagination and the picture books. Lumahai Beach is first, a long bench
of golden sand that blends harmoniously with the turquoise
water and the nearby gray-green mountain ridge. The Haena beaches follow, particularly
noted for their beauty. The lush flora, coconut palms, sandy beaches and inviting surf
should satisfy anyone's vision of tropical paradise. It is no wonder that the region was
selected as the fabled Bali Hai in the movie version of "South Pacific." You may
recognize Lumahai Beach as the film's Nurses' Beach.
Continue on and stop for short visits at two caves on the left side of the road. Be
careful at this point. Before reaching the caves, there is a ford that usually has only a
thin sheet of water crossing it. After a hard rain, the trickle becomes a flood.
The first cave is the Maniniholo Dry Cave. The huge cavern has a flat, sandy floor and
a stone ceiling that is ten feet or more high. Hundreds could find shelter here with no
crowding. Waikanaloa Wet Cave is only a short distance away. The floor of the cave is a
pool of fresh water. Tradition holds that chiefs gathered at the caves in ancient times.
Drive a quarter mile or so to the Ke'e beach at the end of the road. If you chance to
be there on a sunny day, enjoy it quickly. The north side of the island is the wettest
side. Even if it is overcast or dripping, as it was when I saw it last, the place still
has a pull for me. Walk out on the beach, then turn back for a view of the mountains.
Ponder the scene as the old Hawaiians might have seen it. This site was sacred to the
goddess of the hula. Hawaiians came here from all the islands to learn the dance and
perform religious rites associated with it.
West of Ke'e are the jagged peaks of the roadless Na Pali Coast. The region is
accessible by trail--take solid rain gear--or by boat. One outfit, Ancient Hawaiian
Adventures, will take you ashore through the surf in a catamaran under sail. Other boat
trips are less adventurous, but the view is no less spectacular.
A more comfortable and increasingly popular way of seeing the coast is by helicopter.
Frankly, I think the trend toward viewing natural wonders all over the United States by
helicopter and small plane is abominable. The sudden appearance of a noisy, low-flying
aircraft ruins the pristine quality of the wilderness for the hundreds of other visitors
who stand at scattered viewpoints, pondering its mystery and beauty. Nevertheless, if
that's your pleasure, there are a number of companies that provide the service.
Now begin your return journey, leisurely, and enjoy the countryside. Whitefaced
Herefords and black cattle graze in park-like meadows, and sugar cane fields are
everywhere. In the villages, take time to drive off the highway and took at the old
buildings, "old" being anything that pre-dates World War II.
Stop for dinner at the Hanamaulu Restaurant and Tea House, just a mile or two north of
Lihue. Ask to be seated in one of the rooms that surround the Japanese garden. You leave
your shoes outside the room and sit on tatami (reed mat). You aren't required to sit on
your feet, as in traditional Japanese restaurants, since the trench under the low table
permits a comfortable sitting posture. The rooms look out over the delicately landscaped
garden around a pool with multi-colored carp. Pebbled paths and small pagodas complete the
peaceful setting. Dinners are reasonable, from $5 to $10. There is additional seating
inside the restaurant, but to assure a place in a tea room, you should call the previous
day for a reservation (245-2511).
It is popularly believed that travel in Hawaii is only for the well-heeled. If you want
luxury, Hawaii has it in great store. But if you are budget-minded, you will have no
difficulty finding good accommodations and restaurants at moderate prices. For general
information on visiting Hawaii, write to Hawaii Visitors Bureau, 2270 Kalakaua Avenue,
Honolulu, Hawaii 96815, or write directly to branch offices of the bureau in San
Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago. See your telephone directory for addresses.