Things to Do in Kauai - page 2
Known as the Garden Isle – it’s the greenest of all the islands – Kauai lies at the northern end of the Hawaiian chain. Kauai’s scenery is so spectacular, it’s been featured in dozens of movies, fromJurassic Park toThe Descendants toTropic Thunder. Shore excursions include film location tours, as well as tours to Waimea Canyon, the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific.’
Beneath the shade of monkeypod trees, the red clapboard downtown strip of Old Koloa Town welcomes visitors to a bygone era, the former site of Koloa Plantation. Founded in 1835 by New England missionaries, Koloa was the largest sugar plantation in a statewide industry credited with encouraging immigrants from around the world to make Hawaii home. Today the strip—accessed through a mile-long tree tunnel of towering eucalyptus—is a tiny community of gift shops, ice cream parlors, galleries and restaurants, each with a building plaque describing its original purpose on the plantation.
Besides shopping there’s the Old Koloa Jodo Mission, a still-functioning Buddhist temple originally founded to serve the Japanese immigrant community; a semi-circular bronze sculpture depicting plantation workers; an old stone chimney left over from one of the plantation buildings; and the Koloa History Center set back along the Waikomo Stream running through downtown. The center includes indoor and outdoor historical artifacts including a vintage sewing machine, an antique gas pump, farm equipment, historical photographs and displays. Every summer for nine days, the town celebrates its heritage with parades, food and craft booths, outdoor movies, a paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) rodeo and guided educational walks.
Part way between the colorfully striated Waimea Canyon and Kalalau Lookout atop the fabled Napali Coast, the excellent but aging Kōkeʻe Museum serves as a regional visitor information center as well as a natural history museum. Inside you’ll find topographical maps, cultural and geological information, late 19th century botanical prints, dioramas of Hawaii’s forest birds, and mounted specimens of its more notorious feral invasive species like Polynesian boar and mouflon sheep. The gift shop occupies nearly half the space and features many books, guides and Kauai-made souvenirs. Next door, the rustic Kokee Lodge Restaurant has all day breakfast, soup and sandwiches and is the only meal for miles.
Each October, Hawaiian Queen Emalani’s visit to Kokee is celebrated with a traditional hula festival on the expansive treeless Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow. Fronting the museum, this large, treeless green is popular with picnicking families. No one really knows trees don’t grow here, but, according to one Hawaiian legend, it was formed by an angry, headless, giant demi-god who plows the path each night in search of his missing head. For brave overnighters, there’s a small selection of rental cabins across the lawn.
Visible by kayak from the Huleia River, or from a roadside overlook, the otherwise closed-to-the-public Huleia National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Kauai is a popular bird watching spot. The site is one of just two sanctuaries on the planet (both National Wildlife Refuges on Kauai) home to wild populations of five species of endangered Hawaiian waterbirds—the Hawaiian coot, stilt, duck, goose (the state bird) and the elusive moorhen. Twenty-six other species of bird also call the federally-managed wetlands home. The lush landscape of riverine pools and waterfalls that surround the refuge have served as a jungle backdrop in several movies including Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park and Lost World.
The refuge’s flat valley, formerly comprised of wetland taro and rice paddies, is shielded from the sea to the west by a long ridge of peaks. It abuts Alekoko, the Menehune Fishpond, a historic aquaculture system thought to be built 1,000 years ago by an early and mythical race of Hawaiian of people called the Menehune.
Located at the end of a long and rugged dirt road, Polihale State Park is a remote beach on Kauai’s westernmost edge with excellent snorkeling, camping, and stargazing. Adventuresome visitors are drawn to the park’s wild and secluded nature and it’s one of the best spots in Kauai to watch the sunset. Ancient Hawaiians believed that Polihale was the departure point for the afterlife.