Island breezes

Scenes from a too-short visit to Kauai

One thing my family and I learned during our vacation last week is that there’s no backyard-chickens ordinance on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. There, the fowl have flown the coop and now run wild everywhere, like pigeons here.

Locals told us it was a result of Hurricane Iniki, which hit Kauai in 1992 and did terrible damage, destroying 1,400 houses and wrecking thousands more. You can imagine what it did to backyard coops. Many of the freed fowl were fighting cocks, which may account for their descendants’ hardiness.

We stayed in the village of Poipu on the south coast, which since the hurricane has become the resort center of the island, the destroyed houses replaced by vacation condos. It’s still beautiful—the new structures are tastefully designed, and Kauai has a law that no building can be higher than a coconut palm. Also, the area has been replanted with thousands of flowering trees and bushes as well as palm trees to restore its colorful lushness.

My favorites were the rainbow shower trees, whose prolific yellow, pink and orange displays line the road into Poipu on both sides. When the island breezes blow, which is almost always, they sway sensuously, hypnotically, like hula dancers.

We enjoyed Poipu, despite its touristy veneer. The beaches were beautiful, my son had fun snorkeling on the reefs, and Denise and I liked to stroll down to the Grand Hyatt in the evenings to sit outdoors drinking mai tais and watching the setting sun turn the swaying palms golden against the blueness of the ocean.

We explored other areas, of course. Old Koloa Town, once the center of the long-gone sugarcane industry, was only a mile inland. Quaint shops line its historic two-block-long main street, and its history is a fascinating part of the Kauai story.

A highlight was a hike we took along a ridge top overlooking the Kalalau Valley, on the island’s isolated west side. Our guide, a friendly transplanted New Yorker named Scott Silverman, led us down a little-used trail until we reached a point almost directly above Kalalau Beach, on Kauai’s rugged Na Pali coast. From our perch 3,000 feet above the ocean, we had a dizzying view of the valley, its several spring-fed waterfalls, and the coastline for miles in both directions.

On Saturday, our last day on the Garden Island, we drove to the north shore, walked on the beach at Hanalei Bay, then attended a community luau in Princeville, just two miles away. I’d seen it mentioned in the island’s little newspaper, and it became my one contribution to a vacation otherwise organized entirely by my sweet wife.

It was held on the park-like grounds of a local church and featured a troupe of about eight female dancers wearing long floral-print dresses and a five-piece band fronted by Cyril Pahinui, a two-time Grammy winner and master of the slack-key guitar. I realized, watching the dancers and listening to the music, that to appreciate both arts one has to see them being performed in just this way, outdoors on a beautiful day in Hawaii, with the breezes blowing, the palm trees swaying, and flowers everywhere.

Robert Speer is editor of the CN&R.