Kauai: Hanalei Bay casts its spell

by Jackie Burrell
The Mercury News

Green and lush, the landscape unfurls as you round that final bend and Hanalei Bay comes into view. Craggy volcanic ridges descend to the glistening sea, like a dragon coming to rest, and we are spellbound.

Kauai’s southern shore brims with wave-kissed beaches and resorts. But the north shore feels like an enchanted island of its own, the Bali Hai of “South Pacific.” The small laidback town of Hanalei is lined with eateries, boutiques and galleries. Taro fields are making a comeback on the town’s outskirts. And the sheltered bay weaves a spell of sheer magic.

You could easily spend your days lolling in a hammock or splashing in the gentle waves in the summer -- or surfing the giant winter waves at the outer reefs. But we can’t resist the Dock Dynasty sign, nor the scarlet kayaks poised on the Hanalei River bank in such alluring, aquatic style. Within minutes, we’re underway on the water.

Once we pass the Kuhio Highway bridge, the automotive rumbles and acrid tang of exhaust dissipate. The air stills, and the river’s passage turns to a verdant lushness that runs the green gamut, from the lush pear and shamrock shades of the vegetation to the crocodile hues of the current. As trees and thickets crowd the banks, the river narrows. By the time we decide to head back, about two miles from the dock, it takes a three-point kayak turn to reverse direction.

Back on land -- and fortified by a Hanalei Gourmet burger from the cute cafe on the main drag -- we add our own automotive rumble to the bridge as we head for Kilauea, just a few miles east. The renovated 52-foot tall lighthouse that stands proudly on Kilauea Point, offering spectacular views and twice-weekly lighthouse tours, was built in 1913. The promontory here is a National Wildlife Refuge, so those views are likely to include nene, red-footed boobies, great frigatebirds and wedge-tailed shearwaters, as well as crashing waves and, if you’re lucky, whales.

 A mile or so away, the Historic Kong Lung Market Center bears testimony to Kilauea’s sugar plantation past, when Lung Wah Chee’s mercantile supplied plantation workers with everything they needed, from sundries to stamps. The general store, which dates back to 1902, included a post office, a barber shop, a butcher and a diner, as well as a market.

Today the restored market is on the National Register of Historic Places, and you can read about those long-gone days on the plaques and displays here, as well as browse the boutiques. Take a peek inside Kong Lung Trading, where origami cranes mix with kimonos, tea pots and gift items. Don’t miss the Coconut Style boutique’s batik-print robes and bed linens in brilliant, vibrant hues.

Grab a bite at the Kilauea Bakery and Pau Hana Pizza, where the pizza ($12 and up) is topped with everything from house-smoked ono to alder-smoked lilikoi and rosemary bacon. Or dash across the street to the Kauai Juice Co., where the cold-pressed juices range from Starburst to Rainbow Unicorn, which takes its name -- the first half, anyway -- from a colorful mix of beets, carrots, pineapple, kale and blueberry.

At the end of the day, wander back to Hanalei. Perch at the end of the iconic pier at sunset and watch the bright yellow outriggers of a Hanalei canoe club traverse the water, oars dipping in unison. As darkness falls, stroll over to Bar Acuda for garlicky bruschetta topped with local tomatoes, grilled flank steak banderillas with black pepper-pineapple jam and other small plates.

The moon is rising, stars dot the sky. It’s enchanting.

If You Go: Hanalei

Kayak Hanalei: Hanalei has several rental shops. This one offers kayaks ($35 and up), surfboards ($23) and stand-up paddleboards ($40), as well as beach equipment, including rash guards, beach chairs and coolers ($3-$5 per day, $12-$20 per week). Book your kayak at the Kayak Hanalei building at 5070A Kuhio Highway, pick up the boat at the Dock Dynasty stand by the river. Open 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; kayakhanalei.com

Bar Acuda: Open daily for dinner, 5:30-9:30 p.m. Reservations recommended. 5-5161 Kuhio Highway; www.restaurantbaracuda.com.

Hanalei Gourmet: The cafe and bar are open daily for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Order a picnic -- packed in an insulated backpack or cooler -- at the deli, which opens at 8 a.m. 5-5161 Kuhio Highway; www.hanaleigourmet.com.

If You Go: Kilauea

Kilauea Point Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge: The visitor center is open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, with lighthouse tours offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Admission to the park is $5 for adults and teens, ages 16 and up; cash only. 3500 Kilauea Road; www.fws.gov/refuge/kilauea -- point/

Historic Kong Lung Market Center: Open daily at 2484 Keneke St. Find details on the Coconut Style boutique at www.coconutstyle.com, Kong Lung Trading at konglung.com and Kilauea Bakery and Pau Hana Pizza at www.kilaueabakery.com.

Kauai Juice Co.: Open Monday-Saturday at 4270 Kilauea Road, Kilauea; www.kauaijuiceco.com.

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