Ask a kamaaina (an island local) how they found their perfect
place in paradise, and the response often seems as lengthy as their
journey. That’s definitely not the case with Laura Richards,
general manager of Hanalei Colony Resort, on Kauai’s luscious north
Living in Fayetteville, Ark., Richards spotted a fantasy
island-style poster of Lumahai Beach looking toward Hanalei
“I said that I wanted to live in that poster,” she fondly
And she has for 20 years.
Family in tow, Richards relocated to heavenly Haena and headed
straight to Hanalei Colony seeking employment.
“The manager knew I had hotel experience,” said Richards. “She
wanted to train me to handle the front office position in case the
Hanalei Bridge closed, and she couldn’t get to the property.”
With generous showers enhancing the north shore’s splendid
greenery and ample waterfalls, the Hanalei Bridge tends to flood
from time to time. As a result, area access can come to a halt.
So Richards knew she’d have her opportunities at the front desk.
What she didn’t realize was that she was on the fast track to the
general manager position by the following year.
Today, Richards is also on the fast track, so to speak, when it
comes to outrigger canoe paddling. A member of the Hanalei Canoe
Club, she has groomed her passion for competitive paddling in
distance races. To her credit are multiple grueling Molokai Channel
crossings, several state championships earned with her team and the
honor of being awarded the team paddle when clinching the 1994
State Championships in the AA Division.
Richards revels in the team aspect of competitive paddling.
“The best thing is having six people in a canoe totally
connected as one energy,” she explained. “That’s a beautiful
Although her club competes throughout the Hawaiian Islands in
open ocean races, they often hold technique training in the Hanalei
River. So Richards is familiar with recreational options for
non-competitive paddlers as well. Rather than racing in an
outrigger canoe, she highly recommended that visitors experience
island adventures in single or tandem kayaks.
While most islands are geared to kayaking excursions on gentle
bays, Kauai is home to the only navigable rivers in the chain. So
on Kauai, rivers rule.
“Several good companies offer kayak rentals for paddling in the
Hanalei River,” Richards shared. “And the Wailea River is also fun
because it travels right up to the Fern Grotto.”
She also noted the ease of exploring Kauai’s Kalihiwai River with
a launch at Kayak Kauai.
“Regardless of the river, you can rent a kayak to take a nice
leisurely outing by yourself or with friends,” she said.
“Or you can take a guided tour. So you can really make it any
experience you want.”
Along Kauai’s lazy rivers, paddlers spot rare nene birds and
“The Hanalei River meanders under a one-lane bridge past taro
fields,” Richards said.
She suggested taking a picnic, jumping in to cool off and
soaking in the incredible surroundings. “You reach a point where
the only sounds are nature,” she said.
And that, according to Richards, is the beauty of paddling in