On the map, the west side of Kauai begins in the town of Hanapepe and culminates in the highlands of Kokee State Park. In person, however, it feels like a world apart from the rest of the island. You might even call it a state of mind.
“The west side of Kauai is reminiscent of the Hawaii of the past,” said Kauai Visitors Bureau executive director Sue Kanoho. “Travelers go there to get away from it all, to slow down their normally busy lives and to find rejuvenation.”
A lookout point at Waimea Canyon reveals its depth of 3,000 feet. Below: Hanapepe offers a cozy, country-style setting. // © 2009 HTA/Tor Johnson
Clients who choose to vacation on Kauai’s west side don’t usually ask for a great deal of luxuries and amenities on their itinerary. Instead of staying in four-star hotels, they gravitate toward simple accommodations — a bed-and-breakfast spot, perhaps, or the historic Aston Waimea Plantation Cottages. For them, all it takes for a vacation in paradise is a crimson sunset, the sincere smiles of residents and a shave ice sweetened with tropical fruit syrup.
A Slower Pace
“There’s a kick-back attitude about the west side,” said Kanoho. “A lot of the area’s residents come from plantation backgrounds. They take life at a slower pace, and they all work well together as one ohana (family).”
West side resident Chris Faye agrees. Her great-grandfather, Hans Peter Faye, came to Kauai from Norway in 1880 at the age of 21, and he started a sugar plantation that lasted until 2000.
“The kind of visitors best suited for a west side vacation are those who want to find out about the area’s history, culture and lifestyle,” said Faye. “It takes longer for them to do that here because we’re not into slick packaging. Visitors learn by meeting our people, doing what we like to do and participating in our activities.”
Faye, who is a member of the West Kauai Business and Professional Association, is actively involved in two annual events that provide clients with opportunities for mingling with the locals.
The Waimea Lighted Christmas Parade, slated this year for Dec. 19, features floats, bands and walking units, proudly led by the island’s mayor. After passing through the town’s illuminated Main Street, the parade winds up at Hofgaard Park for a folksy party. Another big draw is the more than three-decades-old Waimea Town Celebration, taking place on Feb. 19-20. Thousands of people gather for continuous island entertainment, game booths, a beer garden, canoe races, rodeo events and other homespun pleasures.
Little Towns, Lots to Do
West side hamlets reflect the area’s easygoing approach to life. Hanapepe, which calls itself Kauai’s Biggest Little Town, is a country-style setting of historic storefronts, artist studios and little cafes. From the town center, a suspension footbridge crosses the river; on the other side are small wooden houses with goats in the yards and chickens roaming at will. Every Friday, clients get a chance to hobnob with residents during Hanapepe Art Night, when a dozen or so galleries stay open late in order to share their work with passers-by as island musicians take to the streets.
The town of Waimea encourages visitors to sample mom-and-pop restaurants or catch a movie at its restored community theater. Its West Kauai Technology and Visitor Center opens its doors to travelers, who can take part in weekly cultural experiences like lei weaving and taro pounding, and it presents two-hour walking tours focusing on the
For active clients, the west side promises plenty of options. From Port Allen, one of Kauai’s busiest recreational harbors, visitors can go on a boat tour that takes them along the dramatic 11-mile stretch of fluted sea cliffs called the Na Pali Coast. At Salt Pond Beach Park, they can see where islanders make sea salt in the tradition of their ancestors, while sun lovers can beach comb on the seemingly endless stretch of sand comprising the beaches of Barking Sands and Polihale.
The winding road to the upcountry provides panoramas of Waimea Canyon, 10 miles long and 3,000 feet deep, a spectacle of crested buttes and striated walls. Beyond the canyon at a 3,500-foot elevation awaits Kokee State Park, with its yellow ginger, eucalyptus trees, mokihana berries, a natural history museum and hiking trails.
“The locals are very protective and supportive of Kokee,” said Kanoho. “It’s important to our residents to keep this region special and not develop it. Clients should know this ahead of time, so they can enjoy Kokee with respect and appreciation.”
While the west side remains a fresh alternative for visitors, Faye likes the fact that it doesn’t change much from year to year.
“We don’t keep trying to do new things all the time to attract attention,” Faye said. “Of course, things change, but people respect the old buildings and landmarks, and the community works together to take care of them.
For Kanoho, ultimately, it’s the locals who make Kauai’s west side so endearing.
“At least once a year, I try to sneak away to Waimea Plantation Cottages, book a spa treatment to recharge my batteries and reconnect with the wonderful people of the west side,” Kanoho said. “They always make me feel like I’m part of the ohana.”