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Kauai: next link on the chain.

In the flower-strung, greencarpeted lands of Hawaii, Kauai has been its own special island, older than the others and west of them, 90 miles deeper into the Pacific than Oahu, the only island not conquered by Kamehameha 1, but kept apart and aloof by King Kaumualii. It was the first coast of Hawaii to be discovered by Captain Cook, in 1778, who came ashore near Waimea Bay not far from the site where the Russians, already entrenched in Sitka, Alaska, and at Fort Ross on the California coast, landed just 37 years later and built a fort. It was a flirtation that lasted all the way to 1896, when Grand Duke Alexander thought this island would make a great naval base and pondered the idea of dispatching a Russian fleet and a colony of settlers, an imaginative concept foiled by the American annexation in 1898.

Kauai dozed in its lush greenery. People called it the Garden Island, while Honolulu, no farther away than New York is ftom Philadelphia, bustled and grew and built skyscrapers and a forest of hotels. Suffused in its legends of menehunes, the little people who could build walled fish ponds in one night, or so it was said-to say nothing of the Menehune Ditch, an aqueduct that archaeologists insist was created before the Hawaiians arrived ftom Polynesia-it was happy in the knowledge that its valley at Hanalei was the birthplace of rainbows, that Mount Waialeale, bulging under the green carpet to a height of 5,080 feet, was the wettest spot on earth, spewing waterfalls from every pore to keep this island a verdant paradise. Wild goat, wild boar, and pheasant roamed its hillsides and still do. To the west, at Waimea, a great rent in the earth became known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, a magnificent spectacle that drew avid visitors to its rim and helicopters to peer inside its depths.

All this came to be discovered by Hollywood, whose scouts chose it above all other considered sites for the filming of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. As the cinema's Bali Ha'i, it was the setting, too, for Miss Sadie Thompson; Blue Hawaii; Lt. Robin Crusoe, USN, Diamond Head; and other films. It is well remembered that Frank Sinatra almost washed out to sea while making None but the Brave and that Elvis Presley in his prime was here so many times that hotels took to naming wings after him. On its west coast at Kokee, it entered the modern world when a site was chosen for a missile- and satellite-tracking station that figured in space exploits ftom Project Mercury to the moon shots.

Visitors came to sail up the Wailua River to a fern-hung grotto where Hawaiian singers intoned the saccharine melody of the "Wedding Song." Many stayed at Coco Palms, the pioneer in Kauai innkeeping, awash in Hawaiian lore, lighting flaming torches at dusk each night and summoning a Kauaiian in brief attire to salute the end of the day by blowing moaning notes on a conch shell.

But that was, upon reflection, a modest beginning, for as Waikiki was swallowed by visitors from other climes, and Maui became a mecca of its own, as grandiose plans spread to the Big Island of Hawaii, it seemed inevitable that Kauai would emerge as The Next Island. Condominiums, vacation-ownership projects, and hotels came one upon the other. Stouffer's, owned by Nestle in far-off Switzerland, took stewardship of Waiohai Beach Resort and the Poipu Beach Hotel; Sheraton, rebuilt after a disastrous hurricane, added rooms to its Poipu property and became a haven of honeymooners. Hyatt has broken ground on Shipwreck Beach, in the Poipu vicinity. On what they like to call Kauai Lagoons, Westin has unveiled a mammoth, splashy resort built around an enormous manmade lake where swans cruise the waters and a great fountain display with marble horses carved in China lend an air of pizazz new to this island, Draft horses and carriages have been imported to take visitors on leisurely rides around the grounds, and just to inject a Hawaiian air to such proceedings, the drivers wear kukui-nut necklaces and attach flower leis as hatbands. Kitsch or Hawaiian? some ask.

Despite these infusions of the glitzier world that lies beyond its shores, Kauai has never seen fit to finish a road that would completely encircle its island. Driving south out of Lihue, where the planes land, half an hour out of Honolulu, the road eventually runs out at the edge of Waimea Canyon at Kokee Park, where there is space to pitch a tent or rent a cabin, picnic at 4,000 feet at Kalalau Lookout, or fish for trout in the mountain streams. That westbound road takes one past the spin-off to Poipu Beach --Kauai's sunswept southern shore, reachable past fields of waving cane --past plantation towns and then through a towering tunnel of huge eucalyptus trees. Here on Poipu, the Hawaiian kings once disported, living in grass huts and worshiping in stone temples called heiau, one of which, built in 1600, stands restored and resolute along the shore in view of those who come to dine at Waiohai Terrace.

There are two gardens here, one designed for listening to the splashing waterfall, the other for breathing the perfume of gardenias, ginger, and plumeria, which is Hawaiian for frangipani. It is a place verdant with Manila palms, lehua trees and their fluffy flowers, scarlet or yellow hibiscus, mango trees and tamarind, giant Norfolk pines, purple morning glories, and carmine bougainvillaea billowing out of an old kettle.

The Kiahuna golf course across the street is Robert Trent Jones, Jr.designed, par 70, and surely the only links sprinkled with 27 archaeological points of interest on the fairways. Here on Kauai's sunniest shore, the waters beckon snorkelers, swimmers, and surfers. Scuba boats buzz out loaded with divers, and double-hulled catamarans and outriggers paddle visitors out where the surf begins and then turn to come riding into shore in a fuzz of spray. The lazy-way diver can rent a seaboard-an inflated mattress with a built-in face mask. Just lie on it, paddle out, and put your face into the mask to behold the wonders of the deep.

Turning north out of Lihue-the opposite direction-takes one skimming along the east shore. Green taro, from which Hawaiians pound poi, their tasteless staple, covers the valley floor at Hanalei, where rainbows are born. Waioli Hui'ia church, founded in 1840, in the heart of Hanalei, stands prim and green with its Gothic window and door, its shingled steeple outlined against the backdrop of distant mountains.

Princeville is an 11,000-acre ranch turned into a resort with cutesy shopping malls and a golf course that began life as a coffee plantation, turned to cattle, and now to 27 holes. Golf is the new cash crop.

Princeville sits on a bluff overlooking Hanalei Bay and the purple peaks, and when the sun streaks through the darkening clouds, it looks like a reenactment of the Creation. Hereabouts, drop into Ola's Crafts for unusual things ftom Hawaii and "the world outside" or Toucans for sporty clothes and Just for Sport for beachwear.

Up here, past Lumahai Beach, which was the nurses' beach in South Pacific, past the coveys of Hawaiian coots and Hawaiian gallinules and the ducks called koloa, in the wildlife refuge at Hanalei, the road gives out at Haena Point. Now the Na Pali coast begins, huge folds in the green cliffs, high above the secluded beaches below. There are those stalwarts who brave the old Hawaiian trail to feel the force of this unearthly place, stepping along the two-foot-wide paths that edge for 11 miles above the thousand-foot drops. All this is a jungle untouched by roads, marked only by trails, only for the sure-footed and stout-hearted and those romantics entranced by the wild mountain apples, passion fruit, wild bananas, ripe guava ginger, and now and then, a wild goat. After all, 6,000 Hawaiians lived hereabouts centuries ago.

But there are other ways. It takes no fewer than 15 helicopter companies, 27 boat companies, 3 kayak groups, and 8 diving outfits to satisfy the curiosity of those who would inspect the recesses of this garden island. Some choppers operate out of Lihue Airport; one, Papillon, leaves from Princeville. They will flutter into Waimea Canyon, drop down at the beaches along the Na Pali coast, and float over the wettest spot on earth. A 50-minute flight with an hour's stop at Red Falls for a swim in the pond will relieve one of $135. Two hours, with 50 minutes in the air over Waimea, Hanalei, and Na Pali, is $225 per person.

And then there is sight-seeing by water, aboard rubber-raft Zodiacs that go whale-watching when the great mammals come north from December to May to mate and breed, or that buzz hideaway beaches of Na Pali that line the shore between the pleats of the mountains. SeaScapes does Zodiac and boat cruises; Blue Odyssey goes out on Zodiacs (and lends you an underwater camera); and Captain Zodiac, as the name suggests, uses rubber rafts on morning and afternoon trips that leave from the ocean side five miles from its office at Hanalei. And then there are glider flights and powered plane trips of the Canyon and Na Pali at $39 for half an hour's peek. With this terrain so inaccessible and awesome, flightseeing Kauai is a way to go. Hanalei Sailboards in the Hanalei Trader Building guarantees you'll sail in what they call "the fastest-growing sport in the world."

Eons older than Oahu and ten times older than the Big Island, youngest of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai's rich, rain-fed soil makes it a special place for tropical plants, rare and common, from Wifebeater Trees to Seychelles Double Coconut Palms, reputed to live for 1,000 years. Brightly plumed chickens still live here, brought by the first Polynesian wayfarers, although on the other islands they proved too tasty to the resident mongoose. An agricultural preserve of ranches and plantations until the 1960s-when the travelers began to make their own voyages of discovery, and the Hollywood sitesearchers made theirs-Kauai, with only 46,000 permanent residents compared to 800,000 on Oahu, is on the cusp of new popularity. "We pretty much have everything," says Julia Neal, editor of the daily newspaper called The Garden Island. "Desert, rolling green pastures, pine forests, tropical jungle rivers, ocean, reefs, surf, lakes, bass fishing, deer hunting, pig hunting-everything short of skiing." All that and the blossoming selection of comfortable places at which to endure the heavenly life seem destined to make Kauai The Next Island.

Reprinted with permission from Endless Vacation magazine. Copyright (C)1988 Endless Vacation Publications.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Kauai, Hawaii
Author:Ashley, Marc
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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