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Kauai after Hurricane Iniki.

WHEN HURRICANE Iniki roared through the Hawaiian Islands last September 11, tiny Kauai took its full force right on the chin. Indeed, it was a rare structure that was left undamaged. Winds that howled at a steady 100 miles per hour frequently gusted to 145, sending roofs sailing like Frisbees and turning trees into kindling. Waves up to three stories high pounded resorts and houses edging the island's south shore.

The brute force of Hurricane Iniki (whose damage is estimated at $1.7 billion) makes 1982's Hurricane Iwa ($236 million in damages) seem a squall by comparison. According to Kauai mayor JoAnn Yukimura, Iniki affected almost all of the island's 18,000 residences, and all but one major hotel had to be closed.

Knowing the destructive power of Hurricane Iniki, was surprised on a recent four-day swing around the island by how much Kauai had already recovered. Businesses, services, restaurants, and shops have reopened, and a surprising number of visitor tour and activity services are back in business, albeit on reduced schedules.

While Kauai is ready and eager to welcome back visitors, rebuilding of the island's major north and south shore resorts and some public facilities will continue for at least another half-year.

ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN AS PARKS REOPEN

"Vegetation damage on the island was the worst in recorded history," says National Tropical Botanical Garden field botanist Steve Perlman. Ridges where wind gusts hit (one gauge unofficially registered 227 mph before breaking) were stripped to bare rock, and in upland valleys trees were snapped and shrubs were stripped of leaves, and even the ferns were scorched black. Many old native forest enclaves were wiped out, and birds and insects specific to these plants are threatened.

Surprisingly, wind damage at Kokee State Park was less than that caused by Hurricane Iwa, which closed trails in the park and along the north shore's Na Pali Coast for months. All but the most remote have already reopened after repairs of Iniki's damage. For updates or camping information and permits, call the park's offices at (808) 241-3446.

One longer-term casualty is the north shore's Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, with its great birding and historic lighthouse. Damage to buildings will keep this park closed at least through the end of the year. Phone 828-1413 for an update.

SHOULD YOU VISIT NOW?

For adventurous travelers, this summer offers unique opportunities for a Kauai vacation. Beaches and golf courses are nearly empty, traffic is less intense, parking is easy, and everybody seems glad to see you.

At our press deadline, most tour operators and outfitters were already open (although many are operating on limited schedules because of the shortage of visitors). Kauai Hotline coordinator Lin Brazil expects 4,589 rooms (about 55 percent of the pre-Iniki total) to be open by June 30.

However, visitors looking for a full resort experience will find slim pickings. This summer, the Hyatt Regency at Poipu, which reopened March 30, is likely to be the only major resort accepting guests.

Here's a quick tour of Kauai at our deadline. For the latest information on lodging and visitor services, call the Kauai Hotline at (800) 262-1400 to talk to a volunteer. To fax a request for information (including phone numbers of lodging), call (800) 637-5762.

North shore. Princeville Resort and condominiums along the north shore were hard hit by winds and will continue to open in stages this summer. Hanalei Bay Resort should be reopening in August; Princeville Hotel is closed until December.

Restaurants are slowly opening. In Hanalei, the Hanalei Gourmet is a good day-tripper bet for sandwiches (and local music Sunday afternoons). Casa di Amici serves Italian dinners in Kilauea.

Beaches are a little wider than before, and Iniki's pruning of trees edging Lumahai Beach left that famous swath of sand visible from the road. Golf courses are open.

Coconut Coast and Lihue. With the exception of The Westin Kauai resort (its golf course is open, but the resort won't reopen until January 1994) and the Coco Palms Resort (reopening at year's end), the east side of Kauai generally suffered the least damage to visitor facilities. The Outrigger Kauai Beach (formerly the Hilton) reopened to visitors in January.

Most small restaurants from Lihue north through Kapaa are open. Museums, including the Kauai Museum, should be open normal hours this month, and the commercial and restaurant complex at Kauai Kilohana Plantation should be open by July 1.

South shore and Poipu. Pounded by waves and wind, waterfront resorts and condos along Poipu Beach were hardest hit by Iniki. Work on major properties, including the Stouffer Waiohai Beach Resort, Kiahuna Plantation Resort, and Sheraton Kauai Beach Resort, will continue to make areas behind Poipu's beaches a reconstruction zone at least until early 1994.

Properties above the Poipu waterfront, including the Hyatt Regency resort and a number of condominiums, were back in business by April, and the Poipu Beach Resort Association expects 38 percent of all hotel rooms to be open by June. The House of Seafood is open; other restaurants will be opening this summer.

Public structures at Poipu Beach Park and Kukuiula Harbor are gone, and the sand is totally gone from Brennecke's bodysurfing beach, but Poipu Beach itself is wider than ever. A temporary water and shower line was being installed at our deadline.

The gardens and buildings at the National Tropical Botanical Garden were damaged, but tours may resume by August. In Waimea, most of the 48 historic cottages at Waimea Plantation Cottages are expected to be open in June.

FOR THOSE WHO GO NOW

Shop for travel packages through travel agents and airlines, but don't expect much discounting this summer (look for bargains in the fall). Industry analysts don't expect a glut of tourist rooms until later this summer, when construction workers and residents whose homes were damaged begin to move out.

Be wary of information in free tourist handouts, which reported as open many restaurants and attractions that were still closed during my visit. Phone ahead and, when possible, make reservations.

As construction gets going around Poipu this summer, expect slow traffic backed up behind truckloads of material and heavy equipment, especially on south shore roads.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Phillips, Jeff
Publication:Sunset
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Words:1029
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