Kaua‘i’s south shore, which includes the Koloa, Kalaheo, and Po‘ipu areas, boasts lush green pastures above warm sunny coastlines, oceanfront accommodations bordered by the birthplace of Hawaiian royalty, and thick tropical inland jungles. A blend of vacationers and locals, raw land and modern luxuries, the south shore is the island’s main resort destination, with sunny skies and a coastline dotted with large hotels and condominiums, while just inland are old plantation homes that still house local residents.
If you take Maluhia Road down to Koloa, you’ll drive through open green pastures and then the gorgeous Tunnel of Trees.The area holds claim to what may be the most important part of Hawaiian history: the first successful sugar mill in Hawaii. Koloa was home to the mill, therefore spearheading the sugar industry and bringing together many ethnicities to coexist in the island. Seven ethnic groups became the main source of labor on the plantations and others came and went, many leaving descendants that still live in the area. The sugar mill was the central feature of society and life on the south side.
On the south side you see the area’s character change as you drive toward the coast. If you take Maluhia Road down to Koloa, you’ll drive through open green pastures and then the gorgeous Tunnel of Trees. Past that and just a bit west, you’ll begin your journey inland in a lush green area called Lawa‘i Valley, where you’ll notice a prominent backdrop of luxuriant jungle reaching inland to the high central part of the island. On the way down Koloa Road notice the rolling green pastures usually dotted with happily grazing sheep and horses. In Koloa, plantation homes, remnants of the mill, and small shops and eateries make up a quaint and historical central area. This is a great place to stroll through the town, sampling food, enjoying the aloha, and mingling with visitors while locals go about their daily business. Most of the shops in the small yet bustling town are actually remodeled old plantation buildings. Parking here is always hard to find, but the town is so small that it’s fine to park anywhere and stroll around. Make a point to look inland at different points in the road. The views are gorgeous and the raw green landscape is captivating.
From 1835 to 1880 Koloa was Kaua‘i’s most densely populated area. Koloa Landing, down in Po‘ipu, was one of the top three active whaling ports in the entire state. Sugar was a booming business for the majority of the century; the newest mill, the McBryde Sugar Co. Koloa Mill, shut its doors in 1996, ending the sugar industry for the area. Its remains can still be seen off of Maha‘ulepu Road.
The vibrant green foliage gives way to a dry and sunny beach resort area, known as Po‘ipu. Down here the road weaves along the ocean, past historical sites, surf breaks, and numerous white-sand beaches. Po‘ipu is a vacationer’s paradise: gorgeous white-sand beaches, eateries galore, shopping, surf lessons, golf courses, and a few sights to see. Although mainstream development may have made its way into the area in the form of hotels and condominiums, natural sights and raw land still exist here. Locals access the surf breaks and enjoy the beaches as much as any visitor. At the end of the day you’ll often see local surfers enjoying the sunset and an after-work beer across from Lawa‘i Beach. Down here are some of the most intriguing sights on the island, including Spouting Horn and the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Although there is no shortage of soft white sand down here, the sandy coast also has its share of black boulders dotting the area along with reefs, drawing in tropical fish and creating perfect waves for surfing and body-boarding. Po‘ipu’s resort area also offers upscale shopping and eating.
Inland on the south side and on the way to the west is Kalaheo, home to quaint restaurants, small shops, and a population of generations of local residents. Kalaheo doesn’t have much going on, but the laid-back feeling is part of its appeal. Here you can find the beautiful Kukui O Lono Park and golf course. If you’re headed to the west side you’ll take a drive through Kalaheo because Kaumuali‘i Highway is the only road that leads there.
Many visitors decide to stay on the south shore because of its sunny coast, resort options, and world-class beaches, but if you don’t stay in a hotel here, make sure to schedule at least a one-day visit to this side of the island. Enjoy the popular tourist spots, but don’t miss the vacant beauty of the south shore’s interior jungles and the secluded coastline.
Beyond the south shore is Kaua‘i’s leeward coast, locally known as the west side. A geologist’s dreamland, the landscape out here contradicts itself with rolling white beaches, vast canyons, deep rivers, and dry desert. The west and driest side of the island is a land without frills, but there are two places worth making a day trip to visit: Hanapepe town, which calls itself “Kaua‘i’s Biggest Little Town,” where art enthusiasts can view local creations and mingle with their crafters, and Waimea town, which claims to be Kaua‘i’s most historic town. About 15 miles inland from Waimea are Waimea Canyon and Koke‘e State Parks, where the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” claims part of the island. Koke‘e State Park, a few miles past Waimea, is full of trails and hikes galore for all levels of hikers. The park is also home to inspiring lookouts over the Na Pali Coast.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.