Friday, August 4, 2017

Finding Paradise in Hanalei

The little town of Hanalei

I know it sounds so trite, but I think I've found paradise. I shouldn't tell you where it is so that I can keep it a secret, but I can't help but share its name. It's a little town on Kauai's North Shore called Hanalei.

I still can't pinpoint exactly what it is about Hanalei that enthralls me so. We didn't actually stay there during our visit to Kauai. Other than it being our launching point for out Na Pali Coast boat outing, we didn't do anything major there either. Yet, it's lodged itself firmly in my heart as my favorite places on the island.

Windsurfing on Kauai's North Shore

We stayed in the next town over, Princeville. Princeville was fine. It's a master-planned community with resort hotels, golf courses, and lots of vacation homes. Take away its sea cliff setting and mountain view, and it could be any upscale suburban neighborhood in America. Hanalei is something else. It seems to have developed organically over time instead of springing forth fully formed like Princeville.

Taro fields seen from the Hanalei Valley Lookout

The first glimpse people often have of Hanalei is from a well marked lookout along the Kuhio Highway. One this side of the island, the first part of the highway runs along an inland path with the mountains rising up in the distance on one side and greenery along the road hiding your view of anything else. Then, you pull over at the lookout on the mauka (toward the mountain) side of the road, take a few steps from the car, and are treated to a sweeping, postcard-perfect view of the valley below. Taro fields make a verdant patchwork quilt across the land cut through by the Hanalei River. People have farmed this area for centuries. Today, 900 acres of the valley are set aside as a national wildlife refuge and are home to several species of native birds.

Watch out for Hawaii's state bird

For a view overlooking the curved bay -- "Hanalei" means "crescent" in Hawaiian -- we drove along Hanalei Plantation Road on the makai (toward the sea) side of the highway until it dead-ended. A locked gate keeps vehicles from going further, but there's an open pedestrian gate just to the left. From there, it's a short and easy half mile hike through the ruins of the old Club Med. All that's left of the buildings are the concrete foundations with a few pillars and half walls. I tried to convince the kids that it was the remains of an ill-fated, living dinosaur themed vacation resort. Part of the movie South Pacific was filmed on this spot which served as the Frenchman's estate. 

Hanalei Bay as seen from the ruins of the old Club Med

After the lookout and Hanalei Plantation Road, the road descends through a couple of switchbacks and crosses a narrow bridge built in 1912. This one lane bridge is the first of seven between here and the end of the road at Ke'e Beach. After this, the road runs along the coastline with beaches popping into view every few miles. 

American Gothic style Wai'oli Hui'ia Church

If I had to guess, I'd say it was the serenity I felt in Hanalei. The relaxed vibe. The cool calmness. Maybe it's because I had reached the sweet spot in a vacation where I'd recovered from the jetlag yet still had most of our trip stretching ahead of me. Maybe it's because no one else seemed to be in a rush either. They were living on island time. Maybe it's because I had the best shave ice in my life -- the sweet tropical flavor of lilikoi (passion fruit) tempering the spicy bite of the ginger syrup, all covered with a drizzly of honey. 

Wishing Well Organic Shave Ice

Whatever the reason, I need to return to Hanalei some day to see if I can figure it out.

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  1. I loved, loved, loved Hanalei! We didn't stay there either but I truly enjoyed my afternoon there eating lunch, window shopping and visiting the spectacular beaches. I'd go back in a heartbeat!

  2. I can see why you would be enthralled with Hanalei. What a stunning place. I have always wanted to visit Kauai and now you have convinced me to do so.

  3. Yes, I'll take a town that grew over time as compared to a "developed" community. Hanalei looks to have local character.

  4. I love Hanalei Bay too, Michelle. In fact, Kauai is perhaps my favorite Hawaiian island (actually I can't decide between Kauai and Maui). Hanalei Bay is not only stunningly beautiful, but it's never crowded and always so peaceful. That little river estuary there is also beautiful. #WeekendTravelInspiration

  5. Our first visit to Hanalei was more than 30 years ago and if you want charming that is exactly what it was back then. It is cute today but has become so commercial compared to then (don't I just sound like an 'old person'??). The Tahiti Nui bar was so small back then that we sat on rockers on its front porch and they had a luau on Monday nights that all the local ladies brought dishes and food for and before we ate Louise, the owner then (whose son runs it now) had us all hold hands and say a prayer. It was simply magical. We've had have a framed photo of the Nui on our wall taken during that first visit ever since.

  6. Love Malaysia so much - heading back to KL later this year and then onto Langkawi for the first time. This looks like another beautiful area of the country... #TheWeeklyPostcard

  7. I get your feeling. Sometimes, developments are pretty and have many amenities but they lack certain level of character and authenticity. Then, you find a small town in the middle of nowhere and you never want to leave. I have only been to Oahu but discovered certain towns that feel different from the craziness of Waikiki. Next time, I'll stay on one of those towns. #wkendtravelinspiration

  8. We were in Kauai so long ago, I can't remember if we went to Hanalei. I don't think so - but I wish we'd gone now that I see your gorgeous photos.

  9. Your Kauai posts make me want to revisit soon. We didn't make it to Hanalei since we were only on the island during a cruise stop but this makes me put it on the top of the list to visit. Those views are beautiful! It's always a treat to explore the small Hawaiian towns.

  10. I've been to Maui but never Kauai. Hanalei sounds like the kind of place I'd like to move to, not just visit. It looks absolutely breathtaking, judging from your pictures!


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