Lush tropical forests, azure waves, and golden sand adds to Kauai’s majesty. However, the Garden Island is not only regal figuratively, but also literally. The east side of Kauai is home to the Royal Coconut Coast, which includes the towns of Wailua and Kapaa. Though more commonly known as the Coconut Coast since the region was once teeming with large coconut trees, in ancient times much of this expanse was reserved only for Hawaiian royalty, ali’i. The island’s high chiefs resided here since it was deemed a sacred area, but the availability of fresh water and the fertile land also made the Royal Coconut Coast an attractive place to live.
Many of these sacred sites, heiau, can be found along the only navigable river in Hawaii, the Wailua (“two waters”) River, stretching approximately 20 miles long and fed from the waters of Mount Waialeale. The second highest peak on Kauai, whose name means “rippling water,” or “overflowing water,” is one of the wettest places on Earth. Ghost warriors, huaka’i po, are said to walk along the river at night up to the top of Mount Waialeale. Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1962, the Wailua Complex of the Heiau consists of ancient Hawaiian places of worship and refuge, along with other indigenous archeological findings.
Known to Hawaiians as Mamaakualono (quickness of the god, Lono) is a picturesque, lava rock cave draped in kupukupu ferns, which give the place its modern name of Fern Grotto. A short boat trip will bring you to a lush, tropical natural amphitheater-like setting, complete with musicians playing ukuleles and dancers performing the hula.
Easily accessible, the Opaekaa and Wailua waterfalls are stunning, and with vantage points allowing unparalleled views, visitors will witness cascading sprays of mists and the occasional rainbow. Opaekaa means rolling shrimp, which were once abundant and seen tumbling in the falls, which measures approximately 150 ft. high and 40 ft. wide. If the Wailua waterfall and its immediate surroundings look familiar, you may have recognized it from the opening credits of the television series Fantasy Island, which aired from 1977 to 1984.
Adjacent to Wailua is the town of Kapaa, which possesses the largest population density on Kauai. Equidistant to both ends of the island, Kapaa (meaning “solid”) is known for its vibrant town center, an 8-mile bike path, and a Sleeping Giant.
Strolling the sidewalks of old town Kapaa, you’ll notice the wooden-front shops built by plantation workers. The area was settled mainly by those choosing to leave plantation life and start businesses of their own. Shops were situated on the first floor, while the shop owner’s family lived on the second floor. Merchants, like grocers and auto shop owners, providing services to residents now mingle with galleries featuring local artists and eateries highlighting food with island-grown ingredients, who cater to visitors of the town.
Voted as one of the country’s top-rated recreational trails, Kapaa’s popular bike path, Ke Ala Hele Makalae is “the path that goes by the coast.” The route partially follows what was once a railroad line used during Hawaii’s plantation era. Listen to crashing waves along the rugged coastline as you walk, jog, or cycle the family-friendly asphalt and concrete corridor.
In the Nounou Forest Reserve is a mountain ridge, commonly known as Sleeping Giant. According to Hawaiian legend, villagers tricked the giant into eating rocks hidden in fish and poi. After the meal, the giant lay to rest and hasn’t woken since. Those who don’t mind a moderate hike, can trek their way to the Sleeping Giant’s forehead, where your reward is an awe-inspiring, panoramic view of emerald mountains and forests and sapphire skies and sea.
With cooling trade winds, picturesque landscapes, and valuable reminders of Hawaii’s past it’s no wonder that these east side communities are where many local residents call home.