Beautiful Kauai

The Garden Isle

As the famous icon of Hawaii, Don Ho, sang time and time again:

“There’s an island across the sea….Beautiful Kauai,

beautiful Kauai…….And it’s calling, yes…

calling to me, Beautiful Kauai…… Beautiful Kauai”

Those very words say so much to the fact that Kauai is one of the most remote locations on Earth and is also one of the wettest spots in the entire planet. Mount Waiʻaleʻale is the epicenter of where rainwater is collected and dispersed all throughout Kauai’s “Garden Isle”. Where you can find fresh water falling from the heavens then flowing into streams and rivers throughout the hills and valleys leading to the sea.

The Garden Isle is the oldest of the major Hawaiian islands at around 6 million years old forming today’s lush windward valleys and mountains. Because of its mid-Pacific location, Hawaii was an ideal stop for ships engaged in trade throughout the Pacific as early as the late 1700’s. Kauai offered water, food, and local necessities for those traversing the long journey throughout the vast Pacific. Some say that Captain James Cook, first anchored in January 1778, on the shores of Waimea on Kauai for that very reason. This marked the very first recorded encounter of Europeans with the Native Hawaiians.

Beautiful Kauai

At that time, Kamakahelei was the ruler of Kauai, she had met the explorer George Vancouver where he too stopped by Waimea as his first port in 1796. He was met by the son of Kamakahelei, Kaumualii, who would become the last king of Kauai. Legendary ruler of Kauai, Manokalanipo who was born at Wailua in around 1350, is said to have been responsible for being the first in constructing significant agricultural projects and bringing centuries of prosperity to the islands. As the 8th high chief, he elevated Kauai and Niihau’s ancient society to sophisticated heights of progression and efficiency. Po’ipū on Kauai was the royal center on southern side of Kauai where he resided with the 7th high chief Kukona. Noted for his optimism and intellect he encouraged industries and agricultural systems that would execute long and difficult works of irrigation, They were said to have reigned up until the son of Kaumualii, the last prince Keliiahonui in the 1830s.

As we take a walk down memory lane, elements of the sugar industry, such as the market economy of world trade, opportunities for land leases and ownership by plantations and their factors. The immigrant labor supply, new engineering and technology, scientific agriculture, and the islands abundant water supply, all kept sugar central for nearly two centuries.

Nearly a century after Captain James Cook’s arrival in Hawaii, sugar plantations started to dominate the Hawaiian landscape. Western contact transformed Kauai where the life of Hawaiians will never be the same again. The entire economy, land use system, form of government, the population, and its culture and lifestyle were as far reaching as those anywhere in the rest of the world 150 years ago. In 1835, William Hooper a young man from Boston transformed both the land and the native society in Koloa Town with the first successful sugar plantation in the Hawaiian Islands. By 1910, Kauai was changed from an island peopled by Hawaiians and scattered communities of American and English settlers to an island dotted with plantation towns. These were all populated mostly by immigrants from Asia and Europe who were recruited as indentured labor then contract laborers and, later as free wage workers.

Meanwhile, the Northwest fur trade, sandalwood export from Hawaii, and Chinese tea took to the seas. The local Hawaiian subsistence economy was redesigned into a market economy and Hawaiian leaders, in particular rapidly developed a taste for Western manufactured goods as well as naval and other military equipment. From 1790 to 1830, trade in sandalwood dominated the local busy trade lasting until the local forestry including those on Kauai, were stripped of all its sandalwood.

Lands End

By 1826, whaling ships from New England began provisions and taking on fresh water at Waimea and Koloa landing. The island of Kauai, particularly in the town of Koloa, became a reprovisioning and entertaining center. The whaling trade was the most money-making of all for Western traders for fifty years, 1820 to 1870. Other commercial and agricultural activities accompanied this change in the local economy. Coffee had been the first successful new trade crop to be planted and grown on Kauai. Between 1850 and 1860 thousands of coffee trees, using introduced species probably from the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia), were planted in Hanalei and Koloa. The growing of rice took off in the 1860s when wetland taro fields were planted in rice for the first time in Waimea, Lihue, Kapaa, and Hanalei. At this time the Chinese immigrants were contracted to raise harvest and mill the crop.

Beautiful Kauai

Pineapple growing on Kauai did not begin until 1906, at Lawai with the founding of Kauai Fruit & Land Company, a subsidiary of McBryde Sugar Company. Pineapple canneries were later opened at Kapaa (1913) and Kapahi (1932) and the industry was a major employer into the 1960s. It was sugar that became the primary agricultural and industrial activity in the last quarter of the 19th century and transformed Kauai’s preindustrial society. It came to dominate economic, political, and social life. The roots of several of today’s major Hawaiian corporations trace to the sugar plantations founded on Kauai. Lihue plantation was founded in 1849 by a Boston investor who co-founded C. Brewer and Co. Later, a German immigrant, Paul Isenberg, who managed Lihue Plantation for a while, played a role in the founding of Hackfeld and Co., a precursor of Liberty House and American Factors.

Fueled in part by the closings of major sugar plantations, Kilauea in 1971 and Grove Farm in 1973 and the last pineapple cannery in 1973, the 1970’s became the years of development for tourism. At the same time, many residents began to feel uneasy about the pace of change on the island and the overwhelming number of tourist on the roads and beaches. Most approved of the very first McDonalds in 1971 but less welcoming of the first stop light in 1973.

Protests against developments symbolized the tourists annually and by the end of the 1980s according to one analyst, more than 80% of Kauai’s income was either directly or indirectly dependent on tourism. Massive daily traffic jams became a major irritant and reflected not only the increased number of tourist but also the huge population growth during the decade, almost 30% to a total of 51, 177 in 1990. Government on Kauai went through the same changing forms as that on the other Hawaiian islands. Royal governors were appointed until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893. With the establishment of the Kauai County government in 1905, following the annexation of Hawaii in 1898, the modern territorial era of the island began.

Progressive developments were on their way as the new Kauai County Government grappled with the building of tarmacked roads for the automobiles that began to arrive in 1907. By 1910 Kauai had at least two newspapers, one of them, The Garden Island, and was connected to the outside world. Cross-island telephone service began in 1911 and electricity was made available to the mills for years, began to provide power to consumers in Lihue, Koloa, and Waimea. The Kauai County building was erected in 1913 and in 1914 Kauai High School opened, offering secondary education to children of all ethnic groups on Kauai for the very first time.

Beautiful Kauai

Construction of the Nawiliwili breakwater began in 1920 was the first step in creating Nawiliwili Harbor, however it was not completed until 1930. Airfields at Lihue and Hanapepe were constructed, and the fist airplanes actually flew to Kauai in 1920. By 1929 Hawaiian Airlines established regular flight services. Daily flights led to airmail in 1934 complementing long distance telephone service begun in 1931. During the 1920s and 1930s a belt road connecting main towns were paved as well.

Preserved Peace

The first hotel on Kauai, the Fairview, had opened in Lihue in 1890, but tourism remained a sidelight to the sugar industry until the post-World War II era and the arrival of passenger jet flights to Hawaii in the late 1950s. In 1960 a new ten-story hotel, the Kauai Surf, opened signifying the beginning of Kauai’s commitment to tourism. By 1970, the annual visitor count for Kauai was around 426, 000 and tourism workers outnumbered those at Kauai’s sugar plantations for the first time. Resorts at Poipu, Hanalei, and Wailua were built to host these visitors. The Coco Palms, the Queen of all resorts on Kauai at the time, served as the setting for Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii. Other films filmed on Kauai in the early days were; South Pacific, Donovan’s Reef and Castaway Cowboy, further popularizing Kauai’s beautiful island lifestyle.

Around the Hawaiian islands, hurricane season begins on June 1 and ends before the end of year in November. The island of Kauai embraced Hurricane Iwa in 1982 and survived Hurricane Iniki in 1992. Hurricane Iwa caused major destruction in 1982, nevertheless hurricane Iniki, almost ten times as damaging as Iwa, devasted the island in 1992, causing more than 2 billion in losses and cutting visitor numbers in half by 1993. The results of Iniki dominated forever changed the landscape of Kauai, agriculturally, economically, and most importantly socially. As the century ended, the sugar industry became extinct, the agricultural use of the land became less and less. The tourism industry was lacking sufficient hotels to keep up with the demand. The hurricanes wiped out most resorts and small hotels on the entire island. Some were restored, some demolished and some like the infamous Coco Palms, lay in ruins.