Central Kauai


Lihue is the epicenter for transportation, hosting the international airport and public transport services. The name Lihue is derived from the Governor of Kauai in the 1830’s, meaning “cold chill”. The original name that is no longer used, was Kala’iamea, meaning “the calm reddish-brown place”.   If you’re coming from the south side of Kauai by car, the Kaumualii highway will bring you through the little town of Puhi, where the community college neighbors the old Gaylord plantation mansion. Today’s residential communities of Puhi are situated on the southern end and the farmlands are placed to the east. The lands of Puhi on the southwest around to the northeast are mostly undeveloped. While continuing east, the town of Lihue appears as the central hub for the County of Kauai’s government and the islands commercial center.

The western half of Lihue is covered with dense vegetation and wooded sections surrounding landscaped residential neighborhoods. German hill borders the western part of Lihue and used to be a residential neighborhood for skilled workers, primarily of German ancestry coming to Lihue Plantation to work. The eastern half of Lihue includes Rice Street, Kuhio Highway, and small cleared areas next to these major roads The former Lihue Plantation housed a Puhi Camp, built in the 1920’s for the agricultural laborers close to the field operations. The plantation continued commercial sugar cane cultivation in Lihue until 2000, when it finally closed permanently. In recent times the commercial center has expanded back into Puhi.

The “Alekoko” or “Menehune” Fishpond can be found on the southern side of Puhi connecting to Hulei’ia stream, three miles upstream from the bay of Nawiliwili. This pond is bound by a 900 ft. long wall, deemed as the most significant fishpond on Kauai. It is the largest fishpond on the island and is said to be constructed by the mystical Menehune people in the 15th century. The Menehune, a legendary race of small people, were known to live in the Nawiliwili area: It was one of the favorite playgrounds of the tribe of Menehune, the little workpeople who played as hard as they worked.

Remnants of the world-famous Coco Palms Hotel, neighbors the Wailua River mouth, near the Wailua bridge. The Elvis Presley movie, Blue Hawaii popularized the Coco Palms Hotel, showing off the east side of Kauai’s remarkable sights. The hotel made a big business out of Hawaiian-style weddings for decades, introducing traditional torch-lighting to the resort life. This sunset occurrence would set the tone for the evening’s festivities, whether it’s walking the beach, enjoying the resorts luau, or dining in. Coco Palms was destroyed by the Hurricane in 1992 and continues to lay in ruins among the thriving Coconut trees planted for oil and copra (dried coconut meat) by William Lindemann, a German immigrant in 1896.

Wailua is abundant with vibrant traditions contributing to a wealth of history that still can be found today. Through the many historic sites and rich natural and cultural resources we can appreciate how Wailua brings life to the Native Hawaiian culture on Kauai. Residents are spread throughout the homesteads above the “Sleeping Giant” and the house lots directly below. The Coconut Marketplace is central to the Coconut Coast as it shares a local hula (traditional Hawaiian dance) show weekly. Local restaurants, farmers market and boutiques all surround the main courtyard in the center of the marketplace. With its open-air layout and charming architectural design, the marketplace provides a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere for the visitors and families to explore. From locally made handicrafts, cool boutiques and delicious eateries, there is something for everyone.


Just beyond where the Nawiliwili stream flows towards the sea, the great seaport of Nawiliwili can be seen, holding large ships and the local fishing vessels. The modern inland boundary between Kalapaki, the adjoining bay and Nawiliwili extended from the mouth of Nawiliwili Stream where it empties into the bay. There are a few scattered house lots in the higher portions of the valley and along the lower slopes bordering Nawiliwili. Traditional fishing villages were once located near the seashore at the north side of the Nawiliwili Stream mouth, and at Kalapaki. Due to the concentration of irrigated taro fields within the vicinity of the coast, as well as the availability of aquatic resources, the coastal area contained a majority of the population of Nawiliwili.

The sugar cane cultivation transformed Kalapaki village into a plantation community contributing to  Lihue town being a major population center. For the tourism industry, so many memories are shared and continue to be shared on the shores of Kalapaki bay. Nawiliwili has a deep protected harbor next to the islands main port allowing for cruise ships to dock. When they arrive Nawiliwili and Kalapaki beaches fill up with temporary tourists. To cater to the ship’s crowds, the beach is lined with souvenir shops, transportation, bars, and restaurants. 

Nawiliwili  takes its name from the wiliwili tree literally meaning many wiliwili trees, these trees are native leguminous trees whose flowers and pods are used for lei or garland’s. Its light wood is used for surfboards, outriggers, and net floats. Wili also means “twisted” as Nawiliwili is not only twisted but lined with groves of wiliwili. The name Kalapaki comes from the lively rolling waves that are heard and seen at this beautiful beach. “Kala” means lively and “paki” translates as rolling. Combined Nawiliwili and Kalapaki are a beautiful sight to see whether arriving on Kauai via plane or cruise ship. Today, much of Nawiliwili and Kalapaki land use is dedicated to urban centers, residences, resorts, and golf courses.


The bay next door towards the east is snuggled in the town of Hanamaulu where there was a fishing village located near the mouth of the Hanamaulu Stream. The boundary line inland between Kalapaki and Hanamaulu extended due west to a wetland at the end of Kapaia ditch, then along another straight line to the junction of the ditch with Hanamaulu stream, then along a straight

line to a hill called Kamoanakukaua on the eastern edge of Kilohana Crater. Kapaia is a tiny valley community with a great ethnic heritage from the sugar plantation era. Today remnants of the historic swinging bridge are 125 feet long and provides a 4-foot-wide pedestrian walkway made with wooden planks over Kapaia stream. Passing through Kapaia valley would be the northern route into Hanamaulu from the central town of Lihue. The southern route bypasses Hanamaulu’ s central inhabited area with homes and stores and traverses directly over Hanamaulu beach on the Kapule Highway Bridge. The historic remnants of Hanamaulu’ s Railroad Bridge can be seen while driving on the Kapule Highway Bridge and is still accessible to drive under, if heading through the homestead of Hanamaulu and into the beach park.

On the northern border of Hanamaulu heads into Central Kaua’i’s mountain range, with one of the most spectacular waterfalls on the island. Wailua Falls, is a 140-foot waterfall that you can see commonly found on postcards from Hawaii. Although named for the neighboring town of Wailua, it is located above Kapaia valley, hidden in the former sugar cane fields.