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Hawaii-bound? A first-timer's guide to thrills, chills on Kauai

Daniel Beekman, The Seattle Times on

Published in Travel News

Rather than swim, we stood knee-deep in the sparkling tide, listened to the ocean and drank in the scenery.

The other end of Lumahai Beach, where a river meets the ocean, is also pretty. But a parking lot and easy access make it more crowded.

That's the overall trend on Kauai, where tourism has surged in recent years. Though the island relies on tourism, its residents are dealing with more traffic, more construction and more visitors who have a lot to learn about local history and culture.

"The taro patches were always here but the rest was all bush," said Keola Yokotake, talking about development near Hanalei. Yokotake sings Hawaiian songs and plays ukulele at Hanalei's Saturday Farmers Market.

"People aren't too happy about the traffic. We never had backups before. Now the traffic never ends," he said.

Kauka says tourists can show respect by adopting a patient, upbeat attitude on the road, in eateries and in stores. "Take a deep breath," she said. "Make the beauty last and just slow down."

Something that hasn't changed on the island is the weather. Rain showers are common on the north shore. If your No. 1 vacation goal is to dry out, you may want to head south. That's where the sun rarely disappears (and where most of Kauai's large resorts are located, around Poipu and vicinity).

Also on the south shore, in Hanapepe, is Talk Story Bookstore, billed as the westernmost independent bookstore in the United States.

"Talk story" is local lingo for "shooting the breeze," and Hanapepe is an old community with antique frontier storefronts and an easygoing vibe, though 20 people were killed when police attacked striking Filipino plantation workers there in 1924.

The store has rough wooden floors, a sleepy pet cat and rambling shelves. The selection will surprise you and the owners have a great story to tell.

Ed Justus and his wife visited Kauai years ago and never left. They opened the store on a whim in 2004 because the space was free for a month. Since then, they've sold 150,000 books.

Sounds like a nice life, I quipped. "It could be worse, right?" Justus laughed.


We were visiting quaint Hanapepe on our way to a much grander attraction.

The scale and power of Waimea Canyon makes you catch your breath when you step on to the viewing deck at a lookout 3,600 feet and 25 minutes by car above Kauai's coastal highway.

You'll swear a talented giant painted the sloping gorge walls and slender valleys with inspired brush strokes, blending oranges, greens and browns. Like the island as a whole, the canyon is a place where adventure can meet tranquillity.


Flying Kauai-style

The Outfitters Kauai AdrenaLine zip-line tour is $129 per person. See

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More adventures

Plan your

-- Napali Coast hike:

-- Kauai beach time:

-- Waimea Canyon visit:


-- Friends found good value at Kauai Shores Hotel in Kapa'a, with decent rates, basic rooms, a pool, a hot tub and a beachside bar and restaurant with sunset views:

-- Rentals booked through services such as Airbnb can be a good way to save money and connect with locals: They're controversial with some residents because they can eat away at housing and hotel-worker jobs.

More traveler tips

-- Visit Kauai's north shore for mist and the south shore for sun.

-- Stop by Hamura's Saimin in Lihue for old-school noodles. 2956 Kress St.;

-- Need a beach book? Browse the shelves at Talk Story Bookstore in Hanapepe:

More information

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