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Exploring: Island Tours > Kauai > East Side

Kauai - East Side Scenic Tour

From the days of the ancient Hawaiians, people have celebrated the light and warmth of sunrise on the east side of Kauai.

In the communities of Anahola, Kealia, Kapaa, Waipouli, and Wailua, families established their lives generations ago, and even if they no longer live there, they still call these communities home.

Sleeping GiantKapaa and Wailua have become the most populous parts of Kauai, as more families put their roots down on the east side.

Perhaps the beauty and the many geological features of this side of the island attracted the first Polynesian settlers here. Being on the windward side of the island, the volcanic slopes eroded to form pleasant valleys with the highest mountains sculpted into dramatic, ridged backdrops.

The Anahola Mountains, Makaleha Mountains, and Nounou Mountain (the Sleeping Giant, pictured) surround the plateau and valleys of the east side. The scalloped coastline gathered sand into cove after cove. Rain falling on the mountaintops descends as waterfalls, then as streams and rivers meandering to the sea.

Until the late 19th century, the Hawaiians maintained a self-contained life in several valleys on the east side. In the mountains, they harvested building materials and collected vines and shrubs for fiber and medicine. In the lower forest areas grew fruit trees, medicinal and ornamental plants, and birds valued for their song and ornamental feathers.

Wailua River ValleyThe kanaka maoli (native people) built terraces and irrigation systems and grew taro and other crops. The streams provided fish and freshwater prawns. Holding ponds built along the streams and oceanfront held stocks of fish until they were needed. From the mountains to the shore, the entire ecosystem was used and cared for wisely, so that it might support the people forever.

From the Wailua River mouth up into the mountains (pictured), a complex of heiau (sacred sites) was constructed. Research and translation of oral histories have established the purposes of some of the heiau. There was a bellstone that was sounded to announce royal births. Kahuna (priests) helped their alii (royalty) understand what the gods expected of them.

Signs placed at the heiau across the road from Opaekaa Falls relate the history of this whole area. Although they may look like old, ruined walls of black lava rock, the heiau have great cultural, religious, and historical value, so treat them with utmost respect.

Wailua FallsThe Royal Coconut Coast has always been appreciated for its natural beauty. Opaekaa Falls and Wailua Falls (pictured) are entrancing, and there are many more waterfalls in the foothills and mountains. Near Keahua Arboretum on Kuamoo Road, ease yourself into the cool water of the swimming hole, inhale the fragrance of ginger blossoms and savor the sights and sounds of water and jungle.

The signature coconut palm groves were planted so that the nuts, leaves, and other parts could be harvested and used for many purposes. Some of the tallest trees standing are at least 75 years old. You can drink the sweet-salty milk directly out of a green coconut or savor the flavor of rich coconut cream in a pina colada, haupia (sweet pudding), or a chicken and taro leaf stew. You may happen across a person weaving leaf fronds into hats, baskets, and rosettes.

Coconut CoastNumerous trails lead up to incredible lookout points on Mt. Nounou and on the lower slopes of the Makaleha Mountains. The views of the island below are astounding, and it's truly peaceful to be perched high above the hustle and bustle below.

At the southern edge of the Coconut Coast, the 18-hole Wailua Municipal Golf Course lies between the highway and a gorgeous sandy beach. Several beach parks on the coast have lagoons and natural pools that are ideal for children. While snorkeling at Lydgate Park, you'll spot little yellow and black striped fish, see the resident school of large blue parrotfish cruise by, and maybe see turtles that sometimes swim into the lagoon.

The lower Wailua River is a playground for kayakers, water skiers, and outrigger canoe paddlers. Large motor launches cruise up to a famous fern-lined grotto; along the way, the crew tell legends about gods who took the form of sharks, and of lovelorn maidens who were turned into flowers.

Ponokai BeachAccommodations range from charming bed & breakfasts and quaint cottages up in the hills to several homey and affordable hotels and comfortable condominiums right on the oceanfront. They are adorned by a wide variety of restaurants and numerous grocery and sundries stores conveniently located throughout Kapaa.

On long holiday weekends and throughout the summer, families set up camp at the beach. They wake up as the sun rises, spend the day fishing, swimming, or surfing, then gather to eat together and "talk story" into the night. On a clear night, millions of stars are visible. The sight of the full moon rising until it lights up the ocean and the beach is remarkable, no matter how many times you've seen it.

From the times of the first settlers to today, the historic Royal Coconut Coast has been the site of many pleasant days and memorable nights. The vision of rows of curving trunks topped by umbrellas of green fronds, swishing and glinting in the breeze, will linger in your memory.

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