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Exploring: Island Tours > Kauai > North Shore

Kauai - North Shore Scenic Tour

The uninhabited cliffs and valleys of the world-famous Na Pali Coast punctuate Kauai's scenic North Shore. Exploring the rural communities of Moloaa, Kilauea, Kalihiwai, Hanalei Bay (pictured), Wainiha and Haena is to take a step back in time. By contrast, the luxurious Princeville Resort area welcomes you back to the upscale present.

Oral family histories and archaeological research and artifacts indicate that by 1000 A.D. native Hawaiian families were living in the valleys of Na Pali, cultivating taro and other food crops. They raised and hunted animals for food, cultivated and gathered plants for fiber and medicine, and raised fish in ponds. A grass shack found in Milolii Valley was reconstructed and preserved in the Bishop Museum in Honolulu as an example of fine craftsmanship and skilled use of available materials.

Idyllic as it may sound, that way of life in those remote valleys has died out. Some have tried to recreate it, but most are content with camping for a few days in the lush Kalalau Valley (pictured). Permits are required, and to get into these areas it's either a strenuous hike involving carrying everything you need in and back out, or a prearranged boat trip to drop you off and pick you up.

Sightseers can get a glimpse of the unrivaled beauty of the coastline by kayaking, taking a tour in an inflatable boat or catamaran, or by taking a helicopter flight or airplane tour. The crews provide narration on the history of the area. Whichever mode you choose, it is sure to be an experience you will never forget.

Many of today's kupuna (elders) can trace their families back to those who lived in these valleys. Still strongly tied to the old places and the old ways, they hope to preserve and perpetuate that lifestyle on the North Shore. The pretty, geometric expanses of taro fields (pictured) at the entrance to Hanalei, a patchwork of deep green, bright chartreuse, and chocolate brown, are the most tangible, direct link to native Hawaiian life in the past. Taro was created and given to the Hawaiians for sustenance by the archetypal mother and father of all Hawaiians. It was their staple food for many generations, but today it is easier and cheaper to eat rice, bread, and potatoes (especially in urban areas). Recently, however, by standing together for many hours in the mud of the fields, bent over to plant, weed, and harvest, grandparents, parents, and children have begun to reestablish that link to the past. Over 60% of the state's total taro production is grown on Kauai, much of it on the North Shore.

This is not the only aspect of the Hawaiian lifestyle that lives on, however. Walk into a restaurant, supermarket, hotel or condo and ask a question -- you'll often find yourself engaged in a conversation with someone who'll treat you as a long-lost friend or relative. Buy some papayas at the sunshine market, and a few bananas may be thrown in for free. Sharing whatever is available is a big part of the "Aloha Spirit."

The physical beauty of the North Shore will affect you as much as the people will. The area's ample sun and rain become luxuriant vegetation -- from the tops of jagged mountains, to rolling pastureland and plateaus, down to the coastline. Clouds blown against the mountain ridges release their moisture into waterfalls that gush and tumble from the highest points.

Hanalei Bay, one of the most beautiful places in the world, has been captured countless times by songwriters, poets and artists. Filmmakers and photographers have also fallen under the spell of the North Shore. At the end of the road, cliffs overlook Kee Beach (pictured), and the water is so clear you can see the fish and coral yards away. At Anini Beach Park, you can camp under the boughs of spreading trees and let the kids swim in the shallows while you snorkel around the reef. During the spring and summer, Sunday polo matches are held across the street, so stroll over and enjoy the match.

Further northwest, the luxurious Princeville Resort sits on a plateau stretching from mountains to low cliffs at the ocean's edge.
Princeville has its own airport, shopping center, elegant homes and condominiums -- all with spectacular ocean or mountain views, tennis courts, a health spa, a luxurious gilt-and-marble hotel as well as vacation accommodations on a more intimate scale. The Prince and Makai Golf Courses, two of Hawaii's top-rated golf courses, add their luster to this gem of a resort.

In Kilauea town, sugar plantation owners, managers, and workers once lived and worked at a sugar mill. Their descendants live there still. Also surviving from those days are the old church, several homes, the former school, plantation office building, and general store -- all built of lava rock. A major attraction is the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. The lighthouse is a registered historic building, and the refuge shelters such birds as albatross, boobies, shearwaters, tropical birds, and other seabirds. The views here are of an ocean and coastline whose awesome beauty has been untouched by man.

Guavas and papayas grown in Kilauea and Moloaa are becoming successful export crops. Look for fruit stands selling fruit, sweet corn, and homemade macadamia nut brownies.

The North Shore of Kauai holds tight to its Hawaiian history and heritage. Its little communities treasure the quaint and quiet lifestyle, yet there's enough room to coexist with a modern luxury resort. The magnificent mountains and ever-changing sea overcome all differences. Perhaps this sense of the pre-historic has been one of the attractions to Hollywood to film much of its Jurassic Park series here. Whatever the case, Kauai's North Shore comes closest to creating a feeling of traveling back in time while remaining in the 21st Century.

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