The Island of Kauai frequently offers two distinct faces to the outside world: a lush spread of tropical nirvana accented by heavy foliage, waterfalls, and pristine beaches Scenes, versus a growing and bustling tourism hotspot infused with commerce.
Almost a million and a half tourists each year visit this specific island, the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands. Nearly 9 in 10 are fellow Americans, visiting from stateside for that dream vacation or honeymoon.
Unlike the larger islands of Hawaii and Maui, Kauai isn’t dotted with a major metropolis servicing tens of thousands of residents and visitors, but is instead made up of small cities and villages that harken back to a more traditional Hawaiian lifestyle.
With just over 60,000 residents, the island has a third the population of the main island, with a populous that mainly works to sustain the tourism trade. As the island is known for drawing a more traditional tourist base, this is evidenced by more local residents employed in government jobs than in retail.
Tourism overtook the island’s previous economic engine, which for over a century was harvesting sugarcane. Up until the mid-20th century, Kauai housed vast plantation outfits. Today most of this land is instead used for ranching.
With a population of just under 6500, Lihue is the island’s second largest city and serves as the county seat for Kauai and two other smaller islands. The sugar trade specifically help build the city and port that would eventually give way to tourism. Lihue is home to a Macy’s, the only department store in the entire 3-island county.
Visitors are frequently left speechless at the untouched beauty that is seemingly around every bend on the island. Its considerable population of wild chickens is a frequent topic of conversation among tourists, and precisely how they differ from the more domestic variety.
Steven Spielberg has repeatedly captured this island’s breathtaking scenery in films like ‘Jurassic Park’ and the first Indiana Jones adventure, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’ In fact, many Americans unfamiliar with the differing islands most frequently associate images of Kauai as being representative of all Hawaiian islands.
Many who regularly visit the island greatly prefer this atmosphere and culture, a slower and more calming getaway spot, and therefor home to top dollar private estates and resorts.
That atmosphere may be changing though, as development projects are aimed at sculpting new tourism meccas against the majestic shoreline. These include one effort to renovate and reopen the former Coco Palms Resort, closed in 1992 after sustaining heavy damage from Hurricane Iniki.
The Coco Palms also flaunts a famed history, serving as the backdrop for the Elvis Presley classic ‘Blue Hawaii,’ another title many falsely associate with the larger island. It is set to reopen in 2017 as a Hyatt resort, though a fire on Independence Day 2014 may have delayed that effort.
When the resort first opened in 1953, it only featured 24 rooms. Within two decades that grew to over 400. Plans for the new resort naturally plan to dwarf such numbers, perhaps hinting at equal growth arriving soon for the island itself.
Not far from the planned site is one of the area’s more culturally significant landmarks, the Walk of the Alii where spirits supposedly make their ghostly journey up and down the lush path in the shadow of Mount Kawaikini.