On the whole, the people of Kauai are kind and welcoming, laid-back and chilled out. After just a few hours in this sand-in-your-toes, breeze-in-your-hair tropical paradise, it’s easy to understand why. “Island time” slows life down to a gentler pace, syncing with the methodical lapping of waves.
The tranquil vibe on Kauai makes perfect sense; in a land marked by such immense beauty – crescent-shaped beaches, tropical rivers and dramatic cliffs – there’s no reason to rush.
Just ask the locals; this place is meant to be savored.
Revered Kauai native and cultural practitioner Sabra Kauka — Photo courtesy of Julie Arnan
Kauai – the fourth largest, northernmost and geologically oldest of the main Hawaiian islands – is home to 69,000 residents, most of whom live and work in coastal zones. This leaves the island's interior largely untouched and pristine.
Returning visitors flock here (especially the active, adventure-seeking types) for the indescribable beauty and the ideal year-round weather; even though rain shows up here more often than on other Hawaiian islands, it predominantly falls over the mountain ranges, and the ocean remains a delightfully warm temperature regardless.
Over the years, residents of the island have been voted friendliest by various media outlets. (Tip: If you're invited into someone's home, take off your shoes before entering as a sign of respect.) Aside from their reputation for being warm and welcoming, the locals of the "Garden Isle" also seem to be athletic, artistic and expressive.
Vance and Stephanie of Princeville Ranch Adventures prepare to lead a tour — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting
The people here are also known for their excellent stewardship of the island, remaining vigilant toward any signs of modernization – sometimes even putting themselves in harm's way to protect their home from exploitation and overdevelopment. (A recent example involved Kauai natives rallying to block a "Superferry" from docking on island shores.)
"Visitors should be respectful of Kauai because of the history we have here," explains hula teacher Kapu Kinimaka-Alquiza. "Our goal is to preserve our history and have it available for our future generations as well as our visitors that come to the Island. We would like them to appreciate the true beauty of Kauai."
David of Island Helicopters puts passengers at ease as they soar high above the breathtaking Napali Coast — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting
Kauai boasts a unique, multi-cultural atmosphere that weaves together a rich tapestry of history, cultures and traditions. The people of Kauai came from the Marquesas and other Polynesian islands about 1,500 years ago. Tahitians then discovered the island about 1,000 AD, overpowering the Marquesans and driving them toward other islands.
Westerners started to arrive during the 1700s, the most famous being Captain James Cook in 1778. Merchants and missionaries soon made their way, too. Most of the island’s people descended from the immigrants that came during the birth of the sugar industry (namely, in the district of Koloa in 1835).
Immigrants gradually flocked to the island, in search of an idyllic existence, from such countries as Japan, China, the Philippines, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain and Germany.
Folks here carry a deep appreciation for the past and ancestors who have come before them, giving natives an admirable loyalty and determination to keep their land preserved and culture alive.
The people here live with a captivating "Aloha Spirit." Although aloha can also be used to greet someone or say goodbye, it carries a much deeper cultural meaning, defined by such words as love, affection, peace, sympathy, pity, kindness, mercy and compassion.
The concept represents a unique way of living – the secret to a rich life. (Island etiquette even requires that one should “drive with aloha," meaning slowly and without honking.)
While in Kauai, broaden your cultural awareness by visiting museums and historic sites, but be sure not to step on heiau (Hawaiian temple) sacred rock platforms.
In Līhue, the Kauai Museum tells the island’s story from its formation and the arrival of early Polynesians up until more modern times with the inception of the sugar plantation.
Visit Waioli Mission in Hanalei, a historic New England-style home, where the Wilcox family (one of Kaua‘i’s most influential families) arrived in the 1800s.
Explore Koloa, the historic 19th-century plantation town that proudly celebrates its heritage every July during Koloa Plantation Days.
Meeting locals can happen anywhere and at anytime. Simply pull up a stool in a laid-back, open-air cafe, where the background soundtrack consists of lapping waves and overhead Jawaiian beats (a Hawaiian style of reggae music).
Chances are, you'll soon have made friends with some enchanting, amiable ambassadors of the island.
Mahalo, Kauai, for your kind hospitality. We'll be back as soon as we possibly can!