a tour of a historic rice mill in the Hanalei
Valley, visitors also learn about taro farming and
get to sample fresh pa'i'ai, or pounded poi, rolled
in shredded coconut.
Hanalei" says the bumper sticker on a rusty,
surfboard-loaded pickup puttering slowly down the winding,
two-lane road in front of my rental car as I approach a
bridge into Kauai’s green, green Hanalei Valley.
bridge itself is a political statement aimed at keeping
"progress" out of this isolated community on the
north shore of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Locals
successfully battled against a new concrete span to
replace the Hanalei River’s one-lane, steel-truss
bridge. At islanders’ behest, the state in 2003 replaced
the decaying old bridge — built in 1912, the year the
Titanic sank — with a close replica.
slows traffic. It keeps out tour buses and big trucks. It
helps keep Hanalei funky.
centuries, Native Hawaiians farmed taro and other food
crops in this fertile valley. Native crops gave way to a
boom of rice farming in the 19th century. Today,
waterfalls thread thousands of feet down emerald-green
hillsides beyond ponds that once again grow taro, now used
in traditional dishes plus everything from hummus to
smoothies. With every breeze, the large, heart-shaped taro
leaves wave like butterfly wings.
across the valley through Hanalei (say "haw-na-LAY")
town, then into the "Bali Hai" area of Kauai,
where rainbows arch across cockscomb-jagged hills above
some of the island’s best snorkeling beaches.
Pacific" was filmed here. A former James Bond —
actor Pierce Brosnan — has a home here. Every morning,
hikers by the score set out from the Kuhio Highway’s end
to tackle the challenging Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali
old bridge doesn’t keep visitors out, so Hanalei town
has its share of touristy boutiques and galleries. But
even their setting, such as the rustic Old Hanalei School
retail complex (check out the vintage restrooms), beats
your average strip mall.
while cafes may have plenty of visitors from Oregon or
Arizona, not every Hawaiian town has local color as
memorable as Hanalei’s 52-year-old island-style bar,
Tahiti Nui — or "da Nui" to locals (5-5134
Kuhio Hwy.; thenui.com). Co-founded by a descendant of
Tahitian royalty, this is where George Clooney and Beau
Bridges hung out in the 2011 movie "The
Descendants." Under bamboo rafters, dance to a
rocking island band and slurp cocktails bursting with
pineapple and passion fruit.
a hard night at "da Nui," make your way to
is home to one of the planet’s prettiest little
churches, circa 1912. Sunday services (10 a.m.) at the
green-shingled, American Gothic-style Wai’oli Hui’ia
Church, in the heart of town, include hymns sung in the
are welcome. You might get a lei during the morning
greeting. Aloha shirts, muumuus and flip-flops, with an
occasional plumeria blossom in the hair, is the dress
code. Pick up a handheld lauhala fan, woven from the
leaves of a hala tree, from a basket by the door if there’s
not enough breeze through the open windows, whose stained
glass has a colorful theme of tropical flowers and banana
the Sunday I visit, twittering birds from outside are the
backup singers as Pastor Alpha Goto plays his ukulele and
croons "Kei Ka Hoa O Iesu La" ("What a
Friend We Have in Jesus").
the service, look behind the church for Christian
missionaries Abner and Lucy Wilcox’s 1837-vintage home,
listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with
its lava-rock chimney, classic koa furniture and a master
bedroom where Lucy gave birth to eight sons.
schooling in a page of unique island history, I join a
tour of Hawaii’s only remaining rice mill, situated
among the taro ponds. Rice was grown here commercially
from the 19th century until Hawaii’s rice industry
collapsed in the 1960s.
Ho’opulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill is now in the middle of
Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, off-limits to most
visitors, so if you’re a birder the tour also offers
chances to bolster your life list with possible glimpses
of endangered species such as the ae’o (Hawaiian stilt),
‘alae ke’oke’o (Hawaiian coot), ‘alae ‘ula
(Hawaiian moorhen), nene (Hawaiian goose) and the koloa
maoli (Hawaiian duck).
tour is highly personal. Leading it is 35-year-old Lyndsey
Haraguchi-Nakayama, whose family is in its sixth
generation of farming the valley, which included operating
the mill until its closure. Now, through a nonprofit, the
family helps preserve the historic mill, which has been
rebuilt and restored through many flash floods — you can
get rain here that would impress Noah — and two major
the ripe old age of 6 I started driving tractors, to help
with evacuations," Haraguchi-Nakayama recalls as she
stands by a taro pond and tells her family’s story.
the old mill’s corrugated metal roof, she shows how
scoops of rice moved on a conveyor belt powered at first
by a water wheel, later by a hefty diesel engine.
Machinery dating to 1830s China includes boulders that
turned together to crush and hull the rice.
learn almost enough about rice milling and taro farming to
wade into a pond and go to work.
tour concludes with a demonstration of taro pounding using
a lava-rock stone. There are samples of coconut water and
fresh pa’i’ai, or pounded poi — like purplish lumps
of dough rolled in freshly shredded coconut. Then comes a
catered lunch of sticky rice, lau lau pork (marinated pork
wrapped in a steamed taro leaf) and a sweet mochi cake.
leaves me bulging with Hanalei culture — and its food.
work off the lunch, a kayak paddle up the lazy Hanalei
River is just the way to cap the day.
Hanalei, a family-run outfitter just off the main drag as
you enter town, launches boats into a little stream that
connects with the river. They make it easy and fun, no
guide required. Rent a double-seater, sit-on-top kayak for
a half-day (the 1 p.m. special) for $48 (5-5070-A Kuhio
90-minute round trip takes you under the old bridge and
back up into the wildlife refuge, past towering monkey pod
trees and thickets of hau, also known as sea hibiscus.
it’s back into town for dinner. Choices, choices: the
open-air deck at Kalypso (5-5156 Kuhio
Hwy.;kalypsokauai.com) for the Paniolo Spicy BBQ burger
($10.95)? Or Chicken in a Barrel BBQ, from which you can
look across the road to a double ribbon waterfall tumbling
down a distant mountainside? Or back to Tahiti Nui, for
Kauai prawns with macadamia honey sauce over steamed bok
you stay out too late and drink too much? Back to church
with you in the morning.
is on Kauai’s north shore, on the Kuhio Highway, about a
50-minute drive from the Lihue Airport.
of the Ho’opulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill and the adjacent
working taro farm are offered Wednesdays at 10 a.m. and
last 31/2 to 4 hours, including snacks and a
Hawaiian-style lunch. $87/adults, $52/children 5-12,
younger children free. 808-651-3399 or
Bay, fronting Hanalei town, has one of the best beaches on
Kauai. As you drive westward through Hanalei, turn right
on Aku Road, then right on Weke Road. Look for the beach
park on your left.