By Gavin Arucan | Staff Writer
I’ve been visiting Kauaʻi almost every summer for longer than I am capable of remembering. It’s the Hawaiian island that my Japanese side of the family came from, so family reunions are common there. Over time, I’ve grown to consider Kauaʻi my second home, and yet, until recently, I had not seen most of the island.
My great-great-grandparents arrived on Kauaʻi over a century ago and found work and a home at the Gay & Robinson sugarcane plantation known as Pākalā Village. The quaint little town now serves as a tightly-knit community for retired plantation workers and their families. While the adjacent beach is fairly well-known throughout the island, the town itself is easily missed. It’s marked only by a lone post office and a red dirt road just a little east from Waimea.
The forgotten historical town is where I spent my summers on Kauaʻi. My cousin, grandma, and I would stay at my great-grandma and uncle’s run-down plantation home. We only left the area to attend an obon festival in Waimea, go to the beach at Salt Pond, or visit family in Līhuʻe. With very little else to do, my cousin and I would let our imaginations run wild in Pākalā as we explored the beach, our aunty’s abandoned house, and some forgotten structures such as a closed candy store and a creepy shed.
Eventually, my uncle moved to Waimea, where we will stay during our visits now. Still, until this year, we hardly left the area. We had Big Save, Ishihara Market, and JoJo’s Shave Ice all in one area. Was there any reason to leave? The most sightseeing I did was down the road at Menehune Ditch, where I would play on the swinging bridge or try to spot the mythical Menehune in the nearby small cave.
However, on my Kauaʻi visit this summer, I convinced my family to go sightseeing and play tourist for a few days. This mostly came from my realization that I had not seen a lot of Kauaʻi after being told of certain landmarks by friends.
For the first time, I ventured out north from Līhuʻe to a completely different Kauaʻi. I visited a few of the major tourist attractions along the east side including the Maniniholo Dry Cave, the Kīlauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Reserve, and the Ching Young Village Shopping Center. It was refreshing to see new places on an island I thought I knew well, but much like most of the tourist attractions on Oʻahu, the east side of Kauaʻi took its toll on me over time.
As someone who grew up in a quiet neighborhood in Waipahu and spent summers in an even quieter town, the tourist culture of Princeville and the surrounding area came as jolt to me. I had never seen such large crowds on Kauaʻi before, which opposed my view of Kauaʻi as a quaint, country island. It was a strange fusion of the historic and natural marvels of Kauaʻi and the detached, commercial vibe of Waikīkī.
Poʻipū beach, which I also visited for the first time, is the summation of the commercial side of Kauaʻi. The water was crystal clear and full of healthy marine life, but every square foot of the beach was occupied by both locals and visitors. One still gets to enjoy the authentic beauty of the Garden Island, but among the hustle and bustle of tourist life.
While I didn’t have the chance to see the Nāpali Coast, I did eventually make my way further west from Waimea to view the Waimea Canyon for the first time. Photos of the canyon are what convinced me to go sightseeing in the first place, and witnessing the majesty of the canyon did not disappoint. This and the Kīlauea Lighthouse were the highlights of my sightseeing adventure.
There seems to be a parallel between the cultures of Kauaʻi and Oʻahu. The east sides are much more developed and sought after by visitors, while the west sides are mostly country and small neighborhoods. As someone who spent so much of his life on the west side of both islands, I am obviously much more comfortable with the laid-back culture of the country. While I enjoyed exploring more of Kauaʻi, I’ll always treasure my memories in Pākalā over sightseeing in Princeville due to pure sentimentality and preference.
However, I’m glad I did take a trip out of my comfort zone. I feel just a little bit closer to Kauaʻi after getting to see parts of it I had never seen before.