Well-known for being filmed in The Descendants, Hanalei Bay is easily Kauaʻi’s most famous beach and for good reason. Really one long beach that's divided into several sections with different names, there’s something for almost everyone here: sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, stand up paddle surfing, kayaking, bodyboarding and surfing. The winter months can make this stretch of water an expert spot for board riders only (no swimming or snorkeling). In summer, the water is sometimes so calm it’s hard to distinguish between sky and sea, except for a smattering of yachts bobbing on the horizon.
Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge
Anywhere west of Kilauea will set you on a path ever more pristine the further you go. Following Kalihiwai, you’ll catch your first glimpses of even more vast Eden-esque landscapes. Rolling hills abound as you pass through Princeville, where you’ll spot the Hanalei Valley Lookout, across from the Princeville Center. It's arguably the best vantage point for the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge.
One of the largest rivers in the state, the Hanalei River has nurtured its crops since the first kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiians) began cultivating taro in its fertile valley fields. Other crops have come and gone. In the mid-1800s, rice paddies were planted here to feed the Chinese sugar-plantation laborers. By the 1930s, four rice mills were operating in the Hanalei area. Today, taro again dominates, with only 5% of its original acreage.
The wildlife refuge, established in 1972, is closed to the public. However, from the lookout you might be able to spot the 49 varieties of birds using the habitat, including the valley’s endangered native species: aeʻo (Hawaiian stilt; slender with black back, white chest and long pink legs), ʻalae kea (Hawaiian coot; slate gray with white forehead), ʻalae ʻula (Hawaiian moorhen; dark gray with black head and distinctive red-and-yellow bill) and koloa maoli (Hawaiian duck; mottled brown with orange legs and feet).
To get here, turn left onto Ohiki Rd immediately after the Hanalei Bridge. You can enter the refuge only on the Hoʻopulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill Tour.
Homage to Kalo
According to Hawaiian cosmology, Papa (earth mother) and Wakea (sky father) gave birth to Haloa, a stillborn brother to man. Haloa was planted in the earth and from his body came kalo (taro), a plant that has long sustained the Hawaiian people and been a staple for oceanic cultures around the world.
Kalo is still considered a sacred food, full of tradition and spirituality for Hawaiians. Hanalei is home to the largest taro-producing farm in the state, Hoʻopulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill & Taro Farm, where the purple, starchy potato-like plant is grown in loʻi kalo (wet taro fields). Rich in nutrients, kalo is often boiled and pounded into poi, an earthy, starchy and somewhat sweet and sticky pudding-like food.
Families enjoy poi, defined by some Hawaiians as the ‘staff of life,’ in different ways. Some prefer it fresh, while others prefer sour poi, or ʻawaʻawa (bitter) poi, possibly derived from the method in which poi used to be served – often it sat in a bowl on the table for quite some time.
All traditional Hawaiian households show respect for taro: when the bowl of poi sits on the table, one is expected to refrain from arguing or speaking in anger. That’s because any bad energy is ʻino (evil) – and can spoil the poi.