“When you see Hanalei by Moonlight, you will be in Heaven by the Sea
Every breeze, every wave will whisper you are mine don’t ever go away
Hanalei, Hanalei Moon is lighting beloved Kauai
Hanalei, Hanalei Moon Aloha no wa’u ia oe”
Hanalei Kauai. Almost everyone recognizes the refrain from the famous song “Hanalei Moon” written by Robert Nelson and performed so often across Hawaii. As I wrote out those lines, I recall several years ago going for a walk along Hanalei Bay in the Moonlight with my daughters who were then about 10 and 11 and another family. As we walked from Pavilions towards the center of the bay, we saw phosphoresence everywhere on the edge of the waves and sand… it was magical and mesmerizing. I’ve never seen it again, but that memory is seared into my consciousness.
I believe most people who have visited Hanalei have memories that they cherish; romantic walks along the bay by moonlight (yes Hanalei Moon!), days spent lazing on the beach, perhaps getting married on the bay, walks around Hanalei Town.
How to describe Hanalei? The most famous town and bay on Kauai. Hanalei Bay is a perfect half Moon beauty and Hanalei Town is quaint, authentic and full of little boutique shops and restaurants. It doesn’t seem to have lost its authenticity and colorful vibe over the years.
A couple of my friends remember Hanalei as it was 35 – 40 years ago. Not as many buildings, not as many shops, definitely not as many cars. I listen to those stories avidly and wish I could have seen it then. Even in 18 years it has changed, but it’s still Hanalei.
The archetypal Half Moon of Hanalei Moon is indeed stunning… from the air, from anywhere on the beach, from a boat, from a helicopter.. it’s just Hanalei Bay. There are views of Makana (Bali Hai) to the West and half a dozen beaches within the bay : The Pier, Pavilions, The Cape, Pine Trees, Grandpa’s and Waikoko’s. It’s just the perfect amazing beach really and there’s something for everyone.
Some days you can sit and watch the world class surfers out surfing the reef beneath the St. Regis. Somedays you can watch those skilled with a long board just cruising a wave for what seems like ages at Grandpa’s. And most days you can watch the kids jumping off the Pier and having fun on boogie boards.
I love Pine Trees because I like to sit way back on the grass near the Pine Trees or on the sand just in front of the Pine trees. Provides shade but I still have a great view. I like the openness there and it’s less busy most of the time. At weekends though you get the families out playing games on the grass. But that’s the thing about Hanalei Bay… there’s a terrific mix of surfers, teens, kids, families and romantic couples all enjoying one of the most famous bays in the world.
Kids love The Pier, especially jumping off it into the water which is safe and The Pier, Pavilions is a general hang out favored by teenagers. You can boogie board, you can float around in floaties when the water is calm and the beach is broad for barbecuing and picnics.
The walk from Hanalei Bay to town to stock up with water or snacks is only 5 minutes, perfect!
Hanalei Town is a favorite with locals and visitors alike. It’s pretty with an expanse of grass on the Mauka side of the street and is lined with cute boutique shops, cafes and restaurants. There’s the Harvest Market for Organic Food, Bar Acuda and Ama for delicious evening meals and The Hanalei Bread Company, definitely the best coffee in town. Those are fairly new arrivals. The Hanalei Gourmet has been there for ever and is local hangout and over on the Makai side of the street you will find Tahiti Nui, a definite local hang out. I recommend you go there at least once for a drink. Live music most nights and it was most recently used as a location in the George Clooney movie, The Descendants. There’s Shave Ice and Ice Cream and Big Save Supermarket has been there forever too which stocks pretty much everything you might need.
When you first come down the hill from Princeville into Hanalei, the first thing you come to is the The Dolphin restaurant on the Makai side … right next to the river. The Dolphin is something of an institution in Hanalei and is open for lunch and dinner. I would go for lunch and sit outside by the river. You can even buy fresh fish. There’s a bikini shop in the same building and over on the left is another longtime restaurant, Postcards. Next there are several places on either side of the road where you can hire kayaks and kayak the Hanalei River and rent everything from snorkel gear to surfboards to bikes.
The absolute best thing to have happened food wise in Hanalei over the last few years are the food trucks tucked away behind Hanalei Liquor store. I am eternally grateful for Fresh Bite, which serves absolutely delicious salads and wraps using all locally sourced and organic produce. A couple of my favorites are the Chop Lee and the Kauaian…. yum. And very reasonable. The purple fries are terrific too as is the Organic Mint Tea (which I’m pretty sure they get from Kauai Farmacy, more about them on another post) . Then there’s Cafe Tumeric which is the best Indian food I’ve had on Kauai. Also Organic, they do amazing coconut curry! Finally there is Trucking Delicious which serves Hawaiian inspired plate lunch including the very tradition Kailua Pork and cabbage and Poke bowls. All 3 of these trucks are so reasonably priced, it’s such value for money and in my humble opinion, some of the best food on Kauai.
For the juice crew amongst you, don’t miss Akamai Juice Co. Freshly made juice everyday… it’s something of a habit. Thank you Cas.
Before we leave the food in Hanalei section I do need to mention Pat’s Taqueria which is parked by the Pier. Terrific mexican food and a bit of an institution down at the Pier!
Then we have some upscale boutique shops and Hanalei Pizza tucked away behind The Wake Up Cafe near the corner. The Wake Up Cafe, another Hanalei institution serving breakfast from very early! Popular with surfers and sailors of course. You have to be up early to catch the tide!
Don’t miss the beautiful old church on the Mauka side past the Community center the Waioli Huiia Church which dates back to the 1800s. There’s also a couple of Art galleries and shops along the way.
Past Hanalei is the 20 year old Waipa Foundation. These folks are doing sterling work revitalising the ancient Hawaiian way of growing food, particularly Taro, which is Sacred to the Hawaiian people. As they say:
‘Aina. Culture. Community.
For over 20 years, Waipa Foundation has worked with the community to manage the 1,600 acre ahupua’a of Waipa, located on the north shore of Kaua’i. Waipa is a place where folks can connect with the ‘aina (that which feeds us – the land and resources), and learn about our local values and lifestyle through laulima (many hands working together).”
I highly recommend a visit during your stay.
The Hanalei Farmer’s Market happens every Saturday morning at 9am sharp in the grounds of the Community Center just past The Harvest Market. Get there early to get the good stuff! In addition to locally grown produce, including organic food you will find artisan stalls, crafts and flowers. The Market is organized by the terrific folks at Hale Halawai ‘Ohana O Hanalei As their mission statement says:
Our mission is to Create and sustain a gathering place for cultural education and for community engagement and actions to support social, civic and recreation events to perpetuate the value of aloha and the betterment of our community.
And from Aunty Kapeka Mahuiki-Chandler, one of the Founders of this important organization fostering Hawaiian cultural values and tradition (as the Waipa Foundation also does) :
“When you say this is the family center – it is for everybody, that is why we are here. I want them to get along, to learn how to live with each other…it doesn’t matter what nationality. Maybe here we can bridge over our differences. I would like to see that and we need more of that in this world today”.
Taro is integral to Hanalei. Taro is the plant – sacred to the Hawaiian people – that was mentioned in the Creation Story and is used to make Poi, also sacred. The beautiful heart shaped leaves are so distinctive and once you pass over the double bridge (the one that gets closed when it rains a lot) you will start to see the Taro stretching out on your left hand side.
The mountains in the background frame the heart shaped Taro leaves as you leave Hanalei headed north. Poi is made from the bulbous segment that grows below the ground when Taro is harvested. It is an acquired taste for those not brought up eating it. Poi is often used during Ceremony and has been a staple food for the Hawaiian people for centuries.
Hanalei is one of the “designated” tourist areas on the island so you are able to stay in Hanalei. There is only one hotel type accommodation and that is the Hanalei Inn. With only a few rooms, this quaint throwback to old Kauai is cute, inexpensive and conveniently located a block from the beach and a block from town. You can walk everywhere and each of the 6 rooms has cooking facilities. Small rooms, but cute.
For those with the means, budget, there are some quite exquisite estates right on the bay starting at The Pier end all the way past He’e Road heading north. Exquisite prices too…. at least $1000 a night and up.
There are a good amount of vacation rentals in the area between the beach on the Mauka side of Weke Road and amongst the roads running from Weke to Kuhio highway. You may not have ocean views but you are 2 minutes to the beach. The are near Pavilions known as Hanalei Palms is particularly worth a mention.
There are about a dozen homes that have been split into smaller units : 3, 2 and 1 bedrooms so that this makes Hanalei more affordable. I have a link to an example of one of these here. I have a list of recommended properties available by email if you wish to see more.
In terms of budget, it’s more expensive to stay in Hanalei than in Princeville for example. You are paying to be in the quaintest town on the island and near amazing Hanalei Bay. But hey, you’re in Hanalei Town!
Hanalei is a must visit spot on Kauai; the bay is famous, the town is authentic and quaint and it feels as though Old Kauai is still alive. Hanalei, Kauai, it’s enchanting! A Hui Hou!