From Honolulu to Hanalei to Haena…Or, How I Fell in Love With Hawaii in 10 Days

OK OK I can see it now…I can see why Hawai῾i is on everyone’s travel bucket list. It truly is a spectacular, beautiful tropical paradise kind of place.  I knew that I would enjoy my trip there – who wouldn’t? But I had no idea that Hawai῾i, especially Kaua῾i, would find a place in my heart…Paris graciously moved over some to give her some room. Merci, Mahalo.


Went from snowzilla to this!!

I know that I was amazingly fortunate in that I had many experiences that I most certainly would not have experienced if I had come here alone, as a tourist. So I am incredibly grateful to Doug for bringing me along and for showing me his world, his place.  I am so glad that I had the opportunity to work beside this man that I love on a project that is so precious to him, and now to me.

We were in Hawai῾i to work on this:, which, as it says in the about page, “is a vehicle for cultural preservation and the perpetuation of indigenous traditions in the Pacific. In this role, it presents Pacific Islands—from Pacific-Islander perspectives—to the entire world. Whether you are a tourist or a scholar, this site will transform your understanding of Pacific cultures and environments. Second and more specifically, Pacific Worlds comprises an indigenous-geography education project serving Hawai‘i-Pacific Schools.”

Doug started the project in the early 2000s and traveled to Hawai‘i and several islands in the Pacific, interviewing many people about their land, their history and their culture. He documented all of the interviews and while he was a professor at Towson University he continued to work on the site and created curriculum.  Around 10 years ago he took a job as Senior Geographer at the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian and this project had to be put on the back burner while he worked on other things (including his recently-opened exhibit on Hawaiian Sovereignty.)  Thankfully Doug was able to return to the Pacific Worlds project due to the generosity of the US Forest Service, which gave him a grant to update the website with a focus on current conservation efforts in Ha῾ena, which just happened to be the first community he completed for the site. So…off we went!

We spend our first few nights in Honolulu recovering from jet lag.


Waikiki Beach


MMM Mai Tai


Me with my ginger lei (still in my east coast plane clothes!)


Sunset on Waikiki

We played tourist in Waikiki and Doug gave me a whirlwind tour of some of his favorite places and past haunts around Honolulu, we had drinks and connected with some dear friends and in what seemed the blink of an eye we were off for Kaua῾i, and Ha῾ena.


Kauai from the air

We settled into the sweetest digs, Auntie Sunny’s oceanfront cottage which was a score! As it was quaint, charming, so close to Ha῾ena with this amazing view AND was cheaper than any of the closest hotels or condos (in the not so charming Princeville).


Auntie Sunny’s oceanview cottage


Aunti Sunny’s cottage ocean view…sigh

But  we didn’t have much time to take in the views as we were off as soon as we arrived to the first of many meetings with the community. This one was held at the beautiful Limahuli Gardens.  Doug gave an overview of what we were there to do and we learned about many of the exciting projects that were happening all around us in Ha῾ena.


Limahuli Gardens Visitor Center and Office


Taro fields (Lo’i) in the garden



Some of the beautiful tropical flowers

I could write a book about everything I learned about Hawai῾i and Kaua,’i and Haen῾a on this trip  (as if this blog post wasn’t already getting to be book length!) It’s a particularly special place both from a historical view and a spatial one.  I can’t begin to tell the history but I can show the beautiful land. I interpreted (hopefully correctly) from all the things I learned that Ha῾ena is both a place (῾aina, or land) and a community (hui), which are all are part of the ahupua῾a of Ha῾ena. Here’s a pretty good description of an ahupua῾a that I found on the internets:

“One of the most salient features of the native Hawaiian social structure was the ahupua῾a, a traditional land and sea tenure system where local communities and resource systems were organized. Typically, an ahupua῾a encompassed an entire watershed, from the top of the ridge to the deep sea. Resources were managed in a hierarchal fashion and tasks were stratified socially and by occupation. Each individual ahupua῾a was managed by a local leader, a Konohiki, who was granted the authority by the ruling chiefs. Different uses of land and sea occurred in different areas of the ahupua῾a. The upland forest was reserved for gathering wood and hunting, the fertile valley floor was used to grow taro in irrigated pond-fields called lo῾i, rivermouths were encircled by walls for fishpond aquaculture, and expert fishermen, po’o lawai’a, oversaw offshore fishing.”

One of the many things that is striking about Haen῾a is that you can see the linkage between the mountain and the valley and the sea…you can see how the land flows from the mountain (in this case Makana mountain)


That’s Makana in the distance

to the sea,


so you get, viscerally, how interconnected it all is, and you can understand how the people of Ha῾ena lived on and off of the land.

As Doug wrote previously, what makes Ha῾ena unique is that much of the land is controlled by Limahuli Gardens and the Ha‘ena State Park. Unlike many places in Hawai῾i it is relatively undeveloped (as I mentioned there are no big resorts there), so the community was able to work out an arrangement with the state that allows them to take ῾care of, or malama, their ῾aina. They formed a 501c3 in 1998 called the Hui Maka῾ainana o Makana whose mission has been “to restore Hawaiian values and stewardship practices.”

Because much of the traditional lo῾i (land for growing taro) area of Ha῾ena was intact within the boundaries of the State Park,  the Hui Maka῾ainana o Makana worked out an agreement with the state that allowed them to clear the land and plant taro. And they worked for over ten years to convince the state to pass a law creating a Community-Based Subsistence Fishing Area in Ha῾ena. The law, which was the first in Hawai῾i and was finally passed last year, sets limits on the amount of certain fish and shellfish that can be caught or harvested and  places restrictions on the types of fishing equipment and methods that can be used, and it prohibits commercial fishing – in other words, it relies on generations of knowledge on how to fish sustainably.


In a similar vein, the Limahuli gardens are working to bring back native forests and plants. They have restored a native forest and have greatly reduced the invasive species.  And they also have planted a gathering garden, where members of the community can come to gather plants that are used in hula and other ceremonies.


Surreally, that was my world for 8 too short days, talking to members of the hui about their lives, the lives of their ancestors, their land, their traditions…everything. We talked with Makaala, who works for the Hanalei watershed and who is a tireless defender of both the environment and of the culture. We talked with Carlos and Samson, the two guides to Ha῾ena that Doug featured in the first Ha῾ena web site, so full of knowledge about the history of Ha῾ena (Carlos just wrote a book about Ha`ena and  until not all that long age Samson rode horses and rescued stranded travelers on the Na Pali trail on horseback…not for the faint of heart!) We worked the lo῾I with Keli῾i and Nalani, who invited us to their house to talk about their lives growing up fishing and farming in Ha`ena and how much it means for them to retain a connection to the land. We talked to Presley and Uncle Tom, kupuna and fishermen who were instrumental in getting the CBSFA passed.  So much knowledge, or na῾auao. Then there were the people at the Limahuli Gardens, Kawika the director who has been working so hard to bring back the traditional trees and plants and practices. And Lahela, who shared stories of growing up in Ha῾ena just as she shares her culture with visitors to the gardens. We also went to Lihu῾e to interview Andy Bushnell, a historian who gave us an overview of native Hawaiians first contact with early explorers on Kaua῾i. And the other people at the garden and in the hui, so many other wonderful people…

So I was able to be in this beautiful place, surrounded by lush green gardens and fragrant flowers and the mountain and sand and the sea and the smell of the ocean, all the while listening to the history of the land and the sea from people with a history and deep deep connection to the place. I was most honored to have been invited to work day at the lo῾i, one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, so lush and green. It was a day I will never forget, mud and all…



People pay hundreds of dollars for this mud wrap



Women with scythes

The whole experience was indescribable (I know that I have already taken too many words to try to describe it and still I don’t think I could begin to describe the feelings).  And my feelings ran the gamut. Beauty and wonder and awe and humbleness and gratefulness.


But there was also for me a sense of sadness and anger when I thought about the economic unfairness of it all.  Practically none of the members of the community live in Ha῾ena. Some of them have chosen to live elsewhere, that’s true, and as I mentioned much of the land in Ha῾ena itself is now part of the garden or the state park. But there are houses and properties all along the north shore of Kaua῾i…it’s just that the vast majority of them are super expensive.  I know that I know very few people who could afford to live anywhere near Ha῾nea now, myself included.  The sad truth is that many of the people in the community can’t afford to go back to live there either, even if they wanted to. And those who were able to retain their land couldn’t afford to stay because the high priced real estate around them raised their property taxes so much that it priced them out. It just makes you think.  Are those people who buy those million dollar beachfront estates interested in the history of the community in which they live?  Sigh…

But, despite that part (which I just can’t help thinking about – as I told my co-workers you can take the girl outta CEPR but you can’t take the CEPR outta the girl),  it was so super awesome, as my daughter Jordan would say. When we weren’t busy interviewing we were off photographing various places for the website:

including this heiau that was set in the most spectacular setting I think I’ve ever seen.


Doug chanting permission to enter the heiau


We went to Hanalei to interview Makaala



Downtown Hanalei

and then went for a swim in the striking Hanalei Bay.


We ate poke and poi (made in Hanalei and even in Ha῾na! I know it’s an acquired taste but I liked it).


Fresh Hanalei poi!

We had lau lau


Our gift from Keli’i and Nalani

and drank rum and pineapple juice. We went swimming at Ke῾e beach


and hiked a teeny tiny bit up the Na Pali Coast trail.


And the best part? I get to go back, in July. Hallelujah!

The day we were leaving we headed out to the gardens to give back the key to the gate to the lo῾i, which had graciously been loaned to us by Presley. The waves were super high that day, so we were looking at the beach as we drove by and we saw Uncle Tom, looking at the waves too. Doug pulled over to take some more pictures for the website and Uncle Tom and I had a chat about the weather and about fishing and I told him about the Chesapeake Bay and rockfish and blue crabs, and how my dad loved to catch blue crabs and we just chatted and looked at the sea. And I felt Ernie there on that beach. It was sweet.

Dawn & Uncle Tom 4 (1).jpg


A tres bientot Ha῾ena. Aloha…Aloha nui loa.