by Liza Simon
First you see it from the lookout—the manmade plaid of luscious green taro fields, held in the sweeping embrace of zigzag mountain ridges and cloud-covered cliffs. Then you cross the bridge, a one-lane wooden affair that not only limits tonnage but requires you to shed some psychic weight as well and practice the aloha code by yielding, yielding, yielding. Literally, you give way to oncoming traffic; mentally, you give in to the power of beauty. And you have arrived—welcome to Hanalei.
photos by Jim Shea
When I lived on Kauai for a lucky thirteen years, Hanalei was my getaway. On payday, I had my routine: an umbrella drink at the Tahiti Nui Bar, a stroll through Ching Young Shopping Village, a visit to trailheads and beaches on the far side of Hanalei, where the beauty glimpsed from the lookout was suddenly mine. By sunset, I’d hooked up with friends, and in conversation that continued long after the symphony of color in the sky had faded, I’d listen to them talk about the joys and sacrifices of living in Hanalei. For all its charm and isolation, Hanalei was as enveloping as a human presence, they said. It’s not just that Hanalei calls, as you might hear it sung in a schmaltzy lyric. It’s more accurate to say that Hanalei is a calling.
Over a decade since my departure, I start a foray of rediscovery by heading to Hanalei Bay. My old friend Joanna is at my side, dropping hints about a fact I’m not sure I want to acknowledge: A new millennium has come to Hanalei. I notice that vacation rentals have replaced vintage plantation-style homes around the fabled horseshoe-shaped bay, and Joanna informs me that even the Hanalei Bridge is new, a replica built to accommodate more traffic. Apparently, a lot more people are getting away to my old getaway.