Journeys with Matt Ginella: Kauai
The Garden Island balances the preservation of its past with the sustainability of its future
By Matt Ginella
“Hawaii is not a state of mind but a state of grace,” says novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux says.
Each of the six major islands offers pristine beaches and epic adventures—along dramatic coastlines, to the bottom of waterfalls and the top of jagged mountain peaks and down through verdant valley. But each of the islands also has a unique history and culture, cadence and vibe. Where Oahu has the bustle of Honolulu and the world-class surf spots of the North Shore, Maui has Mt. Haleakala and the road to Hana. The Big Island features an active volcano while Lana‘i is the smallest island but offers a wide mix of experiences, from rugged to the lap of luxury. Molokai is the least populated island and has the highest percentage of native Hawaiians.
And then there’s Kauai.
On this journey to the “Garden Island,” we immersed ourselves in the culture and community of the oldest and northernmost island. We played five of the nine golf courses, sampled generational recipes, paddled a canoe, farmed on our food and had a chance encounter with a Hall of Famer.
“What makes Kauai special, above everything else, is the people,” says mayor Derek Kawakami, who plays his golf at Wailua Municipal Golf Course, where residents can tee it up for $15 on weekdays. There’s nothing like being shoulder-to-shoulder with spiritual locals as they chant and clap to the sunrise. Just as awe-inspiring is watching the sun set on the Napali coastline.
“Kauai has this deep aloha and a deep caring for all things,” says Hualani Duncan, sales manager of the Ocean Course at Hokuala. “Come as a guest and you’ll be hosted as an ohana.” Which is to say: family.
On this trip, we were educated on why sustainability matters and why a hyper-focus on the preservation of natural resources is critical to the island’s future. The main message was “malama ‘aina,” which means: Take care of the land, and it takes care of you. But on Kauai, it doesn’t stop with the land; the people also take care of one another. A concept the Hawaiians refer to as “Mālama Kauai.”
And they do that because they are ohana. We were their guests. And we benefited from an attitude of gratitude as we navigated the nuances of the spirituality that is part of this island’s lifestyle. “This is the oldest island, the mother pearl of the islands, the guardian island,” says Keli’i Alapa’i, who grew up in the mountains near what is now the Princeville Makai Golf Club on the northern tip of Kauai. “We’re only here temporarily, we are the stewards of the place and it’s up to us to teach the next generations how it’s supposed to be.”
On this trip, lessons were learned. We’re honored to pass them along.