Free things to do on Kaua`i’s west side

What's New — By jeckardt on September 29, 2011 at 8:50 am

While an airline ticket to Kaua`i may be a bit pricey, the good news is that once you’re there the natural beauty and features of the Garden Island offer nearly endless possibilities for entertainment at no cost. Hikes, beaches, wildlife watching and even a gathering of star gazers at night provide fun and free options.

Star Gazing
Star gazing can be done anywhere, but since many of us rarely take advantage of it, joining a group of star gazers once a month is an inspiration to relax outdoors at night revel in the light of the sparkling stars. From June to September, the Kaua’i Educational Association for Science and Astronomy (808/332-7827, gathers star gazers together at the Kaumakani ball field to watch a celestial cinema. Heading west from Hanapepe, look for the Thrifty Mart Bakery in Kaumakani, take a right at the Kaumakani sign, then right again to the ball field. With no city lights around, the stars out here burn bright and glittery.

Bird Watching
The 3.5 mile Alaka’i Swamp Trail has a reputation at a great birding trail. It runs through a native wet forest to the rim of the Wainiha Pali where expansive view of the north shore can be seen. It is often wet, slippery, and muddy so if there’s been heavy rain recently be extra careful. The Kaluapuhi Trail is 1.6 miles long and presents disturbed native forests along with good bird sightings. The 3.7 mile long Pihea Trail is a scenic nature trail along the rim of Kalalau Valley with good bird sightings. The Kamuwela Trail is one mile long and also offers good bird watching.

Historic Walking Tour
A volunteer from Waimea offers two tours free of charge. A walking tour of Waimea Town is offered on Mondays begining at the West Kaua’i Technology Center at 9:30 A.M. She offers a tour of a plantation neighborhood dating back to the 1900s on Saturdays that meets at the lobby of the Waimea Plantation Cottages. Call 808/337-1005.

Coffee Plantation Tour
The first coffee to be planted in the Hawaiian Islands was planted in this region over 150 years ago as the state’s first coffee plantation. Years later only little success was achieved and coffee production ceased in Kaua’i and moved to the Big Island at Kona. Today it’s grown not only on the Big Island, but on Maui, Moloka’i, Oahu, and again on Kaua’i. It’s actually been so successful that in 2011 Italian coffee giant Massimo Zanetti Beverage bough Kaua’i Coffee Company, which grows Hawaiian arabica coffee bean plants on its 3,400 acre drip-irrigated property, and produces roughly four million pounds of coffee a year. Harvest is done mechanically and takes place September through November, resulting in the busiest time of year on the estate. The largest single coffee estate in Hawaii, Kaua’i Coffee has a hold on about 60 perfect of the Hawaiian coffee market. If you use Route 540, and especially if you love coffee, stop at the Kaua’i Coffee Company Visitor Center and Museum right after Numila. A refurbished plantation building holds the gift shop and museum. Historical artifacts are available for viewing and information on how coffee is handled and processed at each stage from. Gifts, clothing, food items, and of course coffee can be purchased and tasted.

West Kaua’i Technology and Visitor Center
Audiovisual displays, books, and wall displays at the West Kaua’i Technology and Visitor Center which can be reached at (808)338-1332 and provides visitors with insight into the history of the town and surrounding areas. Located at the bottom of Waimea Canyon Drive, there is some Ni’ihau shell jewelry on display and other artifacts tell the story of the area’s sugar past and technological preset. Brochures from Waimea businesses, books, Internet access, and printing are also available.

The Koke’e Natural History Museum is located after the 15 mile marker in Koke’e State Park and has staff to help you choose which of the 19 trails and hikes are right for you. Detailed hiking maps are available here, and displays of plants animals found in the park, Hawaiian culture, and a whether exhibit focusing on the devastating Hurricane ‘Iniki is on display.

The best two views on Kaua’i are in the almost 4,500 acre forest that is Koke’e State Park. At mile marker 18 the Kalalau Lookout opens to an expansive view over the biggest valley on the Na Pali Coast, the Kalalau Valley, which was inhabited until the beginning of the 1900s and since by the occasional hippy looking to live off of fruit in the jungle. About a mile down the road is the even better Pu’u O Kila lookout opens to Kalalau Valley, and the 15 acre Alaka’i Swamp to Mount Wai’ale’ale. If you get there on a cloudy day or the mist gets thicker as the elevation rises, there’s a chance the view won’t be visible. Earlier in the day is better, or if scheduling allows, check the weather and go when it looks best. To get here go past the Koke’e Lodge and onto the road that turns into potholes and broken up pavement.

Tags: history, koke`e, museum, star gazing, walking tour, west hawaii technology center