Double bridge, Ha'ena

Kauai Driving: Bring Your Nerves of Steel

Double bridge, Ha'ena
Double bridge, Ha’ena

I got my license in the rolling hills of West Virginia, so Kauai’s narrow, winding roads don’t freak me out.  Still, driving on the Garden Isle is different from the mainland, so here are a few things to keep in mind before you get behind the wheel during your visit to paradise.

Kauai only has two major highways, Kamualii (Rt 50) and Kuhio (Rt 56), which cover about two-thirds of the island, with no automobile access to the rugged Napali Coast.  Roadways are mostly single lane each direction, with little to no shoulder, minimal lighting and seemingly arbitrary repairs.  The maximum speed limit is 50 MPH, with the average posted limit much lower, so prepare to get into vacation mode and slow down, or face hefty fines.

Waimea Canyon Drive
Waimea Canyon Drive

Aloha Driving:  The majority of Kauai drivers are super polite and more kickback than those on the mainland. There are exceptions, of course, but most local motorists yield to pedestrians, let you merge into traffic, and even flash you a shaka when you yield to them at one-way bridges.  Honking your horn as a show of impatience is highly frowned upon and will mark you as a rude tourist who pisses off the locals, so only use your horn when there’s a an actual emergency.

Hanalei Bridge
Hanalei Bridge

One-Way Bridge Etiquette:  Kauai has more than a half-dozen one-way bridges on the north shore betweenPrinceville and Ke’e Beach.  Local courtesy is to allow 5 to 7 cars to cross before switching directions. The Hanalei Bridge is the busiest, so enjoy the amazing view of the taro fields and surrounding mountains while you wait your turn.  The double bridge over the Wainiha River can be tricky because you have to make sure traffic has cleared both bridges before you start to cross.  I’ve actually seen cars forced to back-up because drivers started to cross prematurely and came bumper-to-bumper with oncoming traffic.

Hidden Speed Limit Sign
Hidden Sign

Erratic Rain:  Kauai is a tropical island so it can be sunny one moment and pouring rain the next.  Visiting motorists need to adjust accordingly, anticipating the potential for reduced visibility,slick roads, and mudslides. Plentiful showers also help tropical vegetation smother street signs and speed limit signs making them difficult to see.

Contraflow Traffic Lane
Contraflow Lane

Contraflow Confusion:  Kauai uses a contraflow lane reversal between Kapa’a and Lihue to help reduce congestion during the morning and afternoon rush hours.  Here’s how it works:  Traffic cones are placed in the middle of Kuhio Highway so the center lane can be used as a second southbound lane in the AM and a second northbound lane in the PM.  Driving on the wrong side of the road rattles my nerves because a confused motorist could easily cross the flimsy divider and cause a head-on collision, so I avoid the contraflow traffic zone whenever possible.

Rooster Roadkill, Hanalei
Rooster Roadkill, Hanalei

Critter Crashes:  Kauai is famous for it’s feral chickens and crowing wild roosters, both of which can create driving hazards for the uninitiated motorist.  Visitors tend to hit their brakes or swerve to avoid hitting these critters which creates the potential for a serious, or even deadly accident. Personally, I slow slightly, but always chose “road kill” over “people kill.”

Princeville Potholes
Princeville Potholes

Random Repairs:  The main highway is actually well maintained considering the beating the asphalt takes during stormy weather.  The pavement on side roads and private roads is another matter.  Ironically, some of the worst road maintenance I’ve seen on Kauai is in the upscale community of Princeville.  Axle-challenging, tire-munching potholes are blamed on an ongoing dispute between developer, Steve Stone, and the homeowner’s association over who’s responsible for maintenance and upkeep.

Larsen's Beach
Larsen’s Beach Access

Rental Car Rules:  Be aware that the fine print on your rental car contract prohibits driving on unpaved roads like the ones used to access Larsen’s, Secret and Polihale Beaches. This means you’ll be billed for towing costs and repairs if you break down, or have an accident, even if you buy their supplemental insurance.

GPS Needed or Not?  It’s personal preference, but not necessary on a small island like Kauai.  If you do use a GPS device, the audible navigation tends to mangle the Hawaiian language, making it a challenge to match the mispronounced words with street signs.  I sometimes use Google maps on my cell phone, but there are areas on Kauai where the lack of service means maps won’t load.  I recommend a printed map or guidebook for visitors that uses mile markers to help you locate special sites and hidden beaches.  My personal favorite is The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook, available online or at the Costco in Lihue.

Other useful links:
Zoomable Road Map of Kauai

Kauai County-Facebook Site, check for traffic advisories and road closures


Kauai Sticker Shock!

sticker-shockA vacation on any Hawaiian island can give visitors “sticker shock,” so it should come as no surprise that the “price of paradise” is even more pronounced when you fly to the outer island of Kauai where the cost of living is about double the national average.

Shipping costs, some of the highest gas prices in the nation, plus the most shocking energy prices in the U-S are among the factors adding to the loud “ka-ching” you’ll hear at the cash register.  To add insult to injury, a 4% excise tax is added to         everything you buy on the Garden Isle.

One of the most noticeable price differentials for visitors from the mainland is the cost of food.  I remember my brother and sister-in-law gasping for breath during their vacation when they saw milk for sale in a local supermarket for more than $5.00/gallon, eggs for around $4/dozen and bread for nearly $6/loaf.

Other areas where you’ll suffer sticker shock: –Gas is a buck more a gallon than the mainland average, rental car prices spike when supplies are tight, and you’ll cough up (pun intended) between $10 to $12/pack for name brand cigarettes.

But enough whining about the high prices on Kauai!  You’re coming for a visit and hope you won’t get totally screwed, right?  I can’t promise a bunch of “bargains,” but I’ll use the rest of this blog to suggest some ways to stretch your vacation dollars as far as possible.

**If you’re a local, or a frequent visitor, feel free to add your suggestions in the comments section below.**


Fresh fishIf you’re coming to Kauai for an extended stay with access to a kitchen, you’ll find the lowest food prices on Kauai at the Costco membership warehouse in Lihue.  Even if you don’t have a Costco card, the food court is located outside, so you can still stop by for a cheap hot dog, slice of pizza, or chicken caesar salad when you’re hungry.macadamia nut kisses crop

I suggest you skip some of the generic food you routinely eat at home and try a few of Costco’s local items like fresh opah, pork lau lau, and Kauai coffee.  Some of my other favorites include Koloa Rum, macadamia nut kisses and spicy ahi tuna jerky, found in the refrigerated deli section.

Cost-U-Less in Kapa’a is another discount warehouse with no membership card required. They carry smaller quantity packaging and offer a good selection of organic food, local meats and produce.  They also carry eco-friendly detergent, cleaning supplies and paper products, with lower prices than the local health food stores.

Walmart, Lihue, has good prices on milk, eggs and other necessities, plus some frozen foods, but no produce.

Kmart, Lihue, has reasonably priced food items and other necessities, plus a small selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, but no ice cream or frozen foods.

spam musubiFoodland, Times/Big Save and Safeway are the major supermarket chains on Kauai and all offer weekly specials.  Note: The Safeway Club Card you use on the mainland, should work on Kauai. You no longer need a “Makai” card to qualify for Foodland’s discount prices, instead, just share your phone number at checkout, and no discount card is required at Times/Big Save.  Stores with delis will often offer a selection of local favorites like Huli, huli chicken, poke, and SPAM musubi, pictured at right.

Farmer’s markets are a great way to buy the freshest fruits, flowers and vegetables while supporting local farmers and helping Kauai become more self-sustainable (Sadly, 90% of the island’s food is currently imported). The Saturday market in Hanalei is a favorite among visitors because it includes a spectacular backdrop of mountains with an amazing display of tropical fruits and vegetables that create what I call “edible art.” Smaller, but equally wonderful farmer’s markets take place in all areas of Kauai nearly every day of the year, so I encourage you to put at least one of them on your vacation “bucket list.”

Kauai also offers roadside “honor stands” where you put your money in a jar/box after you select the fruits, vegetables or flowers you want to buy.  You’ll also see random cars/trucks parked along the highway with locals selling everything from freshly caught fish, to local honey and homemade tamales.


I don’t eat out a lot, so I’m not the best restaurant critic, but I enjoy several eateries on each side of the island where the food is good and the prices are low to moderate.

shave ice2West Side:  After a day of hiking in Waimea Canyon, I like to stop at Wrangler’s Steak House for grass-fed Kauai beef or seafood at a decent price, plus a soup and salad bar with delicious pickled daikon radishes.  I haven’t tried Yumi’s Restaurant or the Shrimp Station, but friends frequent these eateries before and after visits to Kokee State Park and Polihale Beach.  Shave Ice might not qualify as a meal, but The Fresh Shave in Kalaheo will rock your world with hand-shaved ice and real fruit juice toppings… Da best!  Broke da mouth, bro.

Pho KauaiDowntown Lihue:  For tasty, inexpensive food, follow the locals to Hamura’s Saimin Stand  on Kress Street. I also enjoy Pho Kauai in the Rice Shopping Center where the bean sprouts are locally grown, so they’re crispy and fresh.  Mark’s Place, in the Puhi Industrial Park, offers daily specials of “ono” Hawaiian food at reasonable prices. You’ll need a shady place to sleep off the “Polynesian paralysis” after eating one of their generous plate lunches.

sueoka's snak shopSouth Side:  I don’t eat in Poipu very often because restaurants there are pricey, but I have stopped at Keoki’s Paradise for their “early bird” dinner special served between 4:45 pm and 5:45 pm.  It’s touristy, but a nice setting for a sit-down dinner that includes an appetizer, entree and dessert for less than $25.  If you want to go where the locals go, try Sueoka’s Snack Shop in Koloa, a funky walk-up window serving tasty Loco Moco, kalua pork, and teriyaki beef at some of the cheapest prices on Kauai.  The Koloa Fish Market is another local favorite where people line up for their famous avocado and wasabi poke, plus good lau lau and yummy haupia pie.

East Side:  I enjoy several of the locally-operated food trucks located along Kuhio Highway in Kapaa.  One of my Loco Mocofavorite eateries on-wheels is the Defries Family Food Wagon, parked at the Kapaa Boat Harbor and operated by Sandy Defries and her ohana, Tuesday through Friday. Great place to “talk story” and eat amazing garlic shrimp, lau lau and shredded pork Loco Moco, with homemade butter mochi for dessert.  Monico’s Taqueria is a favorite among locals looking for Mexican food, including awesome fish tacos.  Chicken-In-A-Barrel has BBQ chicken, beef and pork smoked in barrels over kiawe wood… Yummy, generous servings.  Tege Tege Shave Ice truck is often parked in Kapaa, serving organic fruit and Japanese green tea shave ice… Killer good!

saimenAnahola Cafe and Saimin Stand:  It’s easy to pass this non-profit Hawaiian eatery hidden inside the Anahola Market Place. Open until 10pm Tuesday through Sunday with the saimin, pulled pork, and smoked pork all yummy.  As a bonus, there’s a small white tent next to the cafe that sells the best huli huli chicken on the island, fire-grilled over local kiawe wood.

North Shore:  Common Grounds Cafe, Kilauea, is now closed.  Bummer!  You can still take a 5-mile hike around the farm, following OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe Wai Koa Loop trail to the stone dam and waterfalls. The Kilauea Fish Market, across the street from Ching Young Village (Closed on Sundays) serves super fresh fish wraps, tacos or plate dinners for about half-price of the fancy sit-down restaurants.  When I was low on cash, they even allowed me order from the kid’s menu!  If you’re hungry for Mexican food, Frederico’s in the Princeville Center has great carnitas and a different aqua fresca fruit juice every day.  Headed to Hanalei and want to try some taro?  Stop by the Hanalei Taro and Juice Company food wagon for a variety of organic vegetarian food selections.  Village Snack and Bake Shop in the Ching Young Village is a local breakfast favorite.  Tasty food with slow service that will help you get in the pace of life on Kauai… Lol.


DSC06908The Garden Island Newspaper uses volunteers to post current gas prices.  Costco has the lowest prices with unleaded gasoline usually $.025 to $.045/gallon cheaper than any other station on Kauai.  If you don’t have a Costco card, gas prices in Lihue are next best, with prices about 5-cents/gallon more as you drive to the north or south.  Try to avoid buying gas at the Princeville Chevron station where prices at the last gas station on the north shore are jacked super high.

Rental Cars:

Book early!   There are a limited number of rental cars on Kauai, so prices spike during spring break, peak summer months and over the Christmas/New Year’s holidays, and they often sell-out well in advance.  Even if you line-up a competitive rate, the state of Hawaii has mandatory taxes, fees and surcharges which can nearly double the price you’ll pay for a rental car. Ouch!  Taxes and fees are highest at the Lihue Airport, so an off-site car rental company can save you some big bucks.  Discount Hawaii Car Rental is a no fee booking company which has a good reputation for tracking down the best rates from a variety of rental car companies.

If you don’t care about driving a shiny new Mustang convertible, a major cost-saving option is to rent an “island car” from the Kauai Rental Car Company.  You’ll roll like a local in an older model vehicle that’s likely to come with a faded paint job and a few rust spots.

Public Transportation:

kauai bus

A true bargain on Kauai is the county bus system. Despite gas prices close to $5/gallon, the fare for a ride on a clean, air-conditioned bus is only $2 per boarding; $1 for seniors/children; $35 for a monthly pass. Use of the bike rack on the front of the bus is free.  Buses run once an hour weekdays; every two hours weekends and holidays.


St. RegisSo many options on Kauai, from the funky oceanfront Beach House Hostel in Kapa’a for as little as $40/night to the 5-star St. Regis in Princeville where an ocean view suite runs more than $600/night in the off-season.  Kauai also has a variety of public campgrounds where you can sleep under the stars for $3.00/night per adult.

Before you book a reservation, you should decide which part of the island is best for you and your personal preferences.  The south coast is the most popular with tourists due to Poipu’s great beaches, drier weather and broad choice of hotels and condos. The north shore has awesome beaches too, with a wetter climate that gives the mountains around Hanalei, Princeville, and Kilauea the lush tropical landscapes Kauai is known for.  The east side gives guests a central location and some of the lowest accommodation prices on the island.  The west side is somewhat isolated and tends to be drier and more barren than the rest of the island.

There are lots of online sites like Expedia, Kayak and Tripadvisor where you can do comparison shopping for the best hotel prices on Kauai.  A multitude of realtors offer vacation rental assistance, Craigslist has a special section for vacation rentals and VRBO allows you to rent a private home or condo directly from the owner.








Kauai’s Aloha Spirit

DSC06901My personal experience is that Kauai still has an abundance of the “Aloha Spirit.”  This  tendency to treat people kindly and take everything in stride, without getting overly upset, was  particularly evident during preparations for what was expected to be back-to-back hurricanes in early August.

As Iselle and Julio were bearing down on the Hawaiian islands, Kauai residents took precautions, stocking up on food, water and gasoline.  Lines were long, but tempers didn’t seem to flare at any of the grocery stores, hardware stores, or gas stations where I stocked up on  supplies.

Emergency SuppliesIn fact, some people went out of their way to make sure everything went smoothly.  I even saw a local resident at the Shell station in Kapa’a get out of his car and become the unofficial traffic director. He calmly guided cars to the pumps in an orderly manner and politely directed a lady who was blocking a motorist’s exit to back-up and get in line with the rest of the very patient motorists.

20140805_101714There were a few nervous tourists who complained about long lines and empty shelves, but most of the kama’aina (locals) just calmly accepted the fact that supplies are limited on this remote island and that replacements wouldn’t arrive until the ports reopened.

Before I arrived on Kauai, the only thing I knew about “Aloha,” was that  this Hawaiian word meant both “hello” and “goodbye.”  Since then I’ve come to understand, there’s a deeper meaning behind this common greeting that’s an integral part of the local lifestyle.

Serge Kalihi King describes “Aloha” in The Little Pink Booklet of  Aloha  as “the joyful (oha) sharing (alo) of life energy (ha) in the present (alo).”

Did you know this special “Spirit of Aloha” is an actual law on the books in the State of Hawaii?  Revised statute 5-7.5 describes it as the working philosophy of native Hawaiians.

(a) The Aloha Spirit is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the Self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and presence of the life force, Aloha, the following unuhi laulâ loa (free translation) may be used:

A – Ahahai, meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness;

L – Lokahi, meaning unity to be expressed with harmony;

O – Olu’olu, meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;

H – Ha’ah’a, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;

A – Ahonui, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.


I’ve seen the “Aloha Spirit” in action on Kauai even before the recent storm preparations.  A paddle-out for a 23-year old man, killed in a car accident in 2012, demonstrated a unity of love and affection when hundreds of surfers joined Bruce Perdue’s family at Kalihiwai Bay to scatter his ashes and celebrate his life.

My personal favorite is the “Aloha Spirit” I experienced at the Kauai County Office of Motor Vehicle Registration.  I won’t give too many details because I’m sure the employee who helped me out “bent” the official rules on my behalf, but here’s the gist of what happened:

I was driving a car registered to my now ex-husband, who left Kauai 90-days after our arrival on the Garden Isle.  I drove to Lihue the day before the registration expired and explained to the clerk I didn’t have the required signature on the application form.  She asked when my husband was expected to return to Kauai and I told her the truth:  “Maybe never,” I said.

The clerk had a sympathetic and knowing look in her eyes, like she’d heard this sad story before.She hesitated momentarily, then turned to her computer and began typing.  “I’m not supposed to do this,” she quietly said, as she processed the registration without my husband’s signature. Then, she handed me the necessary tools to replace the Scion’s old California license plate with a brand new Hawaii plate.

I mailed the registration application to my ex that same day, got his signature, and  returned it to the attention of this helpful clerk who embraced me with the “Aloha Spirit” by showing compassion for a stranger.

Even now, I say, “Many thanks!” or mahalo nui loa for this exceptional kindness.

Kauai–What To Pack For Your Visit

I have to make a disclaimer  upfront.  I’m a light packer no matter where I travel because I don’t like to check my luggage and pay baggage fees.  With that said, the following list is for the “minimalist” who doesn’t want to bring a bunch of stuff to Kauai that they’ll never use during their vacation.

Suggested necessities for a week long visit on Kauai:

Light Luggage
Light Luggage

–Start with a small suitcase or duffle bag that will fit in the overhead bin, plus a backpack.

Small Purse
Small Purse

 Backpack can double as your beach bag and it’s handy for day hikes on Kauai’s many trails to carry water, snacks, and a rain jacket.

I suggest tucking a small purse or fanny pack into the backpack for your wallet, airline tickets, keys, etc.  The cotton print mini-shoulder bag, pictured here, is locally-made and runs less than $20.

Kmart Suit-$30

-Swimsuit/bikini.  Assuming you have space, it’s nice to have two swimsuits if you plan to swim, snorkel, or surf every day.  Good news:  If your swimsuit is shot, you can buy one year-round on the Garden Isle.  You’ll find inexpensive suits at Costco, K-Mart and WalMart.  You’ll also find pricey designer suits at local surf shops and specialty stores.

Shell Searching

 A rash guard is nice because it provides extra sun protection, so bring one if you own one because they’re kind of pricey on Kauai where they rarely go on sale.

–2 pairs of shorts, Bermudas, or capris.

–1 pair of long pants for cool evenings and/or hiking.

Red Dirt Shirt
Red Dirt Shirt

–3 T-shirts/tanktops.  Pack less if you plan on buying one of Kauai’s “Red Dirt” shirts, or other souvenir T-shirts.  Yeah, for real… You can buy a shirt dyed with local dirt.  A YouTube video shows how “Kauai’s Red Dirt Shirts” are made at a local sportswear company in Eleele where the tradition began after Hurricane Iniki stained the inventory.

–Ladies:  1 or 2 sundresses.  They make great swimsuit cover-ups and can double as your “dress-up” clothes.  They can be purchased for cheap at WalMart, Costco and a variety of flea markets in fun tropical prints.

Mayor Bernard Carvalho
Mayor Bernard Carvalho

–Men:  2 casual shirts/polos.  And, yes!  Hawaiian-print shirts are popular here.  Even Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho has a collection.

–Lightweight hooded rain jacket.  Average temps on Kauai range between 75 to 85 year-round with the possibility of daily rain showers and the potential for strong winds and heavy rain in the fall and winter months when a trip to Kokee can be chilly.


–1 pair of flip flops/thongs.  Locals call them “slippahs” and they are the universal shoes on Kauai, so it’s OK to wear them to restaurants, church, etc.  If you don’t own a pair, you can buy them nearly everywhere on the Garden Isle, including WalMart, Kmart, local surf shops, even at most grocery stores and some gas stations.

–1 pair of sturdy tennis shoes, lightweight boots or Teva-type shoes for hiking.  These shoes are guaranteed to get stained by Kauai’s red dirt and/or red mud, so don’t bring those nice new ones you want to keep sparkly white.

–Socks.  Same warning as above… Stains guaranteed.

–Underwear, as needed.

–Hat/visor/baseball cap.


–Prescription drugs.

–Cell phone.  Reception can be sketchy on Kauai, and non-existent on the North Shore past Hanalei, on the West Side in Waimea Canyon, and on most remote beaches.  Still, a great way to take photos, check Email, and brag to your friends on Facebook that you’re hanging out in paradise.

–Toiletries.  Most hotels provide you with sample-size goodies.  If you’re staying in a private home or condo, it depends on the owner.  Full-size necessities are available at a variety of local stores.

Be sure and buy some sunscreen after you land, and use it, because the trade winds can fool you and make you forget that the sun is still cooking you when it’s cool and breezy.  I’m a mosquito-magnet, so if you also tend to attract those nasty little blood-suckers, you’ll want to buy some insect repellent and keep it handy, especially when you’re outside at dusk.

Ladies:  No need to overpack your cosmetics bag because heavy make-up melts in the tropical heat if you’re hanging out at the beach all day.

My daily beauty routine:  Tinted  moisturizer with 15 spf sunscreen, and  waterproof mascara.  I add waterproof eyeliner and lip gloss for “dress up” and evenings out.

Most hotels and  private rental condos/homes provide hair dryers,  but wash and wear hair works best when you’re in and out of the ocean multiple times a day.  A lot of locals have long hair which they pull back in a ponytail or bun.  I sometimes sweep mine back with real or silk flowers.

Wash & Wear Hair:

Some generic tips if you have trouble packing light:  Wear your heavy shoes/bulky clothes, pack neutral interchangeable colors so you can mix or match.  Take a vacation from toiletry gadgets (Electric shavers, hair dryers, etc) and buy “cheap” stuff like sunscreen and shampoo locally.

There’s a much quoted phrase in the travel industry:  “Pack half the clothes and twice the money.”  Pretty good advice for your visit to Kauai where prices of food, gas and activities can cause some serious sticker shock, but that’s the topic for another blog.


Almost forgot the most important tip of all…  Pack your luggage light, and leave your “baggage” at home. Seriously, Kauai is a remote island that offers stunning beauty, multiple locations to relax and discover tranquility.  If you need a tourist mecca with every imaginable amenity, best to head to Oahu and hangout in Honolulu.


Kauai’s Wild Chickens: The good, the bad, and the ugly!

Hawaii’s official State bird is the Hawaiian Goose, or Nene, but on Kauai, everyone jokes that the “official” birds of the Garden Island are feral chickens, especially the wild roosters.

Wild Rooster-Kauai's
Wild Rooster-Kauai’s “Official” Bird

Wikepedia says the “mua” or red jungle fowl were brought to Kauai by the Polynesians as a source of food, thriving on an island where they have no real predators. A clerk at the Koke’e Museum in the Waimea Canyon shared her opinion on why there are so many wild chickens on Kauai these days: “Because tourists feed them!” she responded with a laugh.

Most locals agree that wild chickens proliferated after Hurricane Iniki ripped across Kauai in 1992, destroying chicken coops and releasing domesticated hens, and well as roosters being bred for cockfighting. Now these brilliantly feathered fowl inhabit every part of this tropical paradise, crowing at all hours of the day and night to the delight or dismay of tourists and locals alike.

Hen & Chicks, Lihue
Hen & Chicks, Lihue

For the most part, Kauai’s wild chickens add to the rural environment I enjoy.  But I have to admit, I’ve seen
roosters fighting over a dropped piece of pizza at the Costco food court.  I’ve also watched a hungry chicken peck a toddler munching on a cracker at Hideaways Beach and I’ve seen a mother hen rush an unsuspecting tourist to protect her chicks.

Online postings demonstrate the dichotomy of the love-hate relationship visitors and locals have with Kauai’s now famous, or infamous foul, depending on your point of view. The Wild Chicken blog has readers reacting to photos of roosters, hens and baby chicks with descriptions ranging from “beautiful birds” to “god-awful rats with wings.”

So what’s good about Kauai’s wild chickens?

First of all, they eat bugs, lots of bugs, including the mean and nasty Hawaiian centipedes that can give you a painful bite similar to a hornet or wasp sting, only worse.

And let’s be honest, many tourists get a kick out of Kauai’s wild chickens and consider them part of the island’s charm, even if they suffer from crow-induced insomnia.

Shop owners will tell you that kitschy souvenirs such as chicken-themed coffee mugs, T-shirts printed with Kauai’s “official” bird, and stuffed roosters that crow, fly (pun intended) off the shelves, pumping money into the local economy.

I would guess 99.9% of tourists snap at least one photo of a feral rooster, or a wild hen with her brood of baby chicks. I’ve shot hundreds of photos of both, starting with the rooster I followed around the parking lot of the rental car company the first time I visited Kauai.  –I couldn’t resist the opportunity to capture the beauty of its multi-colored iridescent feathers.

I’m sure my list of the bad things about wild chickens is incomplete, but here’s what I’ve accumulated so far:

“Cock-A-Doodle-Do” doesn’t begin to describe the cacophony wild roosters can make when they start crowing in the middle of the night. My brother, and his wife, recently visited Kauai to celebrate their 40th anniversary. The first morning following their arrival in paradise, Clark told me how the roosters woke them up around 2 a.m. shrieking what sounded to them like an ode to their home state:

“West Vir-GIN-yah!” “West Vir-GIN-yah!” “West Vir-GIN-yah!” …Ad nauseum…

“Aloha!” I responded. “Welcome to Kauai,” I added with a laugh.

Workers at the Limahuli Garden on Kauai’s north shore are trying to figure out a way to keep wild chickens from destroying their new community vegetable garden. Wire mesh fences don’t work because Kauai’s wild chickens can fly, so they’re experimenting with other humane alternatives. When my family and I volunteered to pull weeds, we noticed gardners had spread a fine mesh net on the ground to discourage fowl foraging, but it didn’t seem to be working…

Pat and John of Princeville (last name omitted by request to avoid any potential PETA protests) admit they trap and kill dozens of wild chickens every year. “Because they’re such a nuisance in the yard,” they explained. “Destroying things, digging up plants and and leaving so many unsanitary droppings,” they added.

The Kauai Humane Society used to loan residents free chicken traps, but the demand got so high, they now refer homeowners to to buy one.  KHS charges $5 for chicken pick-up, or trapped feral fowl can be dropped of at their Lihue facility to be euthanized at no charge.

The parking lot of the Koke’e Museum is nearly overrun with Kauai’s ubiquitous fowl.  A posting on the Koke’e Museum’s website tries to help discourage people from feeding the wild chickens with a list of negative impacts of the growing poultry population.

–The unnaturally large flock is bad for native plants.
–Wild chickens carry diseases that kill native Hawaiian birds.
–They leave unsanitary piles of kukae moa (aka: chicken poop)
–It makes for unsafe driving when visitors brake or swerve to avoid them.

Rooster Roadkill, Hanalei
Rooster Roadkill, Hanalei

I could create an entire album of roadkill roosters to show all the wild chickens who’ve tried to cross the road in Kauai and didn’t make it, creating dangerous driving conditions and sometimes gruesome piles of bloody feathers.  This photo shows one of the more sanitized shots of a dead rooster hit mid-stride on his way to another bug buffet on the opposite side of Kuhio Highway.

Joke of the day:  Why do Kauai chickens cross the road?  Answer:  Because they own it!

Not sure if wild chicken stew belongs under the “good” or “bad” category. The few people I’ve met who admit they eat what some call “native” chicken stew, describe it as a little stringy, but tasty.  Locals might share their wild chicken recipe if asked.  Here’s mine:  Put one wild chicken in a pot of boiling water.  Add spices and a lava rock for flavor.  When the rock is tender, the chicken is done.  Version-2:  Put one wild chicken in a pot of boiling water.  Add spices and a lava rock for flavor.  Simmer for several hours.  Discard chicken.  Eat the rock.  Lol…

The ugly side of Kauai’s chickens is the popularity of cockfighting.

Cockfighting was technically banned by Hawaii’s last monarch, King Kalakaua in 1884, but it continues as a popular underground sport on Kauai and other islands.

(I had a video of an actual cockfight, shot on Molokai, posted here, but YouTube blocked it because it was too graphic.)

As recently as 2010, the Hawaii State Legislature considered a proposal that would have recognized cockfighting as a cultural activity.  The resolution was approved by the House Committee on Tourism, Culture and International Affairs with the help of Kauai Representative, Roland Sagum (D-16th District).  The pro-cockfighting resolution was eventually scuttled by the House Judiciary Committee where I assume the conflict with State and Federal laws was a major point of contention.

Hawaii’s cockfighting laws are already some of the most lenient in the nation:  It’s not a crime to attend a cockfight, and it’s only a misdemeanor to use razor-sharp gaffs and gamble on the outcome of the often deadly and bloody battles.

Just a year before the resolution was considered, Kauai P.D. busted a large cockfight in Kapa’a where they confiscated more than a 100 roosters, 240 gaffs and $70,000 in cash.  15-roosters were already dead when police arrived and another 20 had to be euthanized by the Kauai Humane Society, due to injuries described in the Honolulu Advertiser as “horrible.”

I recently drove the same road where the cockfighting took place, and can tell you there’s a large property with multiple individualized cages where roosters are being raised.  Other than breeding and cockfighting, what would these roosters be used for, eh?

The breeding farm happens to be located next door to a meditation center where I went for a deep-tissue massage.  The massage was physically relaxing, but my mind remained alert because I had to listen to the competitive crowing of dozens of Kauai roosters declaring their dominance.  –Er-Er-Er—Er—ERRRRR!

Kauai’s Winter Waves Suck!

No doubt Kauai has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, many remote and nearly deserted in the fall and winter months. The off-season is also the time when the waves get larger and the ocean currents get less predictable, more dangerous, and even deadly.

Before I get into any sobering statistics about Kauai being the drowning capital of Hawaii, allow me to share my own “close call” with Mother Nature caused by a combination of big waves, personal naiveté and plain stupidity.

During my first year on Kauai, I stopped at Hanalei Bay to ride my bodyboard shortly after lifeguards went off-duty. Orange warning flags were stuck in the sand on the south end of the bay letting beachgoers know the currents were too strong for swimming because a large surf advisory was in effect.

I avoided the zone where experienced surfers were riding giant breakers and headed to the center of the bay to a sandbar where the water was shallow. I figured this was a “safe” place to ride a of couple waves, which were getting progressively larger as high tide approached. I decided not to wear my fins because I could just walk to the edge of the sandbar, flop on my belly and ride the surge from the big breakers back to shore.

I had a couple of thrilling rides before I got into trouble.

What I didn’t count on was the strength of the backwash from the breakers which pulled me off the sandbar into dramatically deeper water where I got caught in a rip current that rapidly sucked me away from shore.

–In less than a minute, I could barely see the teenager who was sitting on the sand next to the shuttered lifeguard stand where I first entered the water.

My distance from shore was unnerving, but the power of the massive breakers created the real “fear factor.” I was getting pounded from all sides by erratic waves that tossed expert surfers into the air like a seasick sailor spewing the contents of his guts after a night of heavy drinking.

Their fiberglass surfboards were snapping like toothpicks, so I knew my cheapie bodyboard could disintegrate at any moment. Still, my goal was hang onto that flimsy chunk of cloth-covered styrofoam which served as my impromptu flotation device.

According to the United States Lifesaving Association’s rip current survival guide, people who drown in similar conditions die because they have poor swimming skills, panic, or get exhausted trying to swim to shore.

I have to admit my adrenaline was pumping, but fortunately, I didn’t panic. I’m a decent swimmer who knows the best way to get out of a rip current is to swim parallel to shore. It may sound a little counter-intuitive, but to survive, I had to swim south toward some even larger waves located outside the rip channel.

That’s when I really missed my fins.

I repeatedly used my strongest scissors kick, but barely moved because the current was so strong and the distance between the cresting waves was exceptionally short. I was starting to get tired and winded, but continued kicking. I was lucky enough to slowly inch my way to some surging breakers which eventually allowed me to catch a ride back to shore.

When I climbed out of the ocean, I was breathless, but relieved to be alive. I was shaking as I sat down next to the Texas teen who’d been watching me struggle in the rip current.

“Whew!” I gasped. “Lesson learned,” I panted, repeating the words of local lifeguards now burned into my brain, “When in doubt, don’t go out.”

Now a few facts to back-up my tale of survival:

There’ve been more than 300-drownings on Kauai over the past 4-decades, with 75% of the deaths tied to tourists, so the Kauai Visitors Bureau encourages visitors to stick to lifeguarded beaches.

Dr. Charles Blay, an educator at TEOK Investigations in Po‘ipu, tells the Garden Island News the high ratio of visitor deaths is due a lack of knowledge of specific beach hazards, particularly in the winter months.

A push is underway to improve Kauai’s water safety by adding warning signs, expanding the Water Awareness Visitor Education or WAVE Project, and installing nearly 200 rescue tubes around the island.

Helpful resources:
Daily wave guide
iPhone Kauai Beach Guide
Surf Heights Seasonal Trends

Some of my Big Wave Pics:

Hello from Kauai

I should have started this Kauai Blog a lot sooner, but got caught up figuring out how to pay my bills on an island where the cost-of-living is high and most jobs are part-time, low-paying gigs, tied to tourism. Now that I’ve patched together enough income to support myself, I’m ready to share my experiences “living in paradise” since April 2011.

From now on, I’ll be posting random thoughts, and lots of photographs, about Kauai’s great beaches, wild chickens and anything else that inspires me.

So, thanks for joining me on this adventure!

Jennifer Bauman-Roy