My 17-year old cousin made her first visit to Kauai, complete with a few squeals and screams whenever she encountered one of the ever-present insects and other creepy-crawly critters.
Autumn’s first exposure to a super-sized island insect was on the Sleeping Giant trail where she spotted one of Hawaii’s venomous centipedes. She let out a quick cry and dashed up the muddy pathway, while I stopped to snap a photo of this ugly “buggah.”
I didn’t make fun of her reaction because I know from experience, you don’t want to mess with these massive centipedes since this particular species (Scolopendra subspinipes) can grow up to 12-inches long, has an extremely painful bite, and highly poisonous venom which has sent some people to the local E.R.
Autumn’s next vocal cord workout came when she spotted a brown cane spider (Heteropoda venatoria) in our cottage bathroom. He was only a 2-inch “baby,” but a spider with a big body and eight hairy legs can be very intimidating if you’ve never seen one before. Cane spiders are super fast, so it took me nearly a dozen tries before I could snag him with a paper towel and take him outside, unharmed, because you should never kill any of the local insect-eaters.
I’m sorry my cousin didn’t get to see one of Kauai’s giant cockroaches (periplaneta americana) because I’m sure she would have shared my revulsion and disgust. There are multiple varieties of roaches on the Garden Isle, but my least favorite are the ones locals have dubbed “B-52 bombers” because these lovely cockroaches not only crawl… They fly!
My cousin heard a firsthand account of the horror caused by these flying roaches at Calvary Chapel North Shore. That’s where the pastor’s wife shared how she was relaxing on her lanai eating some potato chips when a flying cockroach, apparently aiming for her snack, detoured and dive-bombed into her cleavage.
OMG! Of course, Ana Rex says she screamed, jumped up and down, and shook her blouse to get the creepy thing out of her clothing. How grose!
Autumn’s biggest freak out came when she encountered a tiny house gecko in the shower, clinging to her bath sponge. Some people are scared of these harmless lizards, but I think they’re cute and Hawaiians love them because they eat mosquitoes, red fire ants, and nasty cockroaches.
Most geckos come out after dark and make cheery chirping sounds as they cling to windows, walls and ceilings using special toe pads with suction cups. The main drawback is the droppings geckos leave behind after gorging themselves on roaches and other insects during their nightly bug buffet.
During the daylight, you may get to see a colorful gold dust day gecko. We spotted this brilliant green one, with red stripes and blue eyes, at the Kauai Coffee Company plantation. A similar one was seen hanging out by the Moloa’a Fruit Stand, a perfect place for geckos that like to eat ripe fruit and drink nectar, as well as munch on a variety of insects.
I end by writing that this blog isn’t meant to scare anyone, or discourage tourists from visiting Kauai. It’s just a “reality check” that unusually large insects and a variety of tropical critters live on the Garden Isle, so be prepared for them to greet you.
And remember, you can still celebrate the fact there are no snakes here!
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:
–Start with a small suitcase or duffle bag that will fit in the overhead bin, plus a backpack.
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.
–-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.
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.
–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.
–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 (sometimes 10 to 15 degrees cooler than temps at the bottom of the hill).
–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.
–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.
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.
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 Kke’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.
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:
“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 RoosterTraps.com 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.
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!
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.”
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.
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.