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Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
Though Kauai has played itself in the movies (you may remember Nicolas Cage frantically shouting "Is it Kapaa or Kapaa-a?" into a pay phone in Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), most of its screen time has been as a stunt double for a number of tropical paradises. The island's remote valleys and waterfalls portrayed Venezuelan jungle in Kevin Costner's Dragonfly (2002) and a Costa Rican dinosaur preserve in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993). Spielberg was no stranger to Kauai, having filmed Harrison Ford's escape via seaplane from Menehune Fishpond in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). The fluted cliffs and gorges of Kauai's rugged Napali Coast play the misunderstood beast's island home in King Kong (1976), and a jungle dweller of another sort, in George of the Jungle (1997), frolicked on Kauai. Harrison Ford returned to the island for 10 weeks during the filming of Six Days, Seven Nights (1998), a romantic adventure set in French Polynesia. Part-time Kauai resident Ben Stiller used the island as a stand-in for the jungles of Vietnam in Tropic Thunder (2008) and Johnny Depp came here to film some of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011). But these are all relatively contemporary movies. What's truly remarkable is that Hollywood discovered Kauai in 1933 with the making of White Heat, which was set on a sugar plantation and—like another more memorable movie filmed on Kauai—dealt with interracial love stories. In 1950, Esther Williams and Rita Moreno arrived to film Pagan Love Song, a forgettable musical. Then, it was off to the races, as Kauai saw no fewer than a dozen movies filmed on island in the 1950s, not all of them Oscar contenders. Rita Hayworth starred in Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) and no one you'd recognize starred in the tantalizing She Gods of Shark Reef (1956).
Despite its small size—about 550 square mi—Kauai has four distinct regions, each with its own unique characteristics. The windward coast, which catches the prevailing trade winds, consists of the North Shore and East Side, while the drier, leeward coast encompasses the South Shore and West Side. One main road nearly encircles the island, except for a 15-mi stretch of sheer cliffs called the Napali Coast.
This 1837 home was built by missionaries William and Mary Alexander. Its tidy New England architecture and formal koa-wood furnishings epitomize the prim and proper missionary influence, while the informative guided tours offer a fascinating peek into the private lives of Kauai's early white residents. Half-hour guided tours are available for $10 on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 9 to 3. If no one is there when you arrive, don't despair; just ring the bell by the chimney. COST: $10. OPEN: Tues., Thurs., and Sat. 9--3.
This estate dates back to 1896, when plantation manager Albert Spencer Wilcox first developed it as a working cattle ranch. His nephew, Gaylord Parke Wilcox, took over in 1936, building Kauai's first mansion. Today the 16,000-square-foot, Tudor-style home houses specialty shops, art galleries, and 22 North, a pretty restaurant with courtyard seating. Nearly half the original furnishings remain, and the gardens and orchards were replanted according to the original plans. You can tour the grounds for free; children enjoy visiting the farm animals. A train runs 2½ mi through 104 acres of lands representing the agricultural story of Kauai—then and now. OPEN: Mon.--Sat. 9:30--9:30, Sun. 9:30--3:30.
Maintaining a stately presence on Rice Street, the historic museum building is easy to find. It features a permanent display, "The Story of Kauai," which provides a competent overview of the Garden Island and Niihau, tracing the Islands' geology, mythology, and cultural history. Local artists are represented in changing exhibits in the second-floor Mezzanine Gallery. The expanded gift shop alone is worth a visit, with a fine collection of authentic Niihau shell lei, feather hatband lei, hand-turned wooden bowls, reference books, and other quality arts, crafts, and gifts, many of them locally made. www.kauaimuseum.com. COST: $10. OPEN: Mon.--Sat. 9--5, closed Sun.
Two restored camp houses, dating from the days when sugar was the main agricultural crop on the Islands, have been converted into a museum, visitor center, and gift shop. About 3,400 acres of McBryde sugar land have become Hawaii's largest coffee plantation. You can walk among the trees, view old grinders and roasters, watch a video to learn how coffee is processed, sample various estate roasts, and check out the gift store. The center offers a 15-minute or so self-guided tour with well-marked signs through a small coffee grove. From Eleele, take Highway 50 in the direction of Waimea Canyon and veer right onto Highway 540, west of Kalaheo. It's located 2½ mi from the Highway 50 turnoff. www.kauaicoffee.com. COST: Free. OPEN: Daily 9--5.
Guided tours of this carefully restored 80-acre country estate offer a fascinating and authentic look at how upper-class Caucasians experienced plantation life in the mid-19th century. The tour focuses on the original home, built by the Wilcox family in 1860 and filled with a quirky collection of classic Hawaiiana. You can also see the workers' quarters, farm animals, orchards, and gardens that reflect the practical, self-sufficient lifestyle of the island's earliest Western inhabitants. Tours of the homestead are conducted twice a day, three days a week. To protect the historic building and its furnishings, tours may be canceled on very wet days. With a six-person limit per tour, reservations are essential. www.grovefarm.net. COST: $20. OPEN: Tours Mon., Wed., and Thurs. at 10 and 1.
The ruins of this stone fort, built in 1816 by an agent of the imperial Russian government named Anton Scheffer, are reminders of the days when Scheffer tried to conquer the island for his homeland, or so one story goes. Another claims that Scheffer's allegiance lay with King Kaumualii, who was attempting to regain leadership of his island nation from the grasp of Kamehameha the Great. The crumbling walls of the fort are not particularly interesting, but the sign loaded with historical information are.
No one knows just who built this intricate aquaculture structure in the Huleia River. Legend attributes it to the Menehune, a mythical—or real, depending on who you ask—ancient race of people known for their small stature, industrious nature, and superb stoneworking skills. Volcanic rock was cut and fit together into massive walls 4 feet thick and 5 feet high, forming an enclosure for raising mullet and other freshwater fish that has endured for centuries.
The colorful vases, bowls, and other fragile items sold in this distinctive gallery are definitely worth viewing if you appreciate quality handmade glass art. It's expensive, but if something catches your eye, they'll happily pack it for safe transport home. They also ship worldwide. www.glass-art.com.
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