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Exploring: Island Tours > Kauai > Kalapaki
Whether you arrive on Kauai at Lihue Airport or at Nawiliwili Harbor, you'll be near Kalapaki Beach (pictured). It's the crescent-shaped beach you spy as the plane lands or as your cruise ship approaches the harbor entry. Just a few minutes inland is the main town of Lihue.
Sheltered by mountains on one side and bordered by acres of sugar cane on the other, this center of commerce and government is also a focal point for cultural events, education, and retail services.
There are tantalizing reminders of its rich history, particularly Alekoko (or Menehune) Fishpond (pictured). Walls forming this large lagoon are of hewn and tightly fitted stone blocks. Because the Polynesians who migrated from the Marquesas to Hawaii did not have the tools to do such fine work, the menehune are attributed with the construction. A system of gates was used to get fish into the pond where they could grow and be easily harvested.
From the harbor, you can paddle a rented kayak up to the fishpond, or by car, it's a short drive to a scenic lookout above the lagoon. Huleia Stream empties into Nawiliwili Bay, and kayaking upstream is a jungle cruise beyond compare. Gliding past dense jungle growth reaching to the water's edge, you'll imagine that you're the first explorer of this remote place. You might recognize one stretch as the spot where Indiana Jones swung across a river on a vine and scampered into a seaplane, escaping by inches from his enemies. Native birds including Koloa ducks, stilts, and coots live in the marshy areas bordering the stream that are protected as a national wildlife refuge.
From Nawiliwili Harbor, raw sugar is shipped to California for refining. Barges from Honolulu arrive several times each week, with everything from building supplies to groceries to cars. Cruise ships also call at Nawiliwili, and sportfishing boats leave early in the morning, hoping to return later with some trophy marlin, tuna, or mahimahi. Outrigger canoe clubs paddle their craft out of the harbor to practice and surf the incoming swells.
Kauai's first luxury resort, the Kauai Lagoons, spreads from the harbor mouth along Kalapaki Beach. Modern-day equivalents of the menehune created the lagoons and the islets and bridges that form the setting for two 18-hole golf courses (pictured) designed by Jack Nicklaus, several restaurants, a spa, tennis club, and a wedding chapel. The adjacent hotel, the island's tallest buildings, has lush gardens and elegant Hawaiian accents. All the resort amenities - upscale art galleries and shops, entertainment, dining and activities - are available. Kalapaki Beach is also a favorite surfing and swimming spot, and fishing from the breakwater is a regular weekend activity.
On the hillside opposite the entrance to the harbor, there are vacation condos and an attractive small inn. Two nearby shopping centers provide casual dining and fun shopping.
The County Building in Lihue has its own history, for it was built in the days when people came to town on foot or on horseback. A block away, the Kauai Museum's main building (pictured) is also an historic landmark. In the mezzanine gallery, Kauai's artists mount impressive shows of their work. The gift shop has an eclectic selection of crafts, art, literature, and gifts.
The numerous restaurants in the business district are not fancy, but they do serve a great variety of Oriental, Hawaiian, and American foods. At the Lihue Parish Hall and in the Kauai War Memorial Convention Center, the Kauai Community Players, Kauai Kids at Play, and the Kauai Concert Association present top-quality plays and musical events at reasonable prices. The War Memorial Convention Center also hosts many benefit concerts. At the adjacent Vidinha Stadium, in August, all the locals go to the annual Farm Bureau Fair at least once (some attend every night).
The towering stacks of Lihue Plantation's sugar mill remind you of the historical industry on the island. Now you have to use your imagination of the harvest season, watching the cane stalks moving along conveyor belts above the highway, the smell of molasses permeating the area.
Just west of the mill is the island's largest and mainland-class shopping mall, Kukui Grove Center. Next to it are a golf driving range, miniature golf course, a park, and another 18-hole golf course. Lihue is one of the main residential areas, so all the modern conveniences and services are available nearby. A short distance away is the University of Hawaii's Kauai Community College campus. Its excellent library is open to all, and the performing arts center is a 21st-Century state-of-the-art venue for theater and musical productions. And yet, just up the street, the Wailua Falls (pictured) brings you back to paradise.
Lihue has all the action of a business and civic center while Nawiliwili Bay and Kalapaki Beach have an ancient history you can discover as you enjoy their modern resort amenities and the island's natural wonders.
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