Shortly after 12 p.m. on Sept. 11, 1992, the most destructive hurricane ever to strike Hawaii tore into Kauai with nightmarish force, leveling buildings, peeling off rooftops, shredding palm trees and sending tourism into a tragic tailspin from which it is only recently recovering.
Damage was appalling, with the scene following the blow resembling a war zone. But, unlike the mainland where looting often follows tragedy, Kauai residents turned out in force to assist neighbors and the police and joined civil defense workers to bring comfort to hundreds of victims of the disaster.
Now, five years after the terrifying episode, Kauai is back in business as a tourist
destination--with the added advantage of United Airlines beginning nonstop flights from Los Angeles to Lihue on June 10. Meanwhile, the island has regained its stunning garden-like beauty and most resorts are reopened, the latest to do so being the Sheraton Kauai at Poipu Beach, following a $40-million reconstruction project during which guest rooms were redone, restaurants restored and grounds replanted once more with ginger, bougainvillea, hibiscus and truckloads of palm trees.
Spread across 20 acres of oceanfront property, the Sheraton opened originally in 1968 and almost immediately became a gathering place for sunset viewers--particularly at its storied bar, The Point, with its head-on view of flaming skies.
Guests sunbathe beside a couple of swimming pools, stroll among koi-filled ponds and take their meals at four dining facilities, including the resort's signature restaurant, Shells, named for the shell-shaped chandeliers (bolted to heavy inner beams) that miraculously survived when the restaurant's roof took flight during the '92 hurricane.
After recently revisiting hotels from Poipu to Princeville, my personal award for elegance and sophistication goes to the Hyatt Regency Resort at Poipu. With 602 rooms, this isn't exactly your little grass shack. But what the heck, no one need worry about the tile roof leaking.
Two pools meander through the resort, one with a water slide that resembles an Olympic ski jump. Both pools are fed by waterfalls and beyond them guests paddle in kayaks through a five-acre man-made saltwater lagoon. The lagoon attracts snorkelers and divers as well as sunbathers who collapse in hammocks strung between palm trees on an island in the lagoon.
At the hotel's Stevenson Library, a bookish bar that opens at 6 p.m., guests check out mai tais rather than volumes while jazz artists get in their licks.
Others dine inside thatched huts at Tidepools, a restaurant rising from a lagoon where the chef turns out ahi and mahi-mahi along with charbroiled chops and steaks. Romantics are served at secret places in the garden while a violinist grinds out dreamy melodies and the couple is attended by a private butler. The whole package figures out to $145 per person. Candlelight and tiki torches set the mood.
Hyatt's 25,000-square-foot health and fitness spa provides luffa wraps and Hawaiian-style lomi-lomi massages along with sessions in the hotel's whirlpools. Others warm up in a Finnish sauna or Turkish steam room and wind up the afternoon doing laps in a pool not quite the length of the Mississippi River. An all-day deluxe spa session comes to a tidy $325, not including the tip.
Down the road, Embassy Vacation Resort provides--indeed guarantees--"100% aloha spirit" at the 211-room hotel that's set in the wide open spaces of a 22-acre plot. Guests occupying one- and two-bedroom suites are provided complimentary continental breakfasts and free drinks at a nightly cocktail bash. This plus free hula, kayak and scuba lessons and the use of an upscale fitness center. While parents sunbathe poolside at a man-made beach, youngsters are enlisted for free arts and crafts lessons.
Eighteen miles west of Poipu (at the 23-mile marker from Lihue Airport), vacationers shed frustrations at Waimea Plantation Cottages on Kauai's sunny western shore, where a scattering of 48 refurbished bungalows faces a black sand beach and the private island of Niihau. Cottages occupied by employees of Kauai's sugar plantations during the 1800s and early 1900s have been refurbished as tourist facilities. This is "old" Hawaii with a face lift, designed for the weary traveler wishing to climb off the merry-go-round in a laid-back setting presided over by Lopaka Mansfield, a Big Island-born member of the Aston Hotels & Resort management team.
The cottages, which attract families, are equipped with kitchens, TVs and roomy bedrooms--everything from a one-bedroom unit to a rambling five-bedroom, four-bath dwelling moved here from one of Kauai's oldest sugar plantations. Rather than air-conditioning, the cottages feature ceiling fans and ocean breezes.
A couple of friendly dogs wander the property. Myna birds sing out from banyan and palm trees. And while not recommended for swimming (there's a pool for swimmers), the local beach is a gathering place for shell collectors and those seeking driftwood.
While the resort's restaurant is undergoing alterations, guests dine at the popular Hanapepe Cafe & Espresso Bar in nearby Hanapepe (breakfast and lunch served Tuesday through Saturday; dinner Wednesday through Saturday). On the menu are such appetizers as ricotta cheese dumplings with pesto and sauted mushrooms, roasted goat cheese cakes served with eggplant on a bed of mesclun with tapenade focaccia, honey-glazed shallots and ginger strips in a balsamic vinegar wine sauce. Dinner entrees range from polenta with cheese, raisins and mushrooms served with bell pepper sauce over a bed of zucchini, to a frittata bread souffle with green peppercorns marinated in a light saffron broth and served in marinara sauce. On the menu at noontime are veggie burgers made of mushrooms, rolled oats, low-fat mozzarella, cottage cheese, bulgar wheat, walnuts, eggs and Cheddar cheese. Proprietors are Chris Ayers and Larry Reisor, recruited chef Christian Rizzo from L.A.'s Restaurant Row.
Of all the resorts on Kauai, the Marriott Resort & Beach Club at Lihue best resembles a scene from TV's old "Fantasy Island" series. What with wild animals (kangaroos, wallabies, gemsbok, zebras, monkeys and llamas), acres of man-made lagoons and man-made waterfalls, four restaurants, 356 rooms, Hawaii's largest swimming pool and 36 holes of golf, the Marriott could secede from the state of Hawaii and operate as a kingdom unto itself. Opened in 1988 by Westin, the $350-million resort facing Kalapaki Bay was done in by Hurricane Iniki to the tune of $100 million, which is the amount Marriott spent in three years putting everything back together again and incidentally toning down the resort's old Disney image.
Thank you, Mr. Marriott. The 2 1/2-acre reflecting pool with its seven life-size marble horses that snorted water from their nostrils and were drenched with the spray of a 60-foot geyser, a la Versailles, was transformed into an impressive garden composed of waterfalls, swimming pools with carp, a forest of trees, sweeping lawn and paths that lead into secret niches.
The swimming pool is fed by waterfalls that spill from the Aupak Bar while guests sun themselves on a man-made island dead center of Marriott's relaxing water world.
On Kauai's north shore, anchored to Puupoa Point, the 252-room Princeville Resort provides a sweeping view of Hanalei Bay and the awesome Na Pali coast. What with waterfalls spilling from verdant peaks and valleys laced with rainbows, it's a world where waves collide with lava and coral in a display of white-water rage.
The hotel features reproductions of furniture from the missionary era along with Hawaiian artifacts. At Hanalei Cafe, a recent seafood buffet consisted of Thai-style clam chowder, a calamari salad, fresh Dungeness crab, shrimp and mussels, a seafood paella, baked escargot, a crab-meat casserole, bouillabaisse with lobster and mahi-mahi, steamed clams with white wine and parsley, spicy shrimp cakes, sushi and sashimi, kimchi, shrimp lasagna and a selection of 10 desserts.
Offerings on other evenings included sake-marinated salmon with roasted fennel and red onion relish as well as broiled freshwater Japanese eel over steamed rice with a mirin shoyu sauce served with miso soup and pickled vegetables.
Not exactly your everyday Hawaiian fare, but wow--the view. . . .
I have warm aloha for Hanalei Colony Resort, Kauai's best-kept secret on the island's far north shore. If you find yourself ensconced in one of the bungalows facing Hanalei Bay, consider yourself blessed. The white-water display is like a stormy scene from "South Pacific." Hanalei Colony features 48 units in 13 buildings near the end of the road at Haena, five miles north of Hanalei.
Following a six-month, $4-million sprucing-up, the island's former Wailua Bay Resort at Kapaa on Kauai's eastern shore reopens April 1 as the Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort. Its 216 rooms and suites have been repainted, re-carpeted and refurnished with new TVs, new beds, drapes and refrigerators. This pleasant 10-acre property is near the Wailua River on the Pacific, featuring a protected cove for swimmers plus picnic facilities at Lydgate Park. The SunSpree Resort will be targeting families (children 19 and under will stay free in rooms occupied by their parents).
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Keys to Kauai
Getting there: Currently there's connecting service only LAX-Lihue on Hawaiian Airlines, American, Northwest and United (plane changes in Honolulu); lowest round-trip fares begin at $419. Beginning June 10, United Airlines begins nonstop service; lowest fares start at $602.
Where to stay (hotels and resorts in story): Sheraton Kauai, 2440 Hoonani Road, Poipu Beach, Koloa, HI 96756; telephone (800) 782-9488, (808) 742-1661. Rates: $200-$290 per night.
Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort, 1571 Poipu Road, Koloa, HI 96756; tel. (800) 233-1234, (808) 742-1234. Rates: $295-$495, suites $650-$2,400 per night.
Embassy Vacation Resort, 1613 Pee Road, Koloa, HI 96756; tel. (800) 535-0085, (808) 742-1888. Rates: $275-$545 per night.
Waimea Plantation Cottages, 9400 Kaumuaalii Highway, No. 367, Waimea, HI 96796; tel. (800) 992-4632, (808) 338-1625. Rates: $170-$490 per night.
Marriott Resort & Beach Club, Kalapaki Beach, Lihue, HI 96766; tel. (800) 228-9290, (808) 245-5050. Rates: $259-$369, suites $599-$1,800 per night.
The Princeville Hotel, P.O. Box 3069, Princeville, HI 96722; tel. (800) 826-4400 or (800) 325-3535, (808) 826-9644. Rates: $350-$495, suites, $575-$3,500 per night.
Hanalei Colony Resort, P.O. Box 206, Hanalei, HI 96714; tel. (800) 628-3004, (808) 826-6235. Rates: $125-$210 per night.
Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort, 3-5920 Kuhio Highway, Kapaa, HI 96746; tel. (888) 823-5111, (808) 823-6000. Rates: $150-$225 per night (introductory offer of $135 for a room and car April 1-Dec. 19).
For details on more than 600 condominiums throughout the islands, contact Creative Leisure, 951 Transport Way, Petaluma, CA 94954; tel. (800) 413-1000, (707) 778-1800. A five-night package including air fare from the West Coast, a condominium, car, taxes, breakfast, etc. ($669 per person for six days, five nights) is being offered now through April 5 and resuming April 21.
Where to stay (other properties): Outrigger Kauai Beach Hotel, 4331 Kauai Beach Drive, Lihue, HI 96766; tel. (800) 462-6262, (808) 245-1955. Rates: $150-$195 per night.
Kauai Coconut Beach Resort, P.O. Box 830, Kapaa, HI 96746; tel. (800) 222-5642, (808) 822-3455. Rates: $150-$250. (Ask about the room/car/breakfast package starting at $139.)
Kauai Beach Boy, 484 Kuhio Highway, Kapaa, HI 96746; tel. (800) 922-7866, (808) 822-3441. Rates: $120-$195 a night.
Islander on the Beach, 484 Kuhio Highway, Kapaa, HI 96746; tel. (800) 847-7417, (808) 822-7417. Rates: $105-$175 a night.
Garden Island Inn, 3445 Wilcox Road, Kalapaki Bay, HI 96766; tel. (800) 648-0154, (808) 245-7227. Rates: $59-$95 a night.