By Jan TenBruggencate
In many ways, it is a place defined by its diversity.
The rainfall on the leeward slopes minimal, but West Kauaʻi has always been blessed with water resources, from the big rivers to the vast Mana marshes, once so rich that great flocks of ducks and other waterfowl rose from the surface.
The hot and dusty slopes have been rendered fertile by great waterworks from the early Hawaiian hydrological masterpiece of the Kiki-a-Ola or Menehune Ditch to the long ditch-and-tunnel systems that form the old Kekaha and Gay & Robinson sugar irrigation systems.
You can bake on the endless sands that wrap the Westside from Waimea to Polihale, but you can always take the heat off in the nearshore waters – and occasionally get a chill if you find an underwater fresh water spring, rising from the ocean floor.
Amid the hot sand dunes around the Pacific Missile Range Facility, a sand mining project has been converted into the Kawaiele bird sanctuary, a place where native water birds such as the coot, mudhen, stilt, duck and an array of migratory water birds thrive.
Air temperatures, which can rise to uncomfortable levels on windless summer days, can also drop to a distinct chill on quiet nights when the cold Kokeʻe air seeps down the mountainside.
West Kauaʻi is unmatched for its agricultural diversity. Sugar was once king, but other forms of farming have played important role in the region’s economic story both before and after cane.
Kalo was king in the early Hawaiian days, and it continues to be grown on ancient pond fields or loʻi in Waimea and Hanapepe Valleys. Early growers of the modern era struggled with tobacco and other crops before settling in on sugar. And today, with cane’s demise, seed companies are availing themselves of irrigated land and year-round growing.
All of which has created a human community that is as diverse as the ag story. What or who is a Westsider? The stereotypes are as easy as they are misleading.
Families that live the outdoors, that fish off the white sandy beaches, that push boats into the water at Polihale to explore Na Pali, that picnic at Salt Pond, that hunt goats and pigs and birds in the uplands, that ride horse and mule up the canyon.
Clans with links to the missile range, who commute to jobs in Poʻipu or in Lihuʻe, who work the seed corn and the coffee, who travail with the small array of visitor industry jobs. And the many, many with long, strong ties to Westside plantations: Kekaha, Waimea, G&R, Olokele, McBryde.
And the many with family ties to the misty offshore island of Ni’ihau, whose dedication to their culture is so strong they have built two Kauaʻi schools where you hear their native Ni`ihau Hawaiian dialect more than you hear English.
Perhaps its finest point is that West Kauaʻi has preserved its uniqueness better than just about anywhere else on the island.
- Jan TenBruggencate is a Kaua`i based writer and communications consultant.