By Virginia Beck
A paradise of trees, a virtual Eden of flowers and rare plants, contributed by the winds and waves, followed by those who came by canoe, or ship, or airline. Kaua‘i is a mixed plate, as we call our local lunches. Mixtures of plants, cultures and races, all brought here seeking one thing; freedom to live in peace.
Kaua‘i’s extraordinary volcanic history gave rise to one the oldest inhabited Hawaiian Islands, splendid beaches, and some species of birds and plants that you will find nowhere else on Earth. A trip to the Natural History Museum in Koke‘e State Park, above Waimea Canyon, will open your eyes to vivid birds and plants surviving in our wilderness.
One of the great treasures of the islands was the ‘iliahi, or sandalwood tree. Its precious, scented hardwood was in great demand in the early 1800s. It was used for fragrant boxes, jewelry and incense. The Hawaiians used it to perfume their kapa cloth.
The early monarchy agreed to trade with merchant ships. Large holes equal to the measure of the ships’ holds were dug in the earth, to measure the quantities needed. The island people gathered enough to fill these pits. Unfortunately, it was harvested so aggressively, that it cannot be found on all islands anymore.
Kaua‘i still has some of these plants, known as ‘iliahi . It was also the name of the beautiful plantation manager’s home up on the slopes of Kilohana, at the base of Waialeale. The property overlooks Līhu‘e, and has the most amazing views. Grove Farms owns and maintains it.
No trip to Kaua‘i would be complete without visiting the spectacular collections at the National Tropical Botanical Garden. There are native plant collections, as well as the plants brought by the early Polynesian settlers in their voyaging canoes. The immense variety of plantings flow down the valley to the sea, with different ecosystems and habitats along the way, following the water to the ocean, where a protected green turtle colony nests on the beach.
From the amazing trees used in the movie “Jurassic Park” to endangered species such as the wiliwili tree with its brilliant crimson orange seeds, there is something there for every age group. Spectacular palm gardens, bamboo collections, serene fountains for meditation, and beautiful statuary imported from Europe, mingle with Asian sculpture, thanks to the insight of John and Robert Allerton.
The National Botanical Garden also has a sister garden at Limahuli, on the North Shore, featuring, rock walls and ponds built by early Hawaiians, and different types of plant life, more suited to a rainy valley and streams. Visitors and locals both enjoy hiking in the beauty.
Kama’aina with local drivers’ licenses may visit the gardens for free on Sundays, by reservation.
As you travel around the island, notice the variety of microclimates that share our tiny little corner of the Pacific. From the lush mountains, to the green ranchlands, to the local truck farmers’ fruits and vegetables, you will be surprised again and again. Fascinating starfruit, dragonfruit, luau leaves, and more species of banana than we ever knew.
Surprisingly, the grocery stores carry lotus root, gobo and many oriental foods. Happily, ōlena, or turmeric, is turning up more frequently in our specialty stores. Don’t miss our farmers markets, which move from district to district each day, and a really big one at Kauaʻi Community College Saturday mornings. Avocados and mangos are coming like gangbusters! Bring your own bags and lots of small bills.
Virginia Beck, NP and Certified Trager® Practitioner, offers Wellness Consultation, Trager Psychophysical Integration and teaches Malama Birth Training classes. She can be reached at 635-5618.