The East Side of Kauai, also called the Royal Coconut Coast, gets its popular name from the abundance of coconut trees located along the coast and highways. It is also a characteristic of resorts in this part of the island to be decorated with coconut groves.
The coconut coast is the most populated region in Kauai owing to its central location and is home to almost one third of the island’s population. In the ancient days, civilizations flourished along this part of the island and it continues to be the centre of commerce for Kauai today.
The Royal Coconut coast has now become a popular tourist destination because of its central location, excellent accommodation facilities, welcoming weather, rich history and an abundance of tourist attractions.
If you are planning to explore the island of Kauai, the coconut coast is the junction from where other parts of the island can be easily accessed. You can thus save a lot of travelling time which will otherwise be spent sitting behind the steering wheel.
History of the Coconut Coast
Ancient communities flourished along the banks of the Wailua River, which lead to the town of Wailua being the capital of Kauai. Till this date, Wailua remains as one of the highly populated and busy regions on the island.
Much of the coconut coast’s history can be credited to Mount Waialeale as the entire east coast and most of the island is the result of a volcanic explosion that happened over 5 million years ago. Mount Waialeale, which is considered to be the ‘rainiest place on earth’, is also the originating point of the Wailua river, which then freely flows into the ocean along the Wailua Bay.
Following the first sugar mill formation in Koloa, along the southern shore of Kauai, the coconut coast witnessed its first sugar plantation in Kapaa, the inception of which can be dated back to the 1870s. Following this, the sugar industry began to flourish in the region which led to more plantations mushrooming in Wailua, Kealia and Lihue.
Sugar led to the booming of the island’s economy and was its main source of revenue. The growing sugar industry attracted a lot of immigrants from countries like China, Japan, Portugal, Spain and other countries which led to the diversification of Kauai’s culture.
Abundant water and fertile soil was the reason people flocked to this part of the island. Settling along the Wailua river meant that people never had to face drought and shortage of food. The Wailua river valley is considered as a sacred spot ever since the inception of civilization here and evidence of the fact can still be found today in the form of sacred artifacts. The holoholoku heiau found along the river bank is one of the oldest known places of worship.
The east coast has also served as a prime location for a lot of Hollywood movies because of its lush green forests, waterfalls and other scenic locations and has been a movie makers attraction ever since the 1900s.
Coconut Coast Climate
Much like the other parts of the island, the climate is generally warm with extreme temperatures ranging between 18 degree Celsius to 30 degree Celsius during winter and summer months respectively. The months November through April can be regarded as winter and are accompanied with moist and windy weather.
Unlike the west and northern parts of the island, the east coast doesn’t experience much rainfall, contrary to the fact that the mount Waialeale summit is accompanied with highest rainfall during the year. The sunny weather attracts a lot of tourists and is part of the reason why the east coast is so densely populated.
Places to explore along the Coconut Coast
Lydgate Beach Park
Located near the Wailua river, Lydgate beach park is about 6 miles to the north of Lihue and is situated close to the Hilton Garden Inn. This is a popular attraction on the island, mainly because of its uniqueness.
The beach has two salt water ponds separated by man made rock walls and well protected from the ocean currents. One pool is shallow and well suited for kids and the other one is a bit deeper and larger.
The waters are calm and serve as a perfect spot for families and kids to have a perfect beach vacation. Though the ponds are separated from the ocean, variety of fish enter through the narrow openings in between the rocks and call for a great snorkeling experience. The beach park has lifeguard facilities, picnic tables, play area and all the basic amenities for a perfect family vacation.
Just to the north of Lydgate beach park, along the Nalu road, is the Hikinakaala heiau, which is the foundation ruins of an ancient sacred temple. You can also explore other popular beaches along the east coast which include Wailua beach, Waipouli beach, Kapaa beach, Kealia beach and the Donkey beach.
Wailua River State Park
Spread over a thousand acres, the main part of Wailua river state park is the Wailua river valley. The valley has always been a subject of fascination and has a rich history. Numerous heiaus found right from the mouth of Wailua river all the way up to the summit of Mount Waialeale, are proof to the reverence with which Hawaiians treated this valley. The valley is also home to ancient grave sites and places of refuge.
The Wailua river joins the ocean in the Wailua Bay region. You can choose to watch the Wailua river from the overlook on the Kuamo’o road or have a more private affair by renting a kayak and exploring the river. The kayak tour to the fern grotto, a fern clothed cave, is a popular activity in this region.
On the opposite side of the Wailua river lookout on highway 56, is the Opaekaa falls lookout offering a splendid view of the 150 foot tall and 40 foot wide Opaekaa falls which branches from the northern end of the Wailua river.
When you’ve entered the Wailua valley, you cannot go back without seeing the Wailua falls.
This double tiered waterfall is famous for its ravishing beauty and easy accessibility. If you choose to drive on your own, you will be met with directions to the falls just after mile marker #1 on highway 56. The view is close to the parking lot and this is the safest way to witness this beauty.
Hike the Sleeping Giant
If you are in the mood for a hike, then hiking the Nounou mountain (sleeping giant) should be on your to-do list. The trail can be categorized into three sections. The first plateau has picnic tables where you can take some rest. Following this part, the trail splits up and it pays to familiarize yourself with the routes before beginning your hike.
Following the first plateau, the trail gets a little more challenging. When you reach the summit you’ll be treated with magnificent views of the Pacific ocean on one side, and the center of Kauai and Mt. Waialeale on the other. Read our post on the sleeping giant trail for directions and better understanding of the hiking trail.
Shopping at Kapaa
The historic town of Kapaa is a short drive from Lihue and has a blend of the old and modern history of Kauai. Apart from glaring at the beauty of this town, there are a plenty of other things you can do here. The Kilihono shopping village is a popular shopping location in the region with a variety of eateries and interesting shops related to water sports, local clothing and jewelry.
If you are a lover of ancient art and artifacts, then the Coconut Marketplace will enthrall you with its variety of shops having collections ranging from ancient Hawaiian souvenirs to upscale clothing outlets. The place also hosts the farmer’s market on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 am to 12 pm where people sell fresh local produce accompanied with live music on some days.
Biking along the Coconut Coast
Being able to savor the beauty of the coconut coast through a bike ride is another highlight of spending time in this part of the island. As a measure to encourage bike riding and outdoor activity in general, the local government is in the process of building a biking path along the east coast.
Two phases of the project i.e, the Kapaa and Lydgate beach park stretch, have already been completed and handed over for public use. This pathway is great for walkers, joggers, and bikers and is wide enough to ride at your own comfort. Head over to our post on seaside walking and biking in Kapaa for a visual on the Ke Ala Hele Makalae- The path that goes by the coast!
In conclusion, the coconut coast is the best place to spend your time on the island. The abundance of resorts and vacation rentals, easy accessibility of markets and shopping centers, scenic locations and adventures, and its rich history, make the coconut coast an important part of your Kauai experience.