Full participation in small town life entails tracking the web of high profile out-of-town visitors and remembering any time the town or region was featured in newspapers, film, television, music, or literature. This is especially true of Kauai, the smallest of the four major Hawaiian islands. People who live on Kauai might gossip that Oprah flew a helicopter to Puka Dog or that Tiger Woods visited Brick Oven Pizza or that Evangeline Lilly (“Kate” from “LOST”) was spotted, without bangs, at a Starbucks in Poipu, but they will also go beyond celebrity vacations gone viral and share the myriad, verifiable ways the island has participated in mainland American culture. In that spirit, here’s an equally valid and vapid primer for chatting about Kauai.
Recently in the news
- Bethany Hamilton, the professional surfer who lost her left arm in a tiger shark attack in 2003, never stops. After the attack, she wrote a book about the experience (Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board) and performed stunts for the movie based on the book. She married youth minister Adam Dirks on Kauai’s north shore in the summer of 2013, close to where she grew up, and in Sept. 2014, the couple competed on The Amazing Race 25 and placed third.
- According to Forbes, 30-year-old Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg bought a former sugarcane plantation on the north shore of the island for $66 million in Sept., 2014, paying families who lived in huts in the area as much as one million each to leave. For another fifty million Zuckerberg bought an additional 350 adjacent acres, providing a total of over 2,500 feet of beachfront property. His visit to Bubba’s Burgers the year before made front-page news in the local paper.
- The house of NBA all-time high scorer and all-around basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is for sale again. For 15 years Abdul-Jabbar lived in a home designed with raised ceilings and doorways to accommodate his 7’2” frame. According to the Los Angeles Times, he sold the house for nearly $2 million in 1995, and now it’s back on the market for $5.9 million.
- Justin Bieber jumped from a tall cliff at Shipwreck beach in front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel along the south shore of Kauai. He survived, but in Sept. 2014 reported he may have injured an eardrum.
Movies and shows to watch
- “The Perfect Getaway” is a 2009 horror-thriller-adventure film set on Kauai’s Kalalau Trail but was filmed mostly in Puerto Rico. While the movie garnered 60% on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.5/10 on imdb.com, the helicopter footage of the infamously and precipitously narrow trail leading into the Kalalau Valley is worth watching. Watch a trailer here.
- “The Descendants” is a 2011 Oscar winning film starring George Clooney as Matt King, one member of a family who lives on Oahu but vacations on Kauai. Keep an eye on the sets in this film; many scenes were shot in houses previously owned by the Robinson family, true-to-life versions of the elite Hawaiian descendants portrayed in the film. Also watch for the scene where King runs down the beach in Hanalei Bay looking for the man with whom his wife was sleeping with before she died. Listen for the moment Matt says, “Look, we're haole as sh1t… we barely speak pigeon… we go to private schools... but we're Hawaiian.” “Haole” is an epithet referring to Hawaiians with white ancestry. Watch the trailer here.
- South Park’s “Going Native” episode addresses Hawaiian culture clash too. Butters, the star of the episode, travels alone to Kauai with a Mahalo Rewards credit card after his parents send him to his birthplace to experience the unique rite of passage of receiving discounts. The show portrays “Native Hawaiians” as white Americans who own timeshares and condos on the island but claim and cling to inconsequential markers like credit cards as signs of their fidelity to the region. The episode made the Hawaiian news. Here are clips.
- The classic arrival scene in the first “Jurassic Park” where a park helicopter flies into green slopes speckled with waterfalls was filmed on Kauai’s NaPali Coast. The scene where the evil Dennis Nedry sits in an outdoor restaurant in “San Jose, Costa Rica” with a shaving cream can full of dinosaur embryos was filmed in the town of Kapaa along the Kuhio Highway. The scene where Dr. Grant comes across a raptor nest full of hatched eggs and understands the “all female” dinosaur population has started reproducing was filmed in the Allerton branch of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens along the south shore. The scene where Dr. Grant and the kids race to climb the electric fence before the electric current is restored was filmed in Olokele Valley, northwest of Waimea. And the scene where the park’s automated Jeep tour enters the park gates was filmed at the base of Mount Wai’ale’ale in the center of Kauai. Though the gates are gone, the two poles on either side of the gates remain, and visitors document the 8-mile journey.
Books to read and music to listen to
- For easy listening, check out Na Mele O Kaua'I (The Best Songs of Kaua'i), Vol. 1. The compilation was sponsored by the island’s tourism bureau and might come across as something to buy at the airport (and maybe you can), but the mix of old and new tracks makes this collection stand out.
- For something harder, download Childish Gambino’s 2014 “Kauai” mixtape. It debuted at number 18 on the Billboard 200 and Donald Glover, the man behind “Childish Gambino,” is giving proceeds from “Kauai” to the maintenance and preservation of the island.
- Read “Koolau the Leper,” a short story by Jack London. This piece of historical fiction tells of a time when Hawaiians with leprosy resisted capture and avoided detainment by hiding in the Kalalau Valley in 1893. Copy and paste the text here.
- Check out W.S. Merwin’s “The Folding Cliffs: A Narrative of 19th-century Hawaii,” a poet’s telling, in poetic verse, of the same story as “Koolau the Leper.” Learn about the government’s attempt to capture Hawaiians with leprosy living along the NaPali Coast and the resistance they encountered.