The call of Kauai
While trying to relax in a spa near famous Waikiki Beach in Oahu, I was joined by a pair of bubbly honeymooners. They’d just gotten lei-ed and were gushing with praise about Hawaii.
I smiled, concealing my deep disappointment at the ugly surroundings. Concrete 70s high-rises towered over me, totally obstructing the sun and sky. Rows of loud tourists dominated the congested shore. The trashy streets of Honolulu were lined with fast food diners and kitsch souvenir shops. Even the more remote beaches of Oahu were crowded and overcommercialised.
So, unless youve come to Hawaii to shop and people-watch, consider catching the next plane to another, less-developed island. Hawaii has a necklace of five main islands: Oahu, the Big Island, Molokai, Maui and Kauai. To hang loose and soak up some traditional Hawaiian culture, I choose Kauai.
My base for the first week was on the east coast of Kauai in Wailua. Kauai has recently recovered from Hurricane Iniki which hit in 1992, destroying half its buildings and causing $US1.6 billion in damages. Settling into my beachside cottage I could see the rolling waves once surfed by Hawaiian royalty, now a favourite spot for locals.
Kauai is Hawaiis oldest inhabited island, and over eight million years its volcanic soil has mothered the most interesting biodiversity of flora and fauna in the South Pacific. Within its compact perimeter (33 miles wide by 25 miles long) lie deep canyons, towering cliff faces, pounding waterfalls and shapely mountain ranges. Its diverse geography and climate command a sense of awe and reverence for the power of natural forces, the core concept of Hawaiian spirituality.
The south coast is generally drier and sunnier; miles of rolling sand dunes pervade the west, while the north coast is famous for its lush rainforests, watered by the misty rains. In the centre is the rainiest spot on earth: Mount Waialeale (meaning rippling waters).
Greeting the sunrise with Kahuna John Keola Lake, a professor at the University of Hawaii, was one of the perks of being at Wailua during the New Years celebrations. At this easternmost point of Kauai, Hawaiian chiefs and priests would gather to invoke the power of the rising sun in the name of Hawaiis people.
As Hawaiians follow an essentially animistic religion, Professor Lake encouraged us to attune to the spirit of every living thing on the island. The Hawaiians worship almost everything, seeing the divinity of the volcano as goddess Pele, Kane as the god of water and wind, the god Ku present as the sun and rain and goddess Hina shining as the moon. There are over 400,000 deities, without the concept of a supreme one. A certain deity presides over every aspect of life and the gods are engaged in all human activity, enjoying surfing, kite flying and sledding down hills. Divine ancestors, called aumakua, are also revered for their protective and guiding presence.
Hawaiians make offerings and pray so the gods will provide and guide. Feeling a little misguided and ever ready for a spiritual handout, I set off for the places where rituals had taken place for centuries. As it turned out, all the ancient temples, or heiaus, were desecrated and dilapidated. Much of the credit for this goes to Deborah Kapule, wife of Kauais king Kaumualii. When she converted to Christianity in 1935 she decided to pollute the purity of these sacred temples by converting them into pigpens the ultimate offence. Other sites had rest stops and roads built over them, the largest one apparently buried under a Lihue hotel.
It was a challenge to sense divinity in a pile of rubble and to visualise opulent rites that once took place in a now barren field. Kauai has seven main sacred sites, corresponding to the seven energy vortexes or chakras in the body. Most of them are in the Wailua and Waimea region, though the main Hula temple is in the north. Those sensitive to subtle vibes may feel the spiritual energy, known as mana, in these places. The locals obviously still honour the sanctity of these sites, however, as offerings of flowers could be seen everywhere.
The last ruling chiefs of Hawaii were based in Wailua and the royal offspring were born at the birthing stone heiau. Other sites were used to sacrifice people who had broken kapu (taboos) as well as places to develop culture, agriculture and government. Disappointed with the ancient sites, I decided to visit a more recent addition to Kauais temples.
Kauais Hindu monastery is the home of the Kadavul Hindu Temple, established in 1973 and the future site of the San Marga Iraivan Temple. This magical place, which Hawaiians call Pihanakalani (where Heaven touches the Earth), was founded by the well-known mystic Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. The monastery is beside the Wailua River, at the fifth of seven temple sites leading to the top of Mt Waialeale. A 51-acre oasis with 25 ponds, orchids, frangipanis, mangoes, lotuses, sandalwood and gooseberry trees, it provides a sanctuary for the resident Hindu monks. There are about 30 monks from six different countries living there full-time.
Though small, the existing temple resonates with decades of unbroken ritual. The centrepiece is a stunning 50-million-year-old crystal, the worlds largest six-sided natural uncarved crystal. This 36-inch tall, 700-pound wish-fulfilling gem is said to answer prayers written down and presented at its feet. The temple walls are adorned with 108 brass dancing Shivas representing the universal rhythm of creation, preservation and destruction. An astrology board in the temple displays accurately the planetary positions on the day, reflecting the monasterys strict observance of Vedic astrology in all its activities. The deities of Ganesha, Murugan and Nandi are worshipped several times daily in elaborate south Indian style.
The people of Kauai appear to be a combination of Japanese, Filipinos, mixed nationalities and US mainlanders. Pureblood Hawaiians are very rare these days, though I was fortunate to meet a few. Theres a definite alternative mood to Kauai with contained communities of Rastafarians, nudist hippies and Californian dropouts. But its much more low-key than the commercialised new-age overload of Maui. The south shore around Poipu is condo territory, attracting lots of retirees and family holidaymakers, whereas the north shore is more expensive and exclusive, a playground for rich Americans and astute backpackers.
Hiring a car is the best way to see Kauai, even if youre forced to slow down to island pace with speed limits typically as low as 30mph. This allows you to take in the mountain ranges framing views everywhere.
One bit of magic not to be missed on the east coast is a kayak trip down the sacred Wailua River. Tropical birds, lush rainforest and flowers line the 30-minute trip which concludes at Destiny Falls where, if you swim in the holy pools, your dreams are granted. Also worth a look are the lovely Wailua Falls, where chiefs used to make ceremonial leaps, as well as the Opaekaa Falls, especially in the rainy season. Try the river barge to the Fern Grotto, a massive natural lava cave which, curtained by cascading ferns, is a natural amphitheatre.
The west coast doesnt have many established tourist attractions except the Waimea Canyon, hailed by Mark Twain as ""the Grand Canyon of the Pacific"".
Moving further down the south coast I realised my mistake in booking a condo in the built-up area of Poipu. Poipu was far from the isolated getaway I imagined. Though it has fewer tourist attractions, the south draws sun-worshippers with the promise of less rain than the north. Though the snorkelling is better here, the beaches are lined with volcanic rock and coral, making it a cutting entrance. The best beaches to visit are Salt Pond Beach and Brenneckes Beach.
Visiting the few features of the south coast was hardly worth the bother. Spouting Horn was more like a wheezing hole and Glass Beach was not unlike a beach polluted with a few smashed beer bottles. However, all was not lost as I picked up some cheap pink pearls and shells, plus one of the islands famed red dirt shirts. These good luck shirts dyed with blessed volcanic mud evolved in 1994 when a clothes company couldnt stop dirt from staining their white cloth.
Moving on to the north coast, overlooking the acres of green taro fields in Hannalei Valley, I wished Id come earlier. Due to the higher rainfall, north Kauai is much lusher than other areas. It is also less developed than the south shore due to strict council building regulations governing high-rise developments. The pounding surf and hurling lava have created the spectacular sheer cliff faces of the 4000-foot high Na Pali coastline. To get an idea of the wild beauty of this area, cast your memory back to scenes from, among others, King Kong, Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Honeymoon in egas, South Pacific and Blue Hawaii.
The hotels are expensive here, so after settling into a lovely bed and breakfast I spent my time in Hannalei swimming at the unspoilt beacsh, seeing the unimpressive dry and wet caves of Haena and watching people in the surf school get seriously dumped. The highlight of this area was a two-mile trek on the Kalalu trail, from Kee Beach along the Na Pali coast and ending at Hanakapiai Beach. The beach is a little wild for swimming during winter but the trail is fertile with native black kukui nut trees, purple orchids, wildflowers and little waterfalls. A more difficult walk is a further two miles to the natural spa of Hanapiai Falls, where a swim in the cool waters followed by a hydrotherapy backrub is the order of the day.
For a birds-eye view of Kauais more remote features, the best option is a helicopter flight. To get intimate with the diverse marine life of humpback whales, spinner dolphins, monk seals, tropical fish and corals, join the Na Pali catamaran, a vessel ingeniously run on recycled non-toxic vegetable oil thus saving the sea from pollution and reducing the chance of seasickness due to diesel fumes.
There is a forbidden island called Nihau off the west coast of Kauai which can be seen from a boat or helicopter. The only permissible way to visit the family-owned island is on a barbaric and exorbitantly expensive hunting trip where you can slaughter unsuspecting Polynesian boar and wild sheep. A more civilised sport attracting many visitors is the call of Kauais greens, hailed as among the best courses in the world. In Kauai, the avid golfer is never far from 18 holes. Princeville course, set 300 feet up overlooking the blue Pacific in Princeville, is rated Hawaiis number one.
Though Hawaii is a melting pot of racial and cultural assimilation, many of the ancient traditions have been kept alive through the kahuna tradition. Kahunas are keepers of specialised knowledge. Theyre chosen from a young age to receive training in kapu, or secret wisdom from elders. In the past there were kahunas for almost every aspect of life. Nowadays many of the kahuna lineages have been broken, but I was fortunate to meet up with two powerful healers.
Kahuna Kaipo, a pure-blood Hawaiian nearing his 60th year, has been practising kahuna laau lapaau (herbal medicine) and lomi lomi (rhythmic, deep and vigorous massage) since he was two years old. His grandmother trained him to diagnose and treat disease. Kahuna Kaipo attributes much of his success to an inborn psychic ability inherited from his ancestors.
""When I was a child I could see into peoples bodies and it terrified me,"" he says. Nowadays he has learnt to use this X-ray vision to make uncannily accurate diagnoses. He also chooses the appropriate herbs through instinct; as he puts it, ""The right herb calls me.""
Alan Allepei, also a full-blooded Hawaiian, uses his ancestral gift of kahuna lomi lomi to soften tightness in the body. Sickness in Hawaiian is mai which literally means a state of tension hence the Hawaiian emphasis on hanging loose to preserve health and happiness. Trained by his grandmother in Hawaiian healing since he was eight years old, Alan was 12 when he took his final examination, which consisted of massaging his grandmother blindfolded for a month.
Alan commences his treatments with Hawaiian chants to invoke the healing presence of his ancestors. Then he identifies the exact areas of tension and works on them patiently until they become smooth and painless. ""My mission is to make more baby spirits,"" he explains. He does this by helping clients release their troubled conditioning and emotional baggage. Alans soothing touch, like a mothers, flows from his unconditional love and compassion for his clients. This is essential for a kahuna healer, as there is a Hawaiian belief, he says, that ""if you dont care enough to cure, you will be cursed to be unable to cure"".
Encouraging patients to ""switch off the mind and become the flow"", Alan also emphasises the importance of healing relationship rifts. This is achieved through a daily ritual called hooponopono, or making balance and putting things right, similar to a family conference where each person has to keep quiet until its their turn to air grievances. Every night, household members hold hands in a circle and share the challenges, conflicts and joys of one anothers day. After ventilating relationship grievances, the air is then cleared with music and dancing. It is this, Alan claims, that prevents emotional suppressions from accumulating and surfacing later as disease. An added advantage, he smiles, is that it ""allows you to sleep like a baby"".
Kahuna Serge Kahili King, author of Urban Shaman, explains the seven principles of Hawaiian spiritual philosophy:
- ike We create our own reality.
- kala The world is limitless.
- makia Energy flows where attention goes.
- manawa Power is in the present moment.
- aloha Unconditional love.
- mana All power comes from within.
- pono Truth is measured by effectiveness.
These profound ideals transcend sectarian faith and cut to the core of human values. Indigenous cultures have an earthy wisdom that our over-intellectualising world lacks. Perhaps the most striking insight I gained from Hawaiian wisdom is their enduring sense of love for family and community, as embodied in the word aloha. As you can see from the following exegesis, aloha has much greater significance than a simple greeting. It conveys the warmth and morality of an ancient culture that has much to share with modern society. In the words of the kahunas, ""May you always bless and be blessed by the light of love.""
Caroline Robertson is a Naturopath, Homoeopath and Ayurvedic practitioner who consults from her Sydney clinic. Tel: (02) 9904 4859, email: firstname.lastname@example.org