Visit the Historic Sites of the Royal Coconut Coast
The Royal Coconut Coast boasts numerous historical and cultural sites, many of them marked along the Wailua Heritage Trail. Since this land was all considered sacred, it was prime real estate for ceremonies. Seven heiau, temples or shrines, were built on this sacred ground, they formed an arc starting on the shores of the Wailua River, heading up the mountain to Wai’ale’ale, and ending on the west side of the island. Many heiau (a sacred place) and preservation sites dot the East side; some of the stone structures still exist and have interpretive signage posted nearby. Treat heiau with respect when visiting. Do not leave anything behind, sit, stand-on or move heiau lava stones.
On the southern shore of the Wailua River once stood Hikinaakala Heiau, meaning rising of the sun, because the stone structure used to light up when the bright rays of the morning sun rose out of the Eastern sea. The largest heiau that remains today is also along the Wailua River called Malae Heiau, and was used for ceremonies. The oldest heiau on Kauai is called Holoholoku Heiau (also known as Kalaeokamanu Heiau). Polihalu Heiau is on a a bluff overlooking the Wailua River. Both the Malae and Polihalu are said to have been built by the Menehune, a pre Polynesian population of Hawaiian legends.
Another very significant place in Hawaiian culture and history is in the Wailua River State Park. There you can see the legendary birthplace of ancient nobles of Kauai. There are two large, smooth birthstones, which was actually used to support the mother during child birth. It was mandatory that all the kings of Kauai be born here; King Kaumualii was one of the many chiefs born on the Birthstones. Royalty from neighbor islands would travel here to give birth at the birthstones of Holoholok’u. The Bell Stone still remains, a reddish stone that makes a unique sound when struck. This historical landmark was used in ancient times by a kahuna, or priest, to announce the birth of royalty.
The entire area along the Wailua River was once only reserved for royalty. Now, you can experience the river by kayak or boat. Venturing up the Wailua River by boat, you can explore the Fern Grotto, a lava rock grotto, embedded with tropical ferns. If you choose to kayak there is a place to dock your kayaks and take a short hike to a secret waterfall. The Wailua River is significant being the largest navigable river in all of Hawaii. It is fed by numerous rivers and streams, all stemming from the crater of Mount Wai’ale’ale, located at the heart of Kauai in the center of the island.
A drive up the mountain and you will find glorious views of mountains and waterfalls, with the Wailua River below. Stop at the scenic overlook of Opaeka’a Falls, which means “rolling shrimp”, named because of the freshwater shrimp that used to be prevalent in the stream. Across the street from the overlook is access to Kamaokila Hawaiian Village. This site is now an authentic recreation of ancient Hawaiian life. Once home to the last king of Kauai, the area now showcases the Hawaiian communal lifestyle, with traditional huts and Hawaiian games available for the kids.
Continue past the Opaeka’a Falls overlook and you will venture into a typical Kauai neighborhood. If you drive past the houses and streets you will find another hidden gem. The Keahua Forestry Arboretum is a real treat for nature-lovers, showcasing plenty of monkey-pod, eucalyptus and mango trees. There are many trails in the area and a stream with accessible pools to take a dip.