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On Walkabout In: Hanapepe, Kauai

Basic Information

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

Narrative

Kauai has a lot of cool little towns to check out, but only one has its own weekly street party which is the historic village of Hanapepe.  This great little town is located on the southwestern section of the Hawaiian Island of Kauai:

Before reaching Hanapepe there is a lookout that provides one of the best views on the island.  The lookout from the Kaumualli Highway outside of town looks down into the Hanapepe Valley and the view is quite incredible:

Scenic Valley On Kauai

Hanapepe is Hawaiian for “crushed bay” which may have come from the crushed rocks falling into the river from this valley and washing into the nearby bay.  From the highway there is a sudden turn that needs to be made in order to exit into downtown Hanapepe.  There is a big sign that points out the exit, but it is easy to miss the turn for people not paying attention.  From the exit the road enters into the historic downtown area of Hanapepe:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

Just over a decade ago many of the buildings in downtown Hanapepe were abandoned and in bad shape.  Today due to an influx of artists who have moved into the community, Hanapepe is seeing a renaissance as old buildings are fixed up and turned into studios and stores:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

Many of the buildings have an Old West look to them since many of the structures are over a hundred years old and this was the frontier construction style of that period.   According to the Hanapepe village website Hanapepe was founded by immigrants who once worked in the sugar fields:

Hanapepe, however, was built by entrepreneurial immigrants. Many who retired from the sugar plantations or could not adapt to their strict working conditions came to Hanapepe to grow taro, rice, or begin small farms or businesses to serve the local community.
Labor union organizers in the early 1900’s were welcome in Hanapepe. Workers in the fist half of the century who organized to strike for better wages or conditions at sugar and pineapple plantations were not allowed to reside at plantation camps; strikers had to stay in independent areas such as Hanapepe. The nearby harbor had many longshoremen who had concerns about working conditions and safety as well.

The upstairs of the old Serikawa building once housed the office of one of these union organizers, a man by the name of Jack Hall:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

Besides the sugar and pineapple industries, the military has also played a large role in the history of Hanapepe.  From World War I to the 1950’s Hanapepe once flourished as one of the biggest towns on Kauai due to being a port of call for the US Navy. This led to the village having a rowdy reputation on the island due to the booze and prostitutes that tend to follow ports of call.  The port where these ships docked on the west side of Hanapepe is called Port Allen and no longer hosts navy ships, but instead fleets of boats taking gawking tourists up to the Na Pali Coast:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

When the village was no longer was a port of call for visiting sailors and the farming industry declined, that is when it began its slow slide into obscurity until its recent revival.  Hanapepe’s boomtown past though is what led to the village’s nickname of, “Kauai’s Biggest Little Town”.  A remnant of the US Navy past of Hanapepe is this shop that used to be the old USO Club:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

Throughout Hanapepe there are markers that explain this history of the various buildings such as the USO past of the above shop:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

Before sailors ever arrived in Hanapepe American missionaries had already been there for many years.  The first missionaries arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in the 1820’s and they first opened a church in Hanapepe in 1890.  The church they opened was the Hanapepe Hawaiian Congregational Church:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

If looking for a good book to read to learn more about Hanapepe’s historic past, it can probably be found in the Talk Story Bookstore:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

This bookstore is overflowing with new and used books and has the best selection I have seen of books about Kauai and Hawaii in general.  The owners are super friendly and very happy to help you find a book.  Something else of note is that Talk Story is the western most bookstore in the United States.

Though most of the buildings in Hanapepe have been fixed up there are still a few more that are looking for the right owners to restore them as well:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

Besides the shops many of the homes in Hanapepe have been nicely fixed up too:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

Since Hanapepe is now a thriving artist community there was plenty of interesting artwork to see in town as well:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

To further highlight the free spirit of Hanapepe we saw some random guy walking through downtown on stilts:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

Besides checking out the shops something else worth doing in town is to walk across the Hanapepe Swinging Bridge:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

The bridge crosses over the river that flows out of the previously pictured Hanapepe Valley:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

Here is the view from the bridge looking up towards the valley in the distance:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

After spending an afternoon in Hanapepe my family and I were quite hungry and we went over to Mele’s Kusina food truck:

Food Truck in Hanapepe, Kauai

The pulled pork we ate from the food truck was awesome:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

After getting something to eat we stuck around Hanapepe for its weekly Art Night festival.  The town really comes to life with all the shops open and various artists selling their wares between 6-9 PM every Friday.  It is really a lot of fun and worth checking out:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

Finally just outside of town is where Salt Pond Park is located at:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

Visitors cannot venture into the salt pond because it is one of the few areas in Hawaii where native Hawaiians make sea salt using traditional ways.  Visitors to the salt pond however can experience the salt for themselves by jumping into the ocean at the nice beach located at the park:

Picture from Hanapepe, Kauai

Conclusion

Each little town on Kauai seems to have its own vibe and Hanapepe’s vibe is unlike any other on the island.  It is definitely a artists’ community now, which makes it a bit quirky, but it is definitely a lot of fun to check out.  I highly recommend if possible to spend the afternoon checking out the town and stopping by Salt Pond Park before heading back into town to grab something to eat.  If visiting on a Friday then stick around for Art Night.  This is a great itinerary to experience “Kauai’s Biggest Little Town”.

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