Royal Coconut Coast
The Royal Coconut Coast is the designation given to Kauai’s east side, defined as the area between the Wailua Golf Course, heading north along the coast to Kealia Beach, and extending inland towards the center of the island, to Mount Waialeale. The Royal Coconut Coast includes the sacred Wailua River area and the large towns of Wailua and Kapaa. The area derives its name from the acres of coconut trees located along the coast and highway. The area also hosts many places of historical and cultural significance, some of the land held as sacred and was once reserved only for the royalty of Hawaii.
The Royal Coconut Coast is a diverse and popular area due to its central location on Kauai. It is an area attractive for both residents and visitors with a solid concentration of hotels and attractions. Many of Kauai’s lodging properties are located in this area, as well as many popular beaches, parks, restaurants, shopping centers, hiking and biking trails, and general services are readily available.
The Royal Coconut Coast includes the towns of Wailua, Olohena, Waipouli, Kapaa and Kealia. According to the 2010 US Census Bureau, the town of Kapaa is the most populated town on Kauai, with 10,250 residents out of a total of 67,091 residents of Kauai. The Royal Coconut Coast is popular in part due to being centrally located relative to Kauai's primary attractions. It is only a fifteen-minute drive to Lihue Airport, the main airport of Kauai, and the town of Lihue, Kauai’s second largest town after Kapaa. From the Royal Coconut Coast area, it is about an hour’s drive to travel to any side of Kauai, the scenic north shore, including Princeville and Hanalei, the sunny south shore, including Poipu and Koloa, as well as the dry west side, including Hanapepe and Waimea.
The Royal Coconut Coast includes land that extends from the Kalepa Mountain Range that begins in Hanamaulu and continues north to the Kealia Mountain Range. It includes over ten miles of coastline with several beach parks and recreational areas. This area correlates with the original land distribution system known as ahupuaa that was in use in ancient Hawaii. The Royal Coconut Coast includes the ahupuaa areas known as Wailua Kai, traditionally referred to as “Wailuanuiahoano”, and Wailua Uka. The Royal Coconut Coast also has the Wailua River, the only navigable river in all of Hawaii, meaning it is the only river in the state that is deep, wide, and slow enough to allow vessels to pass.
One of the most prominent mountains on Kauai, Nounou Mountain, which is also called Sleeping Giant, is located in the Royal Coconut Coast. This easily identifiable mountain is visible upon entering the Royal Coconut Coast region and is located along the north side of the Wailua River. It gets its nickname from its shape, as it resembles a giant lying on his back with his face on the south end, with a large stomach in the middle, and his feet at the north end. There are several legends about how the sleeping giant came to be, but the most popular tale tells of a gentle giant that used to live among the ancient Hawaiian people, helping them build heiau by gathering large rocks and logs from high in the mountains. After he helped complete a large project, the local village had a luau or party in his honor, but the giant ate so much that evening he lay down and never woke up. Several hiking trails are available along this mountain, including the Nounou West Trail, Nounou East Trail, and the Kuamoo trail, all leading to the summit and offering views of the region.
The climate along the Royal Coconut Coast is consistent with many windward areas of Hawaii. The trade winds that hit Kauai typically blow in from the East, sometimes bringing light showers and providing cool breezes most of the year to Hawaii's tropical climate. For the most part, weather in Hawaii only has two seasons, summer that lasts from May to October, and winter which lasts from November to April. Winter weather typically brings more storms and wetter weather, especially to the windward sides of the island, and slightly cooler temperatures. Average summer highs range from 80-85 degrees and lows from 70-75 degrees, while winter temperatures do not differ too much, with highs ranging from 75-80 degrees and lows ranging from 65-70 degrees. Areas along the coast do not see as much rainfall, averaging less than 50 inches of rain per year, however travelling inland, some mountains receive over 400 inches of rainfall per year.
Many important historical areas exist along the Royal Coconut Coast. The most heavily concentrated historical areas lie along the Wailua River. This sacred land offered a strategic advantage for the ancient Hawaiians who inhabited the area. The Wailua River is fed from the constant rainfall that occurs at Mount Waialeale, one of the rainiest places in the world. The constant supply of water made the land along the river very sacred, as the ancients never feared a drought or food shortage. This land was once reserved only for the alii or royalty of Hawaii. Many sacred sites, including heiau, or places of worship, still exist along the river. These sacred sites were areas where important cultural customs and traditions, ceremonies, and worship and religious practices were performed.
In ancient times Wailua Bay was a main port of entry as you directly enter the Wailua River and easily travel inland. Near the river mouth, on the south side of the river is Hikinaakala at Hauola heiau and is a place of peace, health and healing, where ancient Hawaiians worshipped the rising sun. Many ancient artifacts have been found in the area and petroglyphs are still seen here. This heiau also served as a pu’uhonua or “place of refuge” where defeated warriors or criminals fleeing prosecution could enter and stay safe from pursuit. In ancient times the refugee would remain within the walls for days giving offerings to the gods and seeking forgiveness.
Continuing upriver one of Hawaii’s most sacred sights, the Holoholoku heiau, is found along the banks, which is one of the oldest known places of worship. Within the heiau are the Royal Birthing Stones, actually two boulders known as the pohaku hanau, where the expectant mother would sit on the flat stone and rest her back on the other stone. This area was dedicated to birthing kings, only the alii or royalty, were born here. Kauai’s last king, King Kaumualii, was the last king to be born here in the mid 1800s, he became king at the age of sixteen.
Another heiau, Poli’ahu, is further upriver on a narrow ridge between Opaeka’a Stream and Wailua River. This was one of the largest heiau on Kauai and was used only by the ali’i nui “ruling chief” and kahuna nui “head priest".
Near the mouth of the Wailua River sits the remnants of the Coco Palms Resort, a site of more modern history. This site was originally dedicated to the chiefs of Kauai for many centuries, but became one of the first inns of Kauai, run by Deborah Kapule, the favorite wife of King Kaumuali’i. Kapule was a gracious host and one of the original promoters of Kauai's visitor industry in the 1850s, often bringing visitors up the Wailua River in ancient canoes.
Coco Palms Resort opened in the 1950s and hosted many famous stars and celebrities of the time, including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Duke Kahanamoku, and the von Trapp Family Singers. In 1961, Elvis Presley filmed Blue Hawaii on the grounds of the Coco Palms Resort, securing its notoriety and popularity for many travelers to Kauai. The Coco Palms Resort was devastated in 1992 by Hurricane Iniki and since has never been reopened. Although Coco Palms is no longer an option for accommodations in the Royal Coconut Coast, since it opened, another eleven hotel and condominium resort properties have been established in the area, offering a variety of options for travelers.
The first major beach found along the Royal Coconut Coast is Lydgate Beach Park, it is extremely popular for families and is located just south of the Wailua River. It has a large double-sectioned salt water pool, created by a lava rock wall in the ocean. The smaller pool is frequented by families with toddlers and small children, and the larger pool is ideal for swimming and snorkeling  Young children are drawn to Kamalani playground, an extravagant playground with two different sections located nearby, connected by a paved path. Lydgate is one of the most popular beaches on Kauai for swimmers, picnickers, campers, fishermen, surfers, windsurfers, divers and beachcombers. It is a lifeguarded beach and provides several restroom and shower facilities.
Wailua Bay or Wailua Beach is great for walking and beachcombing, but not ideal for swimming. It is the short stretch of beach north of the Wailua River and ending at the rocky point to the north. There is no lifeguard present and a strong shore break and strong rip currents make it hazardous. Swimming near the river mouth can be dangerous and unpredictable, plus the murky water attracts predators.
Continuing north, the next beach along the Royal Coconut Coast is Waipouli Beach, a long narrow beach fronting the Waipouli Beach Resort. The beach is fronted by wide sections of bedrock but small patches of sandy area can be found in the water amongst the reef. Wading and swimming is cautioned here as strong currents and sudden drop offs are prevalent.
Kapa’a Beach Park, located near the highway that travels through Kapa’a town, has been eroding steadily for years. It is shallow and rocky and not very appealing for swimming, although several sand pockets are available during high tide. Many fishermen frequent the area hunting for fish, octopus, and gathering seaweed.
Kealia Beach, on the northernmost end of the Royal Coconut Coast, is a favorite for locals and visitors wanting to surf or body board. It features a long golden-sand beach, with consistent waves depending on the ocean conditions. During the summer, the waves can be small enough for children to catch a ride at the far end of the beach, due to the small lava rock jetty creating quiet conditions. But during the winter months surfing and swimming here should be done with caution, as large swells can create a dangerous shore break. Always check with the lifeguard for current conditions.
The Wailua River is one of the main attractions along the Royal Coconut Coast. The river drains into Wailua Bay, and offers recreational opportunities for three miles extending inland. It is a popular location for all types of water activities, including kayaking, canoe paddling, boating, water skiing, wake-boarding, fishing, and stand-up paddle boarding. Kayak tours are available that travel up the Wailua River and include a short hike to a beautiful waterfall.
Flat bottom river boats tour the Wailua River up to the Fern Grotto, a large cave with long streamers of ferns hanging down from the ceiling. This amplitheater-shaped cave is one of Kauai’s most famous attractions. The site, which provides unusually clear acoustics in addition to its lush vegetation, was used for ancient traditions and rituals, and remains a popular wedding site today.
Heading North along Hawaii Route 56, immediately after passing over the Wailua River bridge, brings you to an important intersection. If you turn left on to Kuamoo Road (Hwy 580), and take a short drive up the mountain, you will reach a beautiful lookout point to Opaeka’a Falls. Directly across the street from that lookout is access to Kamokila Village, a re-created ancient Hawaiian village, open to visitors.
Traveling north on Highway 56, a few minutes past the Wailua River, you will see Coconut Marketplace, an open-air shopping center offering a variety of retail shops, restaurants, and services. A farmers market is hosted here twice a week and live music and theatre are routinely held at the marketplace.
Continuing north along Highway 56, you will enter the popular town of Kapaa. This area features many retail shops, art galleries, and restaurants, as well as larger shopping centers, grocery stores, pharmacies and general services like banks, medical services, library and a post office. Several hotels and resorts are conveniently located nearby, many within walking distance. A farmers market is held in Kapaa every week and a craft fair full of locally made arts and goods is open every day.
Several surfing locations are prevalent along the Royal Coconut Coast. The most popular surf breaks are at Wailua beach and Kealia Beach. Surfing in Wailua Bay should be left to the experts while Kealia is safer, as it is a lifeguarded beach. Conditions change constantly, so always be aware of ocean and weather conditions.
The Ke Ala Hele Makalae coastal multi-use path is located along the Royal Coconut Coast, it is 3.8 miles long traveling along the coast to Kealia Beach. There are several beach parks with restrooms and drinking fountains along the way, as well as several scenic lookouts and sheltered picnic pavilions. The trail is open to walkers, joggers, bikers, skateboarders, and rollerbladers. In addition, there is a 2.5 mile multi-use pathway located at Lydgate Beach Park. Kauai County is in the process of building a multi-use pathway between the Ke Ala Hele Makalae and Lydgate pathways to connect the entire Royal Coconut Coast with a coastal biking and walking route.
Many other activities and attractions are available in the area including snorkeling, scuba diving, tubing, ziplining, horseback riding, golfing, and hiking.
The Royal Coconut Coast offers many attractive accommodations at reasonable prices. Almost one third of Kauai’s lodging properties are located in this stretch of coastline. Many options are available from high-end resorts to more cost-efficient vacation rentals, small inns, or bed and breakfasts. Most accommodations offer views of the mountain, ocean, or both, and are within walking distance to shops and public transportation.
- List of beaches in Kauai
- National Register of Historic Places listings in Hawaii#Kauai
- Tourism in Hawaii
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- Wichman, Frederick B. (1998). Kaua’i Ancient Place-Names and Their Stories. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 63–87.
- "Monthly Weather for Kapaa, HI 96746". The Weather Channel. Retrieved June 2, 2013.
- Parker, Margy (January 1, 2013). "Fact Sheet: Kaua'i's Wailua to Kapa'a Corridor". Royal Coconut Coast Association. Retrieved May 27, 2013.
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- Royal Coconut Coast Association
- Wailua Heritage Trail
- Kauai Community and Visitor Information
- Kauaʻi Chamber of Commerce
- Kauai's Official Travel Site
- Hawaii Hiking Trails