Join Emma Raw­son in an epic ad­ven­ture in Hawai’i

A CIN­EMA-LOVER DIS­COV­ERS A WORLD BE­YOND THE FA­MIL­IAR AT­TRAC­TIONS OF THE MOVIE-ES­QUE HAWAI’IAN IS­LAND OF KAUA’I

NZ Life & Leisure - - Contents - WORDS EMMA RAW­SON P HOTOGRAPHS AN­DREW LONG

IT TOOK A CHOP­PER ride a kilo­me­tre above the Nā Pali coast­line to snap me out of my Steven Spiel­berg-in­duced delir­ium. We’d ar­rived in the Hawai’ian is­land of Kaua’i two days be­fore we buck­led into the Hughes 500 and I’d been driv­ing my part­ner An­drew ba­nanas hum­ming John Wil­liams’ Juras­sic

Park film score on ro­ta­tion. Kaua’i, the small­est and most north­ern of the four main Hawai’ian is­lands, is a favourite of film-mak­ers for its lost world­like moun­tain­scape. It’s where Sam Neill stared deep into the iris of a T-rex, where In­di­ana Jones dodged poi­son darts in the jun­gle. It’s King Kong’s rocky habi­tat and Peter Pan’s Nev­er­land. It felt like there should be a bron­tosaurus or a pi­rate walk­ing the plank on every vista. Then I spot­ted a for­mer James Bond, Pierce Bros­nan, col­lect­ing his lug­gage from the carousel of the air­port – bag­gage thor­oughly shaken and stirred in his Delta Air­lines tran­sit, per­haps?

But in the open-air he­li­copter with the trop­i­cal winds blast­ing my face so that my jowls flapped like a car­toon dog (did I men­tion there were no doors?), I fi­nally had my re­al­ity check. As the ap­pear­ance of the coun­try­side tran­si­tioned from pri­mae­val un­touched clifftops to the patch­work squares of plan­ta­tions and pad­docks, Kaua’i’s own story un­folded be­neath us be­yond Tech­ni­color, even more vi­brant than on the big screen.

Tucked away in the Lāwa’i Val­ley, be­hind a white sand cove on Kaua’i’s south coast, is a cu­ri­ous for­mal gar­den known now as the Aller­ton Gar­den. Though to­day it’s a peace­ful place, ac­ces­si­ble by a steep road that re­quires a bus to lick the edges of the cliff, in the 1930s and 1940s the gar­den was party cen­tral.

Amer­i­can phi­lan­thropist and art-lover Robert Aller­ton and his com­pan­ion John Gregg cre­ated these won­der­fully pe­cu­liar grounds, where stat­ues of a mer­maid and the Ro­man god­dess Di­ana rub shoul­ders with plants from South East Asia and the Pa­cific.

The grounds are styled on struc­tured Euro­pean gar­dens in a se­ries of themed “rooms”, but the trop­i­cal cli­mate means plants grow quickly, some­times too quickly. It takes an army of gar­den­ers to main­tain the prop­erty, which in­cludes a golden bam­boo grove and a Thanks­giv­ing Room which, in Robert Aller­ton’s day, would be decked out with all the trim­mings every fourth Thurs­day in Novem­ber. John was of­fi­cially the adopted son of Robert but it was well known they were a cou­ple. Guests came from around the world and were al­lowed to stay on one con­di­tion: they wear a cos­tume. Should they not bring one, it would be pro­vided.

The gar­den and the Aller­ton home­stead are now kept by the non-profit Na­tional Trop­i­cal Botan­i­cal Gar­den or­ga­ni­za­tion, which has the im­pos­si­ble man­date of main­tain­ing the grounds to Aller­ton’s vague “orig­i­nal vi­sion”, leav­ing gar­den di­rec­tor To­bias Koehler sec­ondguess­ing how much to prune every tree and ques­tion­ing how tall Aller­ton in­tended his plants to grow.

The di­rec­tions for car­ing for the McBryde Gar­den, ad­ja­cent to the Aller­ton es­tate, are much eas­ier to in­ter­pret. The na­tive veg­e­ta­tion was cleared to plant sug­ar­cane in the 1860s, and the grounds are now a con­ser­va­tion park and seed bank of thou­sands of en­dan­gered species. A nurs­ery grows rare plants such as Brighamia

in­sig­nis, some­times called cab­bage on a stick, not seen in the wild since 2014. Spe­cial care is taken for this plant as it’s be­lieved that the one pol­li­na­tor of the species is ex­tinct now, and the plant must be hand-pol­li­nated. “What we are is a gene bank,” says To­bias. “We are in the busi­ness of sav­ing plants.”

Kaua’i is ge­o­log­i­cally the old­est is­land in the Hawai’ian ar­chi­pel­ago and, over time, the thrash­ing surf has pounded the vol­canic rock coast­line into white sand. But de­spite hav­ing more sandy beaches than any other is­land in Hawai’i, it has fewer tourists, not that the lo­cals seem to mind. There’s a rule that no build­ing can be taller than a co­conut tree (four storeys max), and the is­land is de­void of the sky­scrapers and neon-signed depart­ment stores that dom­i­nate the sky­line of Waikiki Beach in Hawai’i’s cap­i­tal, Hon­olulu.

In­stead, Kaua’i — known as the Gar­den Is­land be­cause of its many farms — at­tracts campers and hik­ers; there are tents pitched be­side the sea. This place has al­ways been a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent. Cap­tain James Cook’s land­ing in the mouth of Kaua’i’s Waimea River in 1778 was the first Euro­pean con­tact in Hawai’i. At the time the is­lands had sev­eral dif­fer­ent rulers or ali’i, but that would quickly change. In 1795 King Kame­hameha I from the south­ern-most is­land, Hawai’i (com­monly known as the Big Is­land), set about con­quer­ing the north­ern is­lands, aided by Bri­tish weapons.

But King Kau­muali’i, who ruled Kaua’i and neigh­bour­ing Ni­ihau Is­land, would not sur­ren­der. A storm and a measles out­break thwarted Kame­hameha’s ef­forts to in­vade. Kau­muali’i even­tu­ally ceded to Kame­hameha in 1810, but the is­land never lost its in­de­pen­dent spirit. Kau­muali’i’s as­sis­tance with build­ing a fort for the Rus­sian Amer­i­can Com­pany in Waimea made many sus­pi­cious he was seek­ing pro­tec­tion from Tsar Alexan­der I of Rus­sia (Kame­hameha quickly took con­trol of the fort, end­ing Rus­sia’s in­ter­ests in Hawai’i). “Kaua’i has a very spe­cial his­tory” says Chucky Boy Chock, di­rec­tor of the Kaua’i Mu­seum in Li­hue. “Every is­land in Hawai’i has its own type of aloha (love), and we have our own way of do­ing things here.”

Ly­dgate Farm cer­tainly has a dif­fer­ent way of do­ing things. The tour of the 18-hectare ca­cao, vanilla and honey farm in the hills be­hind Kapa’a starts with a de­cid­edly Amer­i­can gungho honey-chug­ging con­test led by en­thu­si­as­tic Detroit-na­tive Kate. “I went to col­lege for a hot minute, where I spent more time chug­ging beer than any­thing else. I’ve just adapted the model for the jun­gle,” she says.

The tour pro­gresses into the ca­cao grove. Mak­ing choco­late from bean-to-bar takes months. First, ca­cao pods are plucked from the tree and then beans are ex­tracted, fer­mented then sep­a­rated into co­coa solids and co­coa but­ter be­fore they be­come choco­late.

“Guys, I work at a choco­late farm, this is ac­tu­ally my job. Choco­late does grow on trees,” says Kate, as she passes us all a fresh ca­cao seed which has a taste a bit like some­one has sucked all the joy out of choco­late, but main­tains an en­ergy hit like an es­presso. The beans con­tain theo­bromine which is a nat­u­ral mood el­e­va­tor. Life is look­ing up and is even bet­ter when we sam­ple Ly­dgate Farm’s fin­ished prod­uct.

“Ca­cao is what keeps me look­ing young,” says our host. “Also, I’m only 22, but ca­cao does make me 10 times fun­nier – that’s science, peo­ple.” The farm is run by Will Ly­dgate whose great-great-grand­fa­ther, Wil­liam Ludgate (the spell­ing changed over time) was one of Kaua’i’s first sugar and pineap­ple plan­ta­tion own­ers, ar­riv­ing on the is­land from the United States in the 1860s.

The bot­tom fell out of the Kaua’i sugar in­dus­try in the 1990s and 2000s, and Will switched to grow­ing value-added prod­ucts such as ca­cao, vanilla and honey in 2017 us­ing or­ganic meth­ods. “It’s a bit of an ex­per­i­ment, but it seems to be work­ing. It’s a new agri­cul­tural model here on Kaua’i, but things have changed. Peo­ple want to see where their food is grown and to buy things on their trav­els that mean some­thing.”

The cred­its close on our hol­i­day, and we re­flect that while it wasn’t filled with the dino drama of a block­buster, we dis­cov­ered a lot off-script in Kaua’i while still en­joy­ing the epic back­drops beloved by the movie greats.

The Nā Pali coast­line is in­ac­ces­si­ble to ve­hi­cles but the dra­matic cliffs can be viewed by he­li­copter, boat or kayak.

Any gar­dener who has tried to tame bam­boo will ap­pre­ci­ate the care that has gone into the bam­boo room in Aller­ton Gar­den; peo­ple have started rub­bing the bot­tom of the gar­den’s mer­maid sculp­ture for good luck (right). The wa­ter flows at 52 to 54 pulses per minute with the in­ten­tion that view­ers will re­lax and let their heart­beat slow to the rhythm of the foun­tain.

The lo­tus Nelumbo nu­cifera planted on Aller­ton Gar­den’s perime­ter, near a la­goon where parts of the sit­com Gil­li­gan’s Is­land were shot.

LEFT TO RIGHT: It’s dan­ger­ous to stand un­der­neath the can­non­ball tree ( Couroupitaguia­nen­sis) in the McBryde Gar­den; campers love Anini Beach; botanist and seed-saver To­bias Koehler is a con­ser­va­tion su­per­hero; sam­pling lo­cal fruit — a sour­sop (on the left, which was de­li­cious) and a rollinia (which tasted like socks) at Ly­dgate Farm; a paint­ing of Queen Emma, queen con­sort of King Kame­hameha IV and a life­long friend of Queen Vic­to­ria. Queen Emma’s hol­i­day cot­tage sits ad­ja­cent to the Aller­ton Gar­den un­der the pur­ple bougainvil­lea that she planted; an en­trance­way in the Di­ana Room at Aller­ton. A life­guard watches out for swim­mers in the rips at Salt Pond Beach Park near Hanapēpē.

CLOCK­WISE: A gold dust day gecko catches some sun out­side a café in Kapa‘a; ukele­les made from up­cy­cled oil cans at Hanalei shop Strings n Things. At night, the store holds ukelele con­certs; a puak­enikeni, a na­tive Hawai­ian flow­er­ing shrub, at Ly­dgate Farm; Kate at Ly­dgate Farm cracks a smile while break­ing open a ca­cao pod.

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