On Kauaʻi’s North Shore, Mother Nature Paints with Green

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Source: latimes.com

The north coast of Kauaʻi is a place of spiky green ridges and plunging waterfalls. In low-key Hanalei, nature beckons this visitor despite Princeville resort traffic and a patch of iffy weather.

Palm trees frame the pier and surrounding beauty of half-moon-shaped Hanalei Bay. With nearly two miles of pristine beach, the bay is a popular tropical getaway.

On the North Shore of Hawaiʻi's northernmost island, the earth writhes like a topographer's fever dream — 3,000-foot cliffs, plunging waterfalls, tangled green valleys and sharp, serrated ridgelines. That's the Na Pali Coast.

Just east of those cliffs, Kauaʻi's Kuhio Highway carries you past taro fields, a seaside village, a two-mile crescent of sand and a 300-foot pier that's dwarfed by mountains, greenery and surging surf. This is Hanalei Bay, which Hollywood would have had to create if Mother Nature hadn't.

You might know this neighborhood from "South Pacific" (1958). Or "The Descendants" (2011). Or — attention, TV geeks — the pilot for "Gilligan's Island" (shot in 1963).

If Waikiki is the classic crowded Hawaiian beach, the North Shore is the iconic coastal outpost.

But everything looks a bit different when you get up close. So L.A. Times photographer Mark Boster and I arrived in February, eager to poke around when the crowds are smaller and the surf is bigger.

Our timing on this trip was not good. We rolled in amid sluggish traffic, thanks in part to Kuhio Highway's many beloved one-lane bridges and in part to high occupancy in the Hanalei-adjacent resort area of Princeville. The waves were not just big but massive and sloppy, forcing cancellation of most watersports and boat tours. Strong winds, sometimes gusting close to 40 mph, grounded helicopter tours. Clouds filled the sky for days. Our first purchase, two bags of groceries in Kapaa, came with a bonus population of bugs. Greater Hanalei (population about 450) didn't feel quite like paradise. But even then, it was easy to look at.

For me, the center of gravity was the Hanalei Pier, so I spent a lot of time there as fishermen angled for bonefish, local kids leaped into the surf near the "NO JUMPING" sign and feral roosters (endemic on the island) pecked at stray coconuts.

One day on the pier, I met Abe Rivera, 15, who strolled up cradling a feral piglet that he'd caught in the mountains on a bow-hunting expedition with his dad. Another day, Erika Green of Waldorf, Md., turned up in her wedding gown, trailed by her new husband, Tim Green, and wedding planner Diana Gardner of Alohana Weddings.

"Most beautiful place on the island," Gardner said as the Greens trod the pier like models on a runway. "And no one else on the beach!"

Well, almost no one. Jett Yarberry, a 38-year-old surfing instructor and lifelong North Shore boy, is there most days. "I grew up in that valley," Yarberry told me, pointing west. "My parents came here as hippies in 1968 and evolved into normal people."

This is not an uncommon North Shore story. About 45 years ago, Howard Taylor, the brother of actress Elizabeth Taylor, bought several acres at the end of Kuhio Highway by Haena Beach, eight miles west of Hanalei. He couldn't get permission to build, so he invited a band of hippies to live on his land.

For most of the '70s, Taylor Camp housed dozens of free-thinking refugees from the mainland. They built treehouses, raised kids, celebrated nudity, smoked pot and annoyed many islanders before state officials finally bought the land, chased them away and burned down the treehouses.

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