Hanapepe-sign

It was our first morning in Hawai’i. We were up by seven and ready to go explore.

First stop, how about historic Hanapepe town along the western side of the island?

Hanapepe is known for it’s swinging bridge, artist studios, and historic character. The name Hanapepe means “crushed bay,” though whether this refers to landslides in the valley in which it sits or is more of a poetic description of Hanapepe’s location sandwiched between cliffs and the sea is up for speculation.

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The town was founded by immigrant rice farmers and sugar plantation workers in the late 1800s and was the only non-plantation town on all of Kaua’i. Primarily Chinese, Japanese and Filipino, these immigrants had traveled to Hawai’i to work on the plantations. Hanapepe was the home of those who had retired from the plantations or, for whatever reason, decided not to work them.

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These days, “Kaua’i’s biggest little town” is something of a former ghost town in the early stages of a renaissance. The storefronts that used to cater to plantation workers—and later,  to WWII soldiers seeking excitement and relaxation—now house art galleries and tourist shops.

We rolled into downtown Hanapepe—a two-block stretch of street—around 8 in the morning, which meant that exactly nothing was open yet. Sigh. We found the swinging bridge, which is a pedestrian footbridge over the Hanapepe river.

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A suspension bridge with supports angled out to the sides of the termini at each end, the whole thing twists and rocks a bit under your feet as you walk it, giving it its name.

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We were excited to check out the shops, including the spice shop Aloha Spice Company, but they still weren’t open.

Oh well, we tried, right? We climbed back in the car for further adventures to Waimea Canyon and Polihale Beach (stay tuned for more about these adventures!).

Coming back from the beach later that afternoon, we found ourselves in need of a cold beverage. We debated stopping at a gas station or grocery store, but we remembered a little coffee shop in Hanapepe that advertised chai. Perfect!

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Little Fish Coffee was everything you could want in a coffee shop. Funky and eclectic with comfy seating and seriously good chai.

In fact, the chai was so good that we went back to Hanapepe later in the week just to get more of it.

We wandered through the spice shop and a great little gallery housing a lathe-turned wood sculptor and a textile artist who specialized in fabric marbling, but the best find in Hanapepe (after the chai, of course) was Kaua’i Fine Arts, an antique map and print shop that also showcased a fun variety of historic Hawai’iana.

The salesman was super talkative and was excited to show us photos on his camera of a moonbow he’d seen a couple weeks earlier. Moonbows are also known as lunar rainbows, and they get a lot of them in the Hanapepe area due to the frequent but short-lived rain showers.

Gotta say, we sure are glad we went back to Hanapepe. It’s got a bit of a rough exterior with a high proportion of run-down buildings and a dusty feel, but it’s gotta be the cutest little town there is.