Most people know Kauai as the Garden Isle. On a recent visit to the oldest Island in Hawaii’s archipelago, I was surprised to learn of Kauai’s other claim to fame.
My first image of Kauai is from high above on the final approach to the Island. The vibrant red earth is a stark contrast to the intense cerulean ocean. The dirt is red due to the fact that the high iron content of the volcanic soils has had plenty of time to oxidize, especially with the wet conditions of the island. Incidentally, Kauai is the rainiest place on Earth.
As I step onto the sizzling tarmac, the air is still and stifling hot. The sun’s rays are tenacious and it is a relief to fling myself into the air conditioned van that will take me to my final destination approximately one hour North of Lihue Airport.
It’s not evident upon first glance, however as my taxi journeys over the bumpy and winding road Northward, I notice a copious cluster of chickens and roosters happily foraging the immaculate beachfront. It strikes me as odd to see so many chickens wandering freely, so I ask the cab driver for an explanation. He smiles and shares with me a fascinating story of Hawaii’s very recent history.
“When Hurricane Iniki hit the Island in 1992, the powerful storm destroyed many large chicken farms and the feathered inhabitants fled to all corners of the Island”.
He went on to explain that as Kauai encompasses dense vegetation, massive waterfalls, canyons and vast areas that are only accessible by air or water, the chickens were able to escape detection for many years. Since then, they have thrived in this tropical paradise and the lush Island has been overrun by a large and growing feral chicken population.
“I don’t eat the chickens myself, but my wife’s family are always chasing them things,” The cab driver chuckles. “Her families a bit crazy,” he adds in a hushed tone.
The status of the Kauai chickens and roosters becomes more evident as I settle into my suite at the Princeville Westin Resorts on the North Shore.
I am awakened by loud crowing at the crack of dawn and the whole clan joins me by the infinity pool where they peck at the stray handouts willingly offered by curious tourists, who snap photos to commemorate the moment.
The concierge at the Resort offers an alternate explanation to the recent chicken explosion. During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, sugarcane plantation labourers imported and raised the chickens for eating and as a form of entertainment (“cockfighting”). Over the years, some of the chickens got loose and formed the wild clan. He concurs that the massive hurricanes certainly contributed to the over abundance of chickens.
Curious to test my theory that there must be a place on the Island without “free-range” chickens, I embark on a day trip to Tunnel’s Beach, which is a favourite haunt for snorkelers and swimmers due to the generous cove that is protected by a coral reef. I enjoy a scenic drive to the North West corner of the Island, along the rural twisting seaside roadway. Around each corner I strain to catch a glimpse of the most perfect uninhabited white sand beaches through the bushy over growth. I stop along the way to witness the enormous surf crash onto the shore with a thunderous clap.
As if this display of ferocity is not enough to deter swimmers, there are many notices warning of dangerous tidal conditions. At the end of the road, I arrive at a secluded, romantic beach teeming with tourists, locals and yes, more chickens.
After a week of exploring the natural wonders of Kauai, I no longer think of wild chickens on the beach as strange. Somehow they have grown on me and add to the quirky but friendly ambience of the Island. I imagine the Kauaians are no doubt thankful for the boost to their local economy. A visit to any gift shop on the Island reveals numerous chicken themed souvenirs and surprisingly the quantity and selection surpasses the availability of local sea turtle merchandise. The Kauai chicken is here to stay as the unofficial and unusual mascot of the Garden Isle.
If You Go:
♦ Don’t be deterred by Kauai’s claim as the rainiest place on Earth. When it does rain it does not last long and dries very quickly due to year round tropical temperatures.
♦ Rent a car in Lihue airport or in the City as it can be very pricey to take a cab across the Island (e.g. $100 U.S.D. + tip from Lihue to Princeville).
♦ Bring with you a sense of adventure. There are many activities to enjoy while you visit Kauai, including helicopter tours, hiking in Waimea Canyon, surfing, snorkelling, kayaking and sailing to name a few.
♦ The locals are especially friendly and are a great source of information and advice.
All photographs are by Teresa Adamowski.
Teresa Adamowski is a writer who is very physically active and creative. In her spare time, she enjoys running, drawing, and hiking. Recently she suffered a setback in her half marathon training and has found solace in writing She loves to travel and explore new cities, however has found a special connection with the Islands of Hawaii and plans to return very soon. Publications: viewer.zmags.com/publication/4dba4be2#/4dba4be2/58