HANALEI is more than just a pretty face. It’s also history—fascinating stories of old—best told through a stroll around the Waioli Mission District. The district, where Kauai’s first missionaries came in 1834, includes the striking Waioli Huiia Church and the timeless Waioli Mission House.
Originally erected in the early 1830s as a thatched structure, the church was destroyed by a storm in 1837 and was replaced by a wood-frame building in 1841. The Waioli Huiia Church you see today, with its plantation green exterior and vibrant stained-glass windows, was built in 1912.
The adjacent mission house was home to Abner and Lucy Wilcox, New England missionaries who lived here in the 1830s, where Lucy gave birth to their eight sons. Restored in 1921 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the house was designed by a fellow missionary from Kentucky, and its style reflects his southern heritage. Both Abner and Lucy died in 1869 on a trip to Connecticut, but their influence on Kauai lives on.
The wonderful thing about Hanalei is that it has retained its bucolic charm. It’s still possible to sit on Hanalei’s pristine beach and imagine what its Polynesian settlers first encountered. “Crescent Bay” is what these wayfinders called the heavenly bay, a calm body of water graced with a pristine, white sand beach and a lei of stunning mountains rising in the distance and reaching clear down to the shore. It was as if the mythical land of Bali Hai had materialized on Earth.
Today, from the beach where an old pier juts into the bay, folks watch the comings and goings of sailboats that anchor in the calm, protected waters. In the winter months, surf picks up and offers another attraction, the sight of surfers careening down the faces of waves that pulse into the bay and break in the shallow reef-lined waters. After some time well spent at Hanalei’s Waioli District Mission, stroll the town and then spend an afternoon relaxing on the beach, taking refreshing dips in the water, witnessing the sun’s daily descent. Heaven is Hanalei.
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