Old Koloa Town

For a taste of the leisurely lifestyle of nineteenth-century Hawaii, head off to Old Koloa Town—also called Koloa Town or simply Homestead. The historic town is centered on a huge banyan tree and is the site of Hawaii’s first sugar cane plantation and sugar mill. A bit south of town, near popular Poipu Beach, is Koloa Landing, once the port of entry for the entire island and a major port for the Yankee Pacific whaling fleet, which first appeared in the waters of what were then the Sandwich Islands in 1819. The landing at Old Koloa Town is where some of the more than 200 whaling ships would stop for repairs and to replenish supplies with fresh fruits, meat, and water.

Old Koloa Town in Kauai was founded in 1835, and it has a fascinating History Center that follows the history of the town and the region’s old plantations through artifacts, documents, and photographs. The entire town is actually a living history museum, as Koloa Town boasts some of the oldest buildings in the state. You can also see the ruins of the sugar mill and some of the houses of the first commercially successful sugar plantation in Hawaii. The mill, with its intact stone chimney and 1840s-era foundations, is a National Historic Landmark.

Don’t think that plantation life was as romantic as it may seem. Laborers were paid two dollars a month in Kauai Currency, which could only be redeemed at the plantation stores. A penny a day was deducted from pay for mandatory company housing. Koloa Town plantation owners famously disparaged Hawaiians’ work ethic, stating that the work of ten white men was equivalent to the work of 400 Hawaiians, and they imported thousands of laborers from other countries. While this imported labor was a major foundation for the rich multiethnic melting pot that today is one of the state’s attractions, it made life extremely difficult for the local people at the time.

King Kamehameha III leased the plantation land to Duncan McBryde in 1835. He formed the McBryde Sugar Company, was an original member of the board of what is now the Kauai Coffee Company, and endowed the park that would become one of the prime golf venues on the island. One of the gardens in the National Tropical Botanical Garden trust is named for him. All of these sites are near Old Koloa Town in Kauai, and to access most of them, you must drive through a magnificent and lush tree tunnel comprised of rows of eucalyptus and mahogany trees, which McBryde planted. Also accessible from town is the ten-mile Koloa Heritage Trail, which is excellent for driving, biking, and hiking. Along the way are such attractions as Spouting Horn Park, which has a spectacular lava blowhole geyser, Buddhist temples, and other attractions.

Take a stroll through the streets of Old Koloa Town to admire the historic old buildings and browse through numerous chic boutiques, galleries, and shops, or take a break in the cafes and other dining venues. If you’re interested in special events, show up in Old Koloa Town in Kauai during the month of July for Koloa Plantation Days, which include a fair, native music and dance, and parades. Koloa Town is located on the south shore of Kauai, only twelve miles from Lihue Airport.

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