Exploring Hanalei history
For schooling in a page of unique island history, I join a tour of Hawaii’s only remaining rice mill, situated among the taro ponds. Rice was grown here commercially from the 19th century until Hawaii’s rice industry collapsed in the 1960s.
The Ho`opulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill is now in the middle of Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, off-limits to most visitors, so if you’re a birder the tour also offers chances to bolster your life list with possible glimpses of endangered species such as the ae`o (Hawaiian stilt), `alae ke`oke`o (Hawaiian coot), `alae `ula (Hawaiian moorhen), nene (Hawaiian goose) and the koloa maoli (Hawaiian duck).
The tour is highly personal. Leading it is 35-year-old Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama, whose family is in its sixth generation of farming the valley, which included operating the mill until its closure. Now, through a nonprofit, the family helps preserve the historic mill, which has been rebuilt and restored through many flash floods — you can get rain here that would impress Noah — and two major hurricanes.
“At the ripe old age of 6 I started driving tractors, to help with evacuations,” Haraguchi-Nakayama recalls as she stands by a taro pond and tells her family’s story.
Under the old mill’s corrugated metal roof, she shows how scoops of rice moved on a conveyor belt powered at first by a water wheel, later by a hefty diesel engine. Machinery dating to 1830s China includes boulders that turned together to crush and hull the rice.
I learn almost enough about rice milling and taro farming to wade into a pond and go to work.
The tour concludes with a demonstration of taro pounding using a lava-rock stone. There are samples of coconut water and fresh pa`i`ai, or pounded poi — like purplish lumps of dough rolled in freshly shredded coconut. Then comes a catered lunch of sticky rice, lau lau pork (marinated pork wrapped in a steamed taro leaf) and a sweet mochi cake.
It leaves me bulging with Hanalei culture — and its food.
Photo courtesy: Kent Chastain
Lunch at: Hanalei Juice & Taro Company. On the way to Hanalei, this food truck has delicious dairy-free smoothies, in which taro and coconut replace dairy. Experience true Hawaiian dishes there, too. Read More
A hit with locals and visitors, the Hanalei Taro & Juice Co. is a spot that all visitors need to stop at and enjoy. Very local style, the restaurant is a local style lunch wagon resting roadside in Hanalei. Serving traditional Hawaiian food, but with a modern twist, this is your best bet to fill up on taro, the root crop that sustained Hawaiians for generations. Here you can find taro and many other healthy ingredients prepared with a modern twist, such as a taro smoothie, Hawaiian plate lunches, taro hummus, taro veggie burgers, and even taro acai bowls- the list goes on. A perfect place for those who enjoy a traditional diet and vegetarians too, the wagon will give you a taste of Hawaii's unique array of food. The lunch wagon run by the same family who runs the historical Haraguchi rice mill and their farms, and the taro and other ingredients are locally grown. Coming into Hanalei, look for it on the right. Read More
Even dressed in muddy boots and jeans, Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama has an entire tour group hanging on her every word. It’s not every day you get to meet a fifth-generation farmer from Kauai’s lush Hanalei Valley.
The wetland taro fields that stretch out green and glimmering as you cross the one-lane metal bridge into Hanalei? That’s Haraguchi Farm, the largest taro farm in the state.
Lyndsey’s great-great-grandfather began working these fields in 1924. They’re still worked by the family—her father and mother, brother, husband, even her 88-year-old grandfather and her 3-year-old daughter, making six generations in all. When she’s not giving one of her rare tours, Lyndsey spends her hours working the farm.
Taro grows in flooded fields called lo‘i, and the taro shoots are planted, tended and harvested by hand while wading in water and mud. It’s backbreaking labor. “Our family keeps chiropractors in business,” laughs Lyndsey.
Taro farming is arduous enough, but in addition, the low-lying fields are exposed to hurricanes and flash floods. The last flood, in November, 2009, almost wiped out the farm. Lyndsey’s mother had to be rescued from the farmhouse by Zodiac boat, and the family had to redo all its lo‘i and replace much equipment.
“It takes perseverance to be a farmer, maybe just being stubborn,” says Lyndsey. She brightens the group’s mood by telling how she learned to drive a tractor at age 6, specifically so that when floods came, she could drive one of the farm’s tractors to higher ground, while her father drove the other. “To me, it was fun.” Read More