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.