Sunday, August 9, 2015

Life on Kauai vs. Life on Maui

A month or so ago, E. asked on email what I thought were the differences between Maui and Kauai, not for tourists but for residents. This topic is one I’ve thought about off and on, especially after blogging about life on Maui vs. Oahu, but it hadn’t grabbed me yet. As I thought about how I haven’t sent out my email newsletter for the end of July and didn’t want to send out a newsletter since I hadn’t really blogged in July, the words popped into my head.

I lived on Kauai for a year, a decade ago, so I’m sure some things have changed, but mostly it’s still the same. So, in no particular order, although subject to lots of editing later, here’s a comparison of life on Kauai versus on Maui.

Smaller population
Kauai has about half the population of Maui, and even though populations on both islands are growing, I’ve heard that Maui County is the fastest growing county with new residents. Smaller population means that Kauai is more rural, with less traffic, less shopping, less jobs, less events, less dates, less everything except peace and quiet.

Yes. Kauai is quiet. Quiet. 
Which sounds a lot like the word Kauai. 

Kauai is a wonderfully introspective place, and very peaceful. There were hardly any events or happenings in any given month. The coolest thing to do on Kauai was go to the weekly meditation group, or to Serge King’s Sunday Huna talk, or church. Later, I found out about art night in Hanapepe on Friday nights, but that is nothing like Friday night in Lahaina.  

Kauai was so quiet I could fall asleep watching the grass grow. It was a great place to clean your fingernails or watch paint dry or refinish furniture. I refinished a lot of furniture the year we lived on Kauai. It was also a wonderful place to be in the water and surf or snorkel or swim, but a lousy place for events.

Meditation events were perfect on Kauai, because there was not a lot else to do.This was a labyrinth I made out of Christmas lights at a friend's house. And, it was a great opportunity to watch the grass grow!

One month I got the date wrong for my friend’s gallery opening in Hanapepe. We came by the week after it happened, and I was so disappointed that I had screwed up the calendar. That was our big social event for the month and we had missed it. There would be nothing else to do for another month - other than our predictable rounds of meditation, church, huna class, and Friday art night.

Kauai is so peaceful and tranquil that there was zilch in terms of nightlife. Restaurants closed early, by 9 pm or early. Bars? What bars? Night clubs, dancing? Ha! When DH’s daughter came to visit, she brought a pair of platform high heeled shoes, and we laughed as she opened up her suitcase. 

Where was she going to wear these shoes? Even though we were near a major resort area, Poipu, with the Hyatt Regency, they didn’t have a dancing venue or a bar or a club. Everything closed up early.

Nowadays, there might be some nightlife or clubs, but I wouldn’t count on it. There are probably more events, but I expect it’s still slower than Maui.

Yup. Kauai is the island of feral chickens. They own the island. There are no mongooses on Kauai, or at least not when we lived there, and so the chicken population had run amok. Mongooses – the smart ones – like to eat chicken eggs. 

Without natural predators or enough Vietnamese restaurants, the chickens were everywhere: colonies of chickens in the parking lot at the post office, chickens in the parking lot at Wal-mart, chickens at the golf course, though chased to the edges, chickens crossing the road, and crossing the road again. It’s not that wild chickens don’t live on the other islands, it’s that Kauai chickens are much more brazen and well, cocky.

Chickens on Kauai are more cocky than on the other islands.
My most devastating moment with the wild chickens of Kauai was one day at the beach. Coming out of the water, I saw two black hens and one jungle fowl rooster chowing down on the ripe papayas I brought to the beach. Chickens adore papayas. On Maui, I would have no problems bringing papayas to the beach, but on Kauai, beware!

Rain. Living on Kauai was an act of surrender to the rain. For anyone who has lived on Kauai, it should be no surprise that the wettest place on earth is located on Kauai. 

All this rain on Kauai led to incredible lushness. Kauai earns its nickname as "The Garden Island.
The first month we lived in Waialua, near Kapa’a, on the eastern side of Kauai. The whole month, it rained, sometimes furiously and sometimes slightly less furiously. The sky scowled for a month of no sun. I asked DH’s coworker if it was normal to rain nonstop for an entire month, and she looked at me, surprised that I would even ask. “Yes, this is normal weather,” she said in the most blasé manner of someone who has lived on Kauai her entire life and grew up underwater.

Keep in mind, we lived on the rainy side for that month, and later, we moved to the south side of the island, which on most Hawaiian islands, would be sunny and dry, but we lived 12 miles inland and upland, and it was frequently rainy there too.

In retrospect, during that month of November, when we were getting rained on mercilessly, I wonder if touristy Poipu, among the sunniest spots on Kauai, was also rainy? 

Was it a month of rain all over Kauai, or just where we lived and shopped between the north shore and Lihue, the main city? The following November was nowhere as rainy as the November before, so perhaps some autumns on Kauai are more rainy and others are less rainy.

View towards sunny Po'ipu from our house in rainy Lawai. There was a saying on Kauai, "The rain on Kauai falls mainly on Lawai," but honestly, the rain fell everywhere.
On Kauai, we often got rained out at the beach. We got in the habit of bringing a beach umbrella whenever we went to a beach on the north shore. It liked to rain for 5-10 minutes in the middle of the afternoon, sometimes twice for good measure.

It could be perfectly sunny and beautiful and then a rain shower would sneak up and just blast us. It wasn’t a light drizzle, but a full-on downpour, making us run for cover. We finally realized this was a normal weather pattern. South shore beaches in Poipu seemed to be more reliably sunny, but we still took an umbrella anyhow.

Poipu itself was generally sunny, which is why major resorts and timeshares were located there. Sure it rained there too, but less than other places. It was the tourist equivalent of Lahaina and Ka’anapali on Maui or Waikiki on Oahu, though on a much smaller scale. If you can pay to live in Poipu, maybe you’ll be able to minimize the rain, as long as you don’t have to drive anywhere else.

Air quality and visibility.
Kauai has exceptionally clean air compared to Maui. Visibility goes on for miles, except if you’re looking at the sky and trying to find the sun on a cloudy day. Sunny days on Kauai were picture perfect and crisp and the outlines of the mountains and far off vistas were exquisitely clear. 

Na Pali Coast photo credit Janthepea via photopin cc
Maui air is really dirty in my opinion and some days it’s like LA smog, where the mountains and hills are draped in haze.

It’s so windy here that dirt flies around on any exposed fields, or construction areas, all over. Plus we have sugar cane burning 9 months out of the year, GMO spraying, and vog from the Big Island. Kauai is so far north from the Big Island that one hardly encounters vog. Because Kauai had less wind and particles in the air, it was also cleaner. My car was never as dirty as it gets in 2 days on Maui. Housekeeping is so much more work on Maui

Update: That was Kauai as I knew it. Currently, some parts of Kauai also suffer from chemical pesticide drift around test fields run by Syngenta and other chemical corporations. I think most of Kauai is still clean and clear but areas near test fields including some schools and residences have dirty air.  

Kauai is far less windy than Maui. Kauai is mild mannered and does not lift up one’s skirts or rip off hats or pull up beach umbrellas and fling them across the beach the way Maui’s impish wind does. It’s not ideal for windsurfers or kiteboarders, who prefer Maui. 

Typical Maui wind yanks beach umbrellas out of the sand and blows them across the beach.

One doesn’t get sandblasted normally at a beach on Kauai, except one time at Polihale Beach on the eastern side, I got one of the biggest sandblastings of my life. Full body exfoliation. 

Less wind means that Kauai has ideal snorkeling and swimming conditions all day long, except if you’re lounging on the beach, you may need an umbrella if there’s a sudden downpour. 

Maui’s strong winds mean that the wind churns up the water, and it’s murkier and choppier after 12 noon and you can get sandblasted in the afternoon, especially on certain north shore beaches. It’s not so terrible, but annoying if you’re trying to eat or talk without having sand fly into your food or face.   

Snorkeling on Maui often sucks due to murky water unless you go early in the morning, like 7 am, which is why all the tourist snorkeling and kayaking trips are super early, when the water is smooth as glass.

New Age, Spiritualism, Hippies
Maui has a strong new age population which sometimes calls themselves Sufis, or “creative collectives” or seekers or hippies or yoga chicks or “purple people” or holistic, alternative types and whom other people think of as crunchy, granola flakes, but on Kauai, there are Lemurians! Lemuria is a mythic continent that used to exist, kind of like Atlantis.

On Kauai, you can find spiritual seekers who have changed their names many times and they are descendants of the enlightened people of the lost continent of Lemuria, sometimes called Mu – which sounds like a cow paradise. 

The lost continent of Mu from Wikipedia.
You can greet them by saying “Moo…” and if they “moo” back they are Lemurians. Well, it never worked for me, but if you see people in long flowing gowns with ethnic designs in the Papaya Health Food Store, the only health food store on Kauai when I lived there, they are probably Lemurians. And they really believe it, or pretend to.

Kauaians are often escapees from California, Oahu, or Maui. While there are some people who are born and raised on Kauai, often the people who moved to Kauai, truly believe that Kauai is more enlightened than the rest of Hawaii. Why? Kauai has less traffic, less people, and is quieter. Quiet = superiority. 

When Maui comes up in conversation, Kauai people may grimace, “Ewww, Maui’s too busy” or “I left Maui yeeaaarrrs ago.” Lemurian Kauaians also enjoy spiritual grace by being descendants of the enlightened ancient people. Even if Maui is “no ka oi” (“Maui is the best” as people on Maui like to say), Kauai folks will look down from their ascended Lemurian noses.

Kauai has such beautiful beaches, what we think of as long sandy white beaches, the beaches of postcards and souvenir photos. Maui has some pretty great beaches, but it’s a younger island, so there are not as many classic white sandy beaches. Some Maui beaches are actually kind of narrow– with just a wispy strip of sand (like a skimpy bikini bottom that barely covers anything) between the water and proper land, and they are windswept to boot.

Beautiful beach on Kauai. Photo credit Shyam via photopin cc
You can find a beautiful beach on Kauai all to yourself for miles and miles with long glorious stretches of sand between the water and the land. On the other hand, Maui has a red sand beach, and two black sand beaches (from lava), but Kauai has a pretty cool but very small glass beach. One can also find pretty Ni’ihau shells sometimes on Kauai beaches and the highly desirable sunrise shells are more commonly found in Kauai’s waters.

Kauai has a record of being hit more frequently by hurricanes than Maui or the other islands. There was a nasty one in 1981 and a nasty one in 1991, and somehow, no hurricane in 2001. Hurricane Iniki in 1991 was particularly damaging, with houses torn apart and no electricity for months. Since there haven’t been any hurricanes recently, one hopes that maybe Kauai will be sheltered from any future storms, but every year, there’s a possibility of hurricanes, for all of Hawaii.

While Kauai has art, Maui has more art. More residents + more visitors = more opportunities to buy and sell art. There was an active art scene on Kauai, with the Garden Island Arts Council, and Friday Art Night in the small town of Hanapepe, but everyone seemed to believe that Maui was where the money was and that you couldn’t really make a great living as an artist on Kauai. On Maui, the belief was you could bring in the big bucks as an artist. Having lived on Maui 10 years now, I'd say there's definitely some truth to this idea.

Island Geography and Geology
Kauai is a far older island than Maui geologically, which explains the differences in beaches. It also means Kauai has experienced more erosion over time – the huge mountains are smaller and there is even the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” on Kauai.

The Na Pali cliffs are so beautiful because they have been carved by wind and water for thousands of years. 

Mountains of the Na Pali Coastline, Kauai
photo credit Paul Bica via photopin cc

Kauai has older and wider rivers, rivers that are big enough for kayaks. The elevations of the islands are also different. On Maui, you can live high up and grow apples and tiny peaches and rhubarb and artichokes, but I’m not sure you can grow any of those things successfully on Kauai. On Maui, it is cold enough that you may need a fireplace if you live upcountry. Not Kauai.

Development and Land Use
Kauai’s more developed areas are sunny Poipu, a major resort area, Lihue, the main city or townlet, Kapa’a (hippie central) and along the north shore. The north shore includes Hanalei and Princeville, and at least one major hotel and some condos. 

Maui’s north shore is more rural than Kauai’s. No major hotels like Starwood. Kauai also had the distinction when I lived there of being the Hawaiian Island with the most time shares per capita. Or the highest percent of time shares to other accommodations, or something that made Kauai the time share capital of Hawaii.

Kauai used to have a lot of sugar cane fields, like all the islands, that I’m sure by now have been converted to housing, or will be.When we were leaving Kauai, we heard of plans to make suburbs on old plantation land.

Why did we leave Kauai after a year?
My husband’s mom was having health issues and we thought it would be good to live closer to her. It sounded like a good reason at the time, and after a year on slow Kauai, we were ready for more traffic and people.

In comparing the two islands for living, I can’t say that one is better than another. They are different. All of them are. There are more differences if I think about it, but this covers the basics. There are a lot of similarities too, some which are unexpected, which I’d like to talk about more in my end of month email newsletter, which I plan to send before the end of August. Sign up if you’re interested, and let me know if you have more questions!

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