Kauai's REBIRTH In the wake of Hurricane Iniki, bargains bloom on island's still-green shores

September 12, 1993|By Candyce H. Stapen | Candyce H. Stapen,Contributing Writer

The bougainvillea is back, and so are the sugar-cane fields, the fragrant hibiscus and the ferns feathering the roadsides of Kauai.

The famed eucalyptus tunnel on Highway 50 also still impresses. None of the aged, towering trees of the landmark was felled by the winds of last September's Hurricane Iniki, a sign many locals interpret as confirming the spirit of Kauai, known as the Garden Isle. The staying power of this spot serves as a favorable omen for an island on its way to recovery.

Ready for visitors to the island are all of Kauai's golf courses, many businesses and about 30 percent of the accommodations, including several major hotels. One year after the storm swept through Kauai, the island -- almost but not quite as green as before the big winds -- offers tourists two big pluses for visiting: fewer crowds and discounts on lodging, golf and attractions.

Less developed than Maui -- a popular destination -- Kauai currently presents the languid and less populated Hawaii of long ago. On the sands, the fairways and the hiking trails, you're likely to savor some space.

"Visiting now is like going back in time 20 and 30 years," says K. C. Cronin, public relations spokeswoman for Kauai. "There's a feeling of not a lot of visitors, so the people are even friendlier, and the beaches are in great shape."

The Hyatt Regency Kauai, Poipu, for example, which was the first major resort to reopen last March 30 actually gained 30 feet in the width of its beach after Iniki's waters. As a result, the resort's stretch of sand is a more attractive spot for sunbathers.

The hotel, which first opened Nov. 15, 1990, required a $30 million renovation that included retiling the roofs, recarpeting, redecorating the lower level rooms and landscaping. But the tall palms once again sway in the sea breezes, the koi ponds are lively with fish, and the open-air pagodas add grandeur without too much glitz.

To entice tourists, all Hyatt's Hawaii resorts, including the one on Kauai, are continuing the "three for free" packages until Dec. 15. When you stay three nights, you receive a fourth night free, as well as a confirmed room upgrade and a free daily buffet breakfast. The three-night vacations on Kauai start at $330 per person, double occupancy. (Call [800] 233-1234.)

Other hotels, however, remain closed. Many of the south-shore accommodations in and near Poipu sustained major storm damage. The Sheraton Kauai Beachfront Hotel, the Sheraton Kauai Garden Hotel, the Poipu Beach Hotel and the Stouffer Waiohai Beach Resort list only indefinite 1994 opening dates.

If you drive Poipu's Lawai shore road leading to Spouting Horn, a public park where black lava blowholes shoot spray 10 to 20 feet in the air, you can witness Iniki's force. Scraggly and denuded palms dot the roadside, and some houses still seem to be lurching off their foundations.

But the spirit of rebuilding predominates, and new lumber seems to sprout almost everywhere. In Old Koloa Town, many stores, but not all, have reopened. Although some of the souvenir and sandwich shops look permanently off-limits, you can still buy your T-shirts from Crazy Shirts, grill your own kebabs at the Koloa Broiler and snack on Lappert's Ice Cream.

Golf is another great island draw. Aficionados say that the courses, restored and reopened before the hotels, entice duffers with discounts and uncrowded greens. Locals, in fact, have been swinging in a golf heaven complete with low fees and no waits. In Poipu, for example, a round at the Kiahuna Golf Course cost $70 pre-Iniki but now goes for $30 including golf cart through Dec. 20. (Call [800] 742-9595.)

While the Westin Kauai, on the southeast coast not far from the airport, has yet to set a date for its reopening, golfers get to play its noted Lagoons Course at a rate of $60 (instead of $100) when staying at a participating hotel. (Call [808] 241-6000.)

The Princeville Hotel on the north shore, not far from the famed Na Pali cliffs and coast, celebrates its grand reopening Oct. 15 with several three-night, four-day packages, including a golf spree. "Play a Round in Paradise" guests enjoy unlimited golf on either the Makai or Prince Golf courses, preferred tee times, plus use of the spa, for $645 per golfer ($461 per non-golfer), double occupancy, a savings of about $300 per couple.

"All-inclusive" packages with ocean-view accommodations, breakfast and dinner daily, and unlimited use of the spa start at $445 per night per couple. Princeville offers several other packages as well through Dec. 31, 1994. Call the hotel at (800) 826-4400, or Sheraton Worldwide Reservations at (800) 325-3535.

You don't have to be a duffer to experience delight in Kauai. Visitors can hike, kayak, horseback ride, sail and soar over the island in helicopters.

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