Kauai, Hawaii

This beautiful island is known as the “Garden Isle” for its verdant, tropic landscape encompassing thousands of flower and bird species. The oldest island in the chain and the fourth largest, Kauai sports both an extinct volcano, which has the distinction of being the wettest spot on earth, and the dry Waimea Canyon, often called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.

This is where Captain Cook first landed in 1778. After the island was settled by the Polynesian people, much of Kauai’s history is that of European discovery, missionaries and sugarcane plantations. Sugarcane has given over to macadamia nuts and tourism as the staples of Kauaian economy, although taro is still grown. In 1864, the small island of Ni’ihau, 17 miles off the leeward coast, was purchased by the Robinson family from King Kenekeneha V. They established a thriving cattle and sheep ranch and closed the island to the public. From 1864 until 1987, no one but a member or guest of the Robinsons was allowed on it, and it became known as the “forbidden island.” Today, the only population of true native Hawaiian people live there and are employed by the Robinson ranch. Although still owned by the Robinson family, Ni’ihau helicopter tours are now available.

Currently strict zoning laws govern Kauai’s development, ensuring slow, high-quality growth. The Princeville resort on the north coast has world-class golfing and a background mountain peak nicknamed, “Bali Hai.”  Movies such as South Pacific and Raiders of the Lost Ark were filmed here.  Kauai offers an endless array of water sports, hiking, golfing, fishing, and pristine beaches as well as beautiful scenery and glorious sunsets.

There are some things to consider before making a retirement move to Kauai. First, the “rock happy” or “cabin fever” phenomenon is very real for some people.  After island living for a few years, claustrophobia can set in.  If you can afford frequent trips to the mainland, this may not be a problem, but it is something to consider seriously.  Expense is another consideration.  There is an abundance of Hawaiian culture here but not much of the more traditional cultural events, which, for the most part, entail a trip to Honolulu.  But, if these conditions are not problems for you, this small, “Garden Isle,” could become your personal Eden.


Climate:  Mt. Waialeale, an extinct volcano, is the wettest spot on earth with an annual rainfall of 40 feet, but the lowlands are much drier. There, rainfall averages only 43 inches annually. Mild temperatures, averaging 60-85 degrees, prevail year round with easterly trade winds. Beautiful rainbows occur somewhere on the island nearly every day.  Severe weather is rare, but in 1992, Hurricane Iniki caused millions of dollars worth of damage.

Cost-of-Living:  Above the national average. Housing and food are expensive but transportation, health care, and recreation are below the national average.

Education:  Kauai Community College offers various low-cost courses. The University of Hawaii has campuses on Oahu and the Big Island where tuition and general student fees are waived for residents over 60 years of age.

Health Care: Kauai has four major medical facilities: Kauai Medical Clinic, Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital, Mahelona Medical Center, which has special programs for the aged and disabled, and Wilcox Health System. 19 General Practitioners, 26 medical specialists, and 18 surgical specialists serve the area.

Housing:  The cost of an average, 3 bedroom house is $250,000.  Property taxes average $2,165 and utilities $1,750 per year.  A home in the upper tenth of the market averages $402,000. 

Population/Location:  Kauai’s population numbers 63,500 with a growth rate of 24% in the last decade. The northernmost major island in the Hawaiian chain is 95 air miles from Honolulu.

Safety:  Kauai’s crime rate is lower than three-fourths of the rest of the country. Violent crime is very low. Burglary and theft are the most numerous property crimes.

Recreation:  Kauai has 7 golf courses, 7 very good restaurants and one, four-screen movie theatre. It has three federally protected areas and ten state recreation areas, as well as 63 sq. mi of Pacific coastal water where beautiful beaches abound. Hiking is popular here as well as snorkeling, body surfing, fishing, and various water sports.

The Koke’e Museum in the uplands offers natural history displays of Kauai’s past. The Pacific Tropical Botanical Gardens on the west side of the island, and Limahuli on the north, are dedicated to saving endangered tropical plants. The Kauai Museum in Lihu’e, Kauai’s County seat, offers classes in weaving and lei-making and displays the work of local artists. Grove Farm Homestead is an outstanding historical museum of plantation life in Kauai. Nearby is Kukkui Grove, Kuaui’s only shopping mall, but many shopping centers are scattered throughout the island as are art galleries. Numerous sight-seeing and special interest tours are available; and it is now possible to take a helicopter tour of, previously off-limits, Ni’ihau Island. The Community College Performing Arts Center offers visiting performances, and the Kauai Concert Association offers a seasonal program.

Taxes: Hawaii has a sales tax of 4%. Personal income tax is spread over 8 brackets and is based on the Federal rate. The lowest bracket is 1.6% of the first $1,500. The highest is 8.75% over $20,000.

Transportation:  There is no public bus service on Kauai; however, taxi service and car rental are available. Except for multi-day cruises among the islands, all inter-island travel is by plane. Two main airlines, Aloha and Hawaiian, carry island traffic on frequent flights, approximately every hour. Charter, small plane, and helicopter flights are also available.  Aloha and Hawaiian Airlines serve the main airport at Lihu’e, connecting daily with Honolulu. Another small landing strip is located at Princeville which serves small, private planes.

Contact: The Kauai Chamber of Commerce