Big changes are under way on Kauai, and curiously, some folks who profess to love the island just as it is are helping to hasten that transition.
Let's start with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, who's worth about $32 billion. Last year he bought the 357-acre Kahuaina parcel at Waipake and the 393-acre piece on the coast at Pilaa, for well over $100 million.
Now Zuckerberg is buying up all the kuleana lots in Pilaa. Rick and Amy Marvin sold out for a reported $17 million, and Rick's brother did, too. Zuckerberg is now working on acquiring the Huddy piece, and word has it he's scouring other titles for weak links that will give him an in. The goal is to create his own private playground, though Gary Stewart of Melange International in Denver has a 10% interest in the Pilaa property.
Meanwhile, Barron's is talking about an overheated second-home market, and the appeal of the North Shore:
After the median price fell 4.2% on the north shore of Kauai, Hawaii, we have made Hanalei our top resort of the year.
Uh, except Hanalei was never supposed to be a resort — until the county let the vacation rental industry explode.
Barron's goes on to say:
HAENA IS LOCATED SIX MILES down a winding road past Hanalei Bay in Kauai, among the lushest islands of Hawaii. This north-shore outpost of 450 residents has one mediocre restaurant, a day spa run by angry hippies, a bare-bones motel without televisions in the rooms, and a “last chance” general store. And yet, you will be hard pressed to find anything to rival Haena for unadulterated natural beauty.
The immediate backdrop is the soaring rain-forest-covered mountains and waterfalls of the rugged Na Pali Coast. Tucked in a mountain fold is Limahuli Garden and Preserve, a national botanical garden that conserves tropical plants and trees, such as shampoo ginger and coral trees. Opposite sits the Haena State Park, and the Ke’e and Tunnels beaches with their maze of underwater lava tunnels and reef funnels -- considered to be one of the finest diving spots in all of Hawaii, but remarkably empty of tourists.
So it’s no surprise that behind Haena’s hedges, the seriously famous restore themselves with the area’s low-key privacy and solitude: Julia Roberts, Pierce Brosnan, Bette Midler, Craig T. Nelson, Charo, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, and Sandra Tillotson, the co-founder of Nu Skin Enterprises.
Kaonohi Point is found down one of Haena’s dirt roads. At one time, Sylvester Stallone wanted to build a celebrity camp on this spit of land. His plans fell through, but eventually a small clutch of houses were built. One of them, Kaonohi Point, offers a 150-foot entrance to a white sand beach and a snorkeling paradise around the bay’s reef.
The three-bed, three-bath bottle-green home offers a modest 2,355 square feet of living space, the interior crafted from fir and limestone and mounted on pillars so that a storm-thrashed sea can sweep underneath. A small media room and a gourmet’s compact kitchen are easy to maintain; a bathtub, seemingly floating in the treetops, offers breathtaking views of pristine beach, rolling waves, rugged coast.
We walked through the landscaped gardens and down to the beach, where rare monk seals regularly shuffle up and sun themselves. Pierce Brosnan lives directly opposite the scalloped bay; Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is Kaonohi Point’s immediate neighbor. Michael R. Schmidt, of Coldwell Banker Bali Hai Realty, representing many desirable properties in the area, pointed at the turquoise water. “Lot of lobster in that bay,” he said. The only downside: Three or four bathers might sit on the public beach directly in front of the house, shaded by the property’s beach heliotrope trees.
Priced at $5.5 million, Kaonohi Point is good value for the money compared with the beachfront properties down the road in Hanalei. The rain-washed town was made famous by the film The Descendants, and many of the beach properties are still owned by a couple of old Kauai families and their trusts. The flip-flop-wearing landed gentry and hardcore surfers get hammered on beer and Mai Tais at the Tahiti Nui bar, or eat grilled Opakapaka, a crimson snapper, at the Dolphin Restaurant, where the sound system plays Santana and a shark’s bleached jaws hang from the wall.
Right on Hanalei Bay beach, in walking distance from town, sits 4914 Weke Rd. The three-bedroom, two-bath cottage -- with a two-bed, one-bath vacation rental at the gate -- looks promising at first blush, but a look inside reveals a dark, cramped, suburban 1998 interpretation of an Arts and Crafts cottage. The $11.4 million asking price seems inflated.
At 5514 Weke Rd. stands a handsome 3,125-square-foot contemporary home, all in yellow, with a 1,051-square-foot guest cottage. The master bedroom -- behind glass walls that open for plein-air living -- faces the town’s state park and beach. A public picnic table is just feet from the master bed and means there’s little privacy for the $11 million asking price.
A few months ago, it was widely reported Mark Zuckerberg spent over $100 million purchasing 700 acres farther down the coast. At the same time, anonymous limited liability companies were spending $35 million buying up unassuming shacks on five lots sitting on a peninsula jutting into Hanalei Bay, along the Waoli River. When we drove into the property, a small army of workmen were busy clearing dead trees and brush. Insiders were convinced that it was Zuckerberg’s handiwork, and that he was going to turn the peninsula into his beachfront hangout, but the broker involved has lately dampened speculation that Zuckerberg was also behind these purchases.
FOR $1 MILLION TO $3 MILLION, says Elite Pacific Properties broker Sean Ahearn, you can get a decent second home in Princeville, the 9,000-acre centrally planned community on the bluffs overlooking Hanalei Bay.
Seacliff Plantation is just down the coast. Surrounded by a national park and bird sanctuary, with unrestricted views of the lava-ragged coast, its 48 lots max out at 10 acres apiece. A garish Las Vegas castle, complete with bridge over the pool and koi fish swimming through the house’s interior floors, is offered at $10.9 million; actor Will Smith and his family rented the place over the holidays.
We preferred Kahakai, a three-bedroom home in a secluded valley that created an elegant modernist sanctuary of 3,000 square feet from glass walls, Italian furniture, and Balinese wood. The asking price is $3.5 million; taxes run $1,000 a month. We thought the view of the coast -- which can’t be tampered with due to the surrounding park -- was alone worth well over $1 million.
Meanwhile, as Barron's and Hollywood continue to extol the virtues of fantasy island, folks like Christine Queen of Kapaa are advocating for an idealized, unrealistic approach to farming that is destined to further hasten the collapse of ag on this island.
In her letter to the editor today she writes:
I don’t think many of us are against having a dairy farm or two on the island. It would certainly help in our efforts toward sustainability, but the proposed dairy at Mahaulepu is a factory farm. I drove by a small version of such a farm back in Michigan on a regular basis. It stank, and I’d estimate it only housed 200 cows. We should encourage and support smaller, locally owned dairies in suitable locations around the island.
So if even 200 cows is too many, what is a suitably-sized diary that won't incur the wrath and litigation of neighbors who have bought on or near ag land? And has Christine or any of her allies stopped to think about whether 10 or 15 or 50 cows could be economically viable, considering the many health and environmental regulations a dairy must meet?
Currently, the only dairy I know of is the Wooten's goat farm, and they're just selling very expensive goat cheese. Why? Because that's the only way to make money. Though some would love the pastoral ideal of Bossie and her calf grazing in a meadow, that is not an economically viable model, and it's not going to feed folks — especially those who can't afford pricey artisanal food.
There's so much fantasy and make-believe going on about agriculture on Kauai right now, including the Poipu folks who are primarily worried about their property values but professing their devotion to malama aina. Among them are Bridget Hammersmith, who is leading the fight against the Mahaulepu dairy. Though she claims to be motivated solely by her deep love for the aina, she threw a fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial candidate Duke Aiona — not a greenie by any stretch — at her ritzy southside house last year.
As a farmer friend wrote in an email today after flying on Hawaiian Airlines and reading its inflight magazine:
It illustrates perfectly your comment about the "brand used to promote the ever escalating tourism industry." If I see one more article about farming in Hawaii featuring a malo clad, tattooed actor harvesting a pathetic ten feet by ten foot lo'i kalo, I'll have to use the barf bag in the seat pocket...if they still have them. I know what I'm saying is politically incorrect and there's nothing wrong with doing reenactments, just don't confuse it with production agriculture.
But “production agriculture” — farming that actually makes money — is now a dirty word, reframed as “industrial agriculture.” So instead of actually helping farmers survive, folks like Christine Queen are raising money to fight the "industrial" dairy.
In the end, the reality is this: If ag dies, high-end development is going to take its place. And soon the farming foes will be crying over “paradise lost” — never dreaming they helped in its demise.