Last updated: 10:27 AM ET, Sun October 16 2016

Solitude and Reflection at Waimea Plantation Cottages

Hotel & Resort | Scott Laird | October 14, 2016

Solitude and Reflection at Waimea Plantation Cottages

Photos courtesy of  Coast Waimea Plantation Cottages unless otherwise noted.

The west side of Kaua’i doesn’t get much play. Kaua’i County has long focused development in the three main resort areas of Po’ipu, the Coconut Coast running from Lihue to Kapa’a, and Princeville, on the north shore. The island’s dry west side has generally been immune to resort development, and that’s part of what makes it a desirable destination, particularly for travelers who are looking to take the best advantage of the island’s natural beauty.

There’s a strong agricultural ethos running through the Waimea Plantation Cottages, situated just west of the historic town of Waimea, particularly evocative of the heritage of Kaua‘i which was largely an agricultural concern until the post-statehood tourism boom. The collection of cottages hail from Waimea Dairy (which once occupied the site) and other adjacent plantations, including Waimea Sugar Mill, which is the provenance of the two-bedroom oceanfront cottage I occupied during my stay. Cottage #36 was originally constructed in 1910, and named for Masato Ito, a Waimea Sugar Mill sanitation worker later in the century.

There are several things to love about the cottages. History buffs will revel in the fact that the cottages are in many cases over a century old, perhaps letting their imaginations wander. Those who prefer quiet vacations with plenty of self-cooked meals and quiet evenings on a porch with the sounds of the ocean and the clucking of the resident chickens will find themselves at home, perhaps feeding the same black and white cat who came to the door each morning in search of tidbits.

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It’s an interesting paradox. The plantation cottages were built for hard use and ease of upkeep by hardworking plantation employees, but in their modern incarnation they almost seem to inspire languid afternoons with a book and a lounge chair on the lanai or the oceanfront lawn dotted by coconut palms, or a lazy swing in the hammocks dotted around the property while watching the sun rise over Waimea Pier or set over the forbidden island of Ni’ihau. It’s a wonderful place to catch up on solitary pursuits like reading and writing.

The surf is swimmable for veteran swimmers, but not particularly pretty (Waimea means “red water” in Hawaiian; the ocean is tea-colored owing to the outflow of the nearby Waimea River); those who want crystal clear oceanfront bathing can enjoy the resort pool, which is ocean front and has several newly-added pergolas to shade pool-goers.

The town of Waimea itself is walkable, most of it having been built in an era before automobiles were common. There are plenty of local restaurants to check out, a chain grocery store, and also the local market, Ishihara, which has been in operation since the ‘30s.  That’s a good place to drop in and pick up items to grill at several of the strategically located propane grills around the property (charcoal grills are available upon request, but bring your own charcoal). A particularly good choice for grilling would be the locally raised beef, which is tastier and cheaper than the beef imported from the mainland.

The cottages are also convenient to Waimea Canyon and the hikers’ paradise of Koke‘e State Park, 35 minutes up the mountain from Waimea. The 17 miles of white sand at Polihale, are a short drive up the road, although strong surf also prevents that beach from being swimmable, even for the strongest swimmers.

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Admittedly, one of the drawbacks of staying in Waimea is that it’s nearly all the way to the end of the road in one direction on an island with a single road that doesn’t quite circle the entire coast. This means that journeys to the north shore can be lengthy, so it’s definitely a good choice for those whose excursions are focused on the west and south shores of the island. I’d definitely recommend something more centrally located for a first-time visitor to Kaua’i, but for those who have visited before and have decided they want to spend more time on the laid-back west side, these cottages offer all the benefits of a vacation rental with many of the added amenities of a hotel.

Photo by Scott Laird

“We have many guests who have been coming for twenty years,” hotel manager Jasmine explains. “They book for next year when they check out.”

Although there’s currently no occupant of the restaurant space adjacent to the main building which also houses the registration desk and lobby, hotel management tells me a concession contract has been signed and a restaurant is currently in development for opening later in the fall of 2016.

The Takeaway: Quiet escapism and natural beauty make this west side gem worth a glance for those looking for a departure from the traditional beachfront resort.

The Damage: A quick scan of availability in the upcoming months found room rates as low as $149, plus tax and a $25 per night resort charge. Multi-bedroom units (up to five) are a good value for larger groups.

Instagrammable Moment: Oceanfront cottages have picture-postcard views; I later recognized the view from the lanai in my unit in a print ad for the property in an in-flight magazine.

Pro Tip: Kitchens are well-stocked with appliances, so shop with confidence that rice cookers, blenders, toasters, and plenty of utensils and dishes are yours to use. Also, if the 5 a.m. rooster wake-up isn’t quite your vacation style, the hotel provides earplugs at reception.

Accommodations were furnished by Waimea Plantation Cottages in preparation for this story.

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