Toes in the Sand

©Kauai Shores

The party revved up as popular local musician, Henry Kapono, did his rendition of Leon Russell’s classic “Back to the Island.” For invitees to the grand opening of the Lava Lava Beach Club at the Kauai Shores, the evening marked two milestones: the debut of the first — and only — “toes-in-the-sand” restaurant on the island and a peek at the newly renovated hotel.

Once dated and in disrepair, Kauai Sands has been rebranded as an Aqua hotel, featuring a whimsical pastel color palette, a new lobby, and updates to guest rooms, corridors and common areas. Loyal guests acknowledged that the hotel desperately needed remodeling but feared that the property would lose its old-Hawai‘i charm and room rates would soar.

Neither happened.

The collective maze of two-story buildings surrounds a swimming pool, which now becomes the centerpiece of the property. The grounds’ schematic is reminiscent of a bygone era when smaller motel-like structures dotted the islands and the sound of the surf beckoned nearby. Luckily, this still exists here. With glass louvers open, the lapping waves gently lull guests to sleep while warm tradewinds blow the scent of the ocean into the room. It’s an island romanticism that most Hawaii vacationers anticipate and it’s one that can be found about 20 minutes south of Lihue Airport.

“I’ve been coming here for the past 10 years and I always ask for either room 203 or 205,” says Gary Coffman of Chico, Calif. “I’m 100 feet away from the beach and I can hear the surf from my room. And it’s affordable.”

When the late Richard Kimi opened Kauai Sands in the mid-60s, the intent was to offer an oceanside retreat that embodied the spirit of aloha and at a price that families could afford. “I remember him telling us that he’d rather sell 10 rooms for $1 than one room for $10,” recalls Clarissa P., a front desk attendant who asked that her last name not be revealed. “That’s 10 people returning versus one person who probably won’t be back.”

During the five years that the property languished in bankruptcy, Clarissa and fellow employees remained positive, despite the “doom and gloom” of the dilapidated rooms and facilities. “There are a lot of us old timers here; our office manager has been here for 30 years, our maintenance supervisor has been here 25 years; this is ohana,” says the Kaua‘i native who has been behind the front desk for the past 22 years. “Some of us didn’t think we’d still be here. It was so hard to come to work and keep a positive attitude while seeing the property fall apart. We’ve gone through a lot together but we also had each other for moral support.”

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