An abandoned hotel wouldn’t normally be high on my sightseeing list, but the Coco Palms on Kauai was a notable exception. (Sidenote: I do actually find ghost town-type places kind of fascinating, like China’s haunting Wonderland amusement park or the now-demolished Nevada Landing, a riverboat hotel adrift in the desert near Vegas.)
Behind that chainlink fence and ominous No Trespassing sign is what was once Kauai’s premier resort that played host to Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, who helped make it famous in a little film called “Blue Hawaii” in 1961.
Through the overgrown trees I could see the lagoon from the romantic scene at the end of the movie where Elvis serenades his wahine with the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” as they float on a double-hulled canoe. (The web site ElvisInHawaii.com has some screen caps of that scene.) But the land’s importance goes back way before “The King” to Kauai’s actual kings — this was their ancestral homeland and the site of burial grounds and other sacred spots.
So what happened to the Coco Palms? Twenty years ago, Hurricane Iniki hit the island, the hotel suffered damages and it’s been closed ever since. It’s easy to spot as you’re driving along Kuhio Highway in Wailua, north of the airport. Even in its decaying state, there are parts of it that are still captivating. It’s also kind of spooky to see lamps still in in the windows of some of the hotel rooms.
Plans to build a new resort on the property seem to have fallen through, but Pacific Business News reports that the site has been sold to new investors. It seems inevitable that the original buildings will eventually be torn down, so I’m glad I got to see some of what’s left.
I only checked out the outside area, but it is possible to get a closer look. Bob and Jerri Jasper, original founders of Hawaii Movie Tours, offer tours of the Coco Palms Monday through Friday at 1:45 p.m. for $20 per person. For more information, call 8-8-346-2048 or visit cocopalmstours.com. And apparently Coco Palms’ longtime entertainer Larry Rivera even coordinates “Blue Hawaii” themed weddings among the ruins.