Hawaii is known for its lush resorts and the booming tourist economy that keeps them afloat. However, not every resort has flourished on the islands.
The Coco Palms Resort was the very first resort on Kauai, built in 1953 and, in its heyday, it was the hottest place around. Frank Sinatra was known to have stayed there, and it was also one of Elvis Presley’s favorite spots. The wedding scene from Elvis’s film Blue Hawaii was shot at the resort. However, this luxury didn’t come cheap with even the most modest rooms going for over $400 a night.
That all changed when Hurricane Iniki hit in 1992. Iniki was a Category 4 hurricane and its eye passed directly over Kauai. Because of the massive devastation across the whole island, the insurance companies went bankrupt and, as a result, the Coco Palms Resort was never repaired. Even after the Kauai economy recovered, the Coco Palms Resort was simply sold and resold as its condition deteriorated.
In 2016, a group of Native Hawaiians led by Noa Mau-Espirito began occupying a portion of the former Coco Palms resort. They cleared a roadway and began to plant taro and other traditional plants with the goal of “living self-sustainably” on the land. Mau-Espirito and his cousin Kamuela Kapule O Kamehameha traced their ancestry to Kauai’s King Kaumualii and held that a royal patent, called a Palapala Sila Nui, gave their family rights to the land.
In October 2017, real-estate developers took the group to court, but a judge refused to remove them, stating there wasn’t enough information to determine rightful ownership of the land.