Hanalei Lookout

Where Puff the Magic Dragon Almost Lived

September 7, 2012

in beach, Hawaii, Kauai, road trip, vacation

Some of my readers might not know about Puff, the Magic Dragon. Puff was the subject of a song recorded in the 60s by American folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, who I adored as a child in the early 80s.

There’s some speculation as to why he was named “Puff” — this was the 60s, after all –, but since I didn’t know about drugs back then, I’ve always considered Puff to be a tender-hearted dragon who lived in a place with a sing-song name. When I told my boss I was going to Kauai, she excitedly urged me to go to see the place where Puff, the Magic Dragon, lived — Hanalei.

Except that the place referenced in the song and the northern Kauai town are not one in the same, despite the fact that they are pronounced in almost the same way.  The place where Puff lived is spelled Honah Lee. Beyond the similar sounds, Hanalei does look a lot like how Honah Lee sounds — misty and situated along the sea.

Brendan and I ventured up to Hanalei the day after the wedding. This part of Kauai was supposedly lush and more exotic-looking than Waimea. We were underwhelmed for much of the drive until we reached the Hanalei Valley Lookout. All you can see are different shades of green, from the patches of taro field to the varied plant life stretching their leaves toward the mountains, which are, indeed, misty.

Hanalei Lookout

Hanalei Mountains

Hanalei Mountains

Our ultimate destination on this day was Tunnels Beach to do some snorkeling. We picked up snorkel gear at a little shop along Highway 560 and found some free parking across from the beach. This is another place with a name discrepancy. Divers say the name comes from the tunnels in the reef; surfers say it’s from the tunnel-like waves they surf. I have another — albeit obvious — theory; the tunnel across the road from the beach. I bet trolls live there.

The tunnel across from Tunnels Beach

The tunnel across from Tunnels Beach

The view from the shore resembled the beach we stayed near in St. Lucia, except the water was bluer — almost as light, greenish blue as it had been in Fiji. We floated past the shallow reef to explore the fish and coral and hunt for sea turtles (we ended up not finding any until Maui). We wound up swimming for almost an hour.

Tunnels Beach, Kauai

Tunnels Beach, Kauai

After Tunnels, we decided to drive all the way to the end of Highway 560, and in effect, the end of the northern part of the island as it curves into Haena State Park. We reached the end, another beach, and stopped to buy a coconut from a man who fastidiously chopped the skin off, cut a tiny hole and plunked in a straw so we could slurp the juice.

Man chopping a coconut

Slurping a coconut

At the end of the journey, I wasn’t sure if I believed that Puff actually never lived in Hanalei. It seems like a pretty magical place. Maybe he is sheltered somewhere in those mountains, blowing out puffs of mist that drift towards the impossibly blue, reef-lined sea.

2 Comments - Add Yours!

  1. Megan

    I think P, P, M spelled it wrong by mistake (due to too many puffs I’m sure!). They meant Hanalei, no doubt. I think I might just need to go pull out that cd. I love them. On the CD I made for Hugh, I sang “If I Had a Hammer.” Thanks for encouraging my Hawaiian memories this morning!


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