Kauai’s Awaawapuhi Valley is the narrowest and deepest of Na Pali’s remote, isolated valleys. Some say the name refers to the valley’s sinuous curves and twists that wind between its three thousand foot walls, like a slithering eel, or puhi. But the more accurate translation is more romantic, for ‘awapuhi is the native word for the wild ginger that grows in its shady depths. Revered for its decorative and fragrant flowers, it also had many practical uses— for food and fiber, and especially for the natural shampoo that oozes from its flowering stalk.
Nowadays this valley (Awa) of the wild ginger looks much less lush than it must have been in ancient times, for the irrigated terraces for cultivating the life-giving taro have long since fallen away. By sea, the valley itself is hidden from view except for its towering cliffs, for it hangs above a low sea cliff, with the valley’s stream ending in a waterfall to the sea. At the base there is now a tall natural screen of dark green hau, a native Hawaiian bush of the hibiscus family, whose bark was once used for rope-making. But there can still be seen a multitude of half-washed- away rock dams that at one time went completely through the stream to create perfect terraces for growing taro.