From Malahini to Kamaaina Or Making it on Kauai

If you don’t know what that title means, this article is for you. “Malahini” = newcomer to Hawaii. “Kamaaina” = from Hawaii, or someone who has lived in Hawaii for a long time. “Kamaaina” also means “give me a discount, I live here!” If you have recently moved here and plan on staying for a long time, perhaps even spending the rest of your life here, I think you will find the following advice helpful


Over the last several years I have watched many people come and go from the island, and have noticed a few common threads in their experiences. To begin with, There was a time about ten years ago when you could accurately predict that of all the new people who moved here, about 80% (!) of them would be gone within three years of their arrival. That number has significantly dropped over the last few years, and more people seem to be staying longer, and becoming permanent residents. However, the three year rule still seems to apply. Conventional wisdom on the island has it that if somebody lives here for more than three years, there is a good chance that they are here to stay. The following are tips for malahini who want to become kamaaina.


  • The Easiest place to meet people and make friends on Kauai is at Church
    • When I first moved to Kauai, I had previously lived all over the world, and I declared Kauai to be the hardest place to make friends of anywhere I had ever been. Now, having been here a while, I attribute it to the point made above. Until you have been here a few years most people (whether consciously or subconsciously) naturally assume you will be moving back to the mainland shortly. Most local people (and long timers) do not have the transient mentality common on the mainland and once they entrust someone with their friendship, to have them move away is very painful and almost a betrayal. Thus, a strong hesitation to make those connections with newcomers.
    • I have to admit, after a few experiences of developing deep relationships with people, only to have them move away, it does start to make one a little gun-shy about the next person who approaches you and says “I just moved here, let’s hang out!”
    • However, at church, people will see you more easily as a brother or sister in Christ, and friendships have a better chance of developing. It is also your best place to begin to learn the various nuances of living on Kauai. Which brings us to our next point.
  • Moving to Kauai is like moving to a foreign country.
    • People who think Kauai is the mainland with better weather usually end up disappointed. Just click on the “free shipping” tab at any website for a quick reality check. The best way to quickly settle in is to study, and then celebrate the differences rather than compare them to the way things are at “home”. I could fill a whole book on the subtleties of the local culture here, and that would only scratch the surface. Here are just a couple of quick examples.
    • Flashing wealth may be accepted and even encouraged in LA, but deeply frowned on here. Never wear your shoes into somebody’s house, and never sit on the table of a picnic bench in a public park. Always bring enough food to a potluck to feed an army, and always make a plate of other peoples food to bring home. Again, there are a million more examples of this, and the sooner you learn the basics the better. Which brings us to our next point.
  • Meet Local people, get out of the “bubble”.
    • There are two small, sad bubbles that exist on this island. One is the bubble of local people (born and raised here) who only know other local people, the other is transplants from the mainland who only know other transplants from the mainland. But the biggest and happiest group of people are those who mingle and move comfortably between the two groups. You definitely want to be in this group.
    • Again, the best way to accomplish this is to get involved with the church. Although KCF is predominately transplants, the local contingent continues to grow, and this is a good place to get to know some really great local people. Also make sure to get involved in some of the inter-island church events that will have churches that are predominately local.
    • If your workplace is predominately Malahini (PMRF for example) you should consider getting involved in some form of community organization , or local sports club (canoe paddling, softball, bowling etc.). But be proactive about this. Knowing local culture and local people is the key to make living here an enriching experience.
    • “Eh, no act!” A word of caution, nothing is goofier than a Malahini speaking pidgin. Be who you are, the locals know more about you already than most of your friends at home!
  • Keep your mainland trips to a minimum.
    • If you really intend on staying here for a long time (for life perhaps) it doesn’t help to have one foot on the mainland and one foot here. One could accurately predict the odds of someone living here past the three year mark by the frequency of their mainland trips. When you get “island fever” go to Oahu (big city fix, shopping etc.) or one of the other neighbor island. It will not only cure island fever but will make living in Hawaii feel fresh and exciting again, not to mention saving you some big bucks.
    • If you find yourself returning to the mainland for every birthday, anniversary or reunion, that might be a good indicator that living here is not for you. Which again, brings us to the next subject.
  • Learn to deal with separation from mainland relatives.
    • Missing mainland relative is probably the number one reason people head back home. And let’s be honest, it is a good reason. Family is family and there is no replacement for the real thing. With that said let’s look at some tips for dealing with it.
    • Encourage your family to come visit here. In fact, you can expect they will anyway. It is quite common to get deluged with houseguests the first few years you live here. This is great because sometimes you find that having family members under your roof for a week results in more quality time with them than you had at home. In fact, a week with Uncle Fred might make you glad you now live 3,000 miles away!
    • Create “Ohana” (family) here. Again, the church would be the obvious place to do this. When I first moved here I was a single guy and through the church ended up with a couple of women who functioned like surrogate moms. I would even buy them Mother’s Day cards. These days, my kids have numerous “Aunties and Uncles”, cousins and even a surrogate grandmother. As your kids grow, you will be very happy that there are a hundred caring eyes watching out for and even reporting on the comings and goings of your kids. And best yet, they really are family, the family of Jesus Christ.
  • Keep being a tourist!
    • You probably fell in love with Kauai while on vacation, so keep doing the things that caused that to happen. Make the time to hike, surf, snorkel, swim, paddle a kayak or take a sunset stroll on the beach. You will also find that within a short time you will know somebody in the business that can hook you up with cheap (sometimes free) boat, helicopter and kayak tours. These are just as much fun after twenty years here as they were the first time. Maybe even more so when you know the guide.
    • Recruit others to join you. This not only helps with the friends/family issues above, but everybody here is susceptible to the “too busy to enjoy life” disease.   Which leads us to our last topic.
  • Don’t get too busy
    • We are all probably guilty of this, and we are all certainly susceptible to it. I once heard it said that “in LA your wealth is measured by the kind of car you drive, in Kauai it is how much time you have.” This is so true. Making ends meet can be a full-time occupation on Kauai. At that point, living here is really just a rat-race with better scenery on the commute.
    • Do whatever it takes to make time for yourself and your family, and be proactive about how you spend that time enjoying all the good things about living here.


And finally, be realistic. I find the people who move here with the highest expectations sometimes become the most bitterly disappointed. I still cringe when I hear somebody say “We love it here in paradise!” Paradise is a place God has been building in heaven for the last 2,000 years where we will one day go to live with Him in perfect glory and splendor forever. Until then, Kauai is not a bad place to serve Him and walk with Him. I continue be pleasantly surprised by the little details of living here. Just yesterday I noticed that the kids at my child’s elementary school don’t lock their bikes! I just smiled and thought to myself “Lucky I live Kauai!”