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Salt Pond Beach

Salt Pond Beach
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Salt Pond Beach on the South Shore of Kauai

Salt Pond Beach Park is large, lovely, and inviting. It stretches some 800 feet (240 meters) along the beach and has about 3 acres of grass so there's lots of room to run around, fly kites, throw horseshoes, and toss Frisbees or whatever. Camping is allowed and 10 or 12 small tents were set up around the east end. (A larger shelter that encompassed one of the pavilions was a little disturbing as I wondered if someone had taken up permanent residence.) There are a couple of buildings with restrooms and showers, a large pavilion and a half dozen covered picnic tables scattered under tall palm trees. There are drinking fountains and even a couple of sinks for cleaning fish.

Salt Pond Beach Park
Salt Pond Beach Park

The beach is a beautiful wide crescent of fine golden sand that extends beyond the crescent at both ends. The total distance of sand including the crescent and the extensions beyond runs about a half mile from end to end. Port Allen Airport is immediately to the east of the beach. Some helicopters tours and ultra lights use the airstrip, but I didn't see any landings or takeoffs in the two hours or so while I was there.

Fishing at Salt Pond Beach: Fisherman stand on the rocks holding nets and studying what's under the water. Their patience waiting for the right moment to cast their nets exceeded mine to get a picture of that moment.

Salt Pond Beach
Salt Pond Beach Has A Natural Sea Wall that Breaks the Waves

Salt Pond Beach is ideal for swimming when the ocean is calm. The water here is warm and mostly protected from wave action by rock formations on both sides of the crescent. The western formation forms a long sea break and the water inside of it is like a calm bathtub. The entire bay looked like the largest lap pool I'd ever seen. I badly wanted to strip down. Leave my clothes on the beach, get in, and swim some long laps. Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to hide my backpack with 30 pounds of camera gear in my shoe.

Snorkeling at Salt Pond Beach is good for the same reasons: Calm water, interesting rock formations, and fish. Be careful around fishermen who are likely to throw a net on you. A lifeguard tower is on the beach, but is un-manned in the evenings after about 5.

Salt Pond Beach Has Sunshine. Even when it was raining and overcast everywhere else on the island, the skies here are usually blue and decorated with beautiful pastel puffs of clouds. This is the dry side of the island and one of the reasons Salt Pond Beach is so great. I drove all the way down here from the north shore just to see the sun. After walking from one end of the beach to the other I was looking for shade.

Salt Pond Beach Pavilion
Salt Pond Beach Pavilion

On this perfect Friday evening, almost every pavilion was being used. A large group was having a banquet of some sort in the main pavilion. It wasn't a beach party - they were dressed casually but not that casually. Soothing Hawaiian music added to the ambience. On the beach, several groups of small children or Keikis played in the water. An artist sat on the ground against a palm tree sketching the evening with pencil. Half dozen swimmers were out in the water swimming lazily. A few small portable barbecues burned throughout the park. People were having fun, hanging out, waiting for the sunset, and mostly just enjoying themselves.

The area is called "Salt Pond" because salt is harvested here. Just behind the east end of the beach are the salt ponds; dozens of shallow, oval shaped beds called wai ku fashioned out of clay on the surface of the ground. The wai ku resemble large bathtubs but are only 5 or 6 inches deep. The wai ku surround deeper wells called punawai where water percolates from the ground saturated with the salts and minerals deposited here over many thousands of years by the ocean waves just a stones throw away. From about May to September is the harvest season and water is dipped from the punawai and poured into the surrounding wai ku where it warms and evaporates. (Presumably, it turns into clouds, floats over the mountains, and rains back down on Hanalei and Princeville). As the water evaporates out of the wai ku more brine is added. This is repeated until enough salt and minerals remain to be harvested. Of course rain interferes with this process so it is no accident that these salt ponds exist on the driest side of the island and only operate during the summer months. Even then, occasional summer storms can inundate the entire operation with several inches of water disrupting production.

Evaporation Ponds with Salt Crystals Forming in Bottom
Evaporation Ponds with Salt Crystals Forming in the Bottom

Harvesting salt at Salt Pond is an old traditional process and not a commercial operation. The right to operate the ponds is passed down through twenty or so local families. Each family controls their own section of the "salt patch" as it is known. The families can give the salt they harvest to whomever they choose, but it is against the rules to sell it. Various recipes of mixing the salt with red, iron-rich minerals create white, pink, or red salt. These salts are prized around the island for their taste and health benefits and are used in traditional cooking and luaus. I found this article interesting with more detail than I was able to find on my own by snooping around.

More must see Kauai Beaches.

Pictures and Comments By Doug Porter

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