By Johanna Read
For visitors to Kauai who want to avoid newly-built condo-style hotels and prefer a quieter garden location, Fern Grotto Inn is an excellent choice.
The cottages are near the sacred Wailua River and provide an ideal base for exploring Kauai.
Fern Grotto Inn’s Ohana (family) House is the largest on the property, and was once the family home of the current owner, Paul. The house was originally built for a Japanese widow and her children, beginning shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Notably, construction of the house continued while she was incarcerated in an internment camp, showing the respect for the family despite the racism and fear that caused President Roosevelt to order the camps.
The elegant plantation style house is also an environmental choice. It is constructed largely from cargo ships that brought goods to Hawaii. The ships were designed to be dismantled after one trip and are an ingenious way to reuse materials. Many of these cargo houses remain on Kauai, but very few are available to be rented.
Thanks to the cargo ship, Ohana House’s floors are Douglas fir and the beams and walls are redwood. The decor evokes the airy islands. Guests likely won’t need to turn on the air conditioning, as the U-shape design of the house makes it ideal for catching cross breezes.
Ohana House has a large and fully-equipped kitchen, a sitting room and three bedrooms, each with an en-suite bath. The kitchen is ideal for cooking up Hawaiian feasts, and there are barbeques which guests can use. Entertainment options include free wifi, TV with movies, and an assortment of books and board games.
Fern Grotto Inn’s other cottages are smaller than Ohana House, but equally comfortable. Garden Cottage was once a Japanese bath house, and Canal Cottage was once the bachelor’s quarters. The current owner has remodeled each cottage to make it ideal for use as a vacation rental. Each cottage is decorated uniquely, and each has a full kitchen or kitchenette with hot plate and microwave. Upgrades are ongoing, with solar power coming when new roofs are installed. Coco Cottage is gaining a second floor and will be ready in spring 2017.
The cottages are scattered throughout a large fruit- and flower-filled garden. Flowers from the garden are thoughtfully placed throughout the cottages by the cleaning crew, and guests are encouraged to pick the fruit. It is easy to identify the fruits when in season: lime, mango, kumquat, mountain apple, star fruit, sapodilla, oranges, pomegranate and avocado. There are a few friendly chickens and geckos wandering the garden.
The cottages are along a short canal which links to the Wailua River. Guests are welcome to borrow the kayaks next to the canal so they can explore the river at their leisure, even on Sundays when the river is closed to commercial and rental boats. Two large ducks live along the water, but don’t seem to mind kayakers.
Also within the grounds is a vast collection of beach toys to borrow. Guests can bring chairs, mats, an umbrella, boogie boards, masks, snorkels and sand toys to the beach and not feel at all like they’re living out of a hotel. Guests are also welcome to use the on-site laundry facilities, so it is easy to travel light.
Fern Grotto Inn has a four-night minimum, though shorter stays are possible if there is space between other bookings. Most guests stay a week or two to maximize their time on the island.
Editor’s Note: The author was hosted by Fern Grotto Inn, but the opinions are her own and no one from the hotel reviewed or approved her article.