Kiahuna Plantation Resort, in Poipu, is built on the grounds of what used to be the plantation manager’s estate for Hawaii’s first sugar plantation, Koloa Plantation. The historic plantation manor house, dating back to the early 1930’s, now houses the resort’s front office and restaurant.
The plantation manor, and about two acres of land, was originally a wedding gift to Alexandra “Sandie” Knudsen and Hector Moir from Sandie’s father in 1930. Hector was employed by Koloa Sugar Company, and in 1933 became Manager of the company, the oldest sugar plantation in the Territory of Hawaii, having been founded in 1835.
With Hector’s new position, the manor house soon became the hub of plantation society on Kauai’s south shore. As there were no hotels or restaurants of any size on the island, most entertaining was done at home. The Moirs hosted many social gatherings, such as sit-down dinners and cocktail parties. The men wore coats and ties, and the ladies dressed in evening gowns. The house comfortably held 150 guests, and the parties-sometimes elaborate themed costume parties-often took months of planning.
The original house was a U-shape structure enclosing a patio. It was built of lava rock from the land, and consisted of a living room with fireplace, a dining room, pantry, kitchen, three bedrooms, two baths, and a maid’s bedroom and bath. The wash house, storeroom and garage were to the east of the house in a separate wooden building. The land had been cleared of the scrub brush and koa haole that was predominant in the area. All that was left was lava rock and three trees: two Java plums and a monkey pod.
Sandie Moir started the now-famous gardens as a hobby. The first improvements were two groupings of water lily ponds: one in front of the house and one to the south-east. The first planting were the tropical plants such a ginger, heliconia and others that required lots of water. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that these plants would not thrive in an area with such low rainfall. Eventually, the Moirs purchased additional land surrounding their lot. Another grouping of ponds was built, along with new plantings of cactus and succulents, which thrived. Sandie found that dry land exotic plants did well in the arid climate of Kauai’s south shore. Throughout the years, she continued to supplement the garden with rare and exotic cactus, succulents, trees such as coconut, wiliwili, kou, and a section for orchids and bromeliads. The garden was lovingly landscaped with cascading pools and lava rock.
By 1948, the garden had drawn international attention and was classified as “one of the ten best cactus and succulent gardens in the world,” ranking with the likes of Hunting Gardens and the Royal Gardens of Monaco. After receiving many requests for garden tours, the Moir’s opened the gardens officially to the public in 1954. They were open seven days a week and every visitor was given a guided tour of the grounds by Hector or Sandie themselves, sometimes assisted by their son Eric (“Iki”). By the mid-1960’s thousands of people a year were visiting the “Pa`u a Laka Garden.” (The gardens were named Pa`u a Laka after the ancient Hawaiian name for the area. It means “skirt of Laka,” the Hawaiian goddess of hula.) The gardens have been acclaimed in publications worldwide, including Life and Sunset magazines and numerous newspapers and gardening journals.
In 1968, the Moirs retired from their “garden operation,” moving to Phoenix Arizona and leasing the manor house and land to a mainland corporation. Eventually Kiahuna Plantation Resort was built on the land surrounding the manor house and garden. Today, the Kiahuna staff cares for and maintains the gardens, which are open to the public, free of charge, seven days a week.
The Moirs had one child, Eric “Iki” Moir, born in 1931. He married and he and his wife had four children. It is with Beryl Moir’s kind, caring direction that Plantation Gardens Restaurant exists today. She has provided guidance and donated letters and numerous family photographs to help us tell the history of this wonderful home. We are forever indebted to her vision.