Mahalo, Kauai. You were just what we needed. A tropical getaway and one of the most remote places on earth, just a six-hour flight from SFO. We left home in Bend at 5:00am and were standing on a beach by 3:00pm, bellies full of fish tacos. Hawaii is a collection of 137 islands, eight of which are fairly well known. Like Goldilocks selecting the place to rest her head, I purchased the Lonely Planet Hawaii Guidebook and leafed through to find the perfect Island. I moved passed The Big Island, Maui, and that's when I found it: Kauai was not too big, not too small, it was just right.
Aptly known as "The Garden Island", Kauai is renowned for its lush scenery, golden sand beaches, and rugged Na Pali Coast. The Island itself is only 105 miles across, and while I could write poetry about it, the photos speak for themselves.
1. HANALEI BAY
One part surfer's paradise, one part hippie hideaway, Hanalei Bay is a small beach town just beyond the grip of overexposure. Only a few minutes' drive from Princeville, with big box resorts in the rear view, we found a few miles of absolute paradise. Beachfront access, local coffee and juice stands, good restaurant options, and a variety of vacation rentals to call home (here's where we stayed). From here, we spent our days riding around on bicycles included in our reservation, hiking across expanses of wide open beach west of town, dining al fresco, and rubbing elbows with locals at Tahiti Nui (go for the live music and Mai Tais). Hanalei Bay was an ideal basecamp to drive to "the end of the road" where you'll find the entrance to Na Pali Coast State Park.
2. NA PALI COAST STATE PARK
Here you'll find a story of contradictions. How can something be so majestic and so treacherous at the same time? Threatening but also inviting? So well charted yet challenging to even the most experienced hiker? Thousands of adventurers of all ability levels traverse the Kalalau Trail each year, many forced to turn back sooner than they'd like, others pushing further than they should. Despite guide books labeling the trail as extremely difficult, the views beckon to keep going, just a little farther. One, two, eight, I had a blister for every mile we climbed, but I also discovered my untapped strength, and glimpsed beauty like I'd never seen before. This trail is not for the faint of heart, but it topped mine off with a new thirst for adventure.
3. KAYAK TO SECRET FALLS
The journey to Secret Falls brings out the true seekers, for whom driving along a scenic highway to a designated lookout just doesn't cut it. Eager for another adventure, we made our way to Wailua River on the eastern shore of Kauai near Kapa'a. Here, we found Kayak Kauai, an outpost that rented kayaks and offered guided tours to Secret Falls. Not only am I terrible at making advanced reservations, but we also aren't big on guided tours (we prefer to pack our own food and beverages and go at our own pace), so we rented a two-person kayak and headed out on the Wailua. Traveling east on the calm waters, we admired modest riverfront homes, flying fish, and the calm water. It was as if we had the entire river to ourselves. As we neared our destination, the river narrowed until we were immersed in jungle greenery. About two miles up river, we came upon South Fork and the trail to Secret Falls.
4. SECRET FALLS
After the 45-minute kayak trip and another 30-minute hike through the jungle, over a few water crossings, we arrived at Secret Falls. The journey itself was easy in comparison to the Na Pali Coast hike, but I consider it an adventure nonetheless. Families with young children would have a lot more fun here than on the coastal trail. When we arrived at the falls, it was pure magic: the rush of the falls, the crisp, clear water, and the canopy that surrounded us. As I admired the scene a familiar sound brought me back to earth: Pop! My husband opening a bottle of cava he'd carried all the way here in his dry bag. Is there anything better than bubbles at a waterfall?
5. HELICOPTER TOURS OF KAUAI
Soaring up and over Kauai was nothing short of spectacular. Our playful pilot gave us the helicopter tour of a lifetime, flying over Waimea Canyon, often compared to the Grand Canyon, to the wettest place on earth, Black Crater, clear across verdant hills where scenes from Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed, and just when we thought we'd seen it all, he b-lined for the coast. Flying over the Na Pali Coast took my breath away. The colors, textures, and magnitude of the coastline protruding from the sparking blue water was captivating. I put down my camera and stared out the window in awe.
6. SHOPPING IN KILAUEA
Sure, there are bigger and newer shopping centers available - plenty in fact - including the Poipu Shopping Village which we loved - but after learning about a hand-painted batik clothing shop, Coconut Style, located behind an old shopping village near the Lighthouse, we had to find it. We knew we had arrived as we stepped into the store. Garments hung like masterpieces along the perimeter of the shop, flanked by a California King bed topped with a hand-painted batik duvet by the same designer. It wasn't long before I was learning three ways to tie a sarong and picking a favorite design to take home with me.
7. CATAMARAN TOURS
We arrived at the Holo Holo Charter office in Port Allen at 6:00am. The sun woudn't rise for another 30 minutes yet there we were, walking through a shipyard, removing our shoes, and stepping onto a 65' catamaran designed specifically for the voyage ahead. Over the next seven hours, we sailed the open sea, cruised up and down the Na Pali Coast from yet another vantage point, spotted whales and dolphins, noshed on fresh fruit, hot coffee, and breakfast pastries, before crossing the tumultuous channel that separates Kauai from Niihau, the forbidden island. Once across, we anchored along a cove perpendicular to the Island. We were given snorkel gear and pool noodles to combat the current, and were invited to jump in. I saw schools of colorful fish, a monk seal sunbathing, and some incredible sea anemone. When I couldn't find a sea turtle, I climbed aboard, made a sandwich from the generous lunch spread, and found a seat in the sun. The ride back to the shore included alcohol, and after a few sips of sparkling wine, the current slowed, the music faded out, and I was lulled to sleep.
8. HORSEBACK RIDING
The adventure continued with horseback riding along the beach. The two-hour Mahaleapu Beach tour began with a peaceful ride through CJM Stables before winding through a canopy of Ironwood trees. After crossing a sandbar and stream, we emerged along the beach making our way up and around the bay. Along the way, our guide shared stories about each of the horses and history of the Island. We stopped for a snack and everyone, including the horses, drank a cup of POG juice which was a sight to see. From there, we ascended the mountain side to a water tower affording us clear views of the bay and beach below. We made our way back down the mountain and through a tortoise sanctuary before returning to the Stables.
9. POIPU BEACH
There's something special about Poipu Beach. Maybe its the golden sand, the crystal clear waters, or the $50 daybeds which included bar service and front row seats to the ocean. Sipping a frozen mojito from a pineapple was the perfect way to kick off four days of pure relaxation after several days of non-stop adventure. Our only regret is not realizing how hot the sun was, and how frequently we needed to reapply sunscreen on our jaunts between the ocean and the daybed (quite literally white people problems). We rented a body board and my husband signed up for a surf lesson. The Sheraton Kauai on Poipu Beach was an ideal setting to kick back and get spoiled at the end of our trip.
10. WATCH THE SUNSET
As with many romantic and cinematic endings, it seemed inevitable that this story would end with a breathtaking sunset. After all, this is Hawaii, known for its pink and purple skies. As the sun set on another epic vacation, I wondered how had I not visited Hawaii before, and how soon before I'd visit again?