Kauai Part I – East and West Coasts

People often ask me about my favorite places I’ve travelled to, and surprising to many, I always answer “Hawaii.”  There are many places I’ve been lucky to visit in this world, and even as the list of places grows, Hawaii still remains at the top.  This jaunt was very special to me because Kauai was the first Hawaiian island on which I spent significant time, and yet it was the one island Elliott had not been to yet.  I was excited to share it.

You might wonder how Kauai got included on a cross-country road trip, and you’d be right to wonder.  It wasn’t originally part of the plan, but we had an Alaska Airlines companion pass that was set to expire when the idea struck me.  Rather than get to California and turn around immediately, why not go *all* the way west?  It also made sense as some built in “relaxation time” after an intense driving trip across the mainland.  Apparently we had forgotten how difficult it can be to relax in a place where there are so many active things to do in nature every day.

Kauai is the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands, and no longer contains any active volcanoes.  The island does contain the wettest spot on earth, lush forests to hike through, tons of waterfalls, beautiful white sand beaches, old sugar plantations, lots of taro, and an endless supply of wild roosters.

One of the first things I noticed when we arrived on the island was how it has changed in the 10+ years since I had been there.  New bridges, construction everywhere to widen the main road, and lots of traffic due to the construction!  This expansion is great for the locals, since the main income in Kauai comes from tourism; but as a tourist I was feeling bummed that the island was looking a little less remote than I remembered!

We spent the first half of our time on the island in a town on the eastern side called Kapa’a.  During the first few days we did all sorts of activities including snorkeling, a zodiac tour, hiking and boogie boarding.  We first snorkeled at a nearby at a boulder enclosed lagoon at Lydgate State Park.  The park is a great place for beginner swimmers and snorkelers and we did see some fish, but between the winter currents and the time of day, our first snorkel spot was pretty hazy.  We enjoyed the rest of our time there just swimming and playing in the waves outside of the protected lagoon.

Our zodiac tour the next day up and down the famous, green Na Pali Coast proved luckier, as we had great weather and this time of year the ocean can often be too rough to do the trip.  The Na Pali (Pali means “cliffs”) coast is on the northwest side of the island, and is not drivable.  You can access parts of it by hiking a difficult trail, but the rest is only accessible by boat or helicopter.  It goes on for over fifteen miles and is made up of sheer cliffs that drop down straight into the ocean.  In between the cliffs are narrow, lush green valleys with flowing streams and waterfalls.  Amazingly, as inaccessible as this area is today, Hawaiians used to live and cultivate taro in it!  (Now it is largely used by Hollywood to film movies that require a jungle setting, including South Pacific, King Kong and Raiders of the Lost Ark.)

After our tour of the coast, we drove up to the last lookout at Waimea Canyon, a smaller version of the Grand Canyon, located on Kauai.  We stopped at several lookouts, admiring the red dirt and rock from all angles and elevations.  From the last lookout point, we hiked past gorgeous views of one of the same valleys we had seen by boat earlier that day, and through some swamp forests.

The next day we took a strenuous hike up NouNou Mountain, also known as Sleeping Giant.  When you are down at street level, you can look up and see the mountain looks like an enormous person taking a nap on their back.  At the top, you have wonderful views of large sections of the island.

When I told Elliott there was more hiking in store for the day, he did his best to remain upbeat.  That Sleeping Giant hike had been grueling!  But our next hike was rewarding in a different sense – there were two waterfalls along the way and I knew we could swim in at least one of them.  We really enjoyed hiking through the forest and then clambering up a quarter mile of the riverbed to get to the first waterfall, and it definitely tested our balance to try and cling to all those rocks.  But by the time we got to the second waterfall we were thinking we’d just look at it and turn around.  Elliott spotted a rope swing and we couldn’t figure out how to get to it, but just as we were turning around, we found some other hikers who said they could show us the way.  That was enough – before I knew it, Elliott had managed to cross the river and was swinging on the rope over and over, yelling to me to come do it too.

The next day we rented boogie boards for the week and found a great boogie boarding beach.  The way it was explained to us was, “Beginners on the left, and for more advanced waves just keep moving right.”  This was a serious beach with serious waves.  We revisited it several times during the week, and some days managed to get some great rides in.  Other days we really had to pick and choose our waves, trying to figure out which ones might not clobber us.  I did lose my goggles and never found them, which was a pretty decent handicap to a person who wears contacts.

To be continued…

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