Three Days on Kauai


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May 5th 2014
Published: June 9th 2014
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Driving all over Kauai


Deciding what islands to visit on an 8 day trip to Hawaii is no easy task. After a lot of research we decided to spend the first three days of our trip on the small island of Kauai. With a population of barely 20,000 it's the quietest of the four major Hawaiian islands. It is, however, a major tourist destination due to some incredible scenic wonders. They filmed Jurassic Park here, as well as dozens of other movies. Clearly Hollywood knows what's up. Time to discover for ourselves what they have always known.

We almost don't get out of New Zealand due to crappy weather. Half the flights from Wellington are cancelled. Luckily our plane takes off only an hour late and we make it to Auckland in time to board our Hawaiian Air flight to Honolulu. The flight takes off just before midnight on Thursday April 17, 2014. Nine hours later we land at 10:00 AM on Thursday April 17, 2014. We've just gone back in time!! This is the longest day ever. Hawaii is almost an entire day behind New Zealand. So when we leave New Zealand we arrive at 8:00 AM New Zealand time. It's almost the same time in Hawaii, but it's yesterday. Cray international date line. Luckily we have each slept quite a bit so we are ready to do Thursday all over again. We rush over to the inter-island terminal to board our flight to Kauai.

The flight to Kauai is over before we know it, barely 30 minutes, which is nice after the 8 hour flight we took last night (or is it tonight?). I've rented a car with Alamo and when I go to pick up my car they tell me they are out of economy cars so they give me a choice of any car in the lot I see that I like. I'll take the Dodge Challenger, thank you. We ride off in our free upgrade to find our home for the next three nights, but not before Nimarta gets what she really came to America for: Taco Bell. Oh man, I knew this was coming. There it is right on the side of the main road so we stop to get a late lunch of C-class American fast food. I can say, however, that I do miss the prices at Taco Bell. You can't get anything edible in New Zealand for 89 cents. I guess we can enjoy this while it lasts.

We are staying at a room I rented at a small bed and breakfast on Airbnb. It's a bit off the beaten path but it's nicely tucked away in the rain forest. We settle in and decide to head to the beach for the rest of the afternoon. We sort of have plans for the other two days here so we figure we might as well get some beach in today. We head over to Poipu Beach on the south side of the island, which we've read is a good beach for laying on the sand and swimming. It's still busy when we get there, around 4:30, so that's a good sign. We decide to head to a little sand island and notice something on the beach which looks like a big rock. But it isn't a rock - it's a giant sea turtle! Just chilling on the sand getting a tan. Welcome to Hawaii. We settle on a little sandy island near where the turtle is hanging out and lay out our towels. This little island also has some black volcanic rock. You're never too far from volcanic rock in Hawaii.

The turtle doesn't move the entire time we are at the beach. As we are about to head off we notice some other turtles have come to join the party over on the main beach. There are like 4 of them! One on the sand and three swimming around the water. We play with them for a bit before heading back to the car. We decide we'll watch the sunset from the cliffs that we saw in the distance. We head over to Keoniloa Beach and watch some surfers before climbing the rocks up to a steep cliff. If we fell from here it would be all over. Those rocks down there look pretty jagged. As the sun sets we feel lucky to be here on the beautiful island of Kauai sitting on the rocky cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Things could be worse.

After a quick dinner at Bubba's Burgers we head back to Poipu Beach where this little beach bar has advertised happy hour from 8:00 till close. We get a giant pitcher of mango margarita and sip away the night. We don't stay long though, as it's been a long day. It's actually been the longest day of my life. It's still April 17. I've lived this day twice now! I worked a full 8 hour day, flew to Auckland, flew to Honolulu, flew to Kauai, went to the beach, had dinner, drinks, all in the same day. It's been one awesome day but I'm ready for the 18th now!

I check my email when we get back to the room. Bad news: the Napali Coast boat cruise we have booked for Friday afternoon has been cancelled due to "high winds in the forecast" Crap! We were really looking forward to this tour. They give us the option of doing a Saturday morning tour instead and we have to accept, as we are leaving on Sunday. So the plan for Friday has changed. We decide that we will check out the canyon and the northern coast tomorrow. Now it's time to finally end this day!

Our first stop on Friday morning is breakfast at a little cafe in Hanapepe. After some excellent French Toast we hit the road towards Waimea Canyon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waimea_Canyon_State_Park). This is a little known canyon that is actually quite large, about 3000 feet deep over a length of 10 miles. It's crazy to me how such a big canyon can be on such a small island. It doesn't make sense, but there it is, red and green and massive. We've climbed up over 4000 feet in elevation to get to the top of the canyon. The first thing I notice is just how similar this is to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Not quite as big, but the topography is the same. It's also a bit more green, as it's not in the middle of a desert and actually quite close to the rainiest spot on earth, Mt. Kawaikini. If we had more time it would be awesome to hike down into the canyon and wander around for a few days. But for now we'll have to settle for gazing upon it's beauty from the edge of the canyon.

We continue on the road through Waimea Canyon State Park until we eventually hit Napali Coast State Park. The Napali Coast is what we will be seeing from the boat tour tomorrow. It's famous for it's colorful steep mountains and for being used in numerous Hollywood films, my favorite of them being Jurassic Park. I imagine the helicopter flying through the jungle to reach Jurassic Park as I gaze upon the coastline from the mountains above. You can't see too much from up here. The only way to really see the coast are to take a flight tour, a boat tour, or hike the 11 mile trail to Kalalua Beach. The road doesn't go any further so we won't be seeing much more today, but it's still a gorgeous view. A rainbow even appears as we are about to leave.

Satisfied with the Waimea Canyon region we decide to head up to the northern part of the island. It's not too far away, but unfortunately the road does not circumnavigate the island. We are at a dead end now and have to down and around the east side of the island to get back up north. It would be convenient to have the road continue through the Napali Coast area, but then it would compromise the beauty and untamed wilderness of the area. It's not like it's that out of the way to drive around; the island is tiny. We hustle down the hill back to the coast and drive counterclockwise around the island, stopping near Lihue to check out a big waterfall, nothing too impressive. We head north on the highway, passing resorts and little towns. It's a charming island with no shortage of local culture, something that most people miss visiting Hawaii if they just stick to Waikiki.

We continue on the road till eventually it ends in Haena State Park. We are awfully close to where we started this drive. We are on the other side of the Napali Coast right now. This is where the Kalalau Track starts, the 11 mile trail that leads to Kalalau Beach, the famous beach of the Napali Coast. It's around 5 in the afternoon so we decide that we have some time to hike a little bit of the trail before the sun sets, maybe about a half mile or so. The beginning of the trail is the steepest part and we climb up the wet path towards the mountains. It rains off an on pretty much constantly in this area so the path has a lot of puddles. There can also be flash floods in the blink of an eye. A hiker died recently after trying to continue on the path when a section of it was being washed away from the rain. So it can be quite dangerous up here. If it starts pouring we are turning around immediately.

We get a little rain but not nearly enough to flood. We stop at the half mile marker. This spot features a great view of the beach below us as well as the rugged mountains of the Napali Coast in the other direction. We hang out for a little bit enjoying the views until we have to get going, back down to the beach for sunset. Nimarta wants to go on the rocks for sunset so we scramble across the black rocks, passing a pair of young girls doing a bikini photo shoot, the second modeling shoot we've stumbled upon here in as many days, and settle down to watch the sunset as the waves crash on the rocks in front of us. This sunset isn't quite as peaceful as yesterday though, as it starts to rain harder, making the rocks extra slippery. Time to get back to the sand. It's pouring by the time we get back to the sand and we huddle under a big tree with another group of people and watch the rain pour down.

On our way back to the south side of the island we stop for dinner in Anahola. Hawaii isn't the cheapest US state by any means but coming from New Zealand I am loving the prices of everything. Domestic beer for $3.50! Craft brews for $4.50! I can't remember the last time I paid less than $7 for a beer. And the food prices for non-Asian food are affordable too. What a place! I chow down on food and gulp a few beers down before we head home for the night.

We are up early Saturday morning for our Napali Coast tour. We have booked a cruise with Catamaran Kahanu (http://www.catamarankahanu.com/) that will take us to see the legendary Napali Coast. It's a beautiful morning and we meet our group and guides. It's a small boat, and there are only 8 of us on the tour, along with the captain, who's been doing this since the 1960s, and two guides. Our catamaran is tiny compared to the monstrous boats the other tour operators have. The captain tells us our boat is small on purpose to give a more personalized experience and so we can get to parts of the water that the larger boats can't get to. On the negative side, our boat is going to be quite bumpy on the choppy waters today. Time to sit back and enjoy the ride!

We leave Port Allen behind and head west along the south side of the island. The guides point out a few sights as we chop up and down on the rough waters. We spot an island to our left and the guides points out that this Ni'lhau, a private island owned by a rich Hawaiian family, and you are not invited to come ashore. Well screw them. We continue along the coast and turn north towards Napali. Here the landscape ashore starts to drastically change. We pass a long beach with people camping and soon the mountainous shore we were expecting comes to fruition. The waves have calmed down a bit and we now are sailing past the Napali Coast, a rugged coastline famed for its gorgeous mountains and colorful rain forest.

The Napali Coast is nothing short of spectacular. It's hard to describe just what we are seeing so I will let the pictures do the talking. It's unlike any coastline I have ever seen before. I can see why they film so many movies here. Eventually we get to a point where we have to turn around, after taking no shorter than 100 pictures and just gazing in pure awe of the scenery. But we don't head right back. It's still morning and now it's time for snorkeling. Our small boat allows us to get closer to the coast and the captain says this is the best snorkeling spot on the whole island. We get outfitted with snorkel gear and dive into the warm water of Kauai. The water here is clear as can be. It must be 30 feet deep and we can see all the way to the bottom. The fish are abundant. Yellow, black, neon blue. All the tropical fish you can think of. And there's a turtle! The same species of sea turtle we saw hanging out at the beach the other day is over here too, swimming around the water. He dives quickly and I try to catch him. No luck. He swims around for a while though and I manage to catch him for a bit and feel his hard, slimy shell. Yuck....

We're out on the water for about a half hour before we have to move on. We get a basic lunch on the boat then head back to the port, 4 hour tour over. The tours to Napali Coast are not cheap but it's truly an amazing experience. Next time I would do a fly over tour. These are far more expensive than the boats but give the famous view of Napali that you see when you Google image search "Napali Coast" (do it!). You won't see anything like this anywhere else in the world so better see it while you're here!

Back on solid ground we head over to Glass Beach for a bit to check it out. The glass has washed up on shore over the past 50 or so years after being dumped by irresponsible companies into the water back in the day. Over the years the glass has smoothed out and been broken into tiny pebbles. It's smooth to walk on and quite interesting to observe. Unfortunately humans have been taking the glass pieces off the beach for years so it is not what it used to be. But there are still plenty of glass pebbles left. I pick a few up and throw them into the water, where they will wash back ashore in due time.

We decide to head back to Poipu Beach for the rest of the afternoon and hang out with some more turtles but they are nowhere to be found. We've rented some cheap snorkeling gear but the water here is nowhere near as clear as the Napali Coast. Nothing really to see here today. We've almost given up when a turtle appears by the shore. I get some good underwater pictures and bid the turtle farewell. Sunset will be coming soon so we head back to the room to change before heading out to a nice beach spot near Port Allen Airport where multiple locals are barbecuing on the beach. This is our last night on the amazing island of Kauai so it's a melancholy sunset. But at least we're not going home just yet. Tomorrow it's off to the Big Island to explore volcanoes and huge mountains and beautiful waters. We will miss Kauai and hope to come back here one day. If you're planning a trip to Hawaii I definitely recommend spending at least 3 days on Kauai. You won't regret it!

See "Hawaii: The Big Island" for the continuation of our trip to Hawaii.


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