Hawaii's Garden Isle - Kaua'i
Of the main Hawaiian Islands, Kaua’iis the oldest and most removed, located the farthest north and west in the island chain. Rugged and lush at the same time, its distinct landscapes and smaller population make it a favorite for nature-lovers and Hollywood movie directors searching for an exotic locale.
The tiny airport in Lihue sits halfway along the one road that almost circles the island, but falls a little short making the 18 mile stretch between and Polihale and Haena State Parks, a two hour, 73 mile drive – the long way – but who can complain with almost constant views of mountains, ocean, waterfalls, small towns, and one of my most favorite things about this island – rivers!
If you’ve been to Maui, you’ll get an idea of what this island is like from my son’s succinct description: “It’s like Makawao and Paia had a baby”. Unlike Maui where you need to head Upcountry to see horses and get the Paniolo feel, the main highway that runs along the coast of Kaua’i , with ocean and beaches as an almost constant companion, opens up to rolling green fields of grazing horses .
Small towns along the way like Kapa’a add the hippie flavor while Hanapepe lends a small town vibe. Lihue is the business district, a small scale Hilo (Big Island) or Wailuku (Maui).
Heading north from the airport towards Princeville and Hanalei, follow the signs to two magnificent waterfalls – Wailua Falls and Opeaka’a Falls. At the latter, walk across the street to see the winding Wailua River and the small Hawaiian village that you will miss if you just drive by because it is one steep drop – straight down.
Time the drive so you can stop and eat in Kapa’a, which has several restaurants that were packed each time we drove through. Our choice was Bubba Burgers, mostly because the sign read “Milk Shakes” and any restaurant that advertises milk shakes demands a stop when traveling with my son. It turned out to be a very cool little place with personable, happy employees, fast service, and delicious grass-fed beef served Bubba’s way with all the fixings including relish.
The tiny beach town of Hanalei and its backdrop of towering, green mountains dripping with waterfalls was our favorite spot on the island. Quaint shopping village with some out –of-the-ordinary finds, genuinely nice people and a coffee shop that roasts their own coffee made it more than a typical tourist spot. We rented kayaks and enjoyed a leisurely paddle up the river to the Hanalei bridge, where due to time restraints, we had to turn around. It was our choice whether to head up river or out to the bay. At $75 for 24 hours, had time permitted, we could have easily done both (time-wise anyway).
Continuing on beyond Hanalei we stumbled upon the amazing Maniniholo Cave. This cave opens up to nearly the size of a football field so even claustrophobic people like myself can handle it and if you have kids with you they will be in heaven in this Indiana Jones-like setting.
Both ends of this highway are truly spectacular, although Waimea Canyon (dubbed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific), on the far west end, remained obscured during our visit with clouds and rain. We made it almost to the lookout point when we decided to turn around which, due to visibility, became an adventure in itself. But that gives us another excuse to go back to Kaua’i at least one more time!
We were fortunate enough to stay with good friends in Princeville, so I can’t recommend any accommodations first hand but I do want to point out that, even the well-to-do people on this island don’t have that distasteful uppity flair prominent in luxury communities elsewhere. The homes were large but not obnoxiously so and they all had yards that blended with the next by flowering plants, fruit trees and bushes. Unlike other areas, where multi-million dollar homes are 10-feet apart and surrounded by a ghastly fence to ensure no commoners enter their sanctuary, these people actually smile and wave when you walk by. Kaua’i money is still refreshingly green – not gold.
Lastly, and something I didn’t know before taking a stroll through my friend’s Princeville neighborhood, is that albatross nest on Kaua’i. We spotted the one in the photo just hanging out in the neighbor’s yard and there are “Albatross Crossing” signs all over. Mike, our friend who works for the Wildlife Department, told us they fly for thousands of miles over the ocean, but walk down the middle of the street. Pretty funny!