Kauai, the Garden Isle; memories of a first time visit

Kilauea Lighthouse on Kauai's rugged northwest shore.

Kauai, the Garden Isle; what first time visitors can cram into a week!

We’ve been coming to Maui every year since 2001; but for an R&R visit from Vietnam in 1971 to Oahu, we had never been to the other Hawaiian islands.

Photo of the start of Nepali Coastt, from the trail from Ke'e Beach on the north Shore.

So, after hearing inspiration from other fellow travelers about both Kauai and the big Island of Hawaii, we decided it was time to branch out. After a visit to Maui a week ago, we just finished our first week on Kauai, the “Garden Isle”. It’s the oldest of the inhabited Hawaiian islands, allowing time for waves, wind and weather to sculpt the island, yielding lush soils for marvelous vegetation.

Flying into Kauai, it’s readily apparent how it got its name – rugged volcanic peaks jut into the sky covered with dense green vegetation in all directions. A tour guide later in the week will explain the island has been home to scores of movies, like Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park and many more.

A monk seal lounges on the beach near our condo in Kapa' a.

We checked out our rental car and made to our rented condominium (a great deal, right on the ocean’s eastern shore, through Vacation Rental by Owner, VRBO.com) with several monk seals snoozing on the beach near our condo, oblivious to crashing blue waves.

Later we checked out old Kapa’a, with a dozen blocks of quaint shops and interesting restaurants, like Mariachi’s Mexican offering great shredded beef taco salads and tasty margaritas. We also discovered fine dining restaurants nearby, like Oasis on the Beach and Lava Lava Oceanfront Grill (voted best new restaurant).

Wailea Canyon, "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific".

The next morning we were up early for a tour up to Wailea Canyon, which Mark Twain defined as “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. Quickly, Hwy. 550 takes one almost to 4,500 feet, and, looking into that gorgeous canyon, Twain was correct. It is much the same feel as The Grand Canyon, but with much more green vegetation. And, one can look off the other side o the ridge-back highway and see more than 4,500 feet straight down to the mighty Pacific, extending cobalt blue into the horizon. From the end of the road it’s just another several mile hike to Mt. Wai’ale’ale, which locals claim as the rainiest place on earth, averaging 480 inches of rain each year (hence, the island’s lush vegetation)!

Later in the week we drove due north to the end of Hwy. 56, where the storied Nepali Coast begins. We then hiked the rugged opening miles of the 12 mile long Kalalau Trail (starts at Ke’e Beach), extending along the roadless, striking coast. It’s about a 4 mile hike to the base of Hanakapi’ai Falls, one of the highlights of the Jurassic Park movies.

Paddling up a rain-forest river, headed for the falls!

Along the way to the Napali Coast you pass through the town of Honolea Bay on the north shore, with local shops and several interesting restaurants – try the funky Calypso Restaurant for tasty fish and chips. On your return south, also stop at Kilauea Light House and National Wildlife Preserve and your choice of numerous scenic beaches.

Another highlight of our trip: A kayak trip up the Wailua River several miles, combined with a hike up to Opaeka’a (Secret) Falls, tumbling 125 feet into a beautiful catch-basin. We booked through Kauai/Ali’i Kayaks; local guide TC, with both his ukulele and little dog Yoda, made for a fine five hour tour, just $39.95 each.

O Paeka'a Falls tumbles 125' to delight of visitors.

If you are a coffee junkie, tour the Kauai Coffee plantation, with 4,000,000 coffee trees planted since 1987, featuring five primary types of coffee. Along the tour we learned that light roast has more caffeine than dark roast coffee and that sugarcane production ended in the islands in the last 20 years due to world-wide competition from sugar beets, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, resulting in reduced profits and the end to Hawaii’s historic economic engine, sugar production.

Spouting Horn is a fascinating ocean attraction.

Other island attractions include bicycling on miles of trails along the ocean, touring to Spouting Horn on the southwest side of the isle (where pounding waves enter lava tubes and send surf spouting 30 feet into the air), and sampling delicious Puka Dogs, either Polish sausage or vegetarian, a delicious Frankfurter in a bun with special Island condiments, making for a memorable meal.

The south, west and east sides of the island offer miles and miles of choice beaches for snorkeling, swimming and surfing. For a lovely park which offers a large sheltered swimming and snorkeling pond, with adjoining sandy beach, stop at Lydgate State Park. Here children and novice swimmers can swim or snorkel without fear of ocean waves or undertow.

Susan, about to dig into a famed Puka Dog!

Next week, we move from Hawaii’s oldest island to the newest and most dramatic, the Big Island.

For more information: Kauai visitor info, gohawaii.com/islands/kauai; for Kauai Revealed phone-app, hawaiirevealed.com.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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