It was my lucky week, as my wife treated me to a week in Kauai.
This was my fourth trip to Hawaii, and my first repeat visit; we've previously been to the Big Island of Hawaii, and to Maui, and we visited Kauai 4 years ago. Each island has a different "personality", and it takes a while to get accustomed to the unique aspects of each. Kauai, which many call the "garden island," is lush, quiet, and relaxed.
We stayed in the resort community of Princeville, on Kauai's North Shore. As with the other Hawaiian Islands, the northern and eastern shores of Kauai are cooler and wetter, while the southern and westen shores are warmer and drier. Princeville is the richest shade of green that you could possibly imagine! The plants seem to grow two inches every day.
Kauai is quieter than some of the more-developed islands. We spent our days on the beach, or kayaking, or hiking, or playing marathon cribbage matches by the pool.
Of course, one day was reserved for driving up to visit Waimea Canyon, the spectacular 3,000-foot-deep canyon on Kauai's west side. On the way back, we stopped at the Kauai Coffee Company's visitor center, which is located near the center of the coffee plantation, allowing you the interesting opportunity to drive through several miles of coffee trees on your way to the visitor center and back.
Our favorite place to go snorkeling is "Tunnels", more precisely called Makua Beach, which is an unbelievably perfect place to swim, snorkel, and beachcomb. Of course, even though the beach is protected by a large protective reef, and the water is warm, calm, and clear, you must treat this beach, like any beach, with respect. Although Tunnels is known for being a great place to swim with the turtles, I didn't venture into those areas of the beach: for one thing, I'm not the strongest swimmer, but at least partly it's because, 10 years later, I'm still affected by Bethany Hamilton's experience. So I stayed in the shallow, peaceful, calm areas, and enjoyed the tangs, jacks, wrasses, needlefish, pufferfish, and, of course, the humuhumunukunukuapuaa, which were plentiful and as beautiful as ever.
We shared our section of Tunnels with a Hawaiian Monk Seal. Monk Seals are tremendously endangered: there are barely 1,000 of these animals left alive, and the North Shore of Kauai is one of the only places you can ever see them, so we were very lucky to have the chance to splash in the surf just 10 yards away from our resting friend.
One of our favorite things to do is to go kayaking on the rivers in Kauai, so in case you ever get the chance, here's how to Do It Right:
- Pack yourself a nice bag, with a solid picnic lunch (you're going to work up a hunger!), lots of sunscreen, your camera, and some bottles of water to drink while you're paddling.
- Get yourself down to Kayak Kauai in Hanalei. They have the best location for launching onto the river: their office is right on the riverbank, with its own kayak dock. They'll fix you up with kayaking gear in a jiffy and you'll be out on the water.
First, head up the river, toward the mountains. Paddle upstream; it's not too hard in the gentle current of the Hanalei River. Enjoy the scenery, and make sure your camera is handy!
Try to get at least up to the famous single lane bridge over the Hanalei River. Once you're past the bridge, delight in the most beautiful view you'll ever see from a kayak. (You did bring that camera, right?)
Once you're sufficiently far past the bridge to enjoy the view, give yourself a pat on the back, and apply a bunch more sunscreen!
- Now you can float gently back down the river. Don't go back to dock yet, though! You're just getting started!
- Continue paddling downriver, past the town of Hanalei, and on down to the mouth of the Hanalei River, where it meets Hanalei Bay
At the mouth of the river, you'll find a large stretch of shallow sandy beach to land your kayak. Pull the kayak up safely onto the sand, just in case the tide is coming in, and oh, before you forget, apply some more sunscreen!
- The park at the mouth of the Hanalei River is the perfect place for that picnic lunch. Rest, relax, enjoy the views of the surfers and other watersports, do some beach-combing, take some more pictures. The park has full facilities, so this is a nice time to take that early-afternoon bio break.
- When you're rested and rejuvenated, and you've had all the beach time you can take, it's time to pack back up and re-board your kayak. Paddle back upstream, and you'll be back at the dock before you know it.
- After you've checked all your gear back in, this is a great time to un-kink those sore muscles with a peaceful walk around Hanalei and its shops and restaurants. There's something for everybody here!
Lastly, a few miscellaneous recommendations, should you find yourself in Kauai any time soon:
- Fun South Shore experience: lunch at Keoki's Paradise in Poipu. Sit at a waterside table under the awning and don't miss the fresh fish sandwich
- Fun North Shore experience: the newly-opened Kauai Mini Golf has a very entertaining course, and is planted with thousands of exotic tropical plants
- Fun Shave Ice: we had ours in Kilauea, where we also made a return visit to see Daphne the Umbrella Cockatoo
- Fun Mai-Tai: we liked Neide's and Bouchon's restaurants in Hanalei, as well as Keiko's Paradise in Poipu
- Fun shopping: Bryan likes Havaiki in Hanalei; Donna likes Banana Patch Shop in Kilauea