Alooooooooha! As you can probably see from my Instagram feed, Tom and I have been away visiting the beautiful island of Kaua'i. We flew to Lihue on Sunday, August 31 and stayed in the northern area of Princeville / Hanalei for five days, then we drove down to the southern part of the island and stayed in Po'ipu for three days before flying to Maui for our last two days. This was our second trip to Kaua'i and this trip was definitely one of my favorite Hawaii trips that we've taken. Maybe we both were in a place that were desperate for vacation, or maybe we're at a different place in our lives when we're realizing what truly is important to us, or maybe we've gone in with a new perspective of visiting the islands, but this visit captured everything that means Living With Aloha to us.
North Kauai has the beautiful Napali Coast, lots and lots of rain, and a particular quietness I've yet to find on other islands. North Kauai feels more local to me with less shops and restaurants, but more beauty and peacefulness.
Hanalei is in the northern part of Kaua'i, the last town before the 'end of the road'. You can't drive the full circumference of Kaua'i. The Kuhio Hwy ends at Ke'e Beach at the trailhead of the Kalalau Trail in the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park. Hanalei is basically one main drag with some shops and restaurants, and a small grocery store. Hanalei Bay is a spectacular beach that hugs the northern part of the island. Million dollar homes are nestled in behind the beach dunes, but beyond that lies two miles of beautiful white sandy beach.
Hanalei isn't like the resort towns of Ka'anapali or Kihei on Maui. Its very local feeling and not very touristy. Well, touristy to the point of lots of sarongs for sale, advertisements for helicopter rides, and the usual knickknack and postcards in every shop. Hanalei is a great place to go to if you're looking to get away from the frou-frou tourist attractions and you want to hang with the locals on the island, head to the beach for some awesome surf, and enjoy the amazing mountains and waterfalls in the distance. If you want to disconnect from the world and enjoy a beautiful island at a slower, more appreciative pace, Hanalei is the spot for you.
Kalalau Trail - The Napali Coast
As much as we thought we'd spend most of our time in Hanalei at the beach or pool, we actually spent a lot of time adventuring: hiking, exploring, swinging from ropes attached to trees, and swimming out in the ocean. The last time we visited Kaua'i we attempted the strenuous Kalalau Trail, but I mistakenly wore flip flops and we barely made it a half mile in before we had to turn around. After spending the summer backpacking through some pretty rocky terrain, I thought hiking the Kalalau Trail would be a snap - especially since we didn't have our large packs to take with us. Oh, was I mistaken! We definitely were in better shape this trip than our last one a few years ago, but this hike is a butt kicker - they aren't joking when its listed as a "strenuous" trail.
If you plan on hiking this 11 mile one way trip (even for just a part of it) bring good hiking shoes. The trail is rocky and VERY muddy. Also, check ahead with the Hawaii Division of State Parks for trail closures due to flash flooding. Plan to get to the trailhead early as parking fills up fast and roadside parking can leave you more than a mile from the trailhead start.
We hiked on a super hot and humid day. Hawaii had several hurricanes off its northern shores during our visit that were sucking hot and humid air up from the south instead of giving us our constant tradewinds. Within minutes of starting the hike both Tom and I were drenched in sweat. But that couldn't stop us!
The views were spectacular and that lifted our spirits in the hot and humid weather. We wanted to spend most of the morning hiking, but ran low on water quickly and had to turn around before we really wanted to. Be sure to bring a backpack or Camelback with water and snacks if you're planning on doing several hours on the trail. More water than you think because you'll definitely need it. Also invest in a sturdy pair of hiking boots or shoes and wear them before you come to Kaua'i. I wanted to find a pair of closed toe water shoes that would be sturdy enough for hiking and grip to wet rocks and slippery mud. I am happy to say that my pair of Speedo TRBZ shoes were PERFECT for this trip. I wore them hiking, climbing rocks, scaling cliff faces, and hiking through plantations and only came down with a few blisters at the end due to some heat inflicted rubbing. Overall, they were perfect for this trip and now they definitely don't look the same from when I purchased them!
The hike was an amazing and grueling experience and worth every second!
When you're in Kaua'i, especially in the northern part of the island, talk to the locals. Be respectful and thankful to them for opening up their island to you, and ask them about life on Kaua'i. Its amazing how quickly you can connect with people and the insight you can get into being a Hawaiian, especially from Kaua'i. If you're lucky, you'll learn about secret spots not known to visitors for some amazing experiences. We learned of a cove that we could get to by basically hiking down a super steep and unmarked trail overlooking the ocean, climbing over huge lava rocks, and then jumping about five feet down into clear sandy water to find a cave that fills with turtles during certain times of the day. I'm not going to tell you where it is out of respect for the locals, but find some, talk to them, and you may find this awesome cave as well!
Anaina Hou Community Park & Wai Koa Loop Trail
As much as we spent time sitting on the beach and swimming in the ocean, we did do our fair share of hiking on this trip. More so than any other Hawaii trip we've taken. We were told to check out the Wai Koa Loop Trail in Kilauea. A Mini Golf Course hosts the parking for the trail and the owners of the course actually own the hundreds of acres beyond the course and have set up a five mile loop trail through its plantation. The hike starts with a walk through a mahogany forest before entering the plantation where you walk past livestock and guava orchards. Eventually you can turn off into a beautiful garden with a stone damn waterfall and river running through it.
The gardens are incredibly peaceful especially with this beautiful statue of Buddha, found by walking up a natural staircase enclosed by bamboo trees.
The highlight of the hike for me was swinging off a rope swing into the cool waters above the waterfall. This is why I came on this hike - I was searching for the falls and the swing the entire time. Once we found the rope I was a little terrified! The water was a little murky and I didn't know how deep it was, but it was cool, fresh mountain water - not salty, ocean water and I knew that if I didn't take this chance and swing into the unknown I would have always regretted it. It was another lesson in doing something that scares you because usually, it turns out being an amazing experience.
Then all there was left to do was get a tight grip, jump, and let go into the unknown.
We spent the rest of our time in northern Kaua'i at Hanalei Bay on the beach and in the ocean getting tossed around by gigantic waves. We were pushed and pummeled, washed ashore with sand EVERYWHERE, but we kept going out again and again, happily being thrown around by the magnificent waves on the Pacific ocean.
A little reluctantly, we headed down towards southern Kaua'i and Po'ipu for the remainder of our stay on the island. Southern Kaua'i has lots of the bigger name hotels - Marriott, Sheraton, Grand Hyatt. The main airport and cruise terminal is also on this side of the island. There are more larger scale shopping areas with stores and restaurants, definitely more things 'to do' than in the north. Being in the south after totally disconnecting in the north was almost a little unnerving. We still loved it, but it was a different pace from where we had just come from.
The Kaua'i Marathon was also happening the last few days we were in Po'ipu. The marathon ended at our hotel and it was fun to watch all the runners get ready the day before and watch the event get set up. I was having a minor anxiety attack imagining running in the 90 degree heat and humidity and picturing what that would feel like. Knowing I'd be running the WDW Marathon in a few months I started to worry about the conditions for that race, but as they say in Hawaii, hang loose. So I did and watched in amazement at the fitness of these runners completing a grueling 26.2 miles in Hawaiian weather.
The beaches in southern Kaua'i are just as beautiful as the north and sometimes can be sunnier since the northern part of the island gets a lot of rain. I really believe all Hawaiian beaches are beautiful and any one you swim at is amazing. We spent almost two full days lounging in beach chairs reading books and being swept away again by the massive waves. I did lose a pair of sunglasses in a particularly strong wave, but it made for great surfer watching!
Most of our trips to Hawaii are spent at the beach, or hiking (like this trip), we usually don't do many activities like helicopter rides, luaus, horseback riding, etc. Sometimes we just can afford the flight and lodging and the rest of the time is simply enjoying being on the island. But this time we decided to treat ourselves to a sunset catamaran ride - something we've always wanted to do but never have in our trips to the islands.
We found Captain Andy's Sailing Adventures and booked the Po'ipu Sunset Sail. It was amazing. The ocean was a little rough that night, but the wind was calm - not the best for a sailing adventure, but luckily we still had a motor! Captain Sterling (our host) told us that if the wind was blowing with the current ocean swells the trip would have been cancelled. As it was, we all felt a little seasick until we got out on the water (also the Maui Bikini Blonde beer helped settle our stomaches!). It was amazing to be able to see the island from the water and cruise along the shoreline. And we were treated to a spectacular sunset as well.
Its hard to exactly describe Kaua'i in words because more than anything, it just gives us a feeling of contentment and peace. While we were there I began to remember how much I love to be away from the hustle and bustle of cities and to be near the ocean. I began to appreciate a sunset more than a fine dining experience, and a float in a salty ocean more than a swim in a pool, and a slowness to life rather than a rush from one thing to the next.
We finished our trip with two days in Maui and when we landed we spoke to a few people about local things going on and they asked where we had come from. When we told them we just spent a week on Kaua'i they said, 'Oh! you know! you're already on island time!' And we were.
Visiting Kaua'i, for us, was about respect. Respect for the island, respect for the locals who live there and open their island up to us, respect for nature, and the giant ocean. It was a transformative trip and I hope to carry the Aloha Spirit I felt there back home to the mainland where it can be easily forgotten in the rush of life.
As Iz sings,
There's a place I recall
Not too big, in fact it's kinda small
The people there know they got it all
The simple life for me
Hele on to Kaua'i!
Mahalo Nui Loa, Kaua'i. Until we meet again, Aloha.