With all the traveling I’ve done including 41 of the 50 states, it was always surprising (and slightly embarrassing) to me that Hawaii and Alaska were two of the 9 remaining unchecked states. But, as I type this, I now stand at 42 with a check mark next to Hawaii! Through Jillian’s timeshare with her sister, I was fortunate enough to be able to explore the beautiful island of Kauai with Jillian, her sister Jaime and boyfriend Sean, and her Aunt Dina and Uncle Phil.
Kauai is perhaps best known for the stunning Na Pali Coast. This was certainly one of the main sights I was looking forward to. The famed Kalalau Trail meanders 11 miles one way along the coast beginning at Ke’e Beach ending at Kalalau Beach. Many do the 22-mile roundtrip camping along the beautiful beaches. How awesome that would be! Given the timeshare, this obviously wasn’t our itinerary. Our plan was to hike the popular two miles to Hanakapi’ai Beach (technically, a permit is needed beyond this point anyway). Being an avid hiker, I had read much about the trail and knew there was an additional 2-mile side trail from Hanakapi’ai Beach to a waterfall by the same name. This would mean a potential 8-mile roundtrip hike or at least a 4-mile roundtrip to the beach and back. I packed a couple waters and some snacks, but generally everyone went really lightly.
Within 15 minutes, we were already starting to get views of the breathtaking coast.
The weather was perfect too – clear and sunny but not too hot. The trail was basically well packed dirt most of the way. After many gorgeous overlooks including one really windy one that took Phil’s visor (don’t worry, I’m pretty sure he has hundreds), we arrived at Hanakapi’ai Beach. We relaxed and had a couple beers since Sean was a genius and packed some Bud Lights from the fridge 🙂 We deliberated for a bit about whether we wanted to go on to the waterfall. If you know me, I’m sure you know my vote. Much to my happiness, everyone was a trooper and was game to continue.
The hike to the waterfall was more rugged than the main trail to be beach as it’s rockier for one, but it also gets less traffic. On top of that, it’s wetter, and therefore muddier as you head into the forest. On the plus side, the hike was more fun as we passed lots of bamboo and the trail offered lots of little stream crossings and rock hopping.
After a couple hours, we reached the base of Hanakapi’ai Falls. Most of what I read is that the part of the falls visible from the bottom is about 300 feet.
It’s certainly a cascading fall as its broken up at several points on its descent to the pretty pool at the bottom. Because of its cascading nature, the water comes down calmly enough for you to swim safely under it. I was excited to dive in and swim. I dove in and the plan to swim under it changed immediately as the rush of FREEZING cold water took my breath away.
It was very cold. There was probably, as George Costanza once said, “severe shrinkage.” We started back and everyone was feeling quite good until the last mile or so. Since we hadn’t packed much food, everyone was getting a bit tired. Sean had one more caffeine energy-boosting “magic bean” and suggested it to Dina since she seemed to be in the roughest shape. Dina tried to pass it off, but when we heard her raspy, barely audible, “You have it…,” we all sternly agreed with a good laugh that Dina should in fact eat it. Finally, we made it back and all enjoyed a well deserved dinner of Mexican food.
The day began with some clouds and a slight drizzle but cleared up later on. We would discover this to be a recurring theme. Apparently, the northern coast of Kauai gets considerably more rain than the southern coast. In fact, according to a wikipedia source:
“Mount Waialeale on the island of Kauaʻi in the Hawaiian Islands averages more than 38 feet, 4 inches (460 inches) (11,680 mm) of rain over the last 32 years, with a record 683 inches (17,340 mm) in 1982. Its summit is considered one of the rainiest spots on earth. It has been promoted in tourist literature for many years as the wettest spot in the world.”
Jaime and Sean had booked a helicopter tour (Jack Harter offering the only no door ride!) so the rest of us dropped them off and explored some more waterfalls and scenery around the Wailua Valley area, which was very pretty. Our crew reconvened after Jaime and Sean barely survived their tour (not really, but they did say it was the scariest thing they’d ever done), and we decided to go snorkeling at Tunnels Beach.
Tunnels is well known for it’s snorkeling, but unfortunately I didn’t see much that day. However, we did see several sea turtles very close to the shore swimming and popping out their heads occasionally as we walked along the beach! The strong wind made it feel much colder cutting short our time there. But apparently, it wasn’t windy just around the bend where we were as another person told us he was “baking” as we were packing up. I think he purposely waited until we were leaving to tell us this.
This was ziplining day! Though it was cloudy, we didn’t get much actual rain, which was great. I was definitely excited but having done it once before, I think Jillian, Sean, and Jaime were more excited. We chose the one at Princeville Ranch since it offered the most ziplines (9) along with a nice swimming spot along the way. After the first couple lines, everyone seemed very comfortable and really started to enjoy the scenery as we zipped along.
The swimming hole right before the last line was nice and much warmer than the water at Hanakapi’ai Falls. There was a small 10-foot spot to jump off where I tested my backflip skills for the first time in quite a while. Fortunately, I landed them cleanly. After the dip and some lunch, we re-harnessed for the last line of the day. KING KONG!!! All 1,200 feet of him complete with a motorized gorilla trying to grab you as you zipped by! That second part isn’t true, but the 1,200 feet is. King Kong is a double-zip so you can race someone!
Naturally, I raced Jillian and smashed her! I got a much better start. You can’t teach that reaction time! Ok, ok, I did win, but it was close. My extra 40 pounds probably played a part too.
This was our planned kayaking day. Unfortunately, it was also the rainiest and maybe coolest day of our trip thus far. We got going early in the morning, and I simply couldn’t get myself warm. Oh well…I figured I’d warm up once we started paddling. But, it started to pour as we started up the Hanalei River. It wasn’t cold rain, but since I’d never warmed up in the first place, I just felt colder. Our main guide Henry shared a lot of cool info about the plants and surroundings around Hanalei Bay “and what not.” After maybe a 1/2 mile or so, we turned around and headed back downriver “and what not” to where we began.
We took a few minutes to regroup and began paddling out away from the bay to the open ocean “and what not”. (Alright, I’ll spare you from more of “and what not.” Our guide Henry seemed to end every sentence with it). The waves were decent-sized and it was fun riding over them.
I would have loved to take the kayak further and ride some bigger waves, but Jillian has a slight fear of open water especially with waves, so we stayed close with the rest of the group. Even still, by the time our group made it over to the beach area where we would eat lunch and snorkel, at least half of our group’s kayaks had flipped…but not Jillian and me! Teamwork baby! After some decent snorkeling, we paddled our way back taking in the scenery of Hanalei Bay. Though it was still cloudy, sometimes cloudy weather provides its own unique beauty.
Once we got back to our place, I grabbed a dry towel and a few cold beers and hit the pool’s hot tub. For the first time all day, I finally felt hot.
More drizzly weather on day 5. Jillian and I braved the on and off rain and walked to St. Regis, one of the fanciest resorts in Princeville to look around during the day. Even with the rain and low visibility, you could still get a glimpse of the gorgeous panoramic view of Hanalei Bay from inside the hotel.
In the evening, we got into our Chrysler Town and Country (I can’t believe I didn’t mention the T+C until now; you wouldn’t believe all the hidden storage space in that monstrosity of a vehicle) and headed back to the southern part of the island for Smith’s Family Luau. What’s Hawaii without a Luau, right? The Luau is set inside a beautiful garden area with peacocks, roosters, and all sorts of plants and trees. I think it was about $50/person, which was a great deal considering it included a Luau show, buffet dinner, and an open bar! The Luau had all the familiar aspects of a Luau. I feel justified saying this as I am a Luau expert having attended exactly 0 before this one. Seriously though, it had the conch blowing and the roasted pig thing, and the meal was DELICIOUS!!!
We all ate til we were extremely full before watching the entertaining show. Sleep awaited our 40-minute drive home, but I got an early start happily falling into a food induced coma in the car.
Phil and Dina were leaving in the afternoon, so we went during the day to get in one more snorkel as a group. We headed to Anini Beach and the weather was pretty sunny and nice. I saw an eel, and Phil and Dina saw a couple sea turtles! I should have hung around them!
We sadly dropped off Phil and Dina at the airport, but we did replace them with Jake, a friend of Sean’s from college who now lives in Honolulu and made the short trip to say hi. After leaving the airport, we headed to the western coast of the island, which was indeed sunnier, hotter, and drier as advertised. We headed to Waimea Canyon, which is often dubbed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. It’s pretty cool, but nowhere near the grandeur of the Grand Canyon. After a short hike, we headed to Waimea Brewery for dinner. This brewery holds the distinction of being the westernmost brewery in the world. Sean had a great idea of opening a brewery 10 feet west of them 🙂 On the way back, we saw a PERFECT rainbow spanning the road and stopped to take a few pictures.
Good food, good drinks, and a good day.
Day 7 (last day)
We packed up in the morning and said goodbye to our timeshare place. We headed down to Poipu Beach, which is one of the most famous beaches in Kauai and the US. Poipu is at the southern part of the island and again the weather down here was gorgeous.
Sean, Jaime, and Jillian lounged on the beach while I jumped in for one last swim. The water was perfect and it was fun swimming out there amongst the snorkelers and surfers. No one else was really swimming that far out, and it must have looked odd cause a lifeguard paddled out to me to ask if I was ok. I told him I was fine and chatted a little with him, and was a bit tempted to ask if he would let me use his board, but of course there would be no way. After Poipu, we checked out another touristy site – spouting horn – and did a little shopping and finally had shaved ice. After a week, we finally tried it, and contrary to what we read, it really is just a sno-cone. You can get ice cream with it so maybe that’s why they say it’s not the same thing. The time wound down and soon we were in the airport awaiting our flight home.
Hooray for another new place, new adventure, new memories, and new stories!!!