Thursday, April 5, 2018

Kauai in Four Days

There are places in this world that defy description. Places that bring tears to your eyes because of the power and beauty they contain. Places that quite literally take your breath away, where your jaw slacks and you momentarily forget how to function, because how can such a place exist? Get yourself to Kauai, because friend, it is all of these things. Apologies in advance because there are way too many pictures, but I really did try to edit them down. Here's the recap of our kid-free trip to Kauai.
Day 1
We touched down in Kauai late morning, and even the view from the airport let us know we were in for something special. Our first order of business was lunch, so once we had made our way to Kauai's South Shore, we got ourselves some Puka Dogs, which are a divine creation! Polish sausage stuffed into a hole (puka) in a toasted roll, with a garlic lemon sauce, your choice of a tropical fruity relish (I believe I got coconut...) and then one of my favorite things I have ever tasted here on the islands, lilikoi (passion fruit) mustard. My mouth waters still. They have awesome fresh-squeezed lemonade too! Really casual, just a stand in a little mall, but get some, it will change your life!

View from the airport. Excitement!

Driving through the eucalyptus tree tunnel on Old Maluhia Road.

 Next, we headed over to Spouting Horn, which is a blowhole that also makes a moaning sound because of an additional tube that air rushes through. Kind of fun to watch and hear! (I posted a video of this phenomenon on instagram/facebook while we were there.)


After we finished at the blowhole, we headed over to Poipu Beach, which was VERY popular and crowded with families (there's a really nice wading area for little kids). The crowds didn't stop the wildlife from enjoying the beach. Turtles and Hawaiian Monk Seals really like Poipu Beach too.


As we started to head up toward our rental, we made a few stops at some waterfalls, the first of which was Wailua Falls. Dan was convinced that we were going the wrong way because the road to get there is through some very gently rolling hills. Not exactly where you would expect to find two giant waterfalls. Turns out there is a massive gorge right through the middle of these fields that you don't see until you're right on the edge. Surprise! (These falls are famous for being in the opening credits of Fantasy Island, which I have never seen, but they are beautiful!)

Ya ain't been to Hawaii until you've seen a rooster eating a coconut.

We also stopped to see another set of double falls, Opeka'a Falls. Both of these were lookout points instead of hikes, so if you are traveling with young children or others who can't complete a hike, this is a great opportunity to get some waterfall views. We were just being lazy our first day. ;) 

If you have been to any of the Hawaiian islands, you'll notice we have quite a few feral chickens running around. Kauai has the largest population by a long shot because they have no natural predators on this island. We had heard previous to visiting that there were a lot of chickens, but still were not prepared for the craziness. These guys were seeking shade this hot afternoon and I jumped nearly a foot in the air when I rounded the corner to get in the car and almost stepped on one. So yeah, the chickens ain't messin' around on Kauai.

 Driving back down from Opeka'a Falls, there is a lookout over the Wailua River and to the ocean. There are also the ruins of an old heiau (Hawaiian temple), which you may visit, but as always, please be respectful of this site as it is sacred to the Hawaiian people. Don't climb on the walls or mess with the offerings. :)


 Details for those interested: we airbnb'd a beachfront condo in the Islander on the Beach community in Kapa'a. Very affordable and perfect for our stay. Studio with king bed and kitchenette, lanai, TV, pool and hot tub, steps from the beach, next door to the popular Lava Lava Beach Club restaurant and many places to eat and shop in town...including my favorite local chain Coconut's Fish Cafe!

I think coconut shrimp is what you eat in heaven. Probably. We ate at the original Maui location when we were there last year and I really, truly have been having dreams about the food, so when we saw they had just opened a location right where we were staying on Kauai, it felt like destiny. The owner was actually at this location helping them get going, and he was nice enough to come over and chat with us for a bit. He said he's not planning on an Oahu location, so I guess that means we have to keep visiting the other islands to get our fix. Oh darn. ;)

Day 2
We woke up and watched the sunrise (not exactly a huge feat since we were there in January and the sun doesn't even come up until almost 7). It was perfect. My battered little heart needed this y'all.

 Once the sun was up, we headed back to our condo and sat on the lanai to eat breakfast and read. Peace and quiet are not something we get too often at home so it was a nice moment. Unfortunately it was interrupted by the missile warning debacle. Which if you have forgotten, is when a DOD employee hit the wrong buttons and accidentally made a million people think that WWIII had just started and that doom was eminent. It was a tense 40 minutes that we spent holed up in our bathroom, wondering if the blast or a tsunami would claim us. But it worked out for the best (except maybe not for that dodo employee). And then we were off on our next adventure. We drove up to the north side of the island, all the way to where the road ends and the Kalaulau Trail starts. This trail requires a permit after the first two miles in, as it is long and treacherous, scaling the cliffsides of the famous Na Pali Coast. I don't even have words for this experience guys, other than you gotta do it.

Drive up to North Shore.

 I started taking videos, which I don't do very often, but everything was just so alive a still picture couldn't even begin to illustrate this experience.

I've got a soft spot for fern growing on the cliffside.

Stray kitty in the mountains.

The colors!

Another little stream.
 If you're only doing the first two miles, there is a big stream you cross at the end to get to a black sand beach (mostly rocks and rough surf if you go in the winter like us). There's another trail going up the valley to a waterfall if you're feeling extra energetic. Or you can keep on the next twelve + miles of Kalaulau and reach an isolated paradise (fair warning there is a community of nudist hippies out there ;)). We opted to eat a snack at the beach and rest before turning around and heading back to see more of Kauai's north shore.
The big stream. This involved a lot of boulder hopping.

Somebody left a boar hide on the beach.

We stopped for lunch at a group of food trucks and went with Trucking Delicious. It was good local food, but not my favorite meal we had. We made a pit stop at Hanalei Valley Overlook.

 We then tried to get to Queen's Bath, but we were contending not only with the usual rough winter surf, but also an especially large swell the weekend we were there. I figured that we wouldn't actually be able to get into Queen's Bath, but I didn't realize just how hard it would be to even get close. (Also, fair warning, it is more of a hike than we had been thinking and we were wearing flip flops, which was still doable, but it was muddy with lots of roots, so tread carefully.) The water was churning and frothing so hard in these giant tidepools, they looked more like cauldrons than baths. We stood mesmerized watching wave after wave crash against the rocks. We decided this was close enough.

 Plus, bonus waterfall on the trail! Our final stop for the day was the Kilauea Lighthouse. This is a bird preserve on the northernmost tip of the inhabited Hawaiian Islands. It closed right before we got there, but there was a lookout point with signs about the different bird species that live on the cliffs. The view speaks for itself.

Dinner that night we ordered a calzone to-go from an Italian place within walking distance of our condo. I was too hungry to take a picture.

Day 3
One of the big reasons we wanted to do Kauai without the kids was because we wanted to do a helicopter tour, doors off. This was my first time in a helicopter, and I knew it would be cool, but just raise your expectations because this BLEW. MY. MIND. We used Jack Harter Helicopter Tours, and we loved our pilot, really wish I could remember his name! He was awesome, knew so much about the island; not just geography, but history and random facts as well-- he even would tell us some of the details of how he was flying the helicopter and different techniques he would use (like allowing the air to lift us over the mountaintop which was something else to feel!)

We knew we wanted to do a helicopter tour on Kauai because most of the island is completely inaccessible (except if you are an extremely gifted climber/hiker). This way you get to see Kauai in its pure, untamed, rugged beauty. And if you like waterfalls, you are gonna love this. This is maybe half of the waterfalls we saw. I am afraid of heights and I cannot recommend this enough! Doors off was definitely the way to go, but it's cold up there, so make sure you wear pants and a jacket!

Our shadow on the mountainside.

The only cloud in the sky, caught on the highest point of the island (and one of the wettest spots in the world!)

The Eucalyptus tree tunnel we drove through our first day.
Very famous waterfall from one of my favorite you know which one? ;)
 I hope you came prepared to see a lot of waterfall pictures. Because I have got a butt ton of waterfall pictures. There were hiding around every turn, every nook and cranny. I couldn't believe how many and how unique they each were.

Waimea Canyon

Very blurry photo of a wild goat.

This is the full bottom falls from the above photo.

Salt mist rising up from the ocean.

Back to the Napali Coast!

This is the Weeping Wall--inside the extinct volcano crater on Mount Waialeale, it's nearly 360 degrees of waterfalls. Incredible.

Recognize these guys?? We saw them our first day.

Fun fact, my hair was actually in a braid and pinned up around my head when we took off. Between the wind and the headset I was wearing, it did not work out. An employee had to help untangle me from my headset. #longhairproblems I would have been embarrassed but I was laughing too much.

 Our helicopter ride ate up most of our morning, but the day was only half gone! We drove out to the west side of the island to check out Waimea Canyon, which is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. We stopped at Island Taco in Waimea Town, which was AMAZING. I got a traditional taco and kelua pork taco with cabbage...they were both delicious, but word to the wise, the tacos there are gargantuan.  I still ate every last bite, but if you don't have much of an appetite, use caution.

 We weren't thinking Waimea Canyon would be as cool as it was. But it was one of our favorite things we saw. There is so much to see and do here; we mostly just checked out all the lookout points, enjoyed the scenic drives, and did one small "hike." (It was really just a little nature walk around a loop.) My favorite thing about this side of the island was how quickly the topography would change, and how different it was from the rest of the island.

Teeny helicopter enjoying the same tour we took earlier in the day.
 We saw lots of helicopters flying through the canyon. There was this cute older couple watching them and the wife said something like, "That's the fifth one we've seen! Do you think they're doing a search and rescue?? Did someone fall down the canyon??" ;)

Apparently this was the pose of the day!

 We drove all the way to the end of the road which dead ends at this lookout point. This view is on nearly every travel advertisement for Kauai, and it is even more breathtaking in real life (like most things.)

 Driving back to our side of the island, we stopped in Hanapepe, which is the town they modeled Lilo and Stitch's town after. We got some Lappert's Ice Cream which was as good as all the hype. They had tons of flavors, all with a Hawaiian twist. Yum.

This lady was hoping I'd share my ice cream.

 For dinner that night, we tried  Bubba Burger. The atmosphere was awesome, it felt like a place my dad would have loved (he was always trying to get us to eat at places with more 'character.') The fries were battered and amazing, the onion rings were pretty great...the burgers were ok. Which was sad, because we really wanted to like them, but I guess we have turned into burger snobs.

Day 4
Our final day we spent the morning relaxing by the pool, and then headed out for our last adventure--kayaking the Wailua River. All the tours say that this is the only "navigable" river in the state, and I believe it. I haven't seen such a wide, slow-flowing river anywhere else in Hawaii. We booked a tour to the Secret Falls, which involved kayaking to a trail-head and then a short hike, meal included. It was so fun! Every time I kayak I always wonder why I don't do it more often. Such a peaceful way to explore. And then the next day I wake up with sore arms and chest and think, "This. This is why I don't kayak more often." ;)  Our guide was very knowledgeable about all the flora and fauna, the culture and history of Kauai, and had lots of tips on how to navigate the very muddy and slippery trail. Didn't stop me from slipping and landing hard on my butt (twice), but it was nice of him to try and help. Some of us are just challenged. I did notice he hiked the whole thing barefoot and used his toes to grip tree roots. So maybe that's the real secret. ;) 

Chickens chilling with us while we wait for our tour to start.

View on the river.

Ditched the canoes and hiking on the very muddy trail along this stream to the falls.

Pretty moss.

We found the "Secret" Falls. People joke that this is Kauai's worst kept secret. ;)

Most of the trail looked about like this, with some nice sticky mud puddles in between.

Heading back. Those are giant hibiscus plants along either side of the river.

Time to race back to the airport.

My heart is happy just looking back through these pictures and remembering the fun. Kauai is such a special place and we just saw the tip of the iceberg.  Aloha!