A Return to Hawaii - Kauai

How best to recover from a trip to, including hiking and camping on Antarctica? How about going to Hawaii—a place we had not been to for almost ten years. And a complete reversal from the cold climate of Antarctica.

Our first stop was Kauai

Kauai is the most beautifully rugged and least commercialized of the four primary islands. Our favorite for an exploration of nature. We chose to stay on the far more rugged north shore (with our bases in Princeville and nearby Hanalei) to the beachified south coast. The north coast, while less suited for swimming or sunbathing, is loaded with impossibly shaped and weather-carved mountains, steep cliffs that plunge down into the ocean, beautiful (albeit not always swimmable) beaches and a few lava tube caves. Other than for the highly manicured luxury resort town of Princeville (which consists of vacation homes, condos, hotels and golf courses above a steeply-cliffed coastline), the coast is occupied by a handful of beautiful (although not always swimmable) quaint towns.

Our last trip to this area included a partial hike of rigorous, but incredibly beautiful Kalalau Trail along the rugged Na Pali coast, a kayak trip up the Wailua River and a few hours on paddleboards as well as on surfboards.

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This brief, three-day trip was for relaxation. This, for us, included primarily hikes, snorkeling and eating at some of our favorite restaurants.

Hikes

Kalalau Trail. This is one of our all-time favorite trails and required a return visit. It is 11 miles, up, down, into and along Kauai’s spectacularly and ruggedly beautiful Na Pali coast. Although we have never done, and will never do the multi-day trip along the entire coastline (much less the return trip) this trip was intended to be 8 miles—two miles up and then back down to the boulder-strewn beach, up to the spectacular Hanakapi Falls and back—a route we have previusly taken–we hit a roadblock, or should we say, waterblock.  After successfully crossing the river at the boulder-covered beach, we got about halfway up to the falls before reaching the river at a spot that we felt we could not safely cross.

Although disappointed in not being able to reach our objective, we returned for what is a tough, but incredibly majestic hike that took us up a steep trail to incredible overlooks back over the sandy Ke’e Beach and far into the distance along a coastline that resembles a tropically-tree-clad Big Sur. Crossing streams, through mud and down to the afore-mentioned boulder-strewn beach and the outlet of a river that can be crossed either by fording or be balancing your way across irregularly shaped and placed rocks. Then, on the way up to the waterfall, around and through a couple of majestic, first-growth bamboo forests, with tangles of trees the circumference of a thigh and up to fifty feet in height.

A beautiful sight of which we will never tire. Beautiful, but is nothing that remotely resembles a “walk in the park.” Our only regret was that we were visiting the first weekend of spring break, when the trail (at least on our late morning return trip) was far more crowded than any nature trail should ever be.

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Okolehau Trail. A steep (2.3 mile, 1,200 elevation gain), pretty but muddy trail that leads through a forest to a number of viewpoints with views over the Hanalei valley, past taro fields, to the town the mountains and the ocean. Although the hike was bracing and the views rewarding, the mud got old. The first part, a gradual trail, thankfully had netting over the mud to provide reasonable traction. Further up, however, steep inclines had to be scaled by footholds dug into the mud. While going up was tough, going down was harder still. We made it about 2 miles in, until we hit a sustained, muddy downward segment at which we chose to turn around. Although messy, with exposed tree roots and with constant fear of slipping, the trail requires work. The views however, are lovely.

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Queen’s Bath, a large pool carved by waves into a lava shelf. When the surf is low, the pool, fed by waves with an inlet through which fish enter, is great for swimming and snorkeling. When the surf is high, as it was when we visited, the pool is obscured by white water and the cliffs that overlooking it are frequently blanketed in the types of waves that, as the signs warn, have swept dozens to their deaths. Deadly, perhaps: Dramatic, definitely. The path down to the bath is almost as challenging as a walk along the wave-drenched lava cliffs. A short but very steep heavily eroded trail with exposed roots leading to sharp and uneven lava.

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Snorkeling

Snorkeling is nice, at least along beaches that are protected from the whitewater and currents, but hardly the most rewarding we have ever done. We sampled three spots.

Ke’e Beach, which is conveniently located at the end of the road, at the base of the Kahlua Trail, is a sandy beach and cove sheltered by a reef. After getting past a stretch of pure white sand that has been sculpted by the waves, you reach a barrier reef that is studded with occasional, small patches of purple staghorn coral and sparsely populated by fish. Among the most interesting were schools of small needlefish, occasional large (up to five feet long) trumpet fish and a prettily-colored fish with yellow, orange and black bands) that we were not able to identify.

Anini Beach, a miles-long reef-fringed beach that is home to some of the island’s nicest homes. It attracts picnickers, swimmers, windsurfers and, with its large population of colorful fish and occasional Green Turtles, snorkelers. Very tempting, other than for the fact that both afternoons we were there, strong winds had so churned up the sea that we decided not to venture into the water.

Hideaways Beach and Tunnels Beach are the other two popular North Shore snorkeling spots. Both, however, are too dangerous in the high winter surfs that we encountered.

Kauai Restaurants

Princeville and Hanalei-area restaurants consisted of two with which we were familiar and two with which we were not.

Hanalei Dolphin is a fish market, restaurant and sushi bar with a large selection of simple prepared (typically broiled and blackened) fresh, local fish. This trip included three lunches at one of our favorite al fresco restaurants on the island, with more and (at least to us), more interesting fresh fish choices than even the resort hotels. It has seats inside an unenclosed interior, on a deck or on a lawn overlooking lazy river. Our first lunch consisted of Tahitian Poke (a Peruvian ceviche-like blend of ono and shrimp in coconut lemongrass sauce atop organic greens with grapeseed oil), ahi fish sandwich and onion rings with a bottle of Adelsheim Pinot Gris. Wonderful as always. Other trips, between the restaurant and the fish market, gave us a chance to have the ono sandwich and a couple other types of poke (octopus, and especially the ahi with avocado). Our one stop at the fish market was less successful. While both of our poke selections were good, they mistakenly gave us a chicken salad sandwich (good, but not what we were anticipating) rather than our ono sandwich. Unfortunately, we didn’t notice the mistake until we were home and unable to return.

We then returned on our final night for a casual dinner.

Kilauea Fish Market is another very popular fish market/casual restaurant where we each had large servings of delicious broiled striped marlin which was served with nice mixed greens salad, macaroni salad and white rice—and all for $15.95 per person. A walk across the streets took us to a wine store where we bought a bottle of New Zealand Chardonnay to enjoy with the meal. A great bargain of a stop with one downside. If you arrive at peak lunchtime, as we did, you may have to wait both to place your order, and to get your food (about 20 minutes each for us). Plus, they had run out of a couple of dishes and were awaiting a fresh supply of fish to arrive.

Postcards Café, another casual Hanalei restaurant with somewhat more “refined” dishes. This return visit consisted of two entrees (grilled ono with macadamia nut butter, mashed potatoes and broccoli; and grilled lobster tail with truffled pimento sauce and mixed vegetables) and a desert (a chocolate lava cake with coconut ice cream). All moderately good (nothing especially memorable) with a Belle Glos Pinot Noir.

Nanea, at the Princeville Westin, where we had one appetizer (seafood bruschetta with clams, shrimp, scallops, ono and tomato in a light garlic-onion broth, with toast) and one entrée (rare, seared, sesame-crusted ahi with jasmine rice, bok choy, tomato salad and beurre blanc). While the atmosphere of the patio was lovely, the food and service were merely acceptable. We did, however, enjoy the wine (2013 Domaine Talmard unoaked chardonnay).

Bistro, in Kilaua, where dinner consisted of two incongruous, but good dishes: a Saint Louis BBQ Ribs with homemade sauce and cole slaw, and seared ahi with shitake mushrooms, tropical fruit salsa (of which there was not enough) and white rice. What wine would pair with these diverse dishes? We had a 2012 Susana Balbo Signature Malbec.

Kountry Kitchen, a very popular, very casual Kapa’a restaurant where we had a quick lunch on our way to the airport. We were anxious to revisit one of our favorite local dishes: Kahlua Pig. They’re right, you can’t go home again. Our dish, Kahlua pig with spinach and onions was okay, but much drier and without the taste of the dishes we had remembered.

 

Our “Hotel”

Rather than a hotel, we rented a condo in Princeville: Alii Kai 4301. You have to go up approx. 1.5 floors of steps to get to it but are treated to a great corner unit with a gorgeous view. Very comfortable place with useful/comfortable furniture. The owner seems to have put a lot of little extras into the place to make it a great place to stay
1. Instead of removing half containers of sunscreen, insect spray etc., they were left for others to use. Thank you!!!!!
2. Unit contained some condiments and spices (although we didn’t cook)
3. Lots of books and games
4. TV in living room and master bedroom (although remotes were still a little complex in living room)
5. Ceiling fans throughout (no a/c but fans seemed to be sufficient when we were there, although it wasn’t very warm)
6. Beach towels, snorkels and masks provided. Only one set of fins, but you can rent them for $3 a day in town.
7. Very good pre-check-in information, including grocery stores.
Cons:
1. Stairs, if that is a problem for you. Wasn’t for us
2. Management office wasn’t willing to help us at all since we were part of a condo
3. “personalized concierge” person’s phone number wasn’t answered and her mail box wasn’t taking any more messages. Don’t rely on her. Go to the St Regis and their concierge will help
4. We had several internet passwords written in the unit’s instructions. One of the ones crossed out worked. It would have been nice to have a prominent sign on the living room table with the current password. But once we connect, wifi was great.
Don’t let the cons deter you from this unit as it is well appointed and very comfortable.. Just expect to be a little more resourceful in exploring the area.

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