Saturday, March 31, 2012
I realize this post is a VERY long time coming, but since it's about my favorite day of the trip and my favorite island, I hope it will be worth the wait.
Confession: I knew Kauai would be my favorite island long before I ever stepped foot on its emerald shore. I've had a slight obsession with it for several years now. In the novel I'm currently writing, there is an island with a similar topography to Kauai's, and I have pictures of the Na Pali Coast and the Mount Waialeale crater posted around my office as inspiration. I will watch any movie set in Kauai, no matter how terrible it is. (I've seen A Perfect Getaway more times than I can count.) When we went to see The Descendants, I admit that one of my main motivations for seeing it was because it was set in Kauai. Of course, only part of it is in Kauai, which I didn't realize until the movie began (and then I was a little disappointed), but it was a great movie nonetheless, and it was fun seeing so many now-familiar places in Oahu and Kauai and thinking about the fact that I was just there two months ago.
I'll admit, too, that my biggest motivation for wanting to honeymoon in Hawai'i was that I wanted to go to Kauai, and that was the main reason I decided to book a cruise (that gave me two days on the island) as opposed to just booking a land vacation to Oahu like so many other honeymooners do. So as you can imagine, I was too excited to sleep well the night before we arrived in Kauai, and I was up and ready long before we docked--early enough to watch the whales that were there to greet us as we came into port and to get some shots of the island in the early morning light.
Of course, of all days, this was the one day we were up and ready in plenty of time to get off the boat at its scheduled docking time (8:00) and ALSO the one day the ship was late! We didn't dock until around 8:15, and by then the Deck 3 hallways and staircase (where we were standing) were pretty congested. Once we finally got off the ship, we assumed we'd be able to make the first Thrifty shuttle and that it would already be waiting for us outside, but there were NO car rentals shuttles waiting. After another ten minute wait, they finally began arriving (and the port here was much stricter on the drivers, making them get out and searching some of them before they would allow them to enter and pick us up). So even though we'd done everything we could to get a head start that day, we ended up not getting into a car and beginning our day until around 8:45--the same as the other days when we HAD been running late! Still, besides this little snag that made us miss twenty or thirty more minutes of touring time, we had an amazing day.
When I'd originally begun planning for our trip, I basically had one goal in mind--to hike the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi'ai Beach. It's long been a bucket list goal of mine to hike the whole Kalalau Trail, but I knew that wouldn't be possible on this trip, so I at least wanted to get a taste of it. Unfortunately, as I watched the forecast for Kauai during the week leading up to our arrival (mainly concerned about our helicopter flight the next day being cancelled), I saw that Thursday's forecast called for rain on the north shore of Kauai. The trail can already be pretty wet and nasty even during normal conditions, so hiking it in the rain didn't sound appealing, and I knew that if we got soaked and muddy we wouldn't feel like doing much touring afterward. So instead, the night before we arrived in Kauai, I created a new game plan based on the southern, drier side of the island.
The first thing you need to know about Kauai is that it's almost round...
...and there is basically one main road that runs almost entirely around it. Circumnavigation, however, is thwarted by the colossal cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, so if you drive as far west as possible (say, to Polihale Beach or the Kalalau Valley Lookout) where you are truly just a few short miles from the north shore, there is no way to cross that short distance without driving all the way back around the island, which can take a couple of hours on the narrow, windy road that is often full of traffic. Instead of driving all the way north to the end of the road and trying to hike Kalalau only to be disappointed by rain, we decided to head south and west instead, to Waimea Canyon.
It was a lovely day, sunny and warm with a clear blue sky, and I was wondering where this rain was that I'd read about. (You can never trust the Weather Channel.) Of course, it could have been raining on the north shore, but it was hard to imagine that on such a small island it could be cloudy and overcast just a few miles from where we were experiencing sun and clear skies. (Although in Kauai it's highly possible that it was.) Traffic that Thursday morning was light to non-existent, so we made it to the 550-A turn-off to Waimea Canyon in only half an hour or so.
|Waimea Canyon forming to our left as we drove up Hwy. 550-A.|
I'd seen other travelers' pictures of this waterfall on travel boards, but I wasn't sure exactly where it was. We almost missed it because it is off to the left side of the road, right across from a pretty nice pull-off for the canyon, so it's fairly easy to get caught up in looking at the canyon and completely miss this really interesting little waterfall. We saw lots of people flying past it only to turn around and come back because they hadn't realized it was there. Fortunately, I was on the lookout for it, so we didn't have to do that.
After taking many, many pics of the waterfall (it was fun to play with shadows on the red dirt here), we stopped at several other pull-offs to look at the canyon.
It wasn't until much later in the day that we realized our new circular polarizer, the one we'd just gotten to work the day before, was leaving black rings around our pictures! Unfortunately, many of the pictures from that day have them.
We stopped at all the major Canyon and Na Pali lookouts--Waimea Canyon Lookout, Pu'u Hinahina, Kalalau Valley, Pu'u o Kila.
Waimea Canyon Lookout gave the best view of the canyon, we thought, but it was fairly crowded with bus tourists. This was one of the places that reminded me of why we prefer to DIY instead of taking bus tours. There were a lot of bored-looking tourists waiting around for their tour groups to reconvene. We were able to explore the different levels of the lookout at our leisure and were still back to the car and on our way long before some of the buses who had gotten there before us. Between the Waimea Canyon and Pu'u Hinahina Lookouts we tried to see Waipo'o Falls from some of the pull-offs along the road, but we never could find it. We actually thought it might have dried up temporarily, but then we saw it during our helicopter tour the next day, so I'm not sure how we missed it.
When we reached the Kalalau Valley Lookout, I was almost bouncing because I knew I was about to get my first glimpse of the Na Pali Coast! Thankfully, our view that day was not obscured by clouds the way it often is, and after waiting a few minutes for our turn at the railing, we were awarded this view:
|Kalalau Valley and the Na Pali Coast|
Pretty much postcard perfect. The Kalalau Valley Lookout is the view of the Na Pali that is most famously portrayed in pictures of the coast, so I knew seeing this view would (mostly) make up for not being able to hike the Kalalau Trail.
There's a nice parking lot at this lookout, and there were only a few other people there, but there are only a couple of good places to see the valley and cliffs along the lookout railing because there is so much brush growing up and obscuring the view.
After we left the lookout, we headed for the end of the road, the Pu'u o Kila Lookout and Pihea Trailhead, and even though parking was difficult (since the trailhead is here, there are far more people parked for far longer periods of time) and the angle of the lookout wasn't as good as Kalalau Valley, the view was much more open. We first went up onto the little viewing platform, but we discovered the view was much better if you walked a little along the wide-open trail.
The trail is dirt and has washed away in some places, so it isn't easy to traverse, but it was worth it to have sweeping views of the valley unobstructed by...anything. There are so many amazing-looking trails in Kauai, a part of me almost wishes we had just skipped the whole cruise and gone to Kauai for a week.
It was lunchtime, so we drove back down to Hanapepe after that. We stopped at a local drug store to pick up some supplies and then went to Hanapepe Cafe & Bakery for lunch, a little local joint recommended in Lonely Planet. It's in the downtown area of Hanapepe, where the Art Walk is held every Friday evening. There's a big indie bookstore there too, Talk Story, which we didn't have time to explore. More reasons to return to Kauai in the near(ish) future.
After a light lunch (soup and salad), we went for dessert at Lappert's. This was one of the highlights of the day, and in a day full of wonderful things, that's saying something! Lappert's has a huge variety of handmade ice creams and sorbets, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that my scoop of Tutu's Anniversary was the best ice cream/sorbet I've ever had. Tutu's Anniversary is a combination of coconut ice cream, raspberry sorbet, and Auntie Lilikoi's Passion Fruit sorbet. I'm drooling just thinking about it. I can't remember what kind T.J. had (I think there were mangoes involved) but it was almost as good as mine.
|You can order Lappert's to be shipped to you on the mainland, but at $20 a pint and a minimum order of six pints, I think I'll be back in Kauai before I have another taste of Tutu's Anniversary.|
After savoring every last drop of ice cream, we headed for Port Allen because I wanted to find Glass Beach. This was a really short drive, just a few minutes from Lappert's, and we first decided to stop at a little shopping center down near the harbor so we could try some sweets from Kauai Chocolate Company.
This is a really small shop where they also make chocolates right in front of you, and we picked up an assorted box of chocolates with mango, coconut cream, and other kinds of filling. As I mentioned in another blog, we waited until we got home to eat them, and then we were each allowed one a day. They were pretty phenomenal! In winter (when they won't melt), you can also ship them to the mainland, which is nice.
After leaving Kauai Chocolate, we drove to Glass Beach, which was a little tricky to find. You have to drive past some factory-type place onto a dirt road where it truly looks like you shouldn't driving (and are probably on private property), but luckily there wasn't anyone around to tell us we weren't allowed back there. We stopped at the first beach access we came to, even though the road continued onward, and at first we looked around wondering, "Is this Glass Beach?" We honestly couldn't tell at first, but as we walked down to the shore, the sand began to change.
Oh, yeah, we were definitely at Glass Beach. We combed through the sand for a while, looking for larger chunks of glass that the surf hadn't completely obliterated yet, and we found a few shards of green, blue, white, and orange/brown glass to bring back. No chunks of red, which I'd read in Jessi Kirby's Moonglass was the rarest (and hence the color I most wanted to find, even though it's one of my least favorite colors). At first we weren't sure what to do with a handful of random pieces of glass, but T.J. suggested we put them on top of the sand in our sand ceremony jar from our wedding, which I thought was a brilliant idea, so we kept our beach finds.
While we were there we had the beach pretty much to ourselves, but a woman showed up just before we left who was obviously also a tourist. She too wanted to know if she was in the right spot, and she started combing the sand as we left.
The worst thing about the "sand" on Glass Beach was getting it off! It stuck to everything--hands, clothes, feet--and didn't dry and dust off the way regular sand does. If you tried to brush it off, it just clung to whatever you tried to wipe it off with, so we decided to search for a place to clean up. We'd seen a parking lot with a bathhouse down by the harbor (where it seems a lot of people leave to go diving) so we sneaked down there to use the outdoor shower to rinse off. I'm not sure if we were technically allowed down there (it seemed like a "members only" kind of place), but no one said anything to us and at least we were clean afterward!
After that our plans were kind of up in the air. We thought about driving down to Po'ipu to see the Spouting Horn, or driving through the eucalyptus tree tunnel. I really wanted to head up to the north shore, though, and I knew it would be quite a drive, so we saved Po'ipu for a future trip and headed north!
Our first stop along the way was Wailua Falls, made famous in the opening credits of Fantasy Island. This was just a quick stop, and honestly, if you're pressed for time, it isn't a super important one. It's a pretty, 80-foot double waterfall, often with a rainbow in the mist below, but compared with Akaka Falls (or any of the waterfalls we saw on the helicopter ride the next day), it isn't too special. The lookout limits your view of the falls and the angles from which you can shoot. You can hike to the bottom, but I didn't see anyone doing so. It is a muddy, dangerously steep path, from what I've read.
After maybe five minutes at the lookout, we backtracked to the main road and continued our journey north. Even though the island isn't very big, it's a slow trip up the east coast because A) it's the only road north, and B) the speed limits are low and there various little towns and tourist areas you have to drive through, limiting how fast you can drive. The towns are interesting, though, and I'd love to go back one day and spend a few days on each side of the island--the south, the east, the north, and hiking the west.
Our next stop was Kilauea Lighthouse. This was also a short 10-15 minute picture stop because we now had a new plan in mind--make it to Ke'e Beach (the end of the road) in time for sunset. It was already getting late in the afternoon and we still had a ways to drive, so we couldn't make too many stops after this one.
We did stop at the Hanalei Valley Lookout, though, which ended up being one of my favorite pictures from the trip...
|Taro fields in Hanalei Valley|
...and we stopped at Hanalei Bay briefly, although by that point the setting sun was messing up the lighting.
We drove through Hanalei, which is a charming town I'd love to visit and stay in for some time (also where most of the Kauai scenes in The Descendants take place), and then navigated the series of one-lane bridges leading to the far north/northwest beaches. We didn't have time to stop at any of them, although I did try to keep track of them on the map as we passed by, and we did stop briefly at Maniniholo Dry Cave, which is right across the road from Ha'ena Beach Park.
We made it to Ke'e Beach just before sunset and fortunately found a parking space. I also got to see the Kalalau trailhead!
Ke'e Beach is pretty much the only place to watch the sunset from the north shore, so there were people scattered all along the beach for probably half a mile. The parking lot deposits you at the far end of the beach, right beside the beginning of the Na Pali Coast, so you have some room to spread out from there, and the further down the beach you go, the better the view of the sunset, I would imagine. We walked maybe 300 yards or so before picking our spot in the sand.
Watching the sunset on that beach was the perfect end to a perfect day, and it's one of my favorite memories from the trip. As amazing as watching the sunrise at Haleakala was, in some ways this sunset was even better because the place meant something more to me. So often when I do extensive research on a place and build up almost impossible expectations in my head I end up disappointed, but Kauai was even more beautiful and peaceful than I had imagined. I'm not a very spiritual person, but for me it was a spiritual place, a place where I could be happy taking things a little slower, sitting back and doing nothing but appreciate the natural beauty all around me. I can become a bit misanthropic when I travel, growing annoyed at loud, inconsiderate tourists, people who are so absorbed in their conversations, cell phones, or travel books that they fail to notice what's in front of them and to appreciate how fortunate they are to be in that place at that time. But (with the exception of the bus tourists at Waimea, who I mostly felt sorry for) I didn't feel that way in Kauai. Kauai seems to invite a very different kind of visitor, the kind who can sit enraptured watching the sun set, who linger long after the last embers have melted into the ocean, who stay to watch the stars wink into being in the twilit sky. The kind of visitors for whom nature is a tangible thing, not just a vista framed in a camera viewfinder, but something to hike, to climb, to swim, to sink your hands into. That's the kind of visitor I long to be to Kauai, and even though we were there for such a short time and rushed through so much in our two days, it was sitting on Ke'e Beach at sunset that I really felt like I was beginning to understand the island, that I was finally becoming the kind of visitor worthy of it.