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Unlike Most Travel Promotions, the Garden Isle's Hype
Actually Deserves a Truth-in-Advertising Award

Story by Fyllis Hockman

emember when Maui was considered the undeveloped island of Hawaii, in the days before hordes of tourists – and the commercialism that inevitably follows – invaded its pristine coastline? Well quick – before the same thing happens to Kauai, visit the Garden Isle, the lushest and prettiest of the Hawaiian Islands. Go before it loses its virginity to the ravaging developers already hovering about its shores. But more on that later.

The oldest island in the chain – over five million years old, compared with the Big Island of Hawaii, a young upstart at only one million years – Kauai has almost as many superstitions as it does birthdays. The one that says it is the birthplace of rainbows – no doubt true because they are still there in abundance – is one of my favorites because it captures the essence of the island: mystical, magical, colorful, with surreal treasures to be found at either end.

It is no accident that so many films known for their resplendent settings – Thorn Birds, Blue Hawaii, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pirates of the Caribbean, the classic South Pacific, and more recently, The Descendants – were shot here. If you do nothing else, sit on your hotel balcony and look out at the scenery. How often do you get a chance to literally see Mount Makana (more popularly known as Bali Hai) from your window? That view alone is worth the trip. Should you decide to check out the rest of the island, there's much to see. And better yet, so many ways to see it.

Whether you drive around it, fly over it, bike across it, or sail up to it, you know you've reached paradise. The lushness is exquisite. Green grass merges with green plants which spring into green bushes to grow into green forests which meld into green mountains. The eye often cannot distinguish one from the other; the monotony of color is almost mesmerizing.

Along the island's edge, translucent waters spawn rolling whitecaps that nip playfully at the mulatto-colored sand. At other times, waves loom so large, they form a wall between you and the ocean. For the briefest moment, time and wave stand still – then it breaks with resounding force as if to reassert its uncontested dominance of the area.

One of the most personal connections with the islands can be had hiking along the Na Pali Trail on the island's north shore. "Spiritual" is the word used most often to describe the experience. A friend who has walked all over the world, from Nepal to New Zealand, calls the Na Pali Coast the one place to which he always wants to return.

Na Pali Coast

waterfall along the trek from Ke'e Beach to Kalalau Beach

The 11-mile trek begins at Ke'e Beach at the northwestern tip of the island and continues along a steep narrow trail, past waterfalls and streams, mango trees and wild orchids, along daunting cliffs and knife-point peaks until it reaches Nirvana in the form of Kalalau Beach. The scenery there is so spectacular as to seem unreal. The all-day hike – more often a scramble over rocks and mud slides than it is a trail walk – is not for the faint of heart or heavy of foot.

Those who wish to taste the trail without ordering the full course may opt for a two-mile appetizer from Ke'e to Hanakapiai Beach. Each time I started to bemoan my inability to navigate the slippery boulders and protruding mud-slicked roots (if you can schedule your outing during a dry spell, go for it!), I'd spot a nine-year-old using the muddy surface as a slide or a grandmother confidently spearheading the path with a make-shift walking stick. It was the young mother with a baby on her back gingerly sidestepping the rocks as though out for a suburban stroll that finally convinced me to keep my whiny self-deprecations to myself.

Ke'e Beach

But the experience was exhilarating; the walk back much easier, and the views along the way well worth the somewhat arduous effort to get there. For those who find such challenges unappealing, other methods of transport offer comparable if less personal connections with the coast.

A helicopter ride along the coast provides an extraordinary overview, like a beautifully written abstract of a book. The Zodiac raft trips allow you to visit the coast beach by beach, chapter by chapter. But hiking the Na Pali Trail, you become one with the story, immersed in the characters and a part of the book itself.

Another must-see that allows for multiple methods of exploration is Waimea Canyon, the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." As you snake your way alongside the 3600-foot-deep chasm, glimpses of Christmas-colored pageantry unfold. Red and orange desert hues tease the tropical greenery, hinting of the daunting canyon vistas yet to come. Still, you arrive at Waimea Canyon Lookout unprepared for the expanse and grandeur that finally greet you.

Again, if you wish a different perspective of this staggering panorama, consider a helicopter tour that dips into the canyon for even more breath-taking views, or select one of the many miles of trails that take you inside the canyon on foot.

Not far away, yet another vision of wonder awaits. Kalalau Lookout casts a sweeping eye over the historic Hawaiian Valley and Na Pali coast from its vantage point of 4000 feet. Looking beyond the overgrown gorges and razor-edged cliffs, you can't tell where the ocean stops and the sky begins. I considered one more mode of island transport as I envisioned sailing a cloud from the coast to the heavens.

view of the Hawaiian Valley and Na Pali coast from Kalalau Lookout

For many, most of Kauai's appeal lies in its natural splendor. However, if you can force your eyes away from the beauty of the surroundings, there are indeed other attractions to be enjoyed. A drive around the island, spanning less than 100 miles, brings you to several small towns unchanged since the mid-1800s.

Visit the Waioli Church and Mission House in Hanalei, where the first missionaries arrived in 1834. Walk along the wooden sidewalks of Hanapepe and check out Shimonishi, world famous orchid store with original storefront in tact, boasting some varieties of orchids so rare they won't sell them. Stop by the vintage 1913 lighthouse in sleepy Kilauea town, which sits on the northernmost point of all the Hawaiian Islands.

Waioli Church and Mission House in Hanalei

Visits to ancient hula temples, lava blowholes, wet and dry caves rich in tales of Hawaiian folklore all contribute to Kauai's magic. Oh yes, one other thing. Kauai also has more beaches than any of the other islands. Although the most glorious year-round are in the southern resort area of Poipu, long stretches of white sand surround the island, forming a blanket of beaches as inviting as satin sheets and plush pillows at the end of an exhausting day.

Makua Beach

But nothing is perfect and the island landscape, while not yet pockmarked by fast-food establishments imported from the mainland, has recently fallen prey to a couple of Starbucks. But even here, there is good news – big box stores have been banned and no building can be taller than a mature palm tree. So as long as they keep those palm trees in check… Even if paradise is occasionally flawed, Kauai may be as close as you can get. For more information, visit

Related Articles:
A Taste of the Garden Island of Kaua’i; Driving Maui; The Road to Hana; The Big Island of Hawaii; Hawaii Movie Locations; On Foot in Lahaina; Escape to Lanai; The North Shore of Oahu; Kaunakakai, Molokai: Small Town Hawaii

(Posted 3-6-2014)

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Let Fyllis know what you think about her traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Gullah Culture

I think a lot of the plantation enslaved Africans began with a variety of African languages and little contact with English speakers. Even today some of the speech patterns of modern descents of the enslaved hold onto this language or some of the patterns even after being away from the area for generations. That's what we heard in N Carolina.

-- Barbara, Mill Creek, WA

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Thank you for your extensive and accurate story of a remarkable, resilient culture!

-- Marlene O'Bryant-Seabrook, Ph.D. – Charleston, SC

And Marlene – thank you so very much for your comment. Nothing makes a writer feel better than hearing something like that!!!


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Nice story thanks, however there are also Gullah speak in southern Belize and Honduras coast to Trujillo, been all over both thanks.

-- Michael Johnson – Myrtle Beach, SC

Hi Michael,

Thank you so much for your comment. However, I think what you're referring to in the Belize/Honduras region is more accurately characterized as the Garifuna culture and language, which somewhat parallels the Gullah. If you'd like more information about that, please read my November 2011 story in about the Garifuna.


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Toooooooo cooooooool Now I want to go to Florida!!!!

-- Kathy Marianelli – Columbia, Maryland

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Feedback for Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

I'm a Vietnamese and I can't help but went through all of your pictures. They are beautiful, both the couples and the natural sceneries. Vietnam is such a beautiful place, I love it. I have been to Ha Long Bay once, in fact, I have been too all places that you took pictures of. I love your pictures and certainly will comeback for more. Thank you for these wonderful images of Vietnam and its people.

-- Quyen

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Feedback for Family Magic in Orlando

Great article!!! Makes me want to go back and experience it ALL all over again.

-- Ariane – Chicago

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Feedback for Mohonk

I love your signature and the writing (in "Mohonk: Sumptuous Old-World Flavor Tastefully Wrapped in Casual Elegance")... but the place is a bit expensive... more like the Romney types! Is Vic a "photographer" or does he just take pretty good pictures?

-- John Strauss – Campton Hills, IL

Hi John,

Thanks so much for your kind comments. Much appreciated! Yes, I do know Mohonk is expensive -- as is true for so many of the fine resorts -- but it is a historical structure that has been in operation for so many years and offers so many activity options for the whole family without nickel and diming the guest, that for those who can afford it, it actually is somewhat of a bargain.

And no, Vic is not a "real" photographer as much as he is a travel writer in his own right, but sometimes, as he says, he does get lucky.

Again, thanks for your feedback.


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Feedback for the Road to Hana

We enjoyed seeing the Road to Hana from a helicopter! After you get to Hana you've still got to make the return journey. Thanks but no thanks!

-- Betsy Tuel – Rosendale, NY

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Feedback for Dominican Republic

Thank you, Fyllis, for this engaging tour. For years I thought the Dominican Republic was all-tourists, all-the-time. You just made me want to go there! (those waterfall adventures look like great fun)

-- Richard F. – Saugerties

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Feedback for Traveling the Canadian Rockies

We (our family) also took The Rocky Mountaineer (gold leaf) in early June 2011. Great memories! Great food! Great service! I am sorry to hear about this labor dispute, as clearly, the attendants were a HUGE part of the experience. They felt like friends by the end of the trip. Good luck to all employees!

-- Susie – Hana

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Hi Fyllis,

I am one of the locked out onboard attendants. I enjoyed reading your lovely writing based on the trip you took with the level of service that was delivered until June 22, 2011. It is misleading to share this review at this time. Many current guests are dismayed when they experience the low level of service which does not live up to what this blog post boasts. The company is not even responding to the complaints of their guests who have paid top dollar, and are now consistently ignored when they write to ask for a refund. If you do not believe me, go to Trip Advisor and read the recent reviews. There are a few good ones, and they are almost all from pre-lock out dates. Many of those are from complimentary trips and the company seems to be pressuring them to post positive reviews. If you are unaware of what is happening, please consider visiting a site which has many news stories and letters of support from guests and local politicians.

--- City: onboard – Vancouver

Can I ask when this article was written? One of the managers onboard would have been travelling on it for more than 6 years by now...last I heard Shauna was in Edmonton.

--- tnoakes – Edmonton, Alberta

Dear Whomever --

I am so very sorry to hear about the lockout and the bad feelings that have been engendered between management and employees. It was not a situation I knew anything about and realize the timing of my article indeed was unfortunate.

What I wrote about was based totally on my personal experience and only reflects my trip at that time. Please accept my apologies for the difficulties current and former employees are now experiencing and the apparent disparate levels of service experienced by me and more recent guests. It was not something I had any knowledge of.

Fyllis, TravelingBoy

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