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
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
Zealand, calls the Na Pali Coast the one place to which he always
wants to return.
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
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.
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
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.
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 www.gohawaii.com/kauai.
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