We took a pure vacation-vacation to Hawaii. It was our Christmas gift to each other. We took advantage of the cheap, cheap flights in Mid-January from San Jose (since we were on the West coast!) that went 6 hours directly to the Garden Island of Kauai, Hawaii. It was such a great trip: white sand beaches, 80 degrees for highs with upper 60’s for lows, mountain hiking, small towns, and plenty of nature and waterfalls!
We stayed at the pleasant Kauai Beach Resort, which is located an easy 10-min drive from the airport. The resort is a great place to relax, if expensive; however, the most appealing reason to stay here is that it is centrally-located on the island, making all of your day trip activities less than an hour away. That is because there is really only 1 road on the perimeter of the island and it is about 70 miles from point to point, which does not quite circumnavigate island, leaving inaccessible about 20 miles of the Northwestern Na Pali coast, only available by some vigorous hiking. We rented a car and were very happy we did–it’s really the only way to get around and see the entire island. The tiny Chevy Spark did the trick for us, no need for the Jeep even on the off-road paths we took to some beaches–though you will see a lot of locals with big trucks and sand tires for off-road and on-beach driving.
The first morning, and each subsequent morning, we dined at the wonderful local spot Tip Top Café in Lihue! Everything there was good, with some hearty breakfasts to enjoy before a grueling hike, but top on the list is the banana macadamia nut pancakes topped with the coconut syrup (you have to request this syrup!!). After that we took a beautiful morning drive to Wailua Falls. On a Wed morning before 7:30a, we were the only ones there, but when we went back on a Mon afternoon there were dozens of cars so that you aren’t even able to park. Go early for some of the best morning light and to enjoy it with some privacy.
After that quick trip we were ready for some adventure and decided to go all the way to the Northwest coast where the road ends to Polihale State Park. This required a drive on a rough gravel road, but with our tiny rental car and a slow 40 min, we were able to make it back to some relatively secluded and completely un-developed beaches. There were several tents and it would be a gorgeous place to spend a night camping under the stars. The water was much too rough here to swim, but it was a wonderful place to soak up some rays! It may be worth noting that this is the western-most public beach in the USA.
On our way back, we took a side-trip to the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon. The drive up to and back from the canyon was more beautiful than the canyon itself, in my mind. So take your time and enjoy the changing landscape that quickly brings you from 0 ft to over 3000 ft above sea level–pro tip is to take 552 up to the canyon and take 550 back down to get some amazing ocean views. And, on your way back, be sure to stop at Jo-Jo’s Shaved Ice for some of the most delicious ice cream/shaved ice combinations you will have, not to mention they donate all profits to a local children’s charity.
The next day took us to the other far end of the island, to the Northeast past Princeville, where the highway ends at Haena State Park. This is where we took a vigorous hike along the Napali coast and the Kalalau Trail! We took a good day hike 2 miles along the most gorgeous costal hiking trail to the beach and then turned inland another 2 miles following the stream to the jaw-dropping 300ft Hanakapiai Falls. We were warm after the 4 mile morning hike, so I decided to join several other hikers and take a dip in the 55 degree (!!) pool under the waterfall. Worth it! After a quick shore lunch, we made the 4 mile hike back to the car, passing so many people making the hike to the falls–go early to make sure you have space and time to see it. If you wanted a good 22 mile round-trip overnight hike, you need a permit to continue to perhaps the most remote beach on the island for an excellent backpacking adventure, I hear. After our 8 mile hike, we treated ourselves to some Huli Huli chicken next to the Anahola Café–it was a German woman with an organic stand next to the road and pretty sure the chicken was the free-range ones that are so prevalent on the island which I give two thumbs up!
For some less strenuous activities, there are many. We visited the Kauai Coffee Company one day, which features a plethora of coffee tasting a small walking tour of their campus. The most amazing part is the miles of coffee trees that surround the company. As you drive through the area, you will smell the wet, bitter, caffeine filled air. It is worth a visit, especially if you have never seen any part of the coffee making process. Earlier that morning we also took some time to go snorkeling! There is no shortage of places that rent equipment, but we went to the Poipu area to rent and got recommendations for some beautiful spots in that area. A quick tip, since we are in this area. Poipu is a developed, touristy area. So, if you on the same page with my tastes, I would recommend to _avoid_ this area except for a half day of snorkeling. Though, you will find excellent snorkeling all around Kauai, just look for a beach with a rocky bottom. By the way, this was my first snorkeling experience, and I didn’t realize how *easy* is it to snorkel! You just float there and breath through the tube. The tropical fish, coral, and other marine life was so colorful, beautiful, and easy to see through the crystal clear water.
Another tip is that although a Hawaiian luau sounds like an essential Hawaii vacation experience, Beth and I found it an *expensive* and hokey experience and one that you should SKIP. Even with an open bar and buffet, you will not be able to drink enough Mai Tais or eat enough pork to make it worth your time. The show we watched was good, but not to make up for the hotel conference room in which it was hosted–yeah, you read that correctly.
I drank so many Mai Tais… and loved it! Can’t pass up that fresh Hawaii pineapple juice and rum. I did have a few beers and, not surprisingly, they all seemed made for drinking on the beach. 🙂 I see a long Wikipedia List of Hawaii Breweries, but I encountered only a few of them and 1 or 2 of them on tap at the Kauai bars–Kauai is the garden island so perhaps the less metropolitan towns makes for a smaller selection. Kona Brewery Longboard Island Lager is everywhere and is a rosy-looking refreshing draught.
Some last thoughts:
- During your stay, go to a grocery store and pick up some delicious, refreshing longons and a real Hawaii pineapple to snack on–it doesn’t get any better than that since Hawaii pineapples don’t come to the mainland. Apparently you can check a case of pineapples on your plane flight back.
- You also _have to_ try real poke and there is no better place than Fish Express in Lihue, which features deli-style containers of so many good, fresh things. We made that our first and last stop around our flights–we even took some with us to eat on the long flight back for dinner.
Thank you for taking this trip with us! Aloha and Mahalo!