The impossible beauty of the Hawaiian island of Kauai - a must-see destination
The folks in charge of Hawaii tourism sat down not long ago with the various islands in the state. At the end, each of the main islands was given a theme to work on to help lure tourists.
"I was worried a little, but they gave us the theme of rejuvenation," one Kauai tourism spokesperson told me at a Toronto sit-down last week.
It's a pretty good term for the island. Most folks from Canada seem to head to Oahu, home to Honolulu and Waikiki Beach, as well as to Maui, with its famous beaches and incredible infrastructure and golf courses. Hawaii, the Big Island, has tons to offer as well, especially for sun seekers on the Kona coast.
So does Kauai, but it's a little lower key in this most remote of Hawaiian islands. There's no community as thriving or lively as Lahaina, and there's no development that's nearly as big as, say, Wailea or Ka'anapali on Maui.
But I like that. There's no big city, but there's plenty of nice shopping to be had, including new opportunities at the posh Koloa Landing near Poipu Beach on the sunny side of Kauai. There's also a branch in Koloa of Merriman's, a fab restaurant with a popular branch near Kapalua Beach on Maui. And a new, private golf course designed by Tom Weiskopf called Kukui'Ula.
Poipu (see photo at left) has a series of fabulous beaches, with wonderful swimming and snorkeling and, in the right season, good surfing. It's often named one of the best beach areas in the state. There are hotels you can stay at, including some major chains. But a lot of folks like to rent condos for the space and convenience of cooking a few meals. My family stayed at Kiahuna Plantation a few years ago and absolutely loved it.
But what's great about Kauai is you can get away from the developed areas in a heartbeat. Waimea Canyon has been called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, with its enormous, craggy depths and stunning landscapes washed and weathered and pounded and beaten by centuries of wind and sun and rain. Unlike the Grand Canyon in the mainland, this canyon is fertile and green and lush; a real gem.
The views from high up in the park of the famous Na Pali coast of Kauai are among the best postcards you'll ever photograph (see photo below right).
Kauai's central mountain, Wai'ale'ale, gets more rain than any place on earth; some 450 inches a year. But don't lash the entire island with that reputation. Just as Hana and Wailea are only a few miles apart but in completely different climates on Maui, so are Hanalei and Poipu utterly distinct climates on Kauai.
Hanalei gets frequent rain, but still manages a ton of sunshine and has glorious, lush scenery that looks like the South Pacific. Which is why part of the movie was filmed up that way. Poipu is dry, almost desert-like, but still gets enough rain to keep things green.
If you want near constant sun, head to the Poipu area and enjoy the beach. If you want something wild and green and jungle-like, as well as a good amount of sunshine, try up towards Hanalei. Or do a little of both and check out the other parts of the island and some of the 50 or so miles of white sand beaches.
There's outstanding golf up at Princeville near Hanalei, and also at Kauai Lagoons near the airport in Lihue on the south end of the island. A personal favourite is the oh-so-casual Kukui O Lono near Kalaheo on the south side; fun and cheap and funky and filled with locals talking story.
Want something active? You can kayak along the Wailua River on Kauai; the only navigable river in the state. The hiking is glorious all over the island, and there's also ziplining and deep-sea fishing and cycling and tons more on this, the oldest and most beautiful and striking island in the Hawaiian chain.
You can drive from the resorts of Poipu to Waimea Canyon in just over an hour. Ditto for the drive to Princeville and the lush Hanalei valley, which will make you feel like you're in Tahiti. No structure on the island can be built more than four-stories; about the height of a mature coconut tree. So you won't have anything blocking your views.
The beauty of selling yourself as a rejuvenation destination is that everyone finds rejuvenation in different ways. For some, it might be a pineapple scrub and a Hawaiian lomi lomi massage at the spa at a posh hotel in Princeville. For others, it might be an ATV ride through the hills or checking out the birds out at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge or taking a helicopter ride into the lush valleys of the Na Pali coast or hiking the coast or taking in a whale-watching tour. On Kauai, you can take your pick.
People ask me about Hawaii and why I love it so much. Some of it is family memories. Some of it is great weather and food and beaches. But a large part of it for me is the Hawaiian culture. When I go to Barbados or St. Lucia I feel local culture, for sure. But not in as overt a way as I do in Hawaii, where the languague is exotic and lovely and the history incredible. Don't forget, people came here from the South Pacific in relatively tiny outrigger canoes to find a new life; navigating without instruments hundreds and hundreds of years ago over treacherous waters and thousands of miles. It's a history of human movement unlike any other on the planet, and the resulting culture in Hawaii is a wonderful mix of South Pacific melded with more modern influences from Asia, Europe and America. It's just a magical place.
Not enough for ya? Kauai is where they filmed most of The Descendants with George Clooney and a good deal of Jurassic Park. If that doesn't pique your curiousity, you need to check your pulse.