Kauai – The Garden Isle
I’ve travelled to Kauai – The Garden Isle two times. For Christmas in 2017 and Thanksgiving in 2018. I don’t actually use the term vacation. The trips were holidays to be sure but trips like this, to a place this special, serve a greater purpose. I realize how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to experience something truly magical. And Kauai is truly magical. There are a few places I feel a deep connection to, a sort of familiarity. They give me comfort, nourishment and I feel comfortable. Like a home coming and Kauai is definitely one of them.
Kauai is the kind of place that I want to explore but I don’t feel compelled to fit everything in. I’m quite happy to discover it at a slow pace, slowly peeling back the layers. Ahead of our first trip, I’d done a lot of research and had a list of activities to introduce us to the island and fill our vacation with fun. Once I arrived, most of them fell away. It was OK to just “be” and feel our way as Kauai revealed herself to us. Going with the flow and slowing it down is easy in this island paradise.
Kauai, the garden isle’s history is both similar to and different from the other islands. Like the other islands, The island was initially inhabited roughly 1500 years ago by the same Polynesian adventurers who completed their nearly 2000 mile sea voyage on outrigger canoes when they first landed on the shores of the big island of Hawaii. Here they stayed undisturbed for around 500 years, until a second wave of sea-canoe travelers appeared, this time from Tahiti (which was also originally settled by Polynesian sea-canoe explorers). It was from the Tahitian arrival that the current Hawaiian gods, belief structures and many traditions evolved.
Kauai’s name has no particular historical meaning; however, through the legend of Hawaii’loa, Polynesian navigator, who is thought to have been the founder of the Hawaiian island’s original inhabitants, “a favorite place around one’s neck” is suggested. According to legend, Kauai was the name of his favorite son, and a favorite place around one’s neck was (and perhaps still is) the universal place to carry one’s most beloved child. Despite the mystery behind Kauai’s proper name, an important part of Kauai’s History is in the preserving the ancient Hawaiian dialect, before it was extinct, which differs distinctly from current accepted Hawaiian language. (kauai.com)
We love the north shore area. While I have visited other areas of the island and all were lovely, I can’t accurately speak to reasons why one might select to stay in the other main areas, south, west and east island. I have only stayed on the north shore and can’t imagine staying anywhere else. It’s rainy for sure, but that hasn’t bothered us at all. I am a budget traveler, not to say that I camp, but not four-star either. If you are planning your adventure to the magical isle, here a few of my favorite things:♥
We have flown Hawaiian Air on both occasions and here is why. In economy, seat for seat, they feel roomier. The 2-3-2 configuration makes it nice for a couple to grab two seats on either side and be alone. The width of the seats are 18″, only 1/2 in smaller than their first class seats. The leg room is a tad more than say, American, but that little bit feels like a huge difference. The fares have been consistently lower. The service is great and you really get that feeling of Aloha right from the start. Meals are included. The planes are bit older but the service has carried the day. The plane we flew from west coast to Kauai does not have in-flight entertainment. With no entertainment in the seat, it might also be why it feels roomier. We bring our own tablets, or you can rent one of theirs. They run specials quite frequently in the off months (think less crowded) and do excellent options on packages.
Unless you are booked into a resort hotel complex and don’t plan on leaving, a car is a necessity. Unfortunately also very expensive. It pays to do your research and book well ahead of your visit. We searched direct rates at the all the major companies, and compared those with local travel vendors who offer “deals”. While the prices were close, and in some cases the travel vendors were priced well, we didn’t stop shopping until we were sure we had the best price. Our group was large enough that we needed two cars and we knew we wanted SUV’s which add to the cost. On both occasions we ended up renting via Cosco Travel. We ended up with jeeps at a significant discount.
Where To Stay
Our only experience is with the north shore, however, before I go on to how much I love it up there, the resort option is limited. For the resort experience many choose areas such as Kaapa, Lihue and Poipu for this type of holiday. Now, for the north shore, there is only one hotel I know of that is “on the beach” and it is the Hanalei Colony Resort, which is located north of Hanalei town. We have driven by several times, on the way to some gorgeous beaches and I can honestly say the setting is pretty spectacular. While the property is dated (they all are) , the location is the true star here. It is definitely on our list and when when we do stay there, I can’t wait for that ocean front massage! Three other properties worth noting include the St. Regis located in Princeville. The hotel sits up against the hillside overlooking Hanalei Bay and boasts the famous “Bali Hai” views. We have not visited their private beach or pool area which is located beach side just an elevator ride down from the main property. The two other properties, The Westin and The Hanalei Bay Resort also enjoy both mountain and ocean vistas and are surrounded by lush tropical foliage and world-class golf courses. Princeville is a large master planned community of hotels, condominiums and single family homes of all age and sizes surrounding a variety of golf courses. While it may not have that native jungle island vibe, there are so many choices for accommodation, from 1 bedroom condos overlooking the ocean to large single family homes with pools. To accommodate our whole group, both trips we have rented homes in Princeville. There are so many options and for groups who are sharing costs the value is unbeatable. I’ve found 1 bedroom condos for as little as $75.00 a night and ocean view for $125.00 a night. There is accommodation for every need and budget in the Princeville area. For the more adventurous, really seeking that island vibe, camping on Kauai is very popular as well. Kauai is much more affordable then expected. It just depends on your needs and the experience you want. My group was not up to going without creature comforts but on another visit, I would be happy as hell in a beach shack or yurt.
North Shore Beaches and Activities
My absolute favorite place on the north shore, is Hanalei Bay. Which is weird because it is arguably the busiest area of the north shore. It is a mix of locals and visitors and a great place to stop, relax, unwind and watch. When I say watch I am always watching. All day the view toward the mountains and the waterfalls changes. Sometimes the waterfalls are so clear in the sunshine. Other times the mountains are shrouded in clouds, it is like an ever changing art installation. I am mesmerized by it. I watch the people who come to the beach, full of happiness and wonder at the beautiful surrounding they are in. I go out onto the pier and watch the locals fishing and the surfers out in the big surf through my binoculars. Both times we visited the island, the surf was quite large. Even so, we were able to safely swim at this beach at all times. We visited in the morning to watch the sunrise behind the beach and again in the evening to experience magnificent sunsets. We jumped off the pier and fished off the pier, meeting locals and visitors alike. Even if you choose another beach to spend the day at, try to make it for a legendary Hanalei Bay sunset. We were so happy here we rarely spent time on other beaches. We did manage to get to Anini, Tunnels Lumahai and Ke’e though. Not all beaches are created equal and not all beach days are the same and that is one of the wonderful aspects of Kauai. On the north shore, especially during big surf many beaches are not safe for swimming. This is why we visited many but ended up going back to Hanalei every time. My second favorite was Tunnels. Both times I’ve visited the surf was big and we were able to see some world class surfing up close. Oh and I loved that the sand on this beach is super soft as compared to other beaches such as pebbly Anini and the harder Hanalei.
These Are A Few More Of My Favorite Things
Hitting the shops at Ching Young Shopping Center. Really.
Picking up groceries at Foodland.
Sitting outside with the birds having coffee and breakfast at Hanalei Bread Company.
Taking a drive north from Hanalei town to the end of Hwy 560. The water, the beaches, the mountains and the jungle are pretty special.
Taking a drive up to the Kilauea Lighthouse, looking for whales. Didn’t see any but the bird life is amazing.
Horseback riding, ATV and Zip Line at Princeville Ranch. Excellent service and stunning views.
Taking a drive south on Hwy 560 past Lihue, past Poipu and all the way up through Waimea Canyon State Park to Mount Wai’ale’ale, known as one of the wettest places on earth.
Hiking to Queen’s Bath, found down a small trail near the St. Regis. Don’t miss it!
And finally our most recent adventure, the search for the old Jurassic Park movie gates. The Jurassic Park gate is about 3.5 miles from the Keahua Arboretum. Unfortunately when we went the road was washed out and we were still too far away to hike the rest of the way in. Oh and the mosquitos in this area of interior of the island were out of control. Didn’t stop us from having a little fun in the jungle before we made our way out and back.
I am not a foodie but I have yet to have a stand out meal on Kauai. Everything is about equal. Of course don’t miss fresh sushi and poke and fish at The Dolphin and shaved ice from the stand on the main road in. The coconut shrimp and a Mai Tai at Kalypso’s happy hour are a favorite of mine on the way back from Hanalei Bay. Especially when relaxing at one of the front outside tables with a view of the mountains.
I am grateful to the people of Kauai who live there yet welcome us with such generosity and spirit of Aloha. I am so grateful that paradise like this exists. I am blessed to have the opportunity to write about and return to explore this land that is imprinted on my soul.