A number of friends have asked both Jacki and I about the Kauai trip. Where did we go? What part of the island did we stay on? What did we Pao Chow and Pao Sip, and how did we opt to stay Pao Fit with the variety of heart-pumping activities at our disposal? Here are the Top Six best memories from the island:
1) Hiking the Napali Coast
Yes, it is 11 miles. Yes, at points the trail is little more than a foot wide with a 2000 ft sheer drop off to the right, directly into the Pacific Ocean. Yes, the conditions are muddy to say the least and more like a full mud slip-and-slide. And yes, it is wet season in April when we did the trail but the rain just preps you for the multiple streams you will have to cross (which are flanked by intimidating signs warning you of the risk of being washed out to sea – this happened to two people the week before). Still, the Napali Coast hike was probably my favorite part of the trip. Despite the distance and multiple ascents and descents to several thousand feet it was well worth it.
Physicality is less important than technicality. Backpackers should be fit, but more importantly prepared with the right gear and ready to use more technical footwork. At the very least, ensure you have a good set of hiking shoes; the more traction the better. Simple trail runners (as I learned) will not help you when you hit a long downward slab of mud. The other absolutely necessary piece of equipment is a set of hiking sticks. These will help you cross rivers and streams, skip across wet and slippery rocks with greater confidence, and ultimately help you leverage your weight when you get a bit of vertigo looking over the side cliff. Other key items are a comfortable, sturdy backpack, lots of water and iodine tablets (there are contaminants in the local streams that a filter cannot take care of), and a good waterproof top layer like a Marmot.
Your reward? Epic views of the Pacific coastline, turquoise water, 3800 foot waterfalls, lava rock at the side of the trail, plentiful rainforest, your own “Napali spray tan” which you’ll get after the famous Napali mud stains your body for a couple days, and don’t forget pristine beaches. One of my favorite memories (which now oddly reads like a scene from a trailer park) was finishing the trail and stopping by Hot Mamas for a fresh mahi-mahi fish burrito and Hinano Tahiti beer in brown bag, all while sitting propped against a tree trunk in the middle of a rocky driveway. That is what I like to call “unplugging” from life.
2) Body boarding in Poipu
During college summers, 3 out of 5 days of the week you could find me in Manhattan or Hermosa Beach body boarding with a couple buddies (which would most obviously be followed up by requisite trip to El Burrito Junior for Mexican taco feast and seven cups of salsa). Ever since I moved to the Bay area, I have sadly given up body boarding or even going in the ocean. Cold water does not agree with my temperament, even with a wetsuit. On our last day in Kauai, Jacki and I made friends with a mustache-sporting local surf instructor while hanging out in Poipu (public beach on the south shore with tons of sun rays and more kids or families than you’ll find at Disneyland). He generously offered us the use of his body boards and we set out to take a few waves. Kauai looks at waves like Australians look at beer. Our mainland wave measurements just do not cut it with respect to Kauai standards. The waves that day were 5-6 feet by mainland terms but only 2-3 feet in Kauai speak. With strong rip current in effect and rock jetty and crew of local surfers to our left, we decided to keep the peace and drop in on waves in the more centered part of the ocean. The temperature was high seventies, the waves of perfect form and the sunshine was our constant warming companion. Shoots!
3) Off-roading/ Touring in “The Wrang”
For some reason we thought that the roads in Kauai were not well-maintained. As a result we opted to rent a Jeep Wrangler for our week-long stay. Kauai actually has good roads but did we resent our decision? Not one bit! “The Wrang” as we called it proved to be one of the favorite parts of our trip.
Kauai is a small island and you can drive from one end of it to the other in about 2 to 2.5 hours. Don’t rush this exploration – I encourage you to adapt to island time and not be surprised when the car in front of you stops to let every other car cut in front, even though your lane has the right of way. There is something to be said for this mellow, take-your-time feel. Do not even think about using the horn in Kauai unless you want to scream out, “I’m a tourist.”
Having the Wrang afforded a certain liberty to exploring all the different parts of Kauai, from the rainy, wetter North coast of Hanalei Bay and “elitist” Princeville, to the drier parts of Waimea, to the hidden falls of Wailua and all the local eateries in Ka’Paa or Lihue. It also allowed us to plow through flooded areas with abandon and to cycle in a bit of off-roading. One more violent memory of from our time in the Wrang was when we witnessed a rooster homicide. Roosters are everywhere in Kauai. Years back a devastating hurricane freed all the roosters from their cages. Given that there are no natural predators on Kauai (sorry Jurassic Park fans), the roosters run wild. Those suckers woke us up every morning at the crack of dawn and even though I felt like smacking them across the head every now and then I did not need to witness rooster death. We watched in horror as a mini van accidentally hit a jay-walking rooster – which was promptly thrown 50 feet in the air, all while cockadoodling incessantly. Sad and disturbing? Yes. Slightly funny? Also yes.
4) Enjoying typical Kauai cuisine
Kauai boasts an impressive cuisine – one that Jacki and I enjoyed to the fullest during our stay. Seafood runs aplenty on the island – from the ahi tuna wasabi nori (seaweed) wraps of Mermaids in Ka’Paa, to the fish markets in Kilauea, Lihue and Koloa where you can sample a load of different poke dishes (tako, ahi, lobster, scallop), to nicer restaurants which serve up fresh marlin and opakapaka.
If you are on the North Shore and feel like treating yourself, check out Baracuda in downtown Hanalei. The open-air patio dining area is perfect for a warm night where you can enjoy finely prepared cocktails with fresh ingredients like lychee, pineapple and lime juice tossed with local Hawaiian Kai vodka. If you’re in for a more casual evening, prop up at the bar where the friendly bartender mixes libations, and friendly staff stop by to share their stories of how they ended up in Hanalei. Baracuda serves up portions tapas style, with a bit of an island twist. We enjoyed fresh mesclun greens from nearby Kailani Farms, simply served with fresh goat cheese and light vinaigrette. The cheese platter was another tasty treat; offering up Humboldt Farm goat cheese with complementing honeycomb, mizuna greens and apple slices for that perfect balance of tart and sweet. For a bit of fried goodness, try the risotto fritters. The real treat of the night was the rib eye steak with cherry tomato, arugula and balsamic reduction. After a week of seafood we were ready for a hearty share of red meat and this entrée did not fail to disappoint in flavor or portion size. Don’t forget to end your meal with one of the many tempting desserts like chocolate pot de crème or affogato.
One of our other favorite spots was the Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizzeria in Kilauea, just a short hop from the Lighthouse. Pau Hana serves some of the best pizza I’ve tasted and at times includes fresh fish as an island topping, caught that morning by the owner, an avid diver in Kauai. The bakery makes all dough and bread products in house and offers thick slices as a side to fresh soups like Island style Tortilla and tangy Moroccan chicken. The salads are a large mix of greens and come with different homemade dressings. Let’s not forget the wide range of desserts like macadamia nut cookies, Lillikoi pies and haupia éclairs that make this spot popular among tourists and locals.
Kauai is also famous for the artery-clogging plate lunch – which usually combines a slew of different meats like Kalua roasted pork (similar to tender pulled pork), beef kalbi short ribs, or breaded chicken katsu with island style macaroni salad, white rice and kim chi. Ono eats!
5) Kayaking the Wailua River to the “Not So Secret Wailua Falls”
During our stay in Kauai, we frequented local gear shop, Kayak Kauai , for additional Napali coast gear (like stoves, propane, utensils) and for setting up kayaking trips. There are a couple rivers in Kauai that you can kayak – one of them being the mellower Hanalei River, which takes you through the lower wet area of Hanalei, which is green, verdant, lush and surrounded by high mountainsides with no shortage of waterfalls. The other river is the Wailua River which is a popular attraction given that it ends with some “secret” (or as Jacki and I determined), “not so secret” falls.
You can rent a kayak for about $50 for a full day, and opt for a guided tour or just set out on your own. Given that Jacki and I are pretty independent girls we went for the non-guided trip, although the physiques, I mean friendliness, of our kayak friends, Web and Spencer, almost convinced us otherwise. One word of caution – make sure you watch how to tie down the kayak to your car as this intelligence will prove fruitful later when you are done with the tour. The Wailua River is about 2 to 2.5 miles long. It is a calm, mellow river so you do not have to worry about rushing rapids but still will manage to get a decent arm workout. At the end of the river you’ll meet a fork. The left side of the fork leads you to a Fern Grotto, which recently has been closed off to tourists by Hawaiian officials, but we’ve heard you can still try and sneak in. The right fork takes you to your destination, where you will dock the kayak along with probably 20 other ones on a warm day. Multiple hikes lead off this path. Take time to explore the area and get a little lost. You will find trellises of purple-flowered vines, a canopy of trees providing welcome shade from the sun, streams to cross and natural tree swinging roots. The falls are probably a couple hundred feet high and have a cool pool you can take a dip in.
6) Diving Koloa Landing and Boating along the Napali Coast
Kauai, with its clear deep turquoise waters, is one of the best places to dive. The visibility is some of the best I’ve experienced and the marine life does not fail to impress either. I opted for a single tank 1 hour dive off Koloa Landing. It was my first time ever shore-diving and I went with local company, North Shore Divers. The price was competitive, about $85 with tip for a full hour long dive. The water temperature was warm enough at around 75 degrees. Within the first 5 minutes of starting the dive, our group saw two to three sea turtles swimming. Other creatures include moray eels, dragon eels, trigger fish (luckily a different species of trigger fish than the more aggressive ones I had to be wary of while diving in Thailand), angel fish, and trumpet fish to name a few. Aside from all the fish, there are beautiful flowering coral of different shades and sizes to explore.
Continuing with the water theme, for our last day in Kauai, Jacki and I decided to invest in the $150 a person catamaran tour of the Napali Coast, particularly so we could say “We’re on a boat! With our flippy floppies!” We went with Napali Catamaran company which offers smaller, personalized tours with young local sea captains, whose humor and friendliness only add to the experience. Captain Nick and first mate Sam were our tour operators for the day, and they both proved to be mellow, laid-back island guys, who clearly enjoy their jobs and take joy in bonding with the guests and maybe even poking a bit of fun. We lucked out with having a pretty epic day of sunshine and blue skies on the North Shore, which allowed for clear views of the Napali Coast peaks. We were able to enter many of the sea caves and coves, and Sam and Nick shared a fair bit of history about the island during our 4.5 hour ride. The catamaran leads you to the far end of the North Coast, and then docks for an hour or so for a bit of snorkeling, sun bathing and nourishment. On the way back we were delighted to witness a number of Hawaiian humpbacks breaching the surface of the water. Not a bad way to spend your final hours in Kauai if you ask me.
Top 4 Worst Parts of the Trip
This would not be a balanced post if I did not touch on the Top 4 worst parts of our Kauai trip. In no particular order, here they are:
1) Airport Food:
Meal in Honolulu airport – just because you are in Hawaii does not mean they serve good food at the airport. Skip it and pack a snack instead!
2) Near death (or at least extreme injury)
Nearly falling off the 700 foot cliff while slipping down the muddy switchback to Crawler’s Ledge; oddly also a bit exhilarating. It’s not every day you see your life flash before your eyes.
3) Memory Loss (Camera memory that is)
My sketchy memory card broke on day 3, holding hostage 150+ photos from the the amazing Napali Coast hike. Note to self, do not buy janky Chinese memory cards at a bargain off the internet.
4) Return to Reality
Coming home on a 9 hour red eye which allowed for little to no sleep before heading into work.