A December 2002 trip
to Kauai by Idler
Quote: "Hana hou" means "One more time!" in Hawai'ian. After first visiting Kaua’i in 2000, we were anxious to return to the lush north shore area we had enjoyed the most. In 2002, we managed to return not just once, but twice. And next year? Hana hou, we hope!
Among our favorite Hanalei delights are:
Sad but true: the North Shore shops and gas stations are the priciest on the island. Plan at least one big grocery trip in Lihue or Kapa’a. (We normally just stop on our way up from the airport.)
Truly Malin has already sung the praises of Snorkel Bob’s, and she’s right--it’s the best place to rent snorkel equipment. If you haven’t ever snorkeled before, you should definitely give it a try. Sturdy reef shoes are also a good thing to have.
Tropical paradise comes with lots of mosquitoes, alas. Wear bug repellant, and, if need be, long pants, which also protect you from plants with irritating saps that you may brush up against while hiking.
If you can’t pay much for accommodation, no worries, at least if you’re a camper. Great beach camping is available for only a night. Get permits well in advance, though, to avoid disappointment. Camping gear can be rented on the island.
A car is highly recommended, that is, unless you’re comfortable hitchhiking (a number of people do this on the North Shore). There is a bus service between Hanalei and Kapa’a, but it’s not the most frequent or convenient mode of transportation. There is apparently only one local taxi driver in Hanalei, or so we’ve been told.
Bridge etiquette: In the Hanalei area there are a number of narrow one-car bridges, cherished by the locals, who even turned down state funds to build better ones. The procedure for going across them is this: all the cars on one side go, then all the others from the other side, rather than taking turns individually. It’s more efficient this way, plus there are rarely more than 4-5 cars that need to go from one side or the other.
Sound silly? Well, it’s understandable, really. Though I’ve enjoyed this view on three separate vacations, I’ve never tired of it. A good part of the day, any day, is given over to simply sitting out on the lanai, drinking it in. The shift of clouds over the mountains and ever-changing play of shadows they cast is the stuff of daydreams, almost hypnotic. Add to that the sound of the surf from Hanalei Bay, the scent of plumeria, jasmine, and wild ginger, and the caress of a warm tropical breeze. . . The senses are replete, if not almost overloaded.
The units we’ve stayed in have been on the tier of condos closest to the sea, right at the edge of the wildlife refuge. The decor is both relaxed and stylish, in complementary earth tones, and the furniture and beds are comfortable. Soundproofing is good, though truth to tell our neighbors have always been fairly quiet. The only disturbance, if I may call it that, has been in June, when the resort practically becomes "wedding central." It was a little disconcerting to step out on the lanai one afternoon, disheveled from a nap, and find a couple pledging their wedding vows a few dozen feet away on the lawn!
The two-bedroom units are quite spacious, and we especially like the ample closet space. I usually appropriate the comfortable chaise lounge in the master bedroom for reading. The kitchen is well equipped, and having a washer and dryer on hand means that we can wear our favorite set of beach clothes, well, every day if we want to.
My son, less susceptible to the charms of watching birds from the balcony or other such placid pursuits, greatly enjoys the lagoon pool with its two waterfalls, Jacuzzi, and own sandy "beach." He’s also taken several tennis clinics for kids, something of a blessing as neither my husband or I enjoys whacking around tennis balls. My husband and various guests have used the services of the activity director, who invariably gets reduced prices for whatever activity is booked, whether it’s a luau at the neighboring Princeville Hotel or a boat trip along the Na Pali coast.
To tell the truth, we still haven’t gotten over the fact that we purchased a timeshare here--that is to say, it was the last thing we ever expected to do. We don’t normally gravitate towards resorts. I had worried, frankly, that we’d return and find ourselves not as enchanted we first were, but I’m happy to say that we’ve only grown fonder of this lovely place and haven’t the least inclination to trade for a week elsewhere.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 26, 2003
Hanalei Bay Resort
5380 Honoiki Road
However, shave ice is infinitely more subtle and pleasing than a Sno-Cone. A good shave ice is fluffy, like the finest snow; there is nothing granular or crunchy about it whatsoever. And then there are all the freshly-prepared, brightly-hued rainbow syrups in flavors that go way beyond the traditional mainland sweeteners: guava, mango, lilikoi (passion fruit), pineapple, lychee, coconut, tamarind, banana, apricot, papaya, li hing mui (an island favorite, though something of an acquired taste), plus, of course, cherry, strawberry, lemon, lime, and almost infinite variations on the theme of fruit.
Shave ice (never called, note, shaved ice) is also Hawaii’s hippest treat, as well. A certain cachet is attached to knowing exactly where to find the best shave ice on each island. On Kaua’i, the on dit has it that the best shave ice is at Jo-Jo’s, in Waimea. Alas, I’ve never been to Jo-Jo’s, as we’ve never stayed on the south side of the island. Luckily, Wishing Well in Hanalei is regarded as a close runner-up in the shave ice pageant. And I’ve had their shave ice as many times as I could manage--usually whenever I’m passing through Hanalei and Wishing Well is open (generally, that’s from noon to five, though not always).
Part of the charm of the Wishing Well experience is the stand itself--it's housed in a funky, paneled truck with an awning and colorful hand-lettered signs. It’s always parked on a grassy area with picnic tables next to Kayak Kaua’i in Hanalei. Amble up to the truck and pause for. . . well, awhile. It’s going to take that long to decide what flavor shave ice to order, and whether to just have shave ice or shave ice with ice cream, sweetened adzuki beans (yeah, sounds weird, but this, I take it, goes back to halo-halo), sweetened condensed milk (ditto), or whatevahs.
I can recommend two house specialties: the Hanalei Sunrise and the Hanalei Sunset--featuring rainbow arrays of tropical syrups such as guava, lilikoi, and pineapple. Macadamia nut ice cream on the bottom is highly recommended. (I’m not too sure about the adzuki beans. . . maybe someday I’ll try them.) Once a selection is made, it takes a few minutes for the older couple that runs the stand to prepare it, using a special machine fitted with a blade that shaves ice from a block just so. They’ll hand you a styrofoam dish heaped with the luscious treat. Then dig in, ‘cause it melts fast!
Brok’da mouf! (Delicious!)
Wishing Well Shave Ice
In a battered truck next to Kayak Kaua'i
Attraction | "Recipe for Hanalei Town"
Start by making the batter:
Take three cups of sifted ancient Hawai’i, aged about a thousand years. Keep in mind that several of Kaua’i’s most sacred spots, or hei’au, are nearby, such as Ka-ulu-Paoa, where the art of hula first began, and Makana Mountain (also known as "Bali Hai"), one of two sites where the famous fire throwing ceremony, ’oahi, was performed long ago.
To this, add a cup of missionary oil. This is easily obtained from Wai’oli Mission House, built in 1837 and still standing, or the lovely Wai’oli Hui’ia Church, a fine example of early Hawaiian/American architecture, where hymns are still sung in Hawaiian every Sunday.
To help the batter rise, add a goodly dollop of community spirit, typified by the hardworking Asian immigrants who first worked the rice fields and established businesses here early in the last century.
Allow the mixture to rise for about a century, resting on the shores of one of the loveliest bays in Hawaii, with its famous pier featured in "South Pacific." Then place it into the oven of the 21st century.
This is comprised of all the delightful, laid-back activities, shops, restaurants, and people in the area. Keep the balance just right: upscale eateries across from humble taco stands, wealthy arrivistes chatting with back-to-nature folk, sharp newcomers with a new plan to market Mother Nature coexisting with families who have farmed this lovely place for generations, and mix it all together in a spirit of tolerance.
The frosting is complex, but here are some of its more notable features:
Hungry? Have a virtual sample here, a bigger bite here ,
or a hefty slice here.
End of Weke Road
Hanalei, Hawaii 96714
No phone available
Attraction | "The Kalalau Trail"
And yet I’d made such a brave start, clambering up each rocky section to achieve the first, second, third, and even fourth spectacular lookout points. Each time I gloried in the panoramic views back towards Ha’ena and tantalizing glimpses of the Na Pali coast ahead. My husband had been "after" me on our previous trips to Kaua’i to do part of the Kalalau Trail, legendary among hikers, the most hardcore of whom backpack a grueling 11 miles along the coast, stay at a primitive campsite, and hike back the next day. Day hikers generally trek the first two miles to Hanakapi’ai Beach, perhaps going further inland to reach a waterfall, and then return. The second half of the beach hike is, alas, mostly downhill.
I’d reached a point about a mile and a quarter along the trail (the start of the downhill section), when I began to wonder if this was not the stuff of an "I survived the (fill in the blank)" T-shirt. I hate those types of outings.
"I think I’ll just stay here," I announced as we reached a fifth and even more spectacular lookout. "You go on and I’ll wait till you get back. It’s going to be mostly downhill from here, and it looks like it’ll probably get even muddier, too. I won’t enjoy it."
My husband gave me a look that managed to be simultaneously solicitous and aggrieved. "Are you sure? I don’t know how long it’ll take me."
"It doesn’t matter. I have water, binoculars, and a book. What more do I need? This is a gorgeous spot; I don’t care if I see the beach or not."
And so I found myself perched on a large boulder on the northernmost part of the island, with nothing before me but thousands of miles of blue Pacific. Of course, there were plenty of other hikers coming along to share the experience, but they seemed inexplicably preoccupied with getting to the beach. My bird watching was quickly supplanted by hiker watching.
"You been to the beach yet?" some inquired.
"No, this is as far as I’m going." Puzzled looks in response.
I sat gazing out to sea, listening to songbirds rhapsodizing in the ironwood trees. Western Meadowlarks, of all things. A long way from home, like me.
"You look very regal perched up there," said a gallant passing Englishman.
"I’m just lazy."
"Seen any whales?" asked his companion.
"Not a one. But then again, I’m not really trying."
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 26, 2003
At The End Of The Kalalau Trail
A long scrutiny of kayaks and equipment follows. In all honesty, I can barely tell one kayak from another, but I know how to make the best of a prolonged deliberation by wandering over to the nearby shave ice stand. Sometime later, my husband finds me there, savoring the last bit of my shave ice.
"So, did you find out about the rates?," I ask, wiping a bit of guava syrup from my chin. "It’s really reasonable," he replies, "only $26 a day for a single." He lets that comment hang in the air a moment. What he tactfully doesn’t say is that I’m good for about a hour or two of moderate paddling, whereas he’s an all-day, flat-out kind of guy. "Well," I say, "if we rented one kayak for the day, would they let us rent another for only a few hours?"
And so I find myself half an hour later, paddling along the Hanalei River, which wends its languid way through the valley, verdant pasture alternating with flooded taro patches reflecting the azure sky in a patchwork of green and blue. The river is flanked by water-loving hau trees, whose flowers last a mere 24 hours, changing from light yellow, to pale coral, and finally deepening to dusky rose before dropping into the water.
We pass under a low bridge and are now traveling through the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, home to many endangered birds such as black-necked stilts and Hawaiian geese. In fact, the best way to observe the birds of the wetlands is by boat, as access onto the refuge itself is restricted. Silently we glide along the placid river, going at my easy pace. Occasionally an oar splashes, rousting a cattle egret in a flapping flash of white. The sun beats down, the river murmurs somnolently, and I begin to contemplate another shave ice, perhaps followed by a nap. We paddle for about two miles, until the river becomes too shallow to navigate, then back again. It was, for me, just enough.
And my husband? Ah, now that’s a different story. He mounted a sea kayak on the roof of our rental car and paddled from near our hotel back up the coast to the outfitters. When I picked him up there later, he was grinning: he’d signed up for the Na Pali trip.
(For the record, he later reported that the Na Pali trip was "absolutely amazing.")
Post Office Box 508
Attraction | "Hideaways Beach and Queen Emma's Bath"
The path for Hideaways is near the gatehouse for the Princeville Hotel, next to a miniscule 10-space parking lot provided for beachgoers. The narrow path runs alongside tennis courts and then down concrete steps which end abruptly halfway down. The remaining trail involves negotiating the steep slope down to the beach. Some public-spirited soul had tied a long rope to the end of the step handrail the last time I was there, providing a much easier descent.
Hideaways is well worth any effort, though. It's a lovely crescent of coarse golden sand fringed by autograph trees providing welcome midday shade. The snorkeling is excellent when conditions are calm, and sea turtles frequent the edges of the reef. It never gets crowded here, and early in the day we’ve even had the place to ourselves. Of course, there are no facilities; furthermore, this is not a good spot for the foolhardy, as in high surf rip currents can form that could pull a swimmer out to sea. (Next stop, Samoa.) Always observe the wave action carefully before venturing out. More people drown yearly in Hawai’i than in any other state.
The path to the second spot, Queen Emma’s Bath, is off Kapiolani Road. Keep an eye out for another 10-car parking lot set among the houses. A sign which laconically reads "trail" points to a path (again, slippery after rain) that passes a lovely waterfall before leveling out on a rugged lava shelf. The "bath" is about a 10-minute hike over the lava rocks.
The surf pounding onto the shore is a magnificent (and somewhat intimidating) sight, but the bath itself is usually tranquil. Note that word "usually." There’s a small inlet in the rocks encircling the bath, allowing water to spill into the pool. On days of high surf, this "spill" becomes a crashing torrent.
The first time we visited Queen Emma’s bath, the pool was serenity itself, shared only by a bearded fellow who politely asked whether we minded if he swam nude. This, we gathered, was his early morning ritual--who were we to demure? The second time we visited, monstrous waves were crashing over the lip of the pool. A group of young daredevils was tempting fate by leaping from the rocks above into the pool, nearly getting swept out to sea as water funneled powerfully back out through the inlet. There was much whooping, splashing, and calls of "Man, you gotta try this!" directed at a cluster of girls, who were no doubt practically overcome with admiration.
Ah, "immortal" youth. Give me the occasional middle-aged nudist any day.
Attraction | "Limahuli Garden"
Hawai'i’s indigenous plants, having evolved in the absence of competitors, are no match for the hordes of introduced species. Most of the plants a visitor sees on the islands are not, in fact, native. The most prolific invaders, such as strawberry guava, banana poke, and octopus trees (known on the mainland as a harmless houseplant called Schefflera), carpet entire areas. The plight of Hawai'i’s native plants seems almost hopeless.
The National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG), comprised of four gardens and three preserves in Hawai'i and Florida, is the stronghold against extinction for Hawai'i’s indigenous plants. I’ve been on several NTBG tours, yet the one which most impressed me is Limahuli Garden, on the north shore of Kaua’i. Limahuli’s emphasis on preserving rare plants, researching the uses of plants (ethnobotany), educating the public, and maintaining natural ecosystems has made this small, 17-acre facility one of the most highly-respected botanical gardens in the world.
To the non-specialist’s eye, the setting of the garden is perhaps the most striking thing. The jagged peaks of the Na Pali coast provide a backdrop to the garden, which is tucked protectively against Makana Mountain. Paths wander through a lushly terraced hillside, along a mountain-fed crystalline stream, and up through groves of trees, culminating in a lovely sweep of land overlooking the ocean. The garden is jewel-like in its setting, and this is appropriate, for here, set out with little fanfare, are the botanical crown jewels of the Hawai'ian islands.
Here the visitor finds white hibiscus, once thought to be extinct, but fighting the good fight still against introduced pests such as beetles. Here are recently discovered native species such as Pritchardia limahuliensis, a member of the only palm genus native to Hawai'i. And here, looking like "a cabbage on a baseball bat" is the endearing Alula, making a comeback thanks to the dedicated efforts of the NTBG staff.
Limahuli does an absolutely outstanding job of explaining the importance of plants in the daily lives of the islanders. The traditional mainstays are all here: taro, ki, kikui, breadfruit, and many others. The self-guided tour includes a booklet with information about many of the plants along the main trail. I’ve done the tour twice, the second time even more impressed by what a splendid job the NBTG staff had done in designing the tour.
I can’t speak too highly of the staff. Visitors are cordially welcomed at the visitors center/gift shop and kindly directed to the little amenities that make or break a garden tour: umbrellas, mosquito spray, drinking water, and benches to rest upon. Collecting the fee for the garden tour seems to come as an afterthought.
Visit Limahuli Gardens. And be thankful.
Limahuli Valley Gardens
Haena, Hawaii 96714
+1 808 826 1053
Waking one morning before sunrise, I feel disinclined to be indoors or around other people. Slipping quietly into the kitchen, I grab a carton of yogurt, then my binoculars and bird guide. After scribbling a note, I ease my way out the door. It’s time for one of those simple pleasures.
These are the golden hours, initially dark and misty though they may be, when I feel as if I have the island to myself. The birds know this secret, too. I set out for an isolated spot overlooking the Hanalei Valley, known as the "bird view," to join them at sunrise.
This place is easy to find, but for some reason seldom frequented. Rather than making a right turn toward town after crossing the bridge leading to Hanalei, go straight, down a narrow lane running between taro patches and the river. The road passes historic Higuchi Rice Mill, which is being restored, and then soon after that are designated parking spots on the left across from a small footbridge leading to the Bird View trail.
The way to the Bird View is slightly overgrown; don’t be mislead by a prominent left fork up a steepish muddy path. Stay to the right, which provides a quick, easy climb to a flat, grassy summit some 125 feet above the valley. Below lies the patchwork of fields where taro has been grown for over 700 years. It was all slated for development, but the happy decision was made to turn it into a wildlife refuge instead, still keeping it under cultivation. Today, taro farmers work the fields which also provide a near-ideal habitat for wetland birds.
From this modest aerie, it’s easy to spot the aquatic birds below, while nearby forest birds flit through the trees. Japanese white eyes, red-crested cardinals, Japanese bush warblers, and white-rumped shamas are here in abundance. These were once prized songbirds, brought over in cages by Asian immigrants from places such as Japan and India, but their descendents now thrive where the less disease-resistant endemic birds, some of which survive only at mosquito-free higher altitudes, cannot.
Speaking of mosquitoes, I neglected to bring bug spray. After enduring a dozen or so bites and having my fill of the view, I descend to walk along the road. The taro workers are entering the fields, but the birds seem unperturbed by their activities. Black-necked stilts, with their comic gait, wade alongside them, while cattle egrets lurk in the tall grass growing along the riverbank. Various ducks paddle on the river, and the ever-present raucous mynas, close kin to starlings, congregate on telephone wires. A lone Hawaiian goose grazes on new shoots of grass in an open field, seeming not the least bit diffident as I stand watching close by.
These are the sights and sounds I hold fast to, walking back to my car, driving home, and rejoining my family for breakfast.
The Hanalei "Bird View"
Off of Okihi Road, Hanalei Nat'l Wildlife Refuge
A reassuring thing about the Powerline Trail is that it’s virtually impossible to get lost, as it’s basically a utility company service road. You just follow--you guessed it--the power lines. These are hardly scenic, but a hiker can’t complain too much, considering that the track, which follows an ancient route, has been considerably improved. It’s a straightforward way to explore Kauai’s seldom-visited interior, offering wide vistas of lush mountain ridges and valleys.
It’s easy to find the northern trailhead. Just south of Princeville, keep an eye out for the sign for the Princeville Ranch Stables. This is Po’oku Road. The trail starts about 2 miles down this road, near an easily spotted water tank.
About half a mile along the trail, there’s a picture-postcard view off to the right of lovely Hanalei Valley. Another half mile or so along, look for waterfalls, which vary according to rainfall. Heading further south, on the right is the lush Hanalei Forest Reserve and to the left, Moloa’a Forest Reserve.
In contrast to the more popular coastal routes, hikers on the Powerline Trail practically have the place to themselves. It is used primarily by mountain bikers (a lone biker was the only person we encountered) and hunters (wear bright clothing if that fact makes you nervous).
I believe I may have annoyed my husband and a friend along the hike, for I kept stopping to examine plants or spot birds, whose astonishingly varied songs were too often drowned out by the intrusive whomp, whomp, whomp of helicopters flying from Princeville Airport on sightseeing trips - viewing Kaua'i from the air is becoming increasingly popular. Unlike the helicopter passengers viewing panoramas from the heights, however, my object was to examine things close at hand.
This exercise in micro-tourism paid off, as there are a number of species of lovely wild orchids along the trail, not to mention an array of birds, insects, and plants. My field guides got a thorough workout. Every few paces, it seemed, there was some new facet of nature worth exploring. Really, I think the rewards of going distances and viewing expanses fall short of the simple pleasure of pausing to see exactly what color a dragonfly’s wings are.
The Powerline Trail
What makes Tunnels a special place is that is has not just one but two reef formations, the inner one nestled inside a larger horseshoe-shaped outer reef. The inner reef, which stretches all the way up to the shore, is thus enclosed in a lagoon of fairly calm water. The fingers of the reef run perpendicular to the shore, forming multiple channels or "tunnels" which comprise a veritable underwater wonderland.
I’ll never forget the morning we saw large schools of tang, surgeonfish, wrasse, and butterfly fish swirling in eddies through the underwater canyons, or the time we came upon a large group of green sea turtles grazing on the far edge of the inner reef. The comings and goings of reef fish are inexplicable, but it’s rare that there aren’t a considerable number of fish at Tunnels, and there are also usually sea turtles here, too.
Like all tropical beaches, the clarity of the water/visibility is largely determined by the wave action. We’ve found that conditions are generally calmer earlier in the day and markedly better in the summer than the winter on the North Shore. But not always. We had several blissfully calm days this last trip, over Christmas, and were wise enough to get in several snorkeling "fixes" at Tunnels before high surf characteristically recurred.
The tides are the other factor to consider. Consult a tide chart in the local paper, for tides can make or break a trip to Tunnels. At low tide, it can be tricky to navigate over the exposed coral, as there’s little clearance. We’ve done it, but inexperienced snorkelers might find it rather claustrophobic and perhaps painful if they scrape themselves on coral. High tide raises the water level a mere two feet, but this then provides ample clearance for cruising over the reef.
Parking can be problematic. There is a narrow lane leading directly down to Tunnels that is invariably crammed with tightly packed cars by midday. We prefer to park at nearby Ha’ena Beach (an excellent swimming beach) and just stroll the pleasant quarter mile down the beach to Tunnels.
My favorite snorkel here involves entering at the far right end of the beach (facing the water) and letting the gentle leftward current carry me down along the fringes of the inner reef. It’s easy to imagine, if only for an hour or two, that this underwater realm is the real world and that everything else is a delusion.
8-mile Marker After Princeville