Kauai: Part I


Our GRAND FINALE!

To end our summer of traveling, we capped it off with something really good. Kauai. For ten nights.

Neither of us had ever been to this island. I had been to Oahu and Maui as a baby, which in my opinion doesn’t count, and Andrew had been to Oahu twice before. We chose Kauai because it is known to be lush, lined with beaches and also features mountains for hiking. We split our trip into two halves: The first five nights were spent in Kapaa on the eastern shore and the second five nights on the north shore near Hanalei. This provided access to different areas of the island while also only required us to move accommodation twice. So here we go, the first half of our trip in this post, and the second in another (soon to follow).

Accommodation: We stayed in an oceanfront VRBO two bedroom cottage in a residential neighborhood of Kapaa on Fuji Beach, also known as Baby Beach. The house was a bit eclectic, but it was well equipped with everything you could possibly need, including beach chairs, boogie boards, snorkel gear, air conditioning in the bedrooms, sand toys, grill, kitchen utensils and cookware, coolers, etc. It wasn’t fancy, but it was well priced and in an incredible location across the street from the ocean. I cannot recommend enough for people to stay here for bit more of a local feel and to have your own fully-equipped house instead of resort life.

Top left: View out the driveway. Hard to tell, but that’s the beach right there where the car is. Top right: the front of the house with our lanai (Hawaiian for porch) where we ate most meals. Bottom left: Main room and kitchen. Bottom right: Our bedroom. There was one other room of a similar size at the front of the house.

The weather while we were staying in Kapaa was perfect. It was rather hot for this side of the island, with temperatures in the 90s, but throughout most of the day and especially at night an amazing breeze would kick up, and the bedroom A/C was key (especially to cover up the noise of the omnipresent island feral rooster crows!). We didn’t get much rain, either, beyond a storm on our first day that brought in an unusual thunderstorm and delayed my plane from landing for two hours. It was still perfect!

Kauai East Shore Day 2 – Tuesday: This was our first full day on the island. We drove down to Poipu on the southern side. Along the way we stopped to check out the ruins of an old heiau (Hawaiian temple) and then went snorkeling and had a picnic lunch at Lawa’i Beach. The beach was beautiful and the snorkeling was good, though we found it much better on the north shore of Kauai. Afterwards we went to Shipwreck’s Beach, which is another beautiful beach that is sandy enough at the shoreline to go swimming and boogie boarding, which is nice since many other beaches had reef at the shoreline or the waves were too big. When we first arrived at Shipwreck’s, we went for a short walk along the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail, which is a trail that goes up on the cliffs at the northern end of the beach. Afterwards we hung out on the beach and did some swimming and body surfing. It was super fun. This beach was one of my favorite of our trip.

Shipwreck’s Beach – similar to every other beach we visited on Kauai, this was a public beach, fully equipped with freshwater showers, toilets and water fountains. Parking was limited but we lucked into a spot.

View from our walk along the lithified cliffs on the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail.

Shipwreck’s Beach

For dinner we picked up some locally fished Ono (wahoo) at the grocery store and had our own BBQ at our rental cottage, where we passed the evening enjoying the sea breeze, margaritas and dinner on our lanai.

Kauai East Shore Day 3 – Wednesday: Late in the morning we went for a drive to check out some local sites, including another heiau ruin, a viewpoint over the coastline and went to see both Wailua Falls and Opaeka’a Falls. The local authorities discourage tourists from going too close to the falls due to the dangers of the path, so we were only able to appreciate them from afar.

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Wailua Falls, which were gushing with water thanks to Monday’s storm

After seeing the waterfalls, we stopped at Waipouli Beach to eat our picnic lunch. We lucked into having the beach to ourselves and even sat next to a resting monk seal.

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Here we are at Waipuli beach, next to a resting Hawaiian monk seals. The species is critically endangered and only about 1,100 are left in existence. This girl had her own volunteer sitting on the beach to keep watch, prevent people from getting too close, and also provide information on their species. They had tagged this seal, so they knew a lot about her, including that she’d had two pups.

That afternoon we went for a short swim at the beach in front of our house and then headed to the luau! There are many choices on the island, and we ended up choosing to attend the Smith Family Garden Luau, which was conveniently only a ten minute taxi ride from our cottage. The ticket was $90 per person and included time to wander through the gardens, a pig roast with a buffet and open bar, and an hour long performance. The garden was beautiful, the food was good and while the performance was a bit cheesy at a couple points, it was entertaining and worth the money.

Andrew and I in the gardens before the luau.

Kauai East Shore Day 4 – Thursday: On Thursday morning we were up early to watch the sunrise and then left for two short hikes. The first was a really quick and easy 1.5 mile hike to see the Ho’opi’i Falls. We loved this hike because it took us into the jungle, where we were able to enjoy hunting for wildflowers and gazing at the canopy high above. It was lovely and such a different type of forest than we had experienced before!

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A beautiful wildflower on our hike.

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Afterwards, we hiked the 4.5 mile roundtrip to go up the nearby Sleeping Giant peak. The hike provided a good workout and incredible 360 views of the island.

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Me, on top of the Sleeping Giant

While we were in Kapaa, we only went out to dinner two of the five nights, otherwise we cooked at the house. Being able to BBQ was a key search criteria when looking for our rental cottage, as we looked forward to relaxing home cooked meals on the lanai. One of my favorite things of Kauai is that we were able to get fresh, locally caught seafood at the store. The seafood markets and even stores like Safeway only carry what was fresh and local! We always found ahi tuna, and at times found Ono (aka Wahoo), Monchong, Opah (aka Moonfish) and even Kauai farmed shrimp. All were so good and it was fun to try new fish, as I had not tried any except the tuna before. So to get some local seafood, on Thursday morning after our hike we went to a nearby fish market, the Fish Express in Lihue. We got fresh poke for lunch and ahi tuna steaks to grill for our dinner.

In the afternoon we stopped by Kealia Beach, where we hung out for a few hours swimming and boogie boarding. I don’t have a picture of it because we were too busy enjoying the beach, but it was gorgeous and not crowded. We even saw a sea turtle here for the first time on our trip!

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Before we went to Kealia Beach, we tried to go to the beach pictured above – Paliku Beach (aka Donkey beach). We did not see any donkeys, but given the secluded area, we did find a couple on a cove off to the side … enjoying themselves 😉 oops! We left quickly, and acknowledged that it was absolutely gorgeous and unfortunately far too rough for us to swim.
The Fish Express poke and other fish options
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Our dinner, featuring freshly seared Ahi Tuna

Kauai East Shore Day 5 – Friday: This was our big hiking day of the first half of our trip. We drove 1 hour 40 minutes to the southern end of the island where you are able to drive up to access the Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park. We started at the Pu’u O Kila Lookout at the end of the road on the trail towards the Pihea Vista junction, and then continued on the Alakai Swamp Trail until we hit the Kilohana lookout. It was about an 8 mile roundtrip hike through varied terrain, including a start at a beautiful vista, entering the rainforest and eventually going through some high altitude swamps. The weather varied as well, from sun, to fog, to rain. At times it was a rather difficult hike due to how slippery things get with the moisture of the rainforest, and the muddy sections were really hard if a descent was involved. But still, gorgeous and so worth it!

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This is what about 2/3 of the trail looked like. We walked on these wooden planks, which helped make it easier to navigate than on the mud. We really enjoyed walking through the rainforest, surrounded by the lush ferns, mosses and trees.
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I was so happy to have my trekking poles for this hike! This is one of the steeper, muddier sections of the hike. I was so nervous I’d fall and break something, but of course no worries were necessary. This just slowed us down a bit as you had to carefully walk through.
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This is the section of the Swamp Trail going through the swamps. There was a heavy fog as we passed through and tons of newts scrambling away through the mud as we approached. Isn’t it unbelievable that this is located only a few miles from gorgeous beaches like the one pictured below???
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The view from our destination after 4 miles, the Kilohana lookout. You can distinctly see Hanalei bay on the coastline and the edge of the coast on the left is where we spent the second half of our time in Kauai. Pretty neat to get to see it ahead of time from above.
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View of the Na Pali coast from near the Pu’u O Kila on the Pihea trail. Just gorgeous and photographs barely do it justice.

As you drive towards the Na Pali coast to do the above hike I mentioned, you also pass Waimea Canyon State Park. We bypassed it in the morning but stopped at the lookouts on our way back. It is absolutely gorgeous and since we didn’t have time to explore the canyon, we’ll just have to do it on our next trip to Kauai!

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The Waimea canyon is also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and rightly so. The colors were amazing and wikipedia has some interesting info on the geology here. As we gazed down there were several helicopter tours passing by. I’m a bit hesitant to do such things myself as I get motion sickness easily, but I can only imagine how beautiful this is from the air!

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For our last night in Kapaa we walked 15 minutes up the beach to have dinner at Sam’s Oceanview Restaurant, where we got a table at the window overlooking the ocean. The wine list was excellent and the food so good!

Our spot at Sam’s, cocktail included 🙂 We saw a couple get engaged on the grass just a few minutes after this picture was taken!

Kauai East Shore Day 6 – Saturday: We went for a morning run on the multi-use path that runs in front of our house to Kealia beach. I love to run but it’s even better when it’s in such a beautiful locale! After cleaning up, we departed to drive to our next destination on the North Shore. Sad to say goodbye to our sweet little cottage in Kapaa, but loved every moment!

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