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The Garden Isle of Hawaii
Kauai brings the paradise.
Over 20 years ago, my new bride and I flew off to beautiful Maui in the Hawaiian islands for our honeymoon. We had a great time and saw some wonderful sights, but when we look back on that trip, the first thing that comes to mind his how tired we were. Part of it was due to all the wedding-related chaos beforehand, but the main culprit was jet lag. For some reason, it hit us harder than with any other trip we’ve ever taken (including to destinations much farther away). In fact, a favorite story from Maui is how I fell asleep during a Cirque-type show on our second night, only to be rudely awoken by a giant blanket the performers unexpectedly ran down the aisles with, and draped over the entire audience.
That trip feels like it was a lifetime ago, and in a sense it was. We were still in our twenties, living in our first house for less than a year — without kids and short on responsibilities. Over the past couple of decades, we’ve gone through some big life changes, including having a daughter who’s now in high school and a son who just finished up his freshman year of college. With both of them home for the summer, we decided it was time for some new Hawaiian memories — this time with the whole clan, and hopefully with more energy. We chose Kauai, which is considered by many to be the most scenic of the state’s islands. We just got back yesterday, after spending a week there, and the trip was all we’d hoped for and more.
In this week’s newsletter, I wanted to share some of our favorite spots (along with a few tips) with those who’ve never been to Kauai, but might be thinking about going there some day. Plus, since no other topics have been on my mind for the past week, I wasn’t sure I could come up with something else to write about without needlessly straining my already sun-soaked brain.
Here we go…
The Nā Pali Coast
The famous Nā Pali Coast runs along the northern edge of the island. It’s part of an absolutely gorgeous 6,175-acre state park, much of which is so difficult to explore by foot that many tourists elect instead to check it out on a broader scope by helicopter, plane, or boat. My family chose the latter, catching a Makana tour out of the Kikiaola Harbor, and speeding up north for a few hours of spectacularly lush, mountainous landscapes (featured in movies like Jurassic Park and King Kong), along with some sea-cave exploring, snorkeling, and other wildlife viewing.
The pictures hardly do the coastline justice. It really is worth experiencing firsthand, though I should warn those of you who are prone to sea-sickness that the water can get pretty choppy, even in the mornings of calm-weather days.
Pu’u O Kila Lookout
Pu’u O Kila Lookout inside Kokee State Park was my favorite picture-taking spot of the entire trip. It provides an absolutely breathtaking view of the backside of the Nā Pali Coast — specifically the Kalalau Valley. It’s easily reachable by car, as is Kalalau Lookout, which is about a mile away and offers a bit different view of the same valley.
The area can get pretty muddy when it rains, but the sun was shining and things were fairly dry when we went. It’s a must-visit.
Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge
The Kilauea Lighthouse, constructed over a hundred years ago, is located on Kīlauea Point on the northeastern side of the island. It’s a very picturesque area, and the peninsula it sits on (and the surrounding shoreline) serves as a wildlife refuge and breeding ground for many Hawaiian seabirds, including some very rare ones like the Red-footed booby (a species the Daly family had a lot of fun talking about).
Due to the popularity of this area, timed-entry tickets must be purchased to go to the refuge, and out onto the peninsula.
Waimea Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, is 10 miles long and up to 3,000-feet deep. It’s located on the western side of the island, and was named after its red soil that’s prevalent throughout the area. The canyon is very wet with several waterfalls, and is therefore quite muddy. Whether you explore it on foot, or just from the viewing areas, it’s fantastic to look at.
We rented a place through VRBO right across the street from Poʻipū Beach, which is on the southern side of the island. It’s a nice little beach with good snorkeling, and some very cool beach dwellers, including sea turtles and monk seals.
If you go to Poʻipū Beach, make sure you check out Puka Dog for some of the best-tasting (and most unique) hot dogs you’ll ever have.
There’s not a lot of hype surrounding the Makauwahi Cave — a low-key, off-the-beaten-path landmark in southern Kauai — but there really should be. It’s the largest limestone cave in the entire state, and is also considered Hawaii’s richest fossil site. More importantly, for less-sciency photo-taking types like me, it simply looks cool.
The cave is just a few miles away from Poʻipū Beach, and only takes about 12 minutes of hiking to reach.
National Tropical Botanical Garden
The NTBG is a sprawling property in southern in Kauai, once owned by the very wealthy Allerton and McBryde families. It’s now dedicated to tropical plant conservation and education, and features a very diverse collection of vegetation including endangered species, and fruit orchards that tour-takers are welcome to pick and eat from.
The garden keeps all of your senses occupied (in a good way). Just one bit of advice: bring some bug-spray. It was the only place we went to in Kauai where mosquitos (or any bugs) were a problem.
Odds & Ends
Just a few more places and activities of note…
Wailua Falls is a very impressive sight, and well worth a visit (though you can’t get super close to it).
If you’re looking for something unconventional (but a lot of fun), the Kauai Humane Society lets tourists (or anyone else) take a dog out for a day-long adventure of your choosing. The activity helps advertise them to prospective owners. We did this, and had a lot of fun with Moki, our pooch for the day.
Lastly, writing a piece on Kauai without mentioning wild chickens and roosters just wouldn’t be right. The island is absolutely overflowing with them — an estimated half-million cluckers living among a human population about 1/6 of that number. They’re on the beaches, in the jungles, and roaming through neighborhoods. And they’re far from quiet. It takes a little getting used to, especially in the mornings, but they’re a very fun novelty for visitors.
Kauai made for a perfect family vacation, and the Daly consensus is that we may just return some day, or maybe check out one of the other Hawaiian islands… hopefully before another 20 years pass.
Have a favorite Hawaiian destination? Tell me about it in an email or in the comment section below.
Regular Features Will Return Next Week
Since Substack is telling me that I’m pretty close to the maximum email length (all those pictures), I’m skipping “Random Thought”, “Obligatory Dog Shot”, and “Featured Vinyl” this week. They’ll return next week.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!