Photography by Yuri Krasov

The northernmost and the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai, got its nickname The Garden Isle for a reason. Shaped like a wide green leaf of a tropical plant, it is, indeed covered with lush ever-blossoming gardens, and in addition to its omnipresent emerald greenery, boasts geological- and biodiversity suitable for a whole continent. From Hanalei Bay in the north to Captain Cook Landing in the south, and from Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon in the west to Fern Grotto and Sleeping Giant in the east, the island is brimming with natural beauty of its jagged mountains and shimmering waterfalls, and impresses visitors with its ancient culture and history.

Hanalei Bay Kee Beach

Add to it the most relaxed laid-back attitude that permeates everyday life, and you’ll find yourself in the most desirable vacation destination where rugged outdoor adventurers, mellow beach bums, and leisurely honeymooners all find accommodations and activities to their liking.

1. Kauai rooster

The Garden Isle can also be called The Rooster Isle, since its dense population of gorgeously picturesque feral roosters (in addition to busy hens and the cutest little chicks roaming around) makes itself heard loud and often. Some poor souls find the roosters’ cock-a-doodle-doo annoying, and for them the island resorts carry ear plugs, but for those who would rather enjoy the natural alarm clock as opposed to the wailing of city sirens, this sound is pure music, reminiscent of the best things in life – childhood, carefree summer, and robust animal life.

Kilauea Lighthouse

Heading north from Lihue Airport after a comfortable non-stop flight on Alaska Airlines from Oakland, California, we turn off the road to the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse – a 52-foot white tower under a red tin roof, positioned on the 180-foot precipice. My husband is interested in historical structures, and this lighthouse was built in 1913. I’m more attracted to The Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refugee where hundreds of sea birds can be seen in flight, and nesting in the coastal rocks.

2. Limahuli Garden

Our next stop – Limahuli Garden & Preserve, National Tropical Botanical Garden. Here, in a 1000-acre valley overlooked by a spectacular Makana mountain, a footprint of the ancient Hawaiian civilization is lovingly preserved in archeological complexes and 700-year-old stone-faced agricultural terraces surrounded by native plants – some on the verge of extinction. A native forest and an invasive forest growths vividly show the difference between historical landscape of the island and its newly acquired characteristic.

Past the bustling little village of Hanalei we cross a couple of one-lane bridges carefully watching for the upcoming traffic, and continue to the end of the narrow road (a scenic roadway on the National Register of Historic Places), and across the Wainiha River bridge to reach our destination. I remember that Avis clerk told us not to go too far north in a rental car, but she mentioned that we’re fine going to Ha’ena, and that’s where Hanalei Colony Resort is located.

Hanalei Bay red sail

This serene and beautiful beachfront resort lives up to its motto, Unspoiled. Unplugged. Unforgettable. 13 neat two-story cottages with 48 deluxe two-bedroom suites, all with fully equipped kitchens and private lanais, are circling a big lawn lined with palm trees and Cook pines on the five-acre property that emits a secluded intimate feel. The suites don’t have televisions, stereos, or phones (however, free WiFi is available). The only sound heard through the night is the soothing sound of the ocean waves.

4. Hanalei Colony room

Three large windows in our living room opened up to Hanalei Bay and a sandy beach framed with tropical shrubs. I could’ve spent days just sitting by the window, but we headed for a weekly poolside mai tai party thrown by the administration so the guests could meet up, and later on – to a lavish dinner at Mediterranean Gourmet – a multiple award-winning restaurant on the premises.

8. Sashimi at Mediterranian Gourmet

Owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Imad and Yarrow Beydoun, the restaurant has a casual yet upscale ambiance, ocean views from every table, and an enticing menu of Mediterranean specialties, like hummus, babaganoush, and tzatziki, served with pita bread, falafel and kafta, next to Hawaiian fresh fish prepared in a variety of ways from sashimi to fish kabobs and grilled filet with saffron rice and tropical fruit salsa.

Island-made cheesecake, homemade baklava, and Turkish coffee come as a sweet finale for a delightful evening, especially if accompanied by soulful guitar music, or other live entertainment offered here five nights a week.

11. Hanalei mai tai party

Adjacent to the resort is Halalei Day Spa with various massages that can be provided beachside; scrubs, body wraps, facials, and other spa services, including couples’ packages.

For outside excursions, Hanalei Colony guests can use a complimentary shuttle service in a comfortable 13-passenger van, daily from morning until sunset to and from nearby beaches and Hanalei Town with shops and restaurants. While staying at the resort, we visited the wind swept Ke’e beach with exposed ironwood roots looking like a fairy-tale gnome forest, and Tunnels beach, where surfers from all over the world hone their skill.

Hanalei Colony is the closest resort to the famed Na Pali coastline – hikers’ ultimate challenge with unparalleled views, but we took an easier route to visit this enchanting coast.

5. Na Pali Coast

Holo Holo Charters start their tours daily at Port Allen on the west side of the island. A sparkling-white 65-feet power catamaran takes vacationers on an unforgettable seven-hour Niihau-Na Pali Super Tour that shows off the most mysterious and fascinating part of Kauai – the only sporadically accessible from land of water north-western coast.  Its majestic sharped-faced mountains, shrouded in fog or bleached by the sun, play-back to the times immemorial when they were formed by the powerful struggle of volcanic fire and ocean water. The catamaran slows down and ventures into coves between the mountains for better views. The smiling crew provides breakfast, lunch with cocktails, in-between snacks and soft drinks, and plenty of valuable information about geological processes that formed the miracle of the emerald Kauai and rocky Niihau.

dophons Holo Holo

In-between breakfast and lunch, the crew members distribute snorkeling equipment, life jackets, and detailed safety instructions, and let passengers enjoy the most amazing discovery of underwater life. Reluctant at first, I was persuaded to jump into the bottomless azure after a crew member offered me a mask with prescription lenses (Holo Holo thought of everything!). In the water, the whole new meaning of snorkeling opened up to me. Instead of my usual blurry visions of brightly colored fish silhouettes, for the first time I was able to see the details of the pattern and appreciate the exquisite painterly craftsmanship of Mother-Nature on the tiny creatures suspended all around me in the thick glass of sunlit ocean.

3. Waimea Plantation Cottages

Soon after the Holo Holo tour, we were checking in at the Waimea Plantation Cottages, a short drive away from Port Allen. This quaint little resort consists of comfortably refurbished historical cottages, furnished in the bygone era style, but with modern conveniences, like hot shower, fully-equipped kitchenette and air conditioner. Scattered among the coconut palms and blossoming plumeria trees, the cottages have outdoor terraces with rocking chairs, making it too tempting to stay in, dine on papayas and apple bananas, and just watch how the shadows of the trees by the beach lengthen and darken at sunset…

Waimea Canyon view

The next morning we ventured to Waimea Canyon, “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” a 3567-foot marvel with red Martian cliffs, malachite greenery, and long streaming waterfalls, stretching for 14 miles from north to south. At the Waimea Canyon State Park we spent a good hour at West Kauai Technology & Visitor Center studying its comprehensive exhibitions on history, geology, and biodiversity of the island supplemented with historical maps and photographs, models of volcanos, and taxidermy of indigenous birds and small beasts. A flock of busily roaming in the grass golden hens and chickens guarded by the colorful roosters met us outside.

The rest of our Kauai vacation we spent at Koloa Landing Resort in the southern part of the island – a large luxurious complex with a meandering free-style swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, golf course, and track lines. One of the biggest advantages of staying at this upscale and beautifully appointed property is its location. It’s mere minutes away Kukui’ula Village shops and restaurants; Spouting Horn and Tunnel of Trees natural attractions; and golden-sand Po’ipu beach, where we spotted a sleeping monk seal – a zealously protected endangered inhabitant of Hawaiian Islands, usually surrounded by plastic cones and clear markers for humans to stay away while it’s asleep.  

9. Music at Smiths Garden Luau

On our last night on the hospitable island, we headed for the famous Smith’s Tropical Paradise Garden Luau that unfolded on more than 30 acres of flowering trees and waterbird lagoons in the eastern Kauai by the Wailua Marina State Park. A lavish banquet with a traditional imu ceremony was followed by an extensive entertainment program of Hawaiian hula and music and dance numbers from the other regions of the Pacific Rim.

6. Opaekaa Falls

On the way to luau we made a short side trip to glance at Opaeka’a Falls in the Kapa’a region nearby. While standing on a small observation landing by the highway, I looked at the glorious picture in front of me, and could hardly believe my eyes. In the middle of a deep emerald valley rose a stocky dark-green mountain. Twin waterfalls were streaming from its top, sparkling in the sun. Above them, against the blue sky backdrop, several snow-white Koa’e Kea birds with long curled tails were flying back and forth. Enchanted, I was watching them with only one thought in my head, “I see paradise.”

Find additional information at: www.kauaidiscovery.com, www.kilaueapoint.org, www.ntbg.org, http://www.hcr.com, www.kauaimedgourmet.com, www.hanaleidayspa.com, www.holoholokauaiboattours.com, www.waimeaplantationcottages.com, www.koloalandingresort.com, www.smithskauai.com.

About Emma Krasov

Emma Krasov is a professional travel journalist based in San Francisco, California. She is a travel columnist for several print newspapers and online publications nationwide, and a publisher of Real Travel Adventures and travel blog Art and Entertain Me www.artandentertainme.blogspot.com.
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