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Friday, March 3, 2017

Kauai, Hawaii

I am very lucky to have been to all the main Hawaiian islands once, this was my second trip to Kauai, my first time being seven years ago. It is such a beautiful island with so much wilderness and hiking trails. The first time we didn't stay very long, and I only got to do about three hikes so I knew at some point I would have to return. Although not much else has changed since my last visit, it did used to be a lot cheaper, hotel and flight prices have gone way up.

Waimea Canyon.

Kauai is not a huge island, there are really only two ways to go, one highway leads to the east and north shores, the other to the south and west shores.
It's called the Garden Island for a reason, lush green beauty. If you do not hike or enjoy nature then there are less reasons to vacation there, the towns are small, and there are not a lot of other things to do.

Lush greenery on Kauai.

The highways do not go all the way around the island, and the NaPali Coast that is in between is one of the main attractions for tourists. NaPali literally means "the cliffs" and they are incredibly stunning and are only accessible by boat, air, or hiking trails. I have managed to see this area in all three ways. Seven years ago we splurged and did the helicopter tour, this time we went by boat, and I have now also hiked in to several overlooks.

One of my favorite hikes was the Nu'alolo Trail. This once could be done as a big loop, with several amazing views, but the middle cliff section of the trail has washed/eroded away and so now you can only hike out to the viewpoint and back. On the day I did this hike it started out quite lovely, weather wise. When I arrived at Lolo Vista Point overlooking Nu'alolo Valley, I had time to take pictures, check out some of the wild goats, and sit down to eat lunch. Shortly thereafter the fog and clouds rolled in and completely obliterated any views, in fact a few people who had hiked the four miles down after me, saw absolutely nothing for their trouble. As I started hiking back, it started to rain... hard. The trails in Kauai are red clay and very slippery, I was very glad they were dry on the way down, but the more it rained, the more they turned into small streams. My trusty hiking boots saved the day, but I ran into a couple of people trying to climb back up the steep sections with just regular running shoes and they were having a really hard time. Although I ended up completely drenched this hike was amazing, and one I will always remember.

The NaPali Coast from the Lolo Vista Point.

Wild goats on the Nu'alolo Trail.

Waimea Canyon is also quite something to behold, Hawaii's version of the Grand Canyon, it is 10 miles long and about 3600 feet deep. Most people just drive up and stop at all the various overlooks and get their fill of glorious views, but the state park also has a lot of hiking trails to get a little more up close and personal. Unfortunately one of the roads that led to several trails was closed during my visit, but I still had quite a few options. A popular short and scenic hike leads to Waipo'o Falls, the scenic part is actually of the canyon on the way, once you actually get to the falls, you are in the middle of them, so all you really see is the creek. A great view of the whole shebang is from the Pu'u Ka Pele Overlook.

Waipo'o Falls from afar.

On the trail to Waipo'o Falls, yup, that's a rooster.

The Kukui Trail is not at the deepest part of the canyon, consequently you can hike to the bottom and back in five miles. I did the falls hike in the morning and then did this one afterwards, but I only went about halfway down to a great viewpoint.

On the Kukui Trail.

A really nice hike that I did on my last visit, but decided not to repeat this time is the Pihea Trail. My mom and her friend Chantal came on this trip with me, but we mostly did separate daytime activities, since they did not want to do long or tricky hikes. They decided to do the first section of the Pihea Trail and I met them there after doing a different hike in the same area.
Although many people just stick to checking out the first part of the trail with the beautiful view of the Kalalau Valley you can continue on and do an 8 mile hike along the Alaka'i Swamp Trail to a viewpoint overlooking the north shore.

Chantal hikes down the Pihea Trail.

On the Alaka'i Swamp Trail boardwalk, back in 2010.

The Sleeping Giant or Nounou Mountain Trail is relatively easy, except for the steep last mile, and is closer to civilization than some of the other hikes. Once on the top you get a great view down to Kapa'a.

View of Kapa'a from the top of The Sleeping Giant.

Cook Island Pines on the Sleeping Giant hike.

In my guidebook there is a section on hiking trails and then another section for "adventures".
The hike to Honopu Ridge was categorized as an adventure because the trail is unmaintained and I guess there is the potential to take a wrong turn. I found it pretty easy to stay on the correct trail especially since there was a lot of flagging tape along the way. But I definitely had to do some crouching through tunnels of prickly ferns and crawling over logs. Once at the viewpoint, it was all worth it. The trail continued on after that another half a mile or so, but one section stopped me in my tracks, straight down, very slippery, with nothing to hang on to, so I called it quits and headed back.

On the unmaintained trail to Honopu Ridge.

Honopu Ridge.

On our first visit to Kauai my mom and I were driving down the highway and we kept seeing chickens along the road, at first we just thought somebodies chickens were running amok, but we quickly learned that this island is known for the "wild" chickens. In 1992 there was a hurricane and a lot of chickens got loose and stayed that way forever after. They are EVERYWHERE, you will see them while hiking in the jungle, at the beach, in the Safeway parking lot. It becomes abnormal to be somewhere and not hear a cockadoodledoo. Consequently, in order to actually sleep, I kept the fan on high in my hotel room to drown out the constant noise.

Chickens rule Kauai.

On days I wasn't hiking I would visit some of the tourist vistas, and the many beautiful beaches.
The Kilauea Lighthouse is one of the places you can just take a look at from afar, or you can pay $5.00 to go down onto the bluff and wander around.

The Kilauea Lighthouse.

On a particularly stormy day I decided to go over to the west side where the weather is generally better. I drove out to Polihale State Park, which is easier said then done, once the pavement ends there is a 45 minute drive over an extremely potholed road. It would be faster with a high clearance vehicle but I just had my little Chevy Spark rental car. This area rarely gets wind or precipitation but on this day it was just howling, with blowing sand and rain. I did not want to damage my camera so I just took a few pictures with my phone. This is the end of the line where the NaPali Coast starts and there is a 15 mile stretch of pristine beach along here.

A few other people attempt to walk along the beach while being nearly knocked over by the wind.

Two waterfalls you can easily drive to, with no hiking required, are Wailua and Opaeka'a Falls.

Wailua Falls.

Opaeka'a Falls

The Spouting Horn is on the south shore and fun to check out especially when the waves are really crashing.

The Spouting Horn.

Sunset by the Spouting Horn in Poipu.

On my birthday my mom and I did a boat tour of the NaPali Coast. ( Chantal does not do boats.) We used Liko Kauai Cruises, they provide a five hour tour either in the morning or afternoon, we did the morning option, and it included getting up close and personal with the beautiful NaPali Coast, ( in winter they cannot stop at any beaches or caves because of rough seas, but we still got very close to shore ) about an hour of snorkeling, and we also saw both Spinner and Bottlenose Dolphins. On the way back we looked for whales, spotted a couple breaching in the distance, and got as close to them as I have ever been in my life...... which was amazing. The two guides Mike and Dave (both humorous and informative guys) had a hydrophone contraption that they lowered into the water so we could hear the whales singing.

On the Liko Kauai boat tour.

The NaPali Coast by boat.

Spinner Dolphins.

Along the NaPali coast by boat.

A few of the hikes on Kauai are kind of on the death defying side. I decided to do the Okolehao Trail over in Hanalei. It's a steep first mile or so, then it gets to a picnic bench with a good view, but from there the trail continues, as did I. In these kind of mountains, a lot of the trails run along a ridgeline that is the width of the trail with sheer drop offs of thousands of feet on either side, paying attention is important, there is no room for error.
On a side note: On the earlier mentioned Pihea Trail, my mom wanted to sit down and have lunch while looking at the view, she was literally about to perch herself on the very edge of a 3000 foot cliff, when I mentioned perhaps she should rethink that. It is somewhat deceiving because there is a lot of vegetation along the edges of the trails making it not that easy to see that there is nothing but thin air right beside your foot.

As I continued along the Okolehao Trail, it got narrower and narrower and there were several steep slopes where I had to use ropes to make my way up and down the trail.
As I was hiking an incredibly loud siren started, which I assumed was a tsunami warning. I could see down to the beach and kept an eye out for the supposed tsunami while being alternately grateful I was not in harms way, and wondering where my mom and Chantal were. In any case, it turns out they test the sirens at the exact same time on the first business day of every month. Good to know.

Hanalei, the Okolehao hike is in the mountains to the left.

Taro fields in Hanalei.

Some beaches are easy to just drive to, but some require a short walk or hike.
Larsens Beach is one that took a little while to hike down to. I continued on the inland trail for awhile once I reached the beach and as I finally headed out onto the sand I stumbled right into a group of nudists...oops. I chose to take no pictures from that particular incident.

We spent a day snorkeling at Poipu Beach, and there were two monk seals napping on the sand while we were there, which is a very common occurrence. Someone comes along and puts ropes around them and signs to keep people from getting too close, and then they sit nearby and guard them. I saw the seals on two different days, the beach was quiet the first time, but it was jam packed the second time, and the seals just kept sleeping, completely oblivious to all the commotion.

Monk seal at Poipu Beach.

On the hike down to SeaLodge Beach.

At Secret Beach.

My shade tree at Donkey Beach.

Ever feel like you are being watched? The sand crabs are plentiful.

Hanakapi'ai Falls was a hike I was really looking forward to. It starts on the Kalalau Trail at the far end of the north shore. On the day I decided to do it I arrived at the trailhead and was unable to find a spot to park my tiny car, even in the overflow parking area or along the road. I eventually gave up and did other things that day, however the next time I tried, I left the hotel REALLY early and managed to snag a spot this time, still not in the main area, but close enough. The first couple of miles are above and along the shore, then you get to a river, cross it, and start hiking up into a valley to get to the falls. On a side note: After the Kalalau trail crosses the river it continues along the shore and into the NaPali Coast, it is 11 miles one way and you need a permit to continue, you will need to backpack and spend a few nights out there. Although I did not do that, I can only imagine it would be an amazing experience.

I brought water shoes to change into knowing I had to wade across the river, I then hid them in the bushes for my return. What I was not aware of was that there were going to be several other crossings along the way over the same river, I lost track of how many, but I just did what most everyone else was doing and boulder hopped across them all.... I was very pleased that I managed to not end up in the drink. Others were not so lucky.

Ke'e Beach. Where the Kalalau Trail starts.

On the Kalalau Trail.

Hanakapi'ai Falls.

The Nene's (Hawaiian Geese) in Hawaii are plentiful and found nowhere else on earth, they are also very photogenic.

Nene, (Hawaiian Goose)

On the way to Ho'opi'i Falls.

One of my favorite walks was to the Maha'ulepu beaches. You used to be able to drive there in a regular car along a dirt road, but the road now resembles a rollercoaster, although a lot of people still attempt to drive it, and do not seem phased to be scraping the heck out of the bottoms of their rental cars, but I thought a better idea was to walk in from another direction. Pictures unfortunately do not do this area justice, the blue of the water, and the lithified cliffs are stunning. Oddly although it is not a long trek, no one seems to wander very far afield, and it's nice and unpopulated the farther you walk.

Maha'ulepu Beach area.

Lithified cliffs at Maha'ulepu Beaches.

There are more lithified cliffs, also worth a visit, over by the Hyatt in Poipu..

Lithified cliffs in Poipu.

The locals in Kauai are very friendly, and sometimes they do very entertaining things, this guy made me wonder why I shelled out so much money for a trailer when I could have just tied my horse to my bumper. A couple of minutes after I took the picture he drove through a river pulling the mule along behind him.

The locals have a wide variety of fishing techniques. Some of them risk life and limb out on rocky outcroppings along the ocean wielding a knife and trying to harvest opihi (an edible shellfish) while waves crash all around them. Others use safer methods, like the island tradition of using throw nets.

A local throw net fisherman.

The Allerton Gardens was a favorite experience of ours back in 2010, however on this trip I opted not to go again, but my mom and Chantal went and reported back that it is now almost twice as expensive, it wasn't cheap to start with, and the tour is not as good. The famous Moreton Bay Fig tree from the Jurassic Park movie is in the garden as well as a lot of flora that is very unique. If you like gardens Hawaii is definitely the place to visit one, I have been to some amazing ones on all of the different islands.

The Moreton Bay Fig tree where they found the dinosaur eggs in Jurassic Park.

I also visited the Kauai Hindu Monastery, the main temple and some of the other areas are not open to the public, but the view of the Wailua River from the grounds was worth checking out.

The Wailua River from the grounds of the Hindu Monastery.

Although my trip went very well, the flight back did not, what is fast becoming one of my least favorite activities, spending the night in an airport, happened to me twice in the space of one year and I only flew three times!


For my other blogs specifically about Hawaii:

The Big Island


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