Lush green jungles, snaking rivers, expansive canyons and spectacular cliffs. Kaua’i is stunning. As the oldest of the Hawai’ian islands its maturity creates an otherworldly oasis. A rich history includes Europe, Russia, Norway and of course America vying for a piece of this amazing island. Now, tourism is the primary industry, bringing millions to the Garden Island. Even so, it retains much of its original charm and remote feel. Plus, well, chickens. The chickens have to outnumber the people 10 to 1. They. Are. Everywhere. My understanding is mongoose, introduced to the other islands in the 1800s to control the rats, missed the boat to Kaua’i. Nothing to eat the chicken eggs, hence more chickens.
There are enough places to visit to fill a year, chickens and all. But we worked these six breathtaking adventures into a week:
1.) Day One: Waimea Canyon
With about a dozen trails to choose from, there’s something for everyone. Some little more than a nature trail, others challenging treks to the bottom of the canyon. We opted for something in between. The Canyon Trail to Waipoo Falls. Part of the trail traverses a wide open plateau with enough loose sand to slow us down and I wasn’t taking any chances. We stayed well back from the edge as there was nothing between the edge of the plateau and a swan dive off the edge of the world. The views from here were every bit as impressive as the Grand Canyon. Viridian foliage contrasted the vibrant bronze hills and deep shadows from the clouds drifted across the mesa. I could have been done for the day right here, but we went on.
The trail itself is shaded and lovely. Not hard but a steady decent down ensured a challenging climb up. At the bottom of the trail a charming waterfall and small pool greeted us. It was a perfect place to picnic on a flat rock overlooking the water. As expected, it was ice cold. So it was just a wade for me. But others braved the chill.
2.) Day Two: Poipu and Koloa Beaches
These two distinctly different beaches were part of an epic hike between them. Poipu Beach, a picturesque cove whose teal waters were calm and inviting, was just a quick stop. Though tempted to take a dip we had more adventure on the agenda. We were there long enough to watch two monk seals and a green sea turtle lazily sun themselves on the shore. Watch how she (or he?) becomes so irritated when the wave interrupts her nap. Then we were off to explore caves, coves and cliffs.
The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail connecting the two beaches is like treking through three different countries. The actual trail picks up behind the Hyatt, but there is a path that meanders through the condo zone in-between. We opted to drive so our car was a little closer to the trailhead. A sandy forest of ironwood trees opened onto dramatic cliffs. I was mesmerized by the azure waves surging onto the coast. The white spray exploded on the cliff walls before retreating. Coastal caves begged to be explored, the craggy openings sun bleached and secretive.
We left the caves and continued along the path that decended to deserted coves where breakers made it too dangerous to get close to the water. Then we climbed to the tops of the wind-swept bluffs where we traversed the sandy trail under the shade of trees. We took a few opportunites to detour back out to the cliffs and take in the sweeping ocean views. Eventually the path took a short divergence across the Poipu Golf Course. The path might have skirted the course at one time but the disintegrated cliff has become too precarious. We literally took the path across the green. With some of the wonder and mystery lost to the intrusion of civilization we broke out onto scrubby red dirt behind
the CJM Stables.
Finally our expedition brought us to the beach and the dazzling seaside. Virtually empty, we soaked in the salty breeze and let the cool waves lap our feet after our 4-mile sojourn. A quick tip-toe across moss-covered lava rock and we were at Gilin’s Beach.
Gilini’s has to be one of my favourite beaches of all time. Secluded, wide open and a perfect mix of impressive waves and calm, protected coves. The ironwoods created natural cabanas for us to set up camp. From there we played, snorkeled and sunbathed for hours. An enormous monk seal basked herself at the point. She was so still for so long I wasn’t even sure she was alive, but she lifted her head for just a second to survey her surroundings before returning to her nap.
When we felt satisfactorily spent on sand and salty water we made our way back. A wrong turn just before the stables led us to a little treasure called the Makauwahi Cave. I’m so glad we stopped, even though the day grew late as we left this lovely corner of the universe.
4.) Day Two Continued: Makauwahi Cave
The cave was an unexpected treat. A tiny portal led to what would have been the largest part of the cave, now open to the sky. The main room of this ancient cavern collapsed thousands of years ago and left a large depression with an archeologist’s dream of artifacts and fossils. The evidence records floods, droughts, a tsunami and hurricanes over the years. A large opening, protected by a delightful older volunteer who shared the history and new findings, led us to the remaining cave. He showed off a collection of Hawai’ian artifacts including ancient tools for fishing and preparing meals. Finally we took flashlights and ventured into the dark. We were warned not to go too far as there were ancient burials tucked away in the walls. That and the blind wolf spider I had no intention of meeting.
5.) Day Three: Kauapea (Secret) Beach
After a tiny downhill hike through a grove of trees we were greeted by beautiful white sands and turquoise waters. Perhaps I have a particular soft spot for this beach. My family and I stumbled across this little wonder on a visit nearly fifteen years ago, when my kids were younger and I experienced much as a mother watching the delight of her children. Towering cliff walls trickled with water, creating freshwater pools where my youngest, who was seven, splashed and watched tiny tadpoles. The large waves facinated my oldest, a ten-year-old. That day we had the expanse to ourselves for hours. I’ve read it’s not quite as isolated, but still a delightful place to relax and play in the water.
6.) Day Four: Wailua Falls
Incredible views await a quick walk from the car. While this was a typical “scenic view” turn-out, it really is a beautiful view and the waterfall, though far off, is spectacular. Orignally we had planned the hike down to it. I consider myself adventureous, but when I learned others have been killed on this hike I questioned the wisdom in it. Also, it’s illegal. And I’m a staunch rule-follower. So we skipped it.
5.) Day Five: Na Pali
By far the most recognizable place on Kaua’i, the Kalalau Trail and Ke’e Beach are closed due to the devestating flooding this past spring. Stay tuned here for updates on repairs and re-openings. That being said, we were there before the floods and it truly is one of the most magnificent wonders of nature. We made a quick stop at a small wet cave affectionately called “The Blue Room” due to the color of the water. While not entirely mind-blowing, it was pretty and worth the stop before we continued to the trailhead. On the same 15-year-old trip with my kiddos we attempted the hike. So it can be done with younger adventurers. We only went a quarter of a mile in, as the drops were intimidating for a momma. This time around we made it from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai Beach, although still only a snapshot of this grand and ambitious hike.
On one hand the trail is well-worn and shaded. On the other the incline, boulders and streams made for a tiring 4-mile haul. The fatigue was easy to forget with those views! I felt like I was wandering on the edge of the world, that every bend in the trail was my personal discovery. The final decent to Koloa Beach was challenging with unstable gravel and uneven steps. And at the bottom the enormous black boulders made climbing over to the beach another obstacle, especially on weary legs. But the expansive beach was gratifying, despite tretcherous waves making it impossible to swim. We explored the small cave on the far end of the beach and enjoyed a small picnic (in which we were “forced” to share with a dozen feral cats) before we made the treck back.
If I had to choose an Hawai’ian island on which to permenantly settle, for me it would be Kaua’i. There’s a certain tranquil, back-country feel that encourages me to linger a little longer, breathe a little deeper and dream a little bigger. There’s still much to discover and a trip back can’t come too soon!
- On the island of Kaua’i finding solitude is easier than the highly-visited islands of Oahu and even Maui. Each of these six adventures we enjoyed not only crowd-free but nearly people-free.
- Determined to leave civilization behind? Rent a four-wheel-drive. We made a ardent, albeit unsuccessful, quest to find the original Jurrasic Park gates near the North Fork Wailua River. Actually just the posts, the gates are long gone. We ended at a river crossing too high, even for the Jeep. But during the bumpy ride we didn’t see a soul.
- If you’re one to enjoy the water from afar then Kekaha Beach is for you! A bit of a drive to get to, but 15 miles of wide open sand will make you feel you’re the only person on the planet! But the unprotected seashore make swimming treacherous. Here’s where you spread out a towel, pop up an umbrella, open a book and relax!