Exploring the Hawaiian island of Kauai

Kauai is the fourth largest and oldest of the Hawaiian Islands. Known as ‘The Garden Isle’ it has a perimeter of 90 miles of secluded coastline with lush vegetation, majestic valleys, captivating cliffs, tropical rainforest, waterfalls, rivers and breathtakingly beautiful beaches.

Kauai is the result of volcanic eruption, with a crater in the centre of this almost perfectly round cone shaped island at a height of 5,150 feet, the wettest spot on earth allegedly with 470 inches of rain a year.

A bigger claim is that it is Hollywood’s favourite location for exotic movies; Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, The Thorn Birds, Lost, Hook, From Here to Eternity and South Pacific all featured the island, if there was an Oscar for Best Location Kauai would walk it.

We decided to cycle the newly built coastal bike path to experience the majestic scenery of deserted coves and huge waves crashing on to empty golden beaches.

On our return leg we encountered a rather unusual and apparently rare sunbather on the beach, a colossal Hawaiian Monk Seal gently snoozing on the shore, all eight feet of it. Or to give him his Hawaiian name ‘Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua‘ and if you can pronounce that then hana maika’i to you.

They only exist in Hawaii and were once hunted close to extinction; they are protected today but with only around 250 in the main islands they remain on the Critically Endangered list fighting against a declining food supply and climate change. When one comes on shore for a nap after a hard days fight the local wardens are called, who immediately seal off the area (sorry) and erect a large sign; “Please go Around – resting Hawaiian Monk Seal”. So, we dismounted from our bikes and circumnavigated the slumbering magnificent creature, being sure not to wake him.

We were staying on the east side of the island so the first stop on our tour of the north was Kilauea Bay and Lighthouse, and quite unexpectedly spotting our missing No. 14 of The Galápagos Big 15, the Red Footed Boobie.

To be honest it wasn’t a case of spotting, we couldn’t fail to see them, there were hundreds perched on the cliff, nesting in the trees and flying above us and surprisingly the Frigate bird we also remembered from our Galapagos adventure, the ones with the red chests they inflate during courtship.

We also spotted the Tropicbirds an elegant large gull with red tail streamers at least a foot long, they fly standing up in the air when courting and can be seen flying backwards to attract their mate. I thought Hummingbirds were the only ones who can fly backwards but apparently not. Sadly, it was the wrong time of year to see the Albatross, or Gooney Birds as they are known due to their clumsiness on land, completely contradicting their elegance in the air.

We followed the road around the north coast to arrive at the most exquisite town of Hanalei Bay with the most expensive properties to match, would you believe $16.5M for a two bed two bath property, but it does come with over an acre of oceanfront land. Perhaps not that surprising, we were told Mark Zuckerberg had just paid $66M for 250 acres on the island .

Day two with the car, was an expedition into the south and west side of the island with an early morning trip to investigate the Waimea Canyon. There is a fast route the locals take up the mountain, the instruction we were given was to take the turn by Cook in Waimea.

Waimea is where the explorer Captain Cook first landed in the Hawaiian Islands in 1778, so quite fitting the town should have a statue in his honour, and that someone had placed a garland around. But it’s actually a replica of the one in his home town of Whitby.

We arrived at the summit to be presented with clear views across the canyon, they were magnificent and on an immense scale. A volcanic gash running north south a mile wide, ten miles long and over 3,000 feet deep – The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.

It is said that the Hawaiian Islands have 27 ecosystems and probably micro-climates to match, it seems like most are on Kauai.  As we drove around this diverse island we crossed rainforest, arid plains, volcanic mountains, lush plantations and tropical beaches.

One of the highlights was a visit to a coffee plantation, in fact the largest coffee grower in the US.

Kauai Coffee – ‘Taste Paradise One Cup at a Time’ – is in 3,000 acres with over four million trees. Following a twenty minute tour around the grounds, we were invited into a coffee tasting. I didn’t know coffee could be so different, before we even start thinking about blends and adding flavours we had to consider strength of roast, drying time and bean type. Caramel Mild was my favourite, Helene’s was not her usual decaf but Blue Mountain Dark Roast. All good fun.

On the way to a light lunch at Brennecke’s Beach Broiler we were enticed into the “historical town of Hanapepe”. This was a traditional cowboy town, more of a ghost town really, it was completely deserted, but all added to the atmosphere. The stores facades have remained unchanged for a hundred years or so, I guess that’s ‘historical’ for the US, but instead of selling horse saddles, pistols and of course cowboy boots they now offered haute couture, pampering and of course cowboy boots.

Later we spent an idle couple of hours watching the local boys surf and spin on some sizeable waves. We were just paddling back when a couple of seals swam up to arrive about five feet out from us, they cavorted in the surf and showed off their skills in the shallows. The warden arrived pretty soon, with ropes and “Do Not Disturb” signs in hand but the seals were more interested in performing for us in the waves than joining us on the beach.

Later that day at the hotel the lights went out, all of them right across the island. But that’s OK the engineers were on it and an hour later power was restored, then it went again. Apparently the “fix” set fire to the whole facility and the island went dark, so the shops and restaurants just shut and we all went to the beach. That’s what you do in Hawaii.

David Moore is Author of ‘Turning Left Around the World’. Published by Mirador and available from Amazon, it is an entertaining account of David and his wife’s travel adventures – often intriguing, frequently funny and occasionally tragic. 

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