It was hard to leave Mindy’s and the wonderful southwest side of Kauai, but we had a reservation in Wainiha on the north side that we had to keep. Especially given the cost of where we were staying, which we had to pay in advance to even keep our reservation! Because Kauai does not have a road that goes all the way around (which actually is a good thing – it keeps development in the fragile northwest portion of the island to a minimum), we had to circle the island, passing through the traffic messes that are Lihu’e and Kapa’a.
We stopped in Kilauea to check out the lighthouse and accompanying Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, which was an unexpected treat. This place is a haven for birds (and bird lovers), where you can see the Pacific golden plover, Laysan Albatross, and the Nene (the official Hawai’ian state bird), all in one place, with a wonderful old, white lighthouse set before the pounding Pacific. The US government built the lighthouse in 1912, and it remained in operation through 1974, when a more modern, automated lighting system took over.
When we arrived in Wainiha, we finally got an idea of just far we had come from the bustle of the east side of Kauai. Past Hanalei, the pace really slows down, with an increase in the number of one-lane bridges and a road than runs for long stretches in a winding trail just above the ocean. Our rental place looked out over Kepuhi Beach, which was good for more than just the view and the nice breezes. It turns out that we were backed into a kind of chasm which kept out almost all radio waves, including cell phones and wifi. Even the FM and AM didn’t work. To get email during the 5 days we were there, we headed across the road to the beach, where the iPhone could barely get a signal, probably from Princeville, across Hanalei Bay. We actually loved the remoteness, and the lack of instant Internet access helped us get away from it all, even more.
We spent most of our time on the north side relaxing on beaches and snorkeling or swimming in the waters just off of them. This area of Kauai is a beach-goer’s paradise. From Queen’s Bath to Hideaways to Wai’oli on Hanalei Bay to Kepuhi, Tunnels, Ha’ena, and Ke’e beaches toward the end of highway 560, you could spend a month lounging on north shore beaches and not be bored with scenery. I’ll talk more about the beaches in a future posting, but all of them, without exception, were incredible. It rained a bit during different times of the day, but the sun was always shining in a half-hour or so, and we never had to leave the beach due to the weather.
We took a great hike along the Kalalau Trail, which starts at the end of the road, at Ke’e Beach. While only 11 miles long, this is some of the most challenging, literally breathtaking, and visually stunning hiking in the world. While we only went a couple of miles in, to Hanakapi’ai Beach (the furthest you can go without a camping permit), the hike really stoked our sense of adventure. We really felt like we were seeing one of the wild places of the world, much like our hike in December 2005 through Abel Tasman in New Zealand. The ocean crashes into the beach with tremendous force, as the coastline come right out of the water and the beach is only there because of a river that runs through the chasm. We found a sea cave just to the west of the beach, filled with nesting sea birds. While we were exhausted when we got back, the hike left me wanting to see more of the coastline.
To this end, we took a helicopter tour of the entire island just before catching our series of flights home. This allowed us to float above the Na Pali rugged coastline and see many places that it is impossible to get to by hiking or taking a boat.
While it cost a lot, the helicopter trip was definitely worth it. Circling the Wai’ale’ale Crater, surrounded by a dozen waterfalls streaming down a thousand feet, well, that was simply incredible. It’s another place that is impossible to describe with words or pictures.
Traditionally, the area was kapu (taboo) and people were forbidden to enter. Even floating around inside the crater in a helicopter with the doors off, I could get a sense of the magic, and I was filled with wonder.