Kath and I are back in Memphis now, after what seems like one of the best trips we’ve ever taken. Coming back to Memphis was actually a little depressing. I love Memphis, don’t get me wrong, but when you’ve been used to staring at incredible beauty day after day, for more than two weeks, the endless strip malls and crumbling streets can really weigh you down.
It is probably best to break up a description of Kauai into one part covering the west and south sides of the island and another part featuring the northern coastline, as we stayed in both areas. This part will focus on the Waimea area in the southwest region of Kauai, were we were based for 4 days.
We stayed at a guesthouse loft in Kekaha called Mindy’s, which turned out to the best value place for the entire trip. Mindy and Dave were great hosts, and they really went out of their way to make us feel welcome. We could walk a few to the Kekaha Beach Park and watch the paddle surfers or take a refreshing swim anytime we felt the urge.
However, there was a lot to see all over Kauai, especially on the western side, so we spent a lot of time roaming around and taking it in. We drove (in our rental car – a yellow, PT Cruiser – ugh, terrible choice made by Dollar) to the end of Highway 50 on the west side, behind the back of the Pacific Missile Range Facility and close enough to Polihale State Park to know where the best sunsets could be seen.
The next day, we checked out the Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park areas. The views on all of the roads around the canyon, particular the Waimea Canyon Drive are just stunning. Save an entire day for this activity, if you want to get out and do some short hikes, stop at most of the scenic overlooks, and drive down one of the ridge roads. While the views are breathtaking, perhaps the magical part involved the ever-changing weather and flora that you encounter just off the main roads.
We walked about a mile past the Pu’u o Kila lookout and watched the clouds blow over the ridge, stream through us, and back down the other side, down into the Kalalau Valley, a place we would see from the air a week later.
While most folks hit a few of the overlooks and head back for the beach, we lingered along the Makaha Ridge Road, stopping just before the Makaha Ridge Tracking Station to snap some pics. This area is completely remote and empty, except for swooping birds and the crushing sounds of the ocean 1000 feet below. I only wish we had thought to bring a picnic…
We spent another relaxing day in Po’ipu, which is largely a resort and residential area. Normally, this would not have been my first choice, but as we came to discover on Hawaii, while no one owns the beach, most of the best beaches are surrounded by development, and there is no way to totally avoid it, if you want a sandy beach experience reachable without a long hike. The Po’ipu Beach Park and Brennecke Beach consistently win awards as some of the best beaches in the world, and it wasn’t hard to see why. There is some decent snorkeling from the beach at Po’ipu, and I made it over to a sandy island and almost stepped on a monk seal. Apparently, I’m not the first person to encounter the wildlife here… In the breakers, just beyond the protective sea wall, you can view sea turtles coming up for air as they ride the waves only feet away from bodyboarders. While the Grand Hyatt Kauai and many vacation homes keep this area full of vacationers year-round, we never felt crammed in by people. There is plenty of space and lots to do all around Po’ipu.
On our way around to the north side of the island, we stopped at Wailua Falls. This sight, while beautiful, wasn’t really worth the drive out of Lihu’e. In a way, it broke the spell that Kauai put on us (and which we badly needed). There is just so much to do on the island that you feel a little overwhelmed. There is beauty everywhere you look. I mean, munching on a $1.50 hot dog in the Costco parking lot, you are staring up at the amazing Ha’upu Range. You can’t get away from it. Wailua Falls brought us back down to earth, and we were finally able to enjoy the majesty of the island without the pressure to see every sight and enjoy every activity, because we knew that not everything would live up to our expectations. But almost everything else on the island did…