Ocean view from the Kalalau Trail
View of the beach along the Kalalau Trail.
On Sunday morning we left for Kauai, which is a half hour plane ride to the northeast of Oahu. Kauai is very rural—Lihue, the capital, and location of the main airport, is little more than a town (5674 people in the 2000 census) and resembles a sleepy town in the middle of America (only with palm trees and lush vegetation). Driving around the island felt a lot like northeast Ohio, where I grew up: the trees were green (although pretty much anything is green compared to Texas), there were assorted houses along the roads, and periodically  there were small settlements.

We drove to our hotel midway between Wailua and Kapaa, whose entranceway felt like an old sugar plantation house, with nice old wood floors, the Casablanca ceiling fan, and no walls. The rooms, unfortunately, looked nothing like sugar plantations. In the afternoon three of us took a walk on the Kuilau and Moalepe trails while Mike and Sharon took a ferry ride around the the Na Pali coast (apparently it was quite the deal for the $60 [or something like that], as it included a sumptuous buffet, splendid views of the Na Pali coast, and a bonus whale sighting).

The Kalalau Trail
A jungely section of the Kalalau Trail.
Note the mud.
In the evening I investigated the beach next to the hotel. I was a little surprised when I was greeted with a sign detailing just about everything that could be bad about a beach: strong undertow, sharp rocks, jellyfish, and a few others. This is characteristic of Kauai beaches, however. They typically have coral very close to shore, which is sharp and slippery and with the pounding waves, it would be difficult to climb back up in should you slip. The moral: go swimming on Oahu or somewhere else with friendlier beaches.

When planning a trip to Kauai, it should be remembered that Kauai is the wettest place on Earth. The lower elevations seem to be clear most of the time, but above about 2,000 or 3,000 feet there is almost always a cloud. And a warm, misting rain, on for five minutes, off for thirty. As a consequence, the trail is muddy. The soil seems to have, in addition to a strong rust-orange color, a strong clay component which makes the trail wet, slippery, and stains whatever clothing happens to touch the mud. The views are great, fog permitting, and the fun of experiencing creation is unparalleled.

Waterfall at Waimea Canyon
Waterfall at Waimea Canyon
The next day we drove early to Waimea Canyon, which is about an hour’s drive (that is the downside of cheaper hotels) through small towns and sugar fields. Anyone visiting Kauai should spend some time in the canyon, because the gorges and the waterfalls (Kauai has waterfall everywhere you look, it seems) rival the American West. Unfortunately, after about 11 am, the clouds rolled in (I suspect this is not unusual), and pretty much eliminated the views. I had been disappointed that no one wanted to join me on the 11 mile hike that the guidebook said promised excellent views, but after we arrived at a scenic overlook of grey-white cloud nearby, I lost the disappointment.

Mists at Waimea Canyon
The last seconds of the fog opening on the
Waimea Canyon Trail.

We did hike some of the shorter trails, which were still quite pleasant, even without the scenic vistas. Paul and I decided to take a short detour on a .1 mile trail (promising a nice view), but took a wrong path and ended up, half an hour later, on a completely different mountain at a rest area we did not know about. Except for the steep, muddy slope which Paul completely slipped on twice (don’t wear nice shorts in Kauai), it was a pleasant detour, but the main trail was even nicer. It dips through lush valleys and traverses the edge of a cliff, ending in a peace set of waterfalls. Walking along the edge of the cliff in the fog was interesting. We could see where we were going easily enough, but the view over the cliff was a white void, which the imagination expanded to grandiose proportions. The clouds parted for just one moment, revealing a brilliant patchwork of green vegetation, black rocks, red-orange dirt, and white fog, but in the thirty seconds it took to switch lenses the vision had almost disappeared.

One of the many chickens on the island. A tropical storm
in the 1980s freed the chicken population,which has
wandered the island ever since.
We stopped for shave ice1 on the way back, a treat greatly lauded by our guidebook. It reminded me of the flav-o-ice popsicle strips we had as a kid. They were brightly colored ice flavored with a strong and unnatural fruit flavor, much like the shave ice. I’d take an ice-cream over shave ice, any day, guidebook or no.

Na Pali coastline
View of the Na Pali coast from the
Kalalau trail.

Should you decide to visit scenic Kauai, I highly recommend taking The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed (Doughty and Friedman) with you. The information available on Hawaii itself is mostly advertisements for helicopter flights and boat tours; I saw no tourist information for hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, or the other more mundane activities. We are indebted to Mike and Sharon, who wisely felt that the $15 spent on the guidebook was well worth it. It gives a very thorough description of trails, suggests a number of activities, and even has reviews of local restaurants.

Kilauea Lighthouse
View of the Kilauea Lighthouse
On our final day Chris took a helicoptor flight, which was prodigiously expensive but apparently quite an experience, while the rest of us walked along the Kalalau Trail. This is an 11 mile trail on the north side of the island that is the only land access to the Na Pali coast. Since the 11 miles is over rough terrain, a camping permit is required to walk the entire length, as it will require two days. There is a beach only two miles away, however, and, Paul and I hiked up to the beach, ate lunch, played in the water (watch out for the surprisingly strong undertow, Paul), and hiked back.

After rejoining the group, we visited the sumptuous Princeville Hotel, photographed a scenic lighthouse, ate dinner at a hole-in-the-wall noodle restaurant (which was quite good), and then drove to the airport.

Princeville Hotel
Dining area of the five-star Princeville Hotel

< Oahu

1  “Shave ice” is the correct spelling.