It has been likened to the proverbial Garden of Eden. But whether it is the long lost garden of paradise or not, the island of Kauai in the state of Hawaii is without a doubt one of the most spectacular sites on planet earth.
Created some six million years ago, the island is approximately 550 square miles and it is the oldest and northernmost of the main Hawaiian Islands. Kauai (pronounced kawa-ee) is 20 to 30 minutes by air from Honolulu. With its near perfect weather (daytime temperatures range from mid-70s to mid-80s year round), it’s a wonderland any time of the year.
Most first time guests are awed by the beauty of this small island as soon as they catch a glimpse of it upon disembarking from the aircraft. With a range of lush greens, rare exotic flowers and stunning mountainous landscapes, this island is sure to take your breath away at every turn. The sea that surrounds this island is a daring clear turquoise color that captivates the most avid water buff. Fifty of the 113 shoreline miles are sand beaches. Mountain ranges butt up to the seascape with a majestic sunrise and sunset that performs each morning and night. The soil is a rusty red, and the variation of greens in the landscape form the most enchanting visual experience.
To the south of Lihue where the airport is located, is the town of Poipu, where most tourists head for repose and to some of the most beautiful white-sand beaches in the world. With golf courses, luxury hotels and an array of water activity options, people with little ones prefer this region most. Deluxe resorts, condo rentals and vacation homes abound, and a good travel agent will help you book the place that fits your particular needs. There is a modest shopping area, filled with galleries of local artists, as well as some fine restaurants.
A short scenic distance to the west side of the island, the town of Hanapepe offers a much different landscape; more dry and desert like, but still surrounded by the island’s famous red dirt. From there, an 11-mile drive up a windy road will mesmerize visitors with views of Waimea Canyon, referred to as the mini Grand Canyon. More than 2500 feet deep, the views leave bystanders virtually speechless. (It may also be recognizable as the area used as the locale for the movie “Jurassic Park.” Different parts of the island were also used in various scenes from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”) Waimea Canyon can be accessed by helicopter, allowing passengers a golden view of the approximately 30 percent of the island that cannot be accessed by foot or vehicle.
The east side of the island boasts a fern grotto that can be discovered by kayak rentals or canoes. Most of Kauai’s some 60,000 residents live on this side of the island, so the true culture of the locals is most appreciated here. (The north shore of the island is more primitive and serene.) With a comparable choice of activities, a drive to Hanalei evokes feelings of tranquility not often experienced at other vacation destinations. There is something wildly therapeutic about this island and the only way to experience it is to immerse yourself in its unmatched beauty.
The north shore does offer two impressive golf courses, horseback riding stables, dramatic beaches, and a small shopping area that features local hand-made goods and foods. The sole road that travels around the island ends at the northern-point of the island, known as Ha’ena, where intriguing caves can be explored and challenging hiking trails are offered to locals and guests alike. Along the northwest side of the island is also Na Pali Coast, whose cliffs rise 4,000 feet about the surf.
Even with all the activity and things to do, the island rolls up around 8:00 pm., which makes it an ideal destination for those who simply want to relax and rejuvenate in the evenings. Other islands in the Pacific are clearly designed as a party atmosphere, but the value of the island of Kauai is to revive its guests, and restore and invigorate its visitors. One visit to this awesome island will beckon you back year after year.
*Eating is also fabulous — Be sure to try local favorites:
Ahi: yellowfin tuna
Chicken Luau: chicken cooked with taro leaf and coconut milk
Haupia: coconut pudding
Kulolo: taro pudding
Lau lau: pork, butterfish, beef or chicken wrapped in taro leaf and steamed in an imu (underground oven)
Lilikoi: passion fruit
Loco Moco: a hamburger topped with a fried egg then placed on top of a pile of rice, all smothered in brown gravy
Lomi Lomi Salmon: cold diced salmon, tomatoes and onion
Maui Onion: mild white onion, with sweetness similar to a Vidalia onion
Opakapaka: pink snapper
Poi: staple starch of the Hawaiian diet, made from boiled taro root
Poke: raw fish with seaweed and sesame oil
Shave Ice: freshly shaved ice drenched in a sweet syrup — similar to a snow cone, but lighter and flakier