My family’s summer trip to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Stories, photos, and bucket list successes.
We had just finished our two-day layover trip on the Big Island and grabbed a flight to Kauai, The Garden Isle.
Kauai is the oldest of Hawaii’s islands, and not only is it the most jungle-dense of the Hawaiian islands, it also is home to one of the wettest spots on earth, Mt Waialaele, which averages 450 inches of rain a year. You know what that means? Waterfalls!
And healthy, beautiful jungles. My family, (which included two grandmothers, a grandfather, an uncle, two parents, and a brother) got to stay in a guesthouse near the North Shore of Kauai. It was by far one of the best living quarters I have ever stayed at during a vacation. We had a view of Hanalei bay, with the “sleeping dragon” rock formation along the sandy beach.
At night time, we often saw floating lanterns rise above the ocean, probably from wedding receptions on the beach. We had our own private pool, complete with waterfall and hot tub.
The pool was surrounded by well-kept gardens.
Orchids sprouted from tree trunks, and plumeria flowers dappled the ground like soft white confetti.
I spent a lot of time lounging on the padded poolside chairs, playing my ukulele.
The sunsets were, of course, spectacular.
Jungles surrounded the backyard, so there was no need for a man-made fence.
We even had access to fresh fruit right in the backyard: bananas, papayas, and limes grew on trees right on the property.
I made some pan-fried “plantain” chips from the unripe bananas in our yard, and they were delicious if I do say so myself. I also had one of the best breakfasts of my life,
Farmer’s market dragon fruit, lime from the yard, and Kona coffee (purchased in Kona, of course). All while sitting on the patio watching the bay. I had always wanted to try Dragon fruit, and this was an excellent opportunity to check the exotic fruit off of my bucket list. Go here to read my description on the fruit’s unique taste.
From the front yard, we could see the mountain range, full of waterfalls that could even be seen from a great distance.
Along with chilling at our guesthouse, we walked a lot around the neighborhood. If you don’t already know, Kauai is completely overrun with chickens and roosters. They are small and colorful, and they are everywhere. Americans associate chickens with banyard settings, but the chicken is a jungle bird that was originally from a jungle biome. Still, it was funny to see chickens peck along the ground, with stunning green mountains trickling with waterfalls in a backdrop behind them. There were also white herons, which silently stood in green wet fields.
We were also in close walking distance to some popular beaches
On one of our walks, I got to see a rainbow eucalyptus, which is something I’ve always wanted to see up close.
A rainbow eucalyptus is a type of eucalyptus that has streaks of colors in its bark: blues, reds, greens, purples, yellows, that look like splashes of paint. The variation in color is a result of bark stripping during different seasons of the year.
We were only about a seven minute drive from downtown, and we made the trip often.
For the most part, it was pretty touristy, with lots of name brand clothing shops and souvenir stores full of useless trinkets. But there were also a fair number of places that were fun to walk around. Cute cafes, surf shops, shave ice stands, and wood carving shops.
Even the town was full of tropical trees and wildlife.
There was a winding river that cut through the town, with a one-car-at-a-time bridge the only way to cross it. Near the end of our trip, we kayaked down the river. It was fun and lazy, until we capsized, and I lost my phone, along with about 300 pictures from the vacation. I hope the turtles are putting my phone to good use.
Another stop we made a couple of times was a trip to Kilauea Lighthouse and Kong Lung market.
Kilauea Lighthouse is located on a jut of land that stretches into the sea. It’s on national park territory, and the land is preserved beautifully.
Inside the lighthouse were plaques telling the history of the edifice, and educational videos about the migration of albatross. Speaking of which, there was a rare endangered bird nested in a flowerbed right outside the entrance. She was roped off to the public, but we could still easily see her ruffled body trying to keep warm. I kept my eye out for spinner dolphins or harp seals along the horizon.
From our vantage point, we could see hundreds of seabirds swooping over the water and above the lush cliffs. It was mesmerizing. One variety had long tail feathers and looked like pterodactyls.
I could definitely see why many people consider Kilauea Point as a must-see when coming to Kauai. We visited this national park location during rain and during sunshine, and the views were spectacular either way.
Located just a short way away from the Lighthouse was Kong Lung market, a small historical shopping center. At Kilauea bakery, we got some lunch, single sliced pizza, as well as a pastry box full of various desserts. Lilikoi (passionfruit) lemon bars were my favorite, but the turtle-shaped bear claws are also worth mention. We shopped in various stores, all of which were unique and beautiful. In the public area, there was a talking cockatoo on a perch with a note saying that he loved to listen to micheal jackson and to eat pizza rinds. We went into art galleries and consignment shops, and we got some black lava salt at a kitchen store full of Hawaiian treasures. Our favorite was the Island Soap and Candle Works.
Hundreds of varieties of scented candles, soaps, lotions, and trinkets were made right in this shop. The room’s scents bombarded us with lovely fragrance. I ended up getting an almond scented soap bar, and this was a perfect place to get a lot of early Christmas shopping done. The Kauai-made soaps and lotions that can be found all over the island are all made right here. Even if you don’t end up buying anything, it’s fun to sniff all the wonderful products.
One of the excursions we did was a zipline through the jungles. We went with Princeville Ranch‘s “Zip ‘N Dip” package, which included ziplining to a secret watering hole, where we spent time jumping in to the water.
There was a large waterfall spilling into the swimming area, and orchids surrounded us as we ate our lunch by the waterside. You can read about my full experience here.
The best part of Kauai by far was our catamaran ride. The Catamaran service that we went with picked us up downtown and drove us to Hanalei bay’s main beach. It was a warm day, but a heavy tropical rain was coming and going in bursts, and the clouds blocked any additional warmth from coming through. Small motorboats then picked us up four by four and brought us to the catamaran. It was decently sized, with about 15 people in all. With my two grandmothers and grandfather, both parents, my little brother, my uncle, and myself all onboard: we made up the biggest group. One of the captains asked all the couples on the boat how long they had been married, and my grandparents held the record, as it was their fiftieth anniversary. “Wow!” The captain then asked them, “So tell me, what’s the key to such a long marriage?” “Hearing loss,” said my grandpa.
The workers on the catamaran immediately lowered a deep sea fishing real into the water in the wake of the boat. A huge rainbow suddenly stretched out in front of us in the mists, and we sped toward it, white foam trailing behind us.
I had plopped myself down on the hammock portion of the catamaran, and was enjoying the thrill of bouncing up and down on the choppy waves.
Suddenly, there was a commotion from the back of the boat. A massive Ono fish had been snagged by the trailing leer. 40 pounds total. According to the captains, this was the biggest catch in months. I had the amazing privilege of watching the monster being wrangled in. After about a half an hour of riding, we made it to a reef off of a section of the island that was only accessible by boat. The captains killed the motors and pulled us closer to shore. This was my first time snorkeling, and I was pretty nervous about getting in the water. As I handed my glasses to one of my grandparents that was staying on the boat, an additional wave of panic kicked in. My world was blurry, and I worried about not being able to see in the water. However, I had missed the opportunity to snuba (a cross between snorkeling and scuba) during my last trip to Hawaii due to my sudden wave of panic, and I was not about to pass up another opportunity to see the underwater world. I was given a pool noodle, a snorkel, and some flippers, and I shakily climbed down the steps into the cold water. All things considered, the water was pretty warm for the pacific, and after kicking around for a few minutes, I was used to the temperature. Breathing through a tube took a bit more getting used to, and I sputtered out a few mouthfuls of salt water before getting adjusted. Once I was finally accustomed to the unusual sensations, I enjoyed it immensely. If you haven’t already done this, make sure to use a pool noodle the next time you go snorkeling. The buoyed assistance made navigation effortless. The reef was colorful and the fish were cute. If you’re like me and have glasses, don’t worry about visibility if you ever want to go snorkeling. The way the water bends around the goggles actually makes it very easy to see everything. Before I knew it, we were being called back to the boat for lunch. We had ham sandwiches, and it was fun to throw crumbs into the ocean to watch the colorful fish jump up to catch the morsels. I got to see humuhumunukunukuapuaa, which is Hawaii’s notoriously named fish. They were beautiful, and their bright stripes caught the sunlight. On our way back, the captains pointed out many points of interest. An ancient hula school, which used to execute students who misstepped. A grove of “walking trees,” which uproot themselves and travel toward fresh nutrients. Secret beaches only accessible by day-long hikes. Illegal “campers” extending their stay by living off the land. We stopped by some sea caves, and the captains steered us underneath a waterfall!
The water is, of course, clear. So it’s hard to see how heavy this flow of water is. Look at the water splashing in the background for a better perspective. On our way back to Hanalei bay, one of the best possible moments happened: dolphins!
I had already been meticulously scanning the ocean for any glimpses of sea life. So far, the only creatures I had seen were schools of fish breaching the water and leaping high above the waves (don’t get me wrong, very exciting). I was hoping to see something a bit larger. An otter, a shark, a manta, or perhaps even a whale. I was in luck. A pod of about 40 or so dolphins began to surround our boat. They were spinner dolphins, which is a smaller breed than the familiar bottle nose.
I always thought that bottle nose dolphins were a bit creepy, with elongated skull-like faces, beady eyes, and pointy teeth. These didn’t share those characteristics. They were adorable. They were darker grey, with lighter stripes running the length of their sleek bodies. They performed all manner of flips for us, corkscrews and backflips, barrel rolls and torpedoes, and even intricate spins that I have no other words for. They stayed with us a long while too, showing off and giving us a private performance. I was so excited, and I was “WOOO!”-ing like a drunk college student. Bucket list item complete.
At the end of a long, choppy, and wet ride back to land, we all discovered that the tops of our feet were burnt to a crisp. Since we had gotten dressed at the beginning of the day with shoes on, none of us anticipated putting sunscreen on our feet. Absolutely worth it, but I’ve definitely learned my lesson.
We also got to take a hike through the jungle to a secret beach. Kauai is no stranger to secret beaches. They are scattered all along the island. Some are only accessible by boat, others are only accessible by hiking, and a handful few are only accessible by swimming. This one was only accessible by hiking. Starting at a bustling beach, we began the long hike up a well-warn trail through the jungle towards the secret beach of Hanakapiai. The trail was slippery with mud, and we were careful to watch our footing. The first half of the trail was primarily uphill, and the second half was primarily down. On our way there, we passed over lots of pretty streams. It rained on and off, but the thick jungle canopy above our heads distributed the water elsewhere. Ferns grew thick, and we could see bunches of bananas ripening on trees. Every once in a while, the jungle would become less thick, and we could see the turquoise ocean spread out before us. The water was so clear that we could see yellow-green patches of coral underneath the surf, even from high up on the trail. Small yellow butterflies and delicate white moths whiffled about, fluttering from one tiny flower to another. We passed the smaller of two waterfalls on this trail. The second waterfall, Hanakapaiai Falls, was further along the trail than our destination, and we didn’t venture far enough to see it. Seeing the beach was fulfilling enough.
This beach was only two miles in from the starting point, but with slippery rocks, hilly inclines, and muddy obstacles, the hike took us a little over an hour. Not that I’m complaining, it just left us little time to make it back in time for dinner. Getting to the sandy portion of the beach required crossing a shallow river, which was possible to do by jumping over protruding rocks. Before we made it to the beach, however, we were greeted by a foreboding sign
This sign ensured that the area near the water was relatively clear of people, which was nice, as it allowed us to view the beauty of the beach without anyone in our way. A lot of people before us had played the old-time favorite game of “put a rock on another rock,” and it gave an artistic element to the natural beauty of the surrounding area
And don’t worry, we made it back in time for dinner!