I love the ocean.
I was born near the sea in the Maritimes, so the smell of salt water and the crash of the surf are in my soul.
It makes sense then that an island surrounded by the ocean would be the ideal place for me. And Kauai, one of the smaller islands in the Hawaiian chain fits the bill with the aquamarine, sapphire and cobalt waters of the Pacific Ocean caressing it on all sides.
I haven’t found Puff, the Magic Dragon, yet, but this island is magical to me.
The island of Kauai, called the Garden Island for good reason, is small, laid back and underdeveloped compared to Oahu. Picture golden sand beaches, lots of surfer dudes and lush green jungle-clad mountains a la Bali Hai.
In fact, we’re staying at the Bali Hai Villas in Princeville at the north end of the island. Someone told us that South Pacific was actually filmed here and I can believe it because the tropical scenery is spectacular.
We were warned that the north end is where the rain falls and that it would be wet and rainy all the time. I guess we’ve been lucky, because so far it has rained only at night. And besides, you can just head down the highway to the sunny east coast and you drive out of the rain.
We actually did that today as a couple of sun showers swept over us on the highway from Princeville down to Lihue.
The entire island is only 33 miles long and 25 miles across at its widest point and there is only one road that circles the island. Nothing goes into the mountainous interior. The only downsides we have found so far are that the road doesn’t completely circle the island and there is only one road!
So, there are – surprisingly given the small population – traffic jams on this tiny island and there is no way around them.
Also, as we have discovered, if you want to visit Waimea Canyon on the remote west side of the island from where we are staying on the north side, you have to drive three quarters of the way around on the single highway and then come all the way back again.
On parts of the highway, several one-way bridges make for additional delays and exciting head-on encounters. But it’s only a 3-hour drive, so it’s no big deal, and the dramatic scenery keeps you enthralled.
Our favourite drive is down highway 56 to Kapaa. At one point the road descends suddenly like a roller-coaster into a deep valley with towering jungle trees that block out the sun on either side. It reminds me of the movie Avatar, which was also filmed here. We love surreal feeling so much that yesterday we turned around and did it over again.
The temperature is pretty constant all year round between 70-80F, but it cools down at night. This week it has been 85F most days, but the ocean and mountain breezes take care of the heat. Our unit doesn’t even have AC, just fans.
With 69 soft sand beaches, Kauai offers more beach per mile of coastline than any of the other Hawaiian Islands. The surf is great for boogie boarding or surfboarding. You can rent a boogie board for $5 a day and surf on some of the best waves in the world.
We have opted for strolls on the sand beaches and today even did some body surfing, which was absolutely hilarious.
An aging surfer dude told us two days ago that big swells were coming in the next 48 hours. And sure enough today the waves at Hanalei Beach, the calmest one we could find, looked to be at least 10 feet high and were pounding the beach with a dragon’s thunderous roar.
Braver souls were attempting to boogie board the bigger waves, but we stayed closer to shore and still took quite a beating. What a hoot! It brought out the little boy in me, even without the dragon.
Earlier we attempted a hike up the extremely rocky 11-mile Kalalau Trail at the very end of the north shore road. You can’t go any further except on foot.
The guide books describe it as “not for wimps”. Well, we didn’t get very far before the wet, slippery rocks made us turn back. The trail was actually worse than the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Besides the roar of the beach was calling to us again.
Yesterday, we drove down to the south end of the island to view the Spouting Horn, a dual-lava tube on the ocean. One hole breathes air and makes a loud dragon roar while the other shoots up a powerful jet of salt water 30 feet into the air.
Hawaiian legend says that a dragon once terrorized the south side of the island and was speared by a warrior. The dragon chased the warrior into the lava tube and was trapped there forever.
We rented bikes and rode along the Coconut Coast from Wailua north to the end of the trail for about 4.5 miles. The trail was flat for the most part and provided a great view of gorgeous ocean bays framed by lava rock promontories and crashing surf.
Afterwards we asked the bike shop owners where we could get a good “shave ice”, a local treat, and he recommended the Ono Family Restaurant about a mile down the road. Shave ice is similar to a Slushie but better, especially when it’s 85F and you’ve just walked the hot sidewalk for a mile.
To make “Shave Ice”, (and that spelling is correct) you shave off crystals from a block using a circular cutting wheel. It comes out looking like white candyfloss, but then you pack it down by hand as it goes around to give it the shape of a large rounded volcanic cone.
Ice cream is packed into the middle, more ice is added and then then you drizzle tropical flavoured syrups on top, adding a final slather of condensed coconut milk that they call a “snow cap”. I had a Margaritaville one with Macademia nut ice cream and three different syrups, but there were at least 100 other flavours to choose from.
Tomorrow night we’re going to a luau. I hope I can stay off the stage this time and keep my inner child under control.
There’s something about this island that just brings out the kid in me.
P.S.: Hanalei actually has nothing to do with Honah Lee from the Pop the Magic Dragon song, but I thought it sounded good.
Travel diary shared by Dan Cooper