From the top of an old sugar plantation overlooking most of the island, the wind is blowing strong yet peacefully, and the light continue to play games with the clouds and the grounds as it sets over us. The groom, one of my best friends, and the bridge both exchange heartfelt vows that bring tears. One highlight of the evening is a very moving flower lei exchange between families as they welcome each other into their lives. Along with being so happy for them, I thank them for creating this chance to reunite with so many college friends and enjoy an adventure of a lifetime here on Kauai.
Waimea Canyon was a bit of an afterthought. We’d heard it can get cloudy and wanted to use the morning before the wedding to see if the fog would cooperate. The other couples we’re staying with weren’t as interested in an early morning, so Andrew and I were left by ourselves and out the door by 7:00am.
As luck would have it, we stumble upon a chalkboard sign outside of an old warehouse en-route for coffee. Dark Roost is a small trailer humorously situated inside a oversized warehouse. We order lattes and listen to the Hawaiian roaster cooly tell us the story of how they came to be. Inspired, we buy a mug. Obviously.
The Canyon itself is very beautiful. We give each lookout the appropriate amount of oohs-and-ahhs before proceeding to the next. A Hawaiian guide shares some history. (Add facts about the wettest place on earth, Grand Canyon etc.)
Satisfied, Andrew and I lace up our sneakers and grab our backpack of Cliff bars and water to start our canyon hike. We’d found a quick out-and-back the night before, figuring we’d have only a few hours before the wedding. The eucalyptus dense woods smell of Tiger Balm and the single-track trail reminds me of training in Vermont. Unlike our hike along the Napali Coast, the ground is dry and the elevation gain minimal. We respond energetically with a pace that feels like we’re skipping through the woods.
An hour in, the trees clear, leaving us with the most breathtaking view of Waimea. We at once want to slowly appreciate the beauty surrounding us and excitedly race to see it all, as if beauty like this can’t possibly stay.
Together, we let the trail lead us the top of the falls marking the end of the hike before turning back to prepare for Drew & Kara’s wedding.
We learn to appreciate the finer parts of shave ice here on Kauai. The light and fluffy consistency that only the best shops seem to be able to achieve despite all using seemingly the same machine to make it. Homemade syrups from organic Hawaiian ingredients. Crowds of people outside trying to cool themselves off using these pop-shops as the best way to do it.
We try shave ice from many highly reputable locations on the island: Hee Fat General Store, Wailua Shave Ice, Uncle’s, and Koloa Shave Ice. I think my favorite is from the Wailua, while Lindsey’s is from Hee Fat. Both are delicious and easily #1 and #2 in our minds.
We wake up for an early easy hike to some nearby tide pools named Queen’s Bath in Princeville. We get to the trail right when they “open”, although there really isn’t any opening and closing of the baths (or the hike). We are back in the mud and immediately reminded of our Hanakapi’ai falls hike, except this time we’re in our bathing suits and sandals.
The trail isn’t obvious as the mud has washed much of the easy trail indicators away, and we end up on an old trail. We assume it can’t be too hard, so we forge onwards. We find small ropes down a cliff side, and we’re happy there’s at least something to hold on to as we slip down the muddy hillside. We are grateful for every tree root that we can use for support as we repel down. Although this make it seem like a controlled decent, I feel it was probably anything but.
By the bottom, due to a healthy fear of heights and a fair amount of exertion, I’m in a full sweat. It takes a little time to calm my heart rate, after which a dip in one of the tide pools is exactly what’s needed. The crashing waves along the side of the tide pool, the fish swimming through the perfectly clear water, and refreshing temperature of the tide pool made it all seem a little more worthwhile.
A highlight that capped our day of relaxation at the St. Regis Princeville was the opportunity to saber a bottle of champagne. We had heard that at 7pm, a bottle of champagne was to be sabered at the bar, so at 6:30 we venture over, grab a cocktail, and find our seats to enjoy the spectacle.
Like a good tourist, we ask the man who just completed the sabering deed if he would pose for a picture with us. He did one better and asked if we wanted to come with him to saber our own bottle. Yes! There was no doubt that this is what we wanted. After some quick instruction he hands me the bottle of champagne and the saber, directs me to the edge of the balcony, and lets me work my magic.
I successful saber, pour some champagne into flutes for Lindsey and myself, and thank the saber master many times over. Lindsey and I are left on a balcony overlooking the ocean together sipping our freshly sabered champagne, watching the sunset.
The Dolphin is the name of a restaurant in Hanalei that has been around for 30 years and is clearly a favorite of the locals. When we ask where to go to dinner, Dolphin is a name that seems to appear in everyone’s list. So we go.
We eat only sushi and love the whole experience. They are completely full so we gladly sit at the sushi bar in Jeremy’s section, and he takes great care of us. I would usually try to share now what we ordered to make sure that I remembered and to help suggest things for future goers; however, we put our fates completely in Jeremy’s hands and although he always told us what he was making us, most of it wasn’t on the menu. We gave him no direction and he clearly made us what he was best at creating.
The meal was spectacular. We had some fabulous poke, some fish that was torched right in front of us, rolls with tempura, nigiri with bacon on top, some with jalapenos, everything caught that day, everything delicious. So good in fact that we return to sit in front of Jeremy the next night for an appetizer before continuing onwards. And when we return, we will definitely come back. Jeremy made us feel like a local, made us feel like we belong, made us feel like we have a friend in this new place.
We did the same stretch of coastline today, except today we do it by land. Entertainingly, we get to see the kayaks that were us just a day earlier as we walk along the cliffs of the Napali Coast. More than yesterday, however, we appreciate that we are in a rainforest. The weather changes every 10 minutes alternating between hot humid sun, dark windy storm, and everything in between. The path also takes on a few different looks: thick and squishy clay-like mud, slippery mud between rocks and tree roots, slippery boulders mostly covered in the red clay mud, and deep stream crossings that require some boulder hopping (or crawling in my case). Needless to say, we realize we’re going to finish this day a bit muddy, a bit wet, and a bit tired, but all worth it because of the sights, sounds, and memories that we’ll get along the way.
Lindsey and I walk first the 2 miles to Hanakapi’ai beach, where we sit, enjoy, snack, and picture-take. Then we continue on for another 2 miles to the Hanakapi’ai waterfall. This is quintessential Hawaii: giant waterfall falling into a huge pond (maybe even a small lake), rainbows come and go, the sun comes and goes, people swimming, laughing, and enjoying nature. All straight out of a movie.
Through all the challenges of the trail, I believe that I would’ve had a much harder time had I not schlepped my hiking poles from the mainland. They prevented me from sliding, balanced me across some rather tricky stream crossings, and served as a monopod for my camera when needed.
On the way home we spot at Tahiti Nui, a great local dive in Hanalei for a pair of much needed Mai Tai’s. Legs still covered in mud, feet still soaking in wet shoes, but a solid sense of accomplishment and excitement for having conquered a small piece of the Hawaiian rainforest.
Lindsey and I arrive on the nature-filled island of Kauai late from a flight delay, find our airbnb apartment that we’ll be staying in for the first half of the week, venture out to a local grocery store to procure some necessities, and head to bed setting a much-too-early alarm for our first day on vacation.
Day one is spent with Napali Kayak, who claims to “challenge your body, blow your mind, and feed your soul”. We arrive at 6am to meet our guides, get our life jackets, and sign our lives away (in case anything bad happens). After some safety instruction and some group bonding, we hit the seas starting from Ha’ena State park for our 17-mile adventure of the Napali coast. 17 miles is no joke, but we are grateful that the wind is pushing us along today.
Soon into our journey, before we even hit the Hanakapi’ai beach, we are already greeted by two giant sea turtles, who apparently have some pretty ghastly breath – it smells a bit like sulphuric seaweed. Along the journey we paddle in and out of coastal caves – the Waiwaipuhi Cave and the Waihuakua Cave to name a couple. On our way into one, we pass under a waterfall, which brings us good luck… and cools us off. The topography of these cliffs and caves and beaches is other worldly. One cave we venture into called Koa Mano has an open ceiling after its initial entrance. We get out swim, climb on rocks, and just rest in this small haven from the large waves of the open sea.
Speaking of large waves, occasionally some pretty large swells rolled underneath us. The waves could be large enough that you could be right next to another kayak but not see them because they were at the bottom of a wave that we were behind. I’m glad that I had a full dosage of motion-sickness medicine first thing in the morning, and even still, I occasionally feel a little wobbly. The waves can be frightening from a distance but we also must be thankful as they often give us a nice push in the right direction. A couple kayaks flip, but I’m proud to say that Lindsey and I only swim in the water when we choose to.
We lunch at Miloli’I Beach and finish at Polihale State Park. Polihale State park is 17 miles from our starting point, but about 90 miles (150 minutes) from our start via the road. If the roundish island of Kauai were a clock, we begin our trip at almost 12 o’clock, we end our trip at around 11 o’clock. The trick is that that road that circles the island only includes 55 minutes of the hour and has a break in it between those two points. Thus, when we get picked up by the van at the end of our journey, we need to go counter-clockwise all the way back around the island to the start. This seems inefficient, but it was a nice way to see the whole island on our first day.
After arriving home after this long day and nursing a couple missed sunscreen spots, we quickly find ourselves very tired from a long week of work and a day of travel. We crash early, get over 11 hours sleep, and reset for another big day two.