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Mike Yardley: Scenic highlights in Kaua’i.

Author
Mike Yardley,
Publish Date
Sat, 21 Jan 2023, 10:47am

Mike Yardley: Scenic highlights in Kaua’i.

Author
Mike Yardley,
Publish Date
Sat, 21 Jan 2023, 10:47am

Kauai is renowned for its legendary beaches, rugged sea cliffs, scenic lookouts, knock-out hiking and spell-binding waterfalls. As the second wettest spot on earth, it’s no surprise why this lush Hawaiian island has been nicknamed the “Garden Isle.”

As I cast a dewy-eyed gaze across the plunging watery curtains of Wailua Falls in Kaua’i, that immortal television greeting, “Welcome to Fantasy Island” instantly sprung to mind. Wailua Falls are probably better known as the Fantasy Island waterfalls, given their starring appearance in the opening titles of the hit 80s’ TV show. Just north of the main town of Līhuʻe, I was on a whistle-stop exploratory of Kaua’i’s finest features, as part of a restorative tropical island sojourn, after enduring winter’s vice-like grip in mainland USA.

Thanks to the no-stress brilliance of Hawaiian Airlines’ connectivity, across the Hawaiian Islands and the USA, slotting in some prized island time with Kaua’i, is an effortlessly rewarding add-on, when flying Hawaiian Airlines to and from Auckland. I’m a walkover for a great waterfall and what makes Wailua such a superlative specimen is its dramatic spectacle doesn’t entail a hard slog to reach it.  The sublime 80-foot tiered double falls are easily viewed close to the roadside lookout, best viewed in the early morning when the sunshine intensifies its theatrical appeal and mist-formed rainbows abound. Legend has it that the chiefs of old Hawai’i had to risk jumping from the top of the falls into the rockpool below, to prove their strength and courage.

Carved by lava and water, its tremendous natural beauty and compelling terrain sets the stage for laidback soft adventure. Heading west, I jaunted my way over to the wide-angled, scenic grandeur of Waimea Canyon, fondly dubbed the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." Mark Twain is credited with coining the phrase, despite not actually visiting Kaua’i. But unlike the Grand Canyon, Waimea is a lush, verdant and colour-popping setting, with contrasting red soil, black volcanic rock, and shades of green lining every stream and waterfall.

This mammoth chasm of four million year old lava rock displays variegated hues of red, purple, green and blue. It is a retina-burning visual symphony. Two major lookouts and a swag of hiking trails start from the road, which runs along the rim. A fabulous trail threads you through the Alaka’I Wilderness Preserve which includes a cinder cone called Pele’s Hill. Local legend says that Pele used this cone as a stepping stone, when she leapt to O’ahu, leaving a large crater within the cone. The deepest part of the canyon is within the neighbouring Koke’e State Park, which is where you’ll want to head if you want to try your luck with the fickle weather gods at Kalalau Lookout. In theory, this sublime lookout serves up a sweeping view of the 4000-foot cliffs of the Nāpali Coast - the only place to see this spectacular feature of Kaua'i from land.  Strike the jackpot and you’ll get a picture-perfect vista. Lady luck wasn’t playing ball with me, so that long-range view of the cliffs was shrouded in mist.

Nāpali Coast is unquestionably the jewel of Kaua’i, its emerald and copper cliffs imperiously rising above the island’s northwest shore. In Hawaiian, Nāpali means “the cliffs” and this 17-mile coastline of razor-sharp cliffs have been created by volcanic eruptions, strong winds, rain and crashing waves. Its numerous steep valleys were once home to thousands of native Hawaiians centuries ago, although today the strikingly serrated coastline is a vast nature-lover’s dream – and beloved backdrop for Jurassic Park. There are only three ways to see the Nāpali Coast: by air, by sea or on foot via the 11-mile, one-way Kalalau Trail.

Helicopter tours rank highly on bucket-lists, but for a more immersive experience with the storied coastline, opt for a boat tour. Not only do you get up-close with those 4,000-foot tall cliffs that plunge abruptly into the sea, but you can snorkel in the reef, explore hidden sea caves, stunning lava arches and see spinner dolphins and Hawaiian green sea turtles.

There are five navigable sea caves along the 17-mile coastline including the Open Ceiling Cave. This large hollowed out lava tube has a collapsed roof, which created a large, natural skylight. Further up the coastline is the Honeymooners Sea Cave. This one features a waterfall cascading about 100-feet down the cave’s right wall. Near the end of the coastline are the supremely isolated Honopu and Kalalau beaches. A dramatic natural rock wall between the two beaches features a 65-foot tall arch, under which you can walk. This Hollywood favourite appeared in the original “King Kong,” “Six Days Seven Nights” and the James Bond’s, “The Man With the Golden Gun,” in which a chopper flew through the arch. It’s truly a show-stopping encounter with a blockbuster coastline.

Another essential jaunt is to take in the necklace of delights strung along Kaua’i’s sunny southern coast. At Waimea Bay you can see the site of Captain Cook’s landing, while the Spouting Horn by Hanapēpē Bay is a noisy, exuberant blow hole spectacle. The township of Hanapēpē will charm your pants off, tenaciously clinging to its settlement roots after being developed by Asian immigrant entrepreneurs, over a century ago. Moviemakers love this town and its evocative sweep of main street plantation-style historic buildings, which have served a stack of films, from The Thornbirds to Lilo & Stitch. Peckish? Japanese Grandma’s Café is a charming stop, specialising in fresh, organic Japanese cuisine with a tranquil seating space in the back garden.

Hanapēpē claims to be home to more fine art galleries than any other place on the island, with a swag of boutique galleries to browse, amid the gift shops and eateries. Every Friday, all of the town’s galleries open for Hanapēpē Art Night, which is accentuated with street theatre, food trucks and live music.  Definitely make tracks to the Aloha Spice Company, a family-owned enterprise that Joanna Carolan established 15 years ago. They blend and create an abundance of splendid seasonings, rubs, and flavours that embody Hawai’i's diversity and beauty.

Aloha Spice Company is right next to the Hanapēpē Swinging Bridge, a delightful diversion wreathed with nostalgia. For over a century, a suspension bridge has spanned this part of the Hanapēpē River, originally serving taro farmers and local residents. While the bridge may look rickety, it is actually very safe with reinforced cables and wood planks. The current bridge replaced the original that was damaged during Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

Nearby, Poʻipū Beach Park is home to a chain of gorgeous wide, white sandy beaches, blessed by sun-kissed weather and calm water. Poʻipū is a family favourite because it caters to everyone: snorkelling, swimming, surfing or leisurely walks along the beach. An offshore reef causes the waves to break before the waves reach the shore, making it a child-friendly beach. While enjoying some languid beach time at Poʻipū, I marvelled over the handful of “Honu,” Hawaiian green sea turtles, that routinely park up on the sands of Poʻipū Beach, not just to nest, but to rest. They were blissfully basking in the golden sands of the beach, unperturbed by the crowds of on-lookers who kept a respectful distance. These majestic mammals pre-date dinosaurs, making them one of the most ancient species left in the world. Unafraid of people, be sure to just look, don’t touch – it’s illegal to get tactile with them.

While you’re in the area, immerse yourself in the Garden Isle’s verdant flamboyance at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens. The flagship is the McBryde Garden, with its stirring collection of palms, endangered native plants, heliconia, orchids and canoe garden. Allerton Garden is another gem, with stupendous water features and artistic flourishes including bronze mermaids and those famous Jurassic Park trees.

As a coffee fiend, popping in to the Kaua’i Coffee Company was a holiday must. With over 4 million coffee trees growing on 3000 acres, Hawai’i’s largest coffee producer is a stickler for sustainability and quality. Complimentary coffee sampling is available at the Kaua’i Coffee Estate. Mahalo!

I also highly recommend calling into the Koloa Rum Company Store & Tasting Room, which is housed on the magnificent Kilohana Plantation Estate. This single-batch, craft distiller of premium Hawai’i rum grows its own sugarcane, on-site, in addition to fruits and herbs. Previously a major sugar plantation, which still holds the island’s largest plantation mansion (which you can dine at), Kilohana has evolved into an agritourism powerhouse. Take a ride on the Kaua’i Plantation Railway, tootling through the vast groves of mango, banana, papaya, pineapple and hardwoods. Kilohana grants small farmers one to five acres and the option to sell their produce back to the plantation restaurant or farmers’ market.  www.gohawaii.com/nz

Where to stay? Just a short drive 10km north from Līhuʻe Airport, the Sheraton Kaua’i Coconut Beach Resort enjoys a prime location, brilliantly positioned on the east coast, with blazing sunrises to alight your day. The entire property got a major makeover just before the pandemic started, and you can expect a resort that’s graced with a fresh and modern sense of low-key glamour. You’ve also got the fabulous Coconut Marketplace in walking distance from the resort, with its lavish array of colourful stores. A scattered cluster of towers house the property’s 309 rooms, which only four storeys high—below the tallest palm, which governs the local height regulations. They hook around a sparkling, cobalt-blue and ocean-facing pool with in-water loungers and attached kid's pool, plus a fabulous hot tub.

It’s right off sandy Makaiwa Beach where a popular surf break appears when conditions are right and give the convivial pool bar its name: Crooked Surf. Seaside hammocks, poolside firepits, free bikes for cruising the area, and beachside yoga round out the retreat. The impressive lobby vaults up to meet the top floor of rooms and features a cascade of Shearwater birds and greenery above mid-century modern wicker and leather loungers.

Accommodations are spacious and outfitted with grey hardwood floors, sleek white linens and distressed teal rugs; a crashing wave print behind the bed acts as the focal point. Wooden plantation shutters leading you out to your lanai is a particularly nice touch. The bedding is crisp, comfortable and clean with lots of pillows. Definitely bag an oceanfront room for that sunrise from your lanai. All the rooms have minifridges and coffee makers with drip coffee.

Tropical fare is easy to come by in Kaua’i, but the on-site Moamoa Hawaiian Fish House is a star performer. Try their take on macadamia nut-crusted mahi mahi in a buttery lilikoi glaze and wash it down with a traditional, 1944-recipe Mai Tai. The poolside Crooked Surf shares its impressive bar with Moamoa—offering 80 different global rum varieties—and serves burgers, salads and appetizers like poke for lunch. Customer service is cheerful, friendly and outgoing, from the moment you first arrive with a flower lei greeting and welcome drink.

You cannot leave Kaua’i without savouring an authentic lūʻau experience. Lūʻau Ka Hikina is staged in the Sheraton’s brand new open-air event pavilion, backdropped by dreamy ocean views. From the theatrical torch lighting ceremony to the traditional dancing and music, it’s a lavish celebration of Polynesian culture, complete with a locally sourced Hawaiian feast to sink your teeth into. www.marriott.com

Hawaiian Airlines flies from Līhuʻe direct to California, in addition to its multi-island services including Honolulu. Hawaiian Airlines’ Extra Comfort seats on the Airbus A330, which services Auckland and much of mainland USA, offer considerably more legroom, priority services and enhanced amenities to make your long-haul travel experience decidedly more comfortable. www.hawaiianairlines.com

Travel to the USA with Cover-More Travel Insurance, which has you covered with added safeguards, over and above the typical travel cover, for the likes of medical treatment. Their Options Plan Single-Trip policy offers a host of built-in benefits and protections, including cancellation and rescheduling costs if you are diagnosed with Covid-19. Check out the full range of protections and tailor the level of cover to your requirements. Cover-More’s 24 hour global assistance centre is just a phone call away. https://www.covermore.co.nz

Mike Yardley is our resident traveller on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.

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