A tour of the Garden Isle of Hawaii

Lying on the beach, I was looking at the sapphire waters curving along the vast expanse of pale-yellow sands. The white frothy waves swelled and broke apart at the shores, going back and forth in a tireless rhythm. The palm trees, tall and dark against the azure skies, whispered to the mild breeze, long forgotten stories of the ocean. A refreshing sip of Pina-colada soothed the senses. All the worries and frustrations melted and vapourised into a peaceful, carefree mist that enveloped my entire being. It seemed like the perfect dream!

Roshmi Bhaumikbdnews24.com
Published : 21 Feb 2018, 01:20 PM
Updated : 21 Feb 2018, 02:05 PM

Photo: Jaydip Bhaumik.

The paradise of your dreams happens to exist in reality. A mere speck of land on the Pacific Ocean, the island Kauai, is also known as the Garden Island of Hawaii. All four of us, took a five-day tour from Denver to this tropical island. We had a brief stop on the mainland at LA airport and then headed straight to the Lihue airport in Kauai. Our aeroplane was hovering in the air before landing.  The pilot provided us a brief history of Hawaii. My heart missed a beat when I visualised the underwater volcanoes forming these islands in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. I saw the beautiful coastline in the twilight, promising us an exciting vacation.

Night 1: Finding a nest for the night

The time was around 7:30 in the evening when we landed. The airport was small. After collecting the luggage, we headed towards Ground Transportation to pick up our rental car. Our hotel was in the south side of Kauai, 45 minutes’ drive from the airport. Getting out of the airport was confusing and took a few extra minutes.  It became dark by then. The roads had hardly any street lighting. The road signs were Hawaiian names written in English, making it a little hard to read. When I turned on the high beam to see the roads better, we saw huge tree trunks, lining both sides of the road.  The trees were growing in such close proximity to each other for such a long stretch, that it seemed like we were driving through the middle of a dense jungle. I felt relieved when we saw the big sign for Poipu and the dozens of tiki torches burning in the courtyards of Grand Hyatt. As our car pulled in at the entrance, the valet welcomed us with leis made of shells and beads.

After checking-in at the front desk, we headed to satisfy our gastronomical urges. We had booked, ahead of time, at an Italian restaurant called Dondero's. The ambiance was quiet and romantic. We sat a table near the courtyard. We could hear the tireless sound of the lashing waves. We ordered two pastas, a grilled eggplant and the fresh fish of the day. The food was delicious and refreshing. From the happy look of the others, I knew that the verdict was unanimous.

Day 2:

I woke up early. I heard the rooster's crow. There is a four-hour difference between Hawaiian and Mountain Time. As I sat in the balcony waiting for the sun to rise, I heard the pitter-patter of the rain drops. Soon the dark lanky coconut trees were outlined by an orange glow. The early rays of the sun lit up the sky and the courtyard, revealing a delicate green carpet over the black island soil. I saw an abundance of hibiscuses and birds of paradise along the edges.

Photo: Jaydip Bhaumik.

Using the time difference to our advantage, all four of us got showered and ready by 8:00 am. A medium aged lady, with a white flower in her hair, greeted us at the main entrance with a smile and "Aloha".  She explained that in Hawaii, people say "Aloha" to mean hello, goodbye, love and more. The morning air was fresh and mild. It made us hungry. So, we stopped by a grocery store to buy some muffins and drinks.

We had planned to hike in and around the Waimea Canyon State park that day. This canyon reminded me of the Grand Canyon but of course was smaller in scale. In some ways that made it more interesting. It felt like you are looking at a zoomed-out view and was able to fathom the features of the landscape in its totality. The river was visible way at the bottom, between the steep hill like sides of the bank.  We could see the water marks, striated on the eroded banks indicating the former courses of the Waimea river over a few million years. We saw helicopters flying over the top of the canyon to give the visitors a closer look. One of us got very imaginative and noticed various animal shapes. As I looked in the direction he pointed, I saw an elephant's head with a long trunk among the rock formations.

Photo: Jaydip Bhaumik.

Going further north for a few more minutes we reached the Kokee State park. It had a huge park area with picnic tables set on a rolling lush green carpet. Some of the tables had a nice shade of big trees making it a perfect place to enjoy a picnic. It also had clean restrooms at one end of the picnic area. We liked the place a lot and actually came back to enjoy our lunch there. We also saw numerous chickens and baby chicks roaming about. The Kokee State park had a nice visitor centre and a plethora of information about hiking trails in and around Waimea canyon. We saw a model that showed average rainfall in Kauai at various locations. The place that records the highest rainfall for the past 12 years is Mt Waialeale, with a record rainfall of 683 inches in 1982, making it one of the wettest spots in the world. We also saw wood specimens of local trees like Koa, Hala, Kapok and Kukui. Some of them, especially that of Koa tree, were very dense and heavy. It is there that we heard about the Kalalau lookout point that was only a little way further north on the Kokee road.

It was a treat to visit the Kalalau lookout point. It had breath-taking views of the northwestern edge of Kauai, the Na Pali coast. A series of dark steep rocky cliffs jutted out right from the edge of the beaches and contrasted against the unending expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Away from the coastline, the water had variations in the blue colour as if from shadows of giant clouds. These were lava flow submerged beneath the ocean, cooling over time to form beds of coral reefs. I was thrilled to see the beautiful aquamarine colour of the waters which seemed to turn a bright turquoise green near the edge of the land. We could see small white tour boats in the waters, at a distance. I wondered what they were able to see from their boats.

Photo: Jaydip Bhaumik.

Close to the lookout point was NASA's geophysical observatory. Southwards from there was the Puu Hinahina Lookout point. It had a view of Niihau and Lehau islanda.  As we started to descend towards the south, we stopped at a location that had a fantastic view of the canyon terrain with the ocean waves in the background. It seemed like our little surprise gift from Nature.

Back at the hotel, we relaxed in the salt-water lagoons. We tried out our snorkelling gears in preparation for the next day. That night we had dinner at the Sea View Terrace. It offered light dinner entrees and snacks, a great view of the Poipu beach and live entertainment. We had Mahi Mahi sandwiches, watching the sunset and enjoying the Hawaiian music and dance.

Day 3:

Among natural beauties, the pristine Na Pali coast, located in the northwestern side of Kawaii, belongs in a class by itself. The Hawaiian words "Na Pali" literally translates in English to "many cliffs". There is no road access to this part. The only two ways of approach are through sea and air. For the benefit of the tourists there are several boat tours and helicopter tours to enjoy this unique landscape, preserving its primordial grandeur.

Photo: Jaydip Bhaumik.

We took a boat ride on the Southern Star, scheduled to leave at 7:30 am from Port Allen. We bought a medicine for sea-sickness, just in case. A big white high-end catamaran was waiting out there. It had leather sofas and tables in the cabin and the back, restrooms on either side in the lower level, a full kitchen, grill and bar. For breakfast there were sweet rolls, fresh cut pineapples, guava and pineapple juice. Everyone helped themselves generously. The crew members consisted of the Captain, the chef, the snorkel instructor and a hostess. The service provided was top notch. Within half hour of leaving the coast, we slowed down to enjoy the dolphins playing around the boat. After a while, the flat shores disappeared in a distance and we could see the black rocky cliff rising close to the edge of the land and the lovely emerald waters. The top of the cliffs was so high that they were hidden in the clouds. This coastline was the shooting location for many famous movies including the Jurassic Park. There were areas where we saw green vegetation growing at the bottom half of the cliffs. There were not tall but provided ground cover and added beauty and colour to the steep slopes. We saw beautiful white sandy beaches formed in parts of the shore line. A few people with special permits were camping out there. At other places the rocky cliffs went right into the sea. The powerful waves lashing at the igneous rocks over the years formed sea caverns. The catamaran stopped near one of these caves. We had come prepared in swimsuits and light clothing to cover. The snorkel instructor took care to explain how to use the gears. We had brought our own especially because we wanted to get comfortable using it earlier. We put on our gears and got in the water. I could see big fish about a foot or two long. Some were bluish grey with yellow and black stripes near the tail and around the eyes. Some were a dark bluish green colour with a red tail. Many of them were moving in groups, together. They were coming so close that I was sometimes touching them even though not intentionally. At one point, a bunch of them made a sudden dash to the other side of the boat. I wondered if they got scared somehow. Our hostess accompanied us in the water, on top of a kayak placed upside down and kept a sharp watch over the group of snorkellers. The brief stop was approximately half an hour. Almost immediately after that, warm and delicious lunch was served to us, hungry tourists.

After the boat trip, we headed to the Poipu Beach Park, at stone's throw distance from our hotel. We played with the sand on the beach. For the first time I noticed that parts of the sea floor were black and rocky and not a uniform smooth cover of sand. In the evening, we got dressed and headed to Tidepools for dinner. Tidepools had thatched roofs made of coconut leaves, a clean well-maintained pool all around it, wooden furniture and a muted but colour coordinated decor. The whole eating area was an aggregate of open-air huts. Sitting at our table, I was delighted to see a multitude of colourful Koi fish schooling in the fresh waters. Though tempted, we were asked not to feed the fish. I ordered a Hawaiian tomato onion salad, a spiced Opah and a glass of Pinot noir. This restaurant undoubtedly had the best food, service and ambiance I have ever experienced.

Day 4:

On the fourth day, we got out of Grand Hyatt early and took the road northward towards airport. After a few turns, we entered the Maluhia road. There, we were driving through a mile-long tunnel of large eucalyptus and mahogany trees. In the daylight, it looked "peaceful" and majestic. We stopped to get some quick breakfast. It was a slow, tedious drive because of road work and narrow one-way bridges. Our poor driver was getting frustrated and muttering expletives, one worse than the other. We were joking that those beaches should really be worth the frustrating drive.

Photo: Jaydip Bhaumik.

Thankfully, we were not disappointed. The Haena beach looked like the picture-perfect beach of our imagination. The clean wet sand was a lovely pale yellow and the waters were a light greenish-blue. The beach had a moderate slope where it met the water. Many people were relaxing on the beach. Some were snorkelling, close to the shore, swimming parallel to the shores. When we got in the water, we experienced the tremendous sea currents. Just a few inches into the water, I felt the sand shifting away under my feet. The depth increased abruptly. The waves were high and thrashed me powerfully on the sands. Even before I was recovering from the hit and the excitement, the wave pulled me into the waters and no amount of digging in the fingers into the sand, helped. Haena beach presented to us a mix of beauty and power.

We looked for calmer waters to snorkel. Right adjacent to Haena beach was the Tunnels beach. It was quite a package of surprise. Standing at the beach we could see the dark rocky patches alternate with sandy tunnels, like black and white stripes under water. When we arrived there, we found a man snorkelling in one of those sandy tunnels quite close to the shore. He told us that he was able to see lots of big fish. I stood there, taking his words with a "grain of salt", thinking how that could even be possible. But when we started to snorkel there, we were quite amazed. The patches of submerged rocks were the home of lots of colourful fish and vegetation. There were small and big fish. The variety was amazing. The longer we lingered under water, the more different kinds of fish were visible. With the tide coming in some of them were disappearing into small nooks and cracks in the rocks. Our favourite was a pale yellow and green striped one. We had brought an underwater camera and busily took pictures of the fish. Some people, swimming further out in the sea, claimed that they had seen sea turtles there. 

Photo: Jaydip Bhaumik.

We went back to Hyatt by 5pm for the Grand Luau. We had pictures taken with models dressed in traditional hula costumes. The women wore grass skirts and coconut shell bras. The men wore a long cloth skirt. They wore leis and ornaments on wrists and ankles. The Luau was held in a big courtyard which was now packed with several rows of long tables and chairs on both sides, enough to seat at least couple hundred people. As soon as we entered, we were offered unlimited drinks of mai-tai and fruit punch. At one end of the courtyard, was a big stage where a band was performing songs and dance. The host of the show explained that a Luau is arranged to celebrate big occasions like birthdays and marriages with a feast. The main highlight of the grand feast was the pig roasted in the traditional underground oven, Kalua style, and served with a purple healthy paste made from the ti leaves called "poi". It was twilight, when we were savouring our desserts and admiring the hula dancers perform many Hawaiian numbers on stage. I thought of the natives of the Hawaiian archipelago over ages and their struggle with the forces of nature: water, earth, fire and the wind. I figured they finally found peace in submission. After dark, we got to see the amazing fire dance.

Day 5:

We were just getting a hang of the laid-back island attitude when it was time to go. On the last day we woke up late. We took showers and packed our suitcases. After the huge dinner, the night before, we were not hungry till it was almost 9 am. It was a wise decision to go for a single combined meal that day, both from food and time standpoint. We chose to have a heavy breakfast at the Ilima Terrace. It had options of buffet or a la carte. I tried out the buffet. I especially liked the chicken sausages, smoked salmon and miso soup with tofu and rice. You must have gotten an idea by now the kind of heavy breakfast that was. After brunch we headed to Wailua Falls, in the central part of Kauai, literally at the end of Maalo road. The river took a huge double dive and formed a pool about 80 feet below. The hike down was very steep and had warning signs about loose and slippery grounds. Down below we saw some people bathing in the pool, formed at the bottom. They looked like tiny dolls. We opted for safety and enjoyed the view of the falls from the road level.  The word Wailua means "two waters". Going northward, we took a boat ride on the Wailua river up to the Fern Grotto. We had a band playing live music on the way to the Fern Grotto. There were couple of young girls in    long flowery dresses, dancing to the songs. It was really fun when they made all of the tourists on the boat do some basic hula steps together with the music. On our way back, we heard an informational commentary about the vegetation, the river and the Kapaa mountain. Some people were kayaking on the river. It was a very relaxing and fun ride but a little toned down when compared to our Na Pali coast expedition. Further north off of the Kuhio Hwy was the Opaekaa Falls. This waterfall had three branches of water falling together in close proximity. However, the view from road did not give us a close-up view. We had just enough time for dinner before heading to the airport at Lihue. The true food lovers ended the trip with a dinner of fresh Ahi tuna at "Oasis on the Beach" near Kapaa.

Photo: Jaydip Bhaumik.

The sign at the airport said "Mahalo (thank you), till we meet again..." Leaving the Garden Island was hard. The reality however is that all good times have to come to an end. This vacation was nothing short of an adventure. I learnt about the age-old customs and traditions of the island people, the dances, the music, the food, the hospitality, the gratitude and the love. It broadened my views of the world. Mother Nature showed us her bounty and power. I had never imagined such picturesque landscapes even existed. But somewhere in our human bones there is an avian homing instinct. Home always represents stability, comfort, familiarity and other nebulous feelings hard to describe.
Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher