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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.