Two weeks ago, we were in Kaua’i or Kauai – one of the islands that make up Hawaii and known as the ‘Garden Isle’ for its lush green vegetation. Sometime towards the end of last year, we were thinking about what we’d like to do to celebrate five years of being married. Hawaii appealed to us as the perfect destination for a laid back and easy short holiday – we’re trying to make the most of living in the US and even though the flight to Hawaii is about 5.5 hours, it is still a lot closer to California than say, Europe.
I was expecting Kauai to be a place overflowing with tourists and with beaches strewn with resorts and souvenir shops typical of any popular beach destination. My fears were put to rest the moment we got into our rental car and took off to our rental studio apartment in Hanalei Bay. Yes, there were tourists and plenty of them but we somehow, as fate would have it (although Peter would disagree and say it was his diligent research that made this possible), ended in the most picturesque of spots that wasn’t overrun by visitors. Our apartment was only a 5 minute walk from the beautiful crescent shaped Hanalei Bay – a popular spot for surfers, beginners and experts alike, and also the spot where parts of the much acclaimed movie, ‘ The Descendants‘ starring George Clooney was filmed.
Having woken up at 5am that morning to catch an early morning flight out of San Jose, we were famished. Driving through Kapa’a, it looked like a good sized town where we stood the best chance of finding something to eat. So we parked the car and decided to walk down the main street in search of food. We ended up in Olympic Cafe – a breakfast/lunch spot popular with the locals – located on the second floor with open balconies alongside spacious booths. Hungry and exhausted, we downed cups of hot steaming coffee – our first taste of true Hawaiian coffee and filled up on delicious breakfast grub.
Did you know that the largest coffee plantation in all of USA is located in Kauai? Later in the week, we ended up visiting the coffee plantation out of curiosity. It’s worth a visit if you’re curious about the process of how the coffee bean travels from the plant to our cups. Save yourselves time by walking around the grounds yourself on a self guided tour and avoid the gift shop if you’re like us and cannot stand crowded souvenir stores.
We spent most of our holiday exploring the island and its various beaches – one more beautiful than the other, and even spent a whole morning kayaking down the river in Hanalei bay, something I enjoyed a lot more than expected.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the food scene on the island (I was the most ill prepared traveler ever – I’d even forgotten to bring along my sunglasses. Who goes on a holiday to a tropical island without sunglasses!) but knew that fresh seafood was guaranteed. I had my fill of fresh ahi (yellow fin tuna) in two very simple and satisfying forms – raw tuna poke and seared tuna steaks , both served with steamed rice and lots of dressing – a perfect foil to those copious amounts of Mai Tais consumed every evening.
On one such evening, we were at the popular ‘Tahiti Nui’ bar and were treated to a wonderful live performance by Michael Keale, a local celebrity with a very laidback attitude and a melodious voice to boot. He even chatted with us while passing by and mentioned he used to call Fremont (a city in the Bay area) home once upon a time.
If you have time to spare and want to do something more than laze around on the beach, the Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge is a great spot to enjoy majestic views of the Pacific while spotting birds native to the land. While in the area, make sure you stop by the Kilauea Fish Market and try their famous wrap made with either seared tuna or grilled mahi-mahi stuffed in a wrap along with brown rice, sprouts, plenty of fresh leaves and vegetables. It fills you up without the guilt. You can walk it off by exploring the stores in the shopping center. If you feel like you need caffeine after all that ahi, head over to the Kong Lung trading center right across the street where you’ll find a little coffee shop and bakery (the name escapes me) tucked away in a quiet courtyard.
While you’re at it, don’t forget to try ‘shave ice’, the local specialty consisting of smoothly shaven ice formed into a ball and topped with colourful syrups. Order one with a scoop of icecream (preferably macadamia nut) at the bottom and you’ll have enough to share between two.
The highlight of our holiday, however, was a helicopter tour of the island we took on the day of our wedding anniversary. I have never been inside an helicopter let alone fly in one. To soar high up in the skies and take in the beauty of Kauai was a truly exhilirating experience. We flew into the Waimea Canyon, took in the grandeur of the Na’pali cliffs and coastline and looked up in awe at Mount Waialeale and its crater. We also spotted whales breeching in the wide blue expanse of the ocean below while flying away from the coast and back to the base. Although the entire trip lasted about an hour, we would have gladly done it all over again right away! We used Blue Hawaiian for the tour and found them to be really professional and efficient with a pleasant staff who seemed to really like their jobs.
Early morning walks by the beach, the sound of coconut trees swaying in the wind, mellow Hawaiian coffee and seared ahi, melodious Hawaiian music and nature at it’s best – we miss it all. Kauai, you are beautiful – A hui hou (goodbye and until we meet again!).