An outdoor paradise – Kauai, HI

I had promised myself that after we sold Betsy and the CR-V I’d take a break from blogging. Our three recent road trips to San Diego, CA, Greer, AZ, and Palisade, CO to escape from the desert heat were all worthy of a blog post, but I held to my promise.

That is, until we visited Kauai! While enjoying and experiencing the island’s beauty, Steve hinted that the tons of pictures I took were definitely worthy of a blog post, and after posting pictures on FB some of my friends nudged me to do the same. I gave in and dusted off the blog rust to start reminiscing and typing again.

Aloha!

Garden Island
Kauai, The Garden Island

We made arrangements for our trip back when Covid19 infections were dropping and restrictions easing. But then the Delta variant came along and created some high anxiety. As our scheduled flights drew closer and the infection numbers surged we looked at our trip with trepidation. Hawaii imposed strict travel restrictions once the state reopened in June. Initially, a 10-day quarantine upon arrival or a negative pre-travel test to bypass quarantine was mandatory. We kept an eye on it, and on July 8th the restrictions were eased to allow fully vaccinated U.S. travelers to skip quarantine without getting a COVID test prior to traveling to the Islands. But we still had to submit health forms and create an account on their SafeTravels program, where we uploaded a copy of our vaccination cards.

At SFO airport, United Airlines pre-cleared Hawaii-bound passengers at a special departure area prior to boarding, where they examined our original vaccination cards. The lines were normally very long, but we got right through since our flight from Phoenix arrived early in the morning. By doing so we bypassed screening in Kauai upon arrival. Whew! What a hassle, but once in Kauai the fun began!

We opted for an open door helicopter tour right after we arrived

Kauai had been on our wish list after visiting Oahu and Maui many years ago. Our 12-day visit finally happened on August 18th. For our initial activity, Steve booked us on a “doors off” helicopter tour of Kauai for just the two of us. I was glad he did, for not only did we see the lay of the island, it was a heck of a ride over an unforgettable view of scenic areas inaccessible by land or water, and a tour of the incredible Na Pali Coast. It was our first glimpse of why Kauai is known as the Garden Island!

We HIGHLY recommend Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours if you want to do this. They fly small helicopters holding only 2-3 people plus the pilot, so folks aren’t crammed in like the larger choppers used by other companies. We were able to take photos out of both sides of the aircraft with nobody blocking us, and since we selected the “doors off” option there wasn’t even a window in the way. What a great adventure, the best helicopter tour we’ve ever taken!

Lihue

Lihue, the commercial and government center of the island

Jungle forests and waterfalls

It was a bit unnerving when we took off, having nothing between me and the earth below except open air (and my seatbelt). But I quickly got used to it and forgot my fear as our lady pilot Stephanie started narrating and Steve and I got busy snapping the island’s natural incredible beauty:

We soon left the more developed parts of the island and soared over vibrant mountains covered in jungle forest trees that looked like tiny pieces of broccoli. We flew over many waterfalls, with one of the most impressive being Manawaiopuna Falls – featured in the Jurassic Park movie (it’s where they landed the helicopter). The falls is on private land and inaccessible except by landing with a permit from the Robinson family, which owns about 101,000 acres of the island.

At this point we saw green everywhere, and we learned that the island is 97% covered by forests and mountain ranges. It was difficult to keep track of the hundreds of waterfalls, so many that most don’t have names!

One of the mountain islands from the movie, Avatar

Waimea Canyon

As we cruised higher and farther, the scenery changed from pure green to hues of red, yellow and orange:

Waimea Canyon has been compared to the Grand Canyon – not in size but in features. It’s gorgeous with green grandeur, younger than the Grand Canyon and only 10 miles long, 2.5 miles wide and 2,800′ deep. Colorfully decorated in red, brown and green hues formed by volcanic activity, it has been carved out over millions of years by the Waimea River:

Orange and red earth contrast with the clusters of bright green trees growing along the canyon walls
Buckets of dirt from the canyon are used to dye the red dirt T-shirts sold here

Mt. Wai’ale’ale 

We flew to Mt. Waialeale, located almost exactly in the middle of the island. This towering green mountain range is usually tucked behind a shroud of wispy rain clouds, but during our flight we were lucky to get a peek into its crater:

Wai’ale’ale means “rippling water” or “overflowing water” in Hawaiian, and is the second wettest spot on earth – receiving about 450″ of rain each year. There were only a few waterfalls streaming that morning because it didn’t rain the previous night. When it does rain (almost always), the waterfalls flowing to the ocean 5000′ below look like tears from the sky, hence their nickname “weeping walls.” It was a thrilling experience flying next to the weeping walls and we were very happy it wasn’t raining during our tour.

Wall of Tears
The numerous and thin waterfalls running down towards the base of the mountain gave it the term “Weeping Walls”

Stephanie informed us that the summit itself is relatively barren, despite all the water it receives. The reason is that in addition to the lack of sunshine, few plants and trees can handle that much rain!

 

Shoreline and farmlands

From the air we could see that the island is ringed by many stretches of sandy beaches and breathtaking cliff coastlines. The interior explodes in a number of steep mountain ridges, most of which are covered with the green of jungle foliage and farmland. We could ascertain Kauai’s four regions, the lush north shore, the dry west area, the busy south shore and the east shore where most of the locals live:

Na Pali Coast – the highlight!

The rugged terrain and emerald-hued cliffs with razor-sharp ridges towering above the Pacific Ocean make the Na Pali Coast iconic and extraordinary. Our pictures don’t do justice, you just have to take our word for it. We were left in awe and babbled about if for hours after the flight:

The Cathedral
A section of the Kalalau Trail hugs the coastline. It’s known as a beautiful but dangerous hike

In just an hour our front row viewing and learning about the island came to an end, leaving us wanting more. Although a helicopter tour is not for everyone, we both agreed it was the best way to grasp the magnitude and incredible beauty of the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain. Making it our first activity gave us a great impression of what to expect during our land-based adventures. The stunning scenery and diversity of landscape made Kauai our favorite Hawaiian island yet!

No roads cut through the spectacular wilderness in Na Pali
Happy passengers

We stayed at Poipu Beach on the south shore during our first six days. Our VRBO rental was a corner unit that let us experience perfect views of sunsets, surfers, turtles, rainbows and the sound of crashing waves that lulled us to sleep each night:

The impact of reopening Hawaii with loosened restrictions resulted in a surge of tourists, which caused difficulty getting rental cars and restaurant reservations. Tables at restaurants were booked several weeks out, but the good news is that we preferred cooking in our well-equipped kitchen or taking out from food trucks and fish markets. Besides, both of us were in Poke (diced raw fish) heaven, and we were on a rice and seafood diet during our entire stay:

Our evening view from the Lanai

Next up: Many reasons to visit Kauai!

32 Comments »

  1. Welcome back! Glad you had such a wonderful time 🙂 Your trips are always such an inspiration— next year I’m doing a Viking European river cruise because of your description a few years back. Thanks for taking the time and energy to share your travels. With best wishes, Carol R.

  2. I’m so glad you resurrected your blog for Kauai. We had a trip planned last year, twice. Both canceled. We’re rebooked for June next year. Until then, I’ll enjoy your photos descriptions.

  3. Glad you’re back with such a spectacular post, although we’d be happy to see you anyway! I know you enjoyed your blog break, but this trip was just to good to keep to yourselves!

  4. Hello and thank you for sharing your beautiful photos and your experiences. Glad you had such a good time, which is not hard to do in Paradise! BTW, our Viking WC is a go with a modified schedule.

  5. Oh, this is unbelievably beautiful!! The photos you took from your helicopter adventure are extraordinary. It sounds nerve wracking to be in a helicopter with only a seat belt holding you in…but I’m glad you went up for us and took all of those gorgeous photos. 🙂 Now you’re making me want to plan a trip to Hawaii.

    Your dining adventures look delicious, too. Seafood is our favorite, and you can’t beat that view from your lanai. I believe your mystery critter in your photo was a manta ray. We’ve seen them in Florida. Come back and visit us here! :-))

  6. Love to see your travel blog again. Glad that you had an amazing trip. We will be in Kauai Oct 3rd, and will definitely consider the helicopter ride per your suggestion. Take care Mona Lisa!

    • Hey Kevin, how are you ? glad to hear from you. You will love Kauai but here are my tips, be sure to make your restaurant reservations in advance as well as your car rental. Also for the helicopter tour book it the day after you arrived so that in case it get cancelled you still have other days left. If you plan to visit Haena State Park, the end of the road, get a permit and parking reservation in advance. Boat tours and other activities also require advance reservation.

  7. AMAZING! What a beautiful adventure! I always enjoy your posts ML. When it comes to using the camera, you definitely have a gift! Of all the photos, though, I really love the two pictures of you and Steve!

  8. OK, I totally understand being sick of blogging – it takes me forever to get things written these days – but you really should write about all these trips you’ve taken. Your photos on Facebook are great, but having all the detail you provide here is so much better! Your helicopter tour looked incredible and the photos are simply stunning. The Na Pali coast is like nothing I’ve ever seen before and now this island is at the top of my bucket list. So incredibly beautiful!

    I’m glad your trip came together even in the face of all the uncertainty and changing rules. It’s definitely been more complicated with with shortages of everything everywhere, but it looks like things worked out for you guys and you certainly don’t need a restaurant making your food. You guys are great chefs and I can’t imagine better ambiance than on that beautiful balcony!

    • Now that my vacation from blogging is over, I guess I will be writing some soon. And for this one I have to run over my head how and where to start it and well, you know the drill. Kauai is for outdoorsy person with a low key vibes, and we love it. We were extra extra careful and wearing the mask the moment we enter the airport all the way to our condo was no fun at all!I was aware of the shortage of car rentals but was unprepared for the lack of tables at restaurants. We were in Poke heaven anyway so it just worked out fine.

  9. John so understands your hesitation to blogging again. He had the same feeling as we are off again…finally. But then he realized how often we look up things on our blog that he felt it worth it…occasionally! While I did enjoy all your photos on fb, I do appreciate the blog details and extra photos. The helicopter ride was most definitley the way to start the trip. And you got to see areas that you couldn’t access any other way. What a spectacular hour in the air!! I don’t have words. The green mountains are amazing. Sweet condo!! When seafood is fresh, I am just as happy with home eating.

    • It took a lot of prodding and thinking to finally wrap my mind to blogging again. Thanks to the tons of picture I took it help me remember all the wonderful sights and things we did. Once I got going with the writing I was on a roll. The helicopter ride was a blast!

  10. Love Kaui!! We visited there on our honeymoon so some of the places sound familiar. Doubt we’ll ever get back since Dave’s motion sickness problem. Beautiful photos.

  11. Our one and only trip to Hawaii was to Kauai, and your post just confirms we chose the right island. The photos from your chopper ride are gorgeous, especially since those are views I will never, ever see in person 🥺 Thanks for resurrecting the blog to share, and we’re looking forward to the next installment!

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