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.
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!
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!
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!
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:
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.
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:
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!
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:
Next up: Many reasons to visit Kauai!