Wanting some sun, a bit of relaxation and some adventure without difficulty, we decided on a trip to Hawaii. Kauai specifically. Yes, fear of the toilet sent me to Hawaii. Here's why you should go/what you should do when you get there.
Marvel at the chickens
Rent a convertible Mustang
Half of all Kauai seems to be travelling in one of two cars: A Toyota pick-up truck or a convertible Mustang. I'll let you guess which one contains the tourists.
Ordinarily, I would not be caught dead in a convertible Mustang. It's a mid-life crisis coated with a thick layer of processed cheese. Too much for me. However, the rental car company did not have the agreed upon budget sub-compact in stock, so we were faced with a free upgrade into either a: Mazda 6, Hardtop Mustang or the Convertible. I mean, you'd be kind of stupid not to take the convertible, right?
And thank God for my ability to send my pride packing back to Canada. I learned to love the Mustang. I embraced the freedom of no roof and pretty much refused to drive anywhere with the top up. It should come with no top at all, as far as I'm concerned. The benefits? Well, with the top down you can actually see where you're driving! (There's some nasty blind spots with the roof up) Want to take a photograph? Of anything? Just stick the camera in the air and fire away.
Hawaii needs to be experienced in a convertible.
I'm ordinarily frightened of fish. I actually don't like swimming where there is anything living that can potentially touch or brush up against me. Weeds. Fish. Small children. Anything. I prefer a nice lake devoid of any creature or plant. But that all changes when you go to Hawaii. There are so many reefs and they're all filled with fish. Big fish. Little fish. Bright fish. Dull fish. And somehow, they're not scary. They do their thing, you watch and everything is okay. Your best bet is to probably bring your own mask and snorkel (or buy them there at any of the numerous dive shops) and rent flippers so they don't take up all of your luggage space.
Take a boat ride up the Napali Coast and out to Ni'ihau for even better snorkeling
There are seemingly hundreds of tour guides that will take your money, put you in a boat and haul you up the Napali Coast and back. There are only two that will do the same trip but include a side trip out to Ni'ihau. And there is only one company that offers these trips up daily. You'll pay a lot no matter how you do it and the Ni'ihau jaunt will add a few dollars to the total, but the extra dollars are definitely worth it.First of all, you'll see dolphins. The water out near Ni'ihau is crawling with dolphins. We did see a couple frolicking in the waves up on the Napali, but nothing compared to Ni'ihau. It was like somebody had kept those poor little guys in a cage for a week straight and just let them out for 10 minutes while our boat travelled through the area. Dolphin pandemonium. Jumping. Diving. Spinning (they are Spinner Dolphins, after all). They went crazy. It was awesome.
Next, you'll get some great snorkeling. We parked off the coast of Lehua (an even smaller island just off the coast of Ni'ihau) and got some fantastic snorkeling in about 25 feet of water. Huge schools of fish. All sorts of starfishy and urchiny things. A seal even sauntered through the area for a while.Throw in the sunrise, dramatic Napali Coast views, the decent lunch spread and the free-flowing booze on the return ride home (I had one beer, but there was this pretty old guy that was pounding them back) and this becomes a really easy decision.
Stay in the South
We ended up in Poipu because all the guide books told us to. More sun. Less fearsome surf. Etc. While not perfect, there are many reasons to stay in Poipu. First and foremost is that you're never more than an hour-and-a-half from any point on the island. The "problem" with Kauai is that there is no road that goes all the way around the island. The Northernmost road and the Westernmost road end no more than 12 or so miles from one another, but it will probably take you at least 2 hours or more to get from one to the other. If you stay near either of these points you most likely won't be able to experience the opposite side of the island. If you stay in Poipu, everything is a fairly manageable drive. However...
Stay in the North
The North is just so beautiful. Better beaches. Better surf (in the winter). More animals. Less tourists. The only reason we didn't stay in the North is that all the guide books warned us about the excessive rain, treacherous surf, angry locals and land-adapted sharks. From what we saw, the books are full of crap. You won't be able to make it to some of the Southern/Western sights (Waimea Canyon, etc.) but it might be worth the trade-off.
Surf in Hanalei Bay
Every book/website/guy on the corner seemed to warn about the angry locals, overly large waves and hungry sharks of Hanalei Bay. We decided to surf there anyhow.
We rented gear from Hawaiian Surfing Adventures. It's perfect. Cheap rates. Right on the Beach. Half-owned by a Canadian. We ended up on some large, soft-top boards because we didn't see the huge rack of standard boards hiding behind them. Oh well. They helped keep us somewhat dry on the 15 minute paddle out to the (serious) waves. (there are some kiddie waves lapping the shore closer in)
Once we got out to the waves, it was the friendliest local scene I've ever experienced. Keep to the sidelines for 10 minutes or so, see how things go, don't step on any toes and the locals will become more than helpful. Pretty quickly I had people cheering me on every time I paddled for a wave. Once I finally got up, I almost collided with some other dude before I figured out he was there and made a quick turn. When I apologized he said "No problem! Take as many as you want, I'm out here every day." It was refreshing.
While we were out there, we ran in to Mitchell, the non-Canadian half of the Hawaiin Surfing Adventures ownership. He paddled over, hopped in the water and coached us on to several waves. It was fantastic. We ended our day with some wonderful tacos/burritos from Pat's Taqueria which quietly sits waiting for you in the parking lot.
Eat at Banana Joe's Fruit Stand
Banana Joe's is just North of Kilaueau, so you will drive right by it if you head to the North. Banana Joe's offers up some local food products and a small kitchen that produces magic. Hand written on some small signs on the wall is the days menu of smoothies and frosties. There's usually 2 options for each. The smoothie is self explanatory and you're welcome to waste your life and order one of these. The real action is on the frostie. The Banana Joe's frostie goes on my list of "Best things that I've ever put in my mouth." Nothing more than frozen fruit blended into an ice cream like consistency, the frostie provides a taste explosion that is so beyond the sum of its parts its like a hydrogen bomb created by mixing a couple of firecrackers with some lighter fluid. Alchemy. A taste sensation. Get one after going to the...
Kilaueau Lighthouse and Nature Preserve
I've always wanted to see an Albatross. I never thought that when I finally saw an Albatross it would be overshadowed by hundreds of equally large frigate birds.
Pay your 10 dollars and check out the views from the Lighthouse. If you're lucky you'll get to experience the Frigate Birds dive-bombing. If they poop on you it's good luck. Lots and lots of good luck
Paddle Surf at Kalapaki Beach
Right in the heart of Lihue is Kalapaki Beach. This is the friendliest surf in town and it's not terribly crowded as it sits wedged between the shipyard and downtown. The surf was small, so we rented stand up paddle boards.
Stand up surfing seems almost perfect for the person comfortable with standing up on a surfboard, not 100% certain how to read waves and not in good enough shape to paddle a surfboard around for more than an hour. So, pretty much made for me.
We surfed for an hour-and-a-half until my leash broke and I almost got run over/into a fist fight with an angry local after getting stranded into the middle of the set. Who would have thought the aggro locals would show up on the baby set in front of a large hotel?
Drive up the Waimea Canyon. Perhaps go for a hike
There are some beautiful beaches on the west coast. Above them is the Waimea Canyon. You can drive to the top and get some spectacular views of both the canyon and the Napali Coast. There are countless hikes, but you need to choose wisely. Some of them are quite long and you can't see much from the trees.
Eat at the Shrimp Station
Right at the bottom of the road to the Waimea is the Shrimp Station. Go for a battered and fried option. And then...
Eat at the Koloa Fish Market (or the Deli next door)
Maybe not right afterwards. But at some point, you should try some of the different Poke or a giant sandwich from the deli.
Hang out on Aliomanu Beach
It's not too difficult to find but it will take some doing. I think the locals hid the "Beach Access" signs. Probably halfway between Ka'paa and Kilaeau. Both times we went it was deserted. No surf and decent snorkeling. Although, Andrea saw some sort of giant eel/piece of seaweed and got out pretty fast.
Paddle the Wailua River
This was the last thing we did before we got on the airplane. You can check out the river from the lookout at Opeaka'a Falls on the hill above the valley. We actually drove halfway up the valley and rented from the Hawaiian Village beneath the falls. 90% of the other people
had to paddle up from the mouth. As a result, we were able to paddle up past the usual attractions and see a nice deserted stretch of river.
There's a nice 20 minute hike in to (not so) Secret Falls. There's the Fern Grotto. That's about it. But it's just nice to get on to a calm piece of water and see some of the interesting shrubbery up close.
Check out Wailua Falls
Just outside of Poipu is Wailua Falls. The falls are kind of dull, but there's some nice views of the hills on the drive up. As well, there's a troupe of basket weavers that hang out and give away baskets if you look friendly. No joke. We forced 5 dollars upon them for the first one and they gave us another in return. I felt like an idiot hauling them home on the airplane, but that's the price you pay as a tourist.