KAUAI: An Island Apart


By Linda Ballou


ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Travel writer and author Linda Ballou talks about her return visit to Kauai, Hawai’i, and what travelers can experience. Watch here on YouTube or download the podcast on Acast.

Kauai, lush with foliage, resplendent with waterfalls, and isolated by tumultuous surf, is the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain. It remained undisturbed by the tribal wars that plagued Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island of Hawai’i for centuries. The protocols of the 2,000-year-old Polynesian Kapu system were practiced on Kauai in relative harmony. It is said that a mantle of mana, or spiritual power, rests over the island and that it still holds sacred secrets of the ancient culture that ended with the burning of the gods in 1819. Twice Kamehameha the Great tried to conquer Kauai and take it under his rule. Twice the seas rose and prevented his armada from reaching the garden isle.

Today, there can be no building taller than the tallest Palm Tree. Restrictions are in place to prevent over-development. However, it is the rugged terrain that has stood in the way of progress. Only 1% of the Garden Isle is developed.

Post-pandemic Kauai is welcoming tourists back to her shores. The Sheraton Coconut Beach Resort on the east coast, just six miles from the airport, makes a handy springboard to adventures on the windward side of the Island. The generous pool and bubbling spa in the hotel courtyard are a welcome respite after a long flight.

Stroll nearby Kapa’a, a laid-back remnant of Old Hawai’i, and buy supplies you forgot like 50SPF long-sleeve beach cover-up and reef-protective sunscreen. Enjoy a fruit smoothie at Luna’s Café and pick up snacks for beach picnics.

The 46-acre Lydgate Chocolate Farm nestled in the mountains above Kapa’a, backed by untrammeled wilderness and owned by a fifth generation Kapa’a family, is the largest chocolate farm on Kauai. The enchanting drive to the farm takes you through a lush valley shaded by towering trees. An informative three-hour tour is mandatory for chocoholics. It begins with a stroll through a magnificent tropical garden with a guide pointing out the many uses of the plants by the early Polynesians. Stops at covered tasting stations with samples of fruits from the garden and chocolates from around the globe are a special treat. Who knew that the refinement and processing of cacao, the source of chocolate, is as intense and painstaking as that of any good wine?

After your tour head on over the mountains to the Wailua River Valley. The fertile Wailua valley was once the seat of the Hawaiian Royalty and the birthplace of King Kaumuali’i the last ruling monarch of Kauai. The remnants of a heiau, or temple, rest on a bluff overlooking the valley. Human sacrifices to the war god Ku were performed here. Minor infractions like walking in the shadow of a chief was an offense that could demand a death sentence. Across the way, there is a viewing station for Opaeka’a Falls, a twin set of streams glistening in the distance.

Today, the mouth of Wailua River is the takeout point of kayak/hike adventures and the Smith Boat Grotto tours The Smith tour is heavily “touristed” but the covered launch is a relaxing way to get on the water. They have been taking visitors to the fern grotto where weddings are performed since 1946. Be sure to visit Lydgate Beach Park while you are in the Wailua area Surf here is wild and wooly, but the boulder barrier forms a safe place to swim with lifeguards on duty.

In Poipu, the south side of Kauai, numerous resorts and condo complexes now line the shore, but access points and a strolling path line the coast. Nestled between the Hyatt Regency and a golf course on Poipu Road you will find public parking and access to Shipwreck Beach and the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail. This path takes you along a rugged coast with giant waves crashing in white fury against black lava rock walls. The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail is as breathtaking as the more famous Kalalau Trail along the Napali Coast of the North Shore but is much more easily accessed and has no permit restrictions.

My lodging at the Koloa Landing Resort in the center of the activities on the South Shore served as a luxurious home base. It sports an extensive set of pools and waterfalls adjacent to the Holoholo Grill. There you can enjoy Hawaiian favorite dishes and some imaginative flavor fusions for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Balmy breezes and swaying palms beneath a bright moon and Hawaiian music are on tap every night. My spacious suite with every amenity enjoyed a view of the sea and a patio overlooking the tranquility pool below. Each morning I had this pool and spa set aside for adult use to myself! It was a perfect way to begin my touring day. I could feel my muscles softening in the spa and awakening in the cool pool with a stint under the waterfall to release tense shoulders. My kind of therapy.

My favorite stop on the south shore is Allerton Gardens. Most travelers go to Spouting Horn Blow Hole at the end of Lawa’i Road, but just across the street is the lesser-known National Botanical Garden aka Allerton/McBride Garden which opened to the public in the 1990s.

Robert Allerton and his partner John Gregg, an architect, purchased the Lawa’i Valley in 1938 for $50,000. Robert had inherited millions that he and John spent gathering tropical trees and plants from around the globe that would flourish in the nurturing climate of Kauai. They gathered statuary from Florence and Rome to decorate the garden rooms John designed. Graceful paths through the garden lead through orchards of fruit trees, cascading water features, and towering trees along the banks of the Lawai’i stream. The docent-led tour through what must be one of the most magnificent gardens in the world was a highlight of my visit to Kauai. Steven Spielberg must have agreed because he rented the park for three months to film Jurassic Park.

The spectacular Waimea Canyon, and Kalalau lookout on the southwest side of the Island are an easy day trip from the Koloa Landing Resort. Waimea Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, is a large canyon, approximately ten miles long and up to 3,000 feet deep. The narrow roller coaster road to Waimea Canyon Lookout is a bit daunting but worth the butterflies. There are numerous pull-outs along the way to view the variegated gorge; however, it is worth the price of admission to carry on to the two viewpoints created by the state. There are trails leading out of the highest viewpoint that travel across the ridge of the canyon.

Continue up the mountain to the Koke’e Lodge where you can have a cool drink and lunch in scintillating mountain air. Be sure to check out the Koke’e Museum with a great collection of books on Hawaiian history. Once refreshed, go even higher to Kalalau Lookout where on a clear day you can gaze down upon the stunning Napali coast and the deep blue sea spreading to eternity. There was a brilliant blue sky overhead, but a cloud mist cloaking the top of the mountain blocked the view the day I visited. Since this is the wettest spot in the world it should be no surprise to run into weather. I was thrilled with the clear day I enjoyed in the park even though the vista of the Napali Coast was illusive.

There are numerous outdoor adventure companies offering ways for you to enjoy their beautiful Island. You can zip-line through the forest, kayak up Wailua River, ride an inner tube down a Plantation ditch, or take the historic Plantation train. Open door Helicopter flights over the Waimea Canyon and Napali Coast are popular among the fearless. Sunset dinner cruises and zodiac tours on the rugged Napali Coast are exciting adventures. All are fun ways to explore the Island.

I chose a kayaking and snorkeling trip on the Hanalei River. This is a trip that any reasonably fit person without any previous kayaking experience can enjoy. I was blessed with a glorious day with the pleated green pali (mountains) protecting Hanelei from outsiders crowned in fluffy white clouds. We paddled onto placid Hanalei Bay where a few yachts laid anchor and on to Secret Beach for snorkeling and a picnic lunch.

Hiking the infamous Kalalau Trail that overlooks the Napali Coast Wilderness is so popular that you must make reservations and take a shuttle to the trailhead from Hanalei. The Sleeping Giant Mountain Trail with stunning views of the coast far below in the foothills behind Kapa’a is less traveled and does not require a permit. There are 91 trails on Kauai to choose from. The AllTrails subscription app is a handy tool that provides information about all of them with GPS connection directions to trailheads.

Anini Beach was my last stop where I took a snooze beneath a Hau tree and listened to the turquoise water purl into shore. I lived at the end of Anini in a pole house on the beach in 1978. Through, hurricanes, floods, and a two-fold increase in human population the North Shore remains the same. Geographically set apart from the rest of the Island it is staggeringly beautiful, serene, and sheltered from the bustle of the outside world. Kauai will always have a special place in my heart.

Linda Ballou is a Southern California-based travel writer, and author. You will find a host of travel articles on her site www.LostAngelAdventures.com. For more about her novels and travel books go to www.LindaBallouAuthor.com.


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