A Hawaiian Vacation – The Splendor of Kauai
My wife and I lived on the Hawaiian Island paradise called Kauai for several years. It was an unusual day, indeed a rare day when no rainbows appeared in the azure sky. Here on ‘The Mainland’ as the Hawaiians call it, folks stop and stare at the graceful arc of a rainbow shimmering in the mist of an ebbing summer shower. Imagine living in a place where people take notice when a day passes without rainbows! Kauai is that kind of place, more a state of mind, really. It’s likely the most beautiful place on earth. And a wonderful place to get far, far away from the pressures and impositions of the daily grind.
Having been Kamaaina, or an island inhabitant for a while, here’s a little help for those who make the trip to Kauai. And by the way, everyone should see Kauai before they move on to the big Heiau in the sky. First a few tips to keep you safe and free of unwanted interruptions, so you can truly enjoy your visit, regardless of how long or short. I have to warn you, though, that your visit will be too short regardless. We lived there for three years, and it was far too little time. Island fever? Forget it. Here’s a short list of vital Hawaiian vacation reminders.
* It’s a long flight from the west coast. Five hours from either SF or LA. There are direct flights into Lihue (Lee-Hoo-y) the main town on Kauai. Walk around the airplane, drink a lot of water (for a lot of reasons), have fun with the halfway to Hawaii quiz. Keep in mind that you’ll be flying into the sun in more ways than one. On the trip to Hawaii you’ll have a long day. Don’t try to do too much the first day on the island. Go to the beach. Take in the astonishing beauty of the island, knowing you’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Feel the mana*. Chill.
* How to pack? Leave the mainland clothes on the mainland. In our three years on Kauai we wore long pants exactly once–on the flight over. There’s no dress code on Kauai. If you want to get suited up to go to dinner, go for it, otherwise relax. Oh, and those Hawaiian print shirts from the gift shop? You won’t wear them in Ohio, so shop carefully.
* Sadly, when you leave–and reality will rear its ugly head despite all attempts to suppress it–leave the fruits, veggies, anything organically questionable behind. Airport authorities will check for foodstuffs, fruit, all organic stuff and confiscate it. Also, don’t take any lava rocks. The locals will know–don’t ask us how–and Pele’ will, too. And Pele’ still rules the Islands, believe it. A small bottle of beach sand is okay, but leave the real estate like you found it.
* Try not to be a Haole (How-Lee, meaning foreigner). Yes, there’s a fair amount of local resentment toward the haoles, some of it with good reason. White settlers didn’t treat the Hawaiians very well, and local people still feel the encroachment of strangers on their island. The population of Kauai is a real mix, with 35% white, 32% Asian, and only 9% native Hawaiian. Be mindful of their land, which is more than just real estate to them. Be courteous, don’t speak loudly, and don’t point. Pointing is considered rude.
* A word about the traffic. It can be horrendous. Particularly in the tourist areas around Kapaa town, further north in Wailua, in Lihue, and any place a lot of hotels are nestled together. Unfortunately Kauai is not bicycle friendly. There are numerous hiking trails, of course, but to get around you need a car. You’ll see bumper stickers that say “Slow down–This ain’t the mainland”. The speed limit on most of Kauai is 35. Don’t be surprised or annoyed when local people drive 25. They do. Hey, life’s too short to tailgate. Keep in mind that there’s no driving all the way around the island. The road doesn’t connect.
* Block up! Kauai lies at 21°94 N Latitude. The sun isn’t any hotter there, it’s just more efficient. Many, many Kauai vacations are ruined by too much sun exposure. You bald guys? Don’t forget the top of your head. And yes, the sun will burn you while snorkeling. Block up. Do it every time. You’ll be glad you did.
* Speaking of sunshine, it hangs around on Kauai for nearly 12 hours every day. The Hawaiian Islands don’t observe daylight savings time, so when it’s noon in Lihue in July, it’s 6 PM Eastern time. Factor those times in when you call home. They can call you any time after 12 o’clock their time; you can safely call them any time before 4 PM, otherwise somebody’s going to get a wake up call.
* Medical issue? If it’s something serious (see comment above about blocking up) then go to Wilcox Hospital in Lihue, or any of the other medical facilities on island. There’s one in Kapaa on the east side, another on the south coast near Kalaheo, and one near Princeville on the north shore. As for what to pack, sunscreen, at least an SPF 40 or 50–cannot overestimate this–simple pain meds, any prescription meds of course, and it can’t hurt to take the scrip with you in case you run out. All else can easily be purchased on the island.
* Weather? Mostly sunny, as I said, but it does rain on Kauai–every day. One way to tell a tourist vehicle? They put the top down right away leaving the airport. Five minutes later they’re stopped to put it up again. Kauai is in the temperate zone, washed by warm, misty rains often throughout the day. Temperature ranges from 65° F at night, to a high of 85° F in the daytime, year round. The northeast trade-wind wafts across the island all day at a gentle 8 to 10 knots.
Best time of year to go? Any time really, but for escaping the midwest heat Kauai is perfect. The winter months tend to be wetter; summer months dryer. There are an average of 15,000 tourists** on Kauai every day during the summer months, somewhat fewer in winter, so plan accordingly.
What to see and do? Just take in the incredible beauty. As for activities, a helicopter tour is a must. Much of Kauai is inaccessible by car, particularly one of the most spectacular places on earth–the Na Pali coast of Kauai. For details on helicopter tours, see my article ‘Kauai by Helicopter–The top of everyone’s bullet list’. In short, everyone must do this; it’s a life altering experience. For beach goers, Kauai has incredible snorkeling and scuba. Try Tunnel’s beach on the north shore for world class snorkeling. Get there early, or there’s no parking left. Drive further along route 56 till it ends at Ke’e (Kay-Ay) beach. Here you’ll find great snorkeling, and the start of the famous Kalalau hiking trail. The humpbacks arrive on Kauai around the first of December, and leave by late April. Take a whale watch tour, and see these stunning creatures in their natural surroundings. Until you’ve seen a humpback breach close by you have not lived. Drive to the top of Waimea (Why-May-A) canyon. Here, the full beauty of Kauai is in plain sight, particularly the island’s incredible diversity of land forms. Waimea Canyon was created 1.5 million years ago by an earthquake that nearly split Kauai in two. Wai Mea means red water. So called because of the color of the Waimea River that cuts through the bottom of the chasm. Kauai is made up of iron oxide from the volcanic origin of the island. Iron oxide is rust.
*There’s very little crime on Kauai, but it pays to be cautious. A word about what not to do. Don’t leave valuables in plain sight in the car. A purse, camera, suitcase etc. in the back seat at a beach parking lot is asking for a broken window and theft. It happens. Put things in the trunk. Watch items on beach towels, too, or leave them at the hotel.
If you’re stopped by the police, be courteous. The island is very laid back, and so are the locals. They don’t get attitude; chill out.
Eat at the local spots, and avoid the usual fast food fare. You can get McDonalds at home. Try Hamura in Lihue for some of the best Saimin you’ll ever eat. For the meal of your life in a classy place, try Roys in PoiPu beach on the south shore.
If the locals aren’t in the water, don’t go in the water. If they get out, get out. They understand the ocean and its vagaries better than we haoles do. Many tourists drown in Hawaii every year. Locals never do. And don’t get adventurous in the Kauai surf. It’s a lot stronger than you think, and can quickly ruin a vacation.
Don’t overdo it. The temptation is strong to go all day, but don’t. You’re there to relax after all. I mentioned mana before. Mana means spirit. There’s a lot of mana on Kauai. Soak it in, allow it to happen. It will creep in if you let it. So let it.
Don’t wear your shoes indoors. Common courtesy dictates that you take shoes off, out of custom, and because of all the rusty dirt you’d track in otherwise. When you think about it this is a highly sensible custom.
* Finally, enjoy the phenomenal beauty of Kauai. There’s no place like it on earth. It truly is a once in a lifetime experience. My last word of advice might be to take a lot of pictures, but the best camera is in your mind’s eye. I’d leave the camera behind. When others want to see photos of your trip, smile and tell them they’ll have to see it for themselves.
**Population of Kauai 60,000–number of tourists 1 million per year!
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