Kauai – Hawaii Island Hopping – pt2

Day 6

I was starting to get a little nervous, as I was yet to receive my results from my Covid test, which was required to travel between islands – and we had an early morning flight to catch to Kauai… Jane had received hers the night before, so I kept the faith that mine would be arriving soon. The worst thing is that our flight was before the office for the testing centre opened, so I couldn’t call to check on its progress. So, we did the next best option – headed for the airport assuming that all was going to go to plan (and I also borrowed Jane’s QR code as a backup insurance).

The check-in went smooth, and there was only a cursory glance at our results/QR codes, and the online portal had accepted it, so I thought my brilliant plan had worked. We were preparing to board, and I was able to call the testing centre, and they realised that there was a mistake with my surname… once again, that damn hyphen messing up computer systems…

The plan unravelled a little once we’d arrived in Kauai, as they had the National Guard processing everyone’s paperwork, and then the duplicate was detected. Thankfully we were able to amend it with my new QR code, but it was a little bit of a mess. Checking out our rental car was also a problem, as the online portal/application was now showing an error, but thankfully mine was green/good, so I did all the talking. 

We made a rush for Waimea, and the mountains above the southern portion of the Na’Pali coast. However, while checking out from some grocery shopping in Safeway, we were approached and was offered the Pfizer covid vaccination – something that was only just being rolled out in SF, and was likely to be weeks/months before being generally available to us/our age group (it’s wild writing this two years later remembering what this period of time was like). There was actually a little bit of hesitancy about waiting to get the vaccine today, as we had tight plans before it got dark – plus the unknown side effects impacting our vacation. But, we opted to wait, and just hike a little faster to make up the time!

We had grabbed a quick poke bowl from the supermarket, and sat and enjoyed views out over the Waimea Canyon, which was like a mini Grand Canyon, if the Grand Canyon was in the tropics, and covered with vegetation. I’d heard that the poke bowls from supermarkets were about as good as they get, and I so far they’ve been fantastic.

There was a brief stop at the Red Dirt waterfall. The photos gave it a sense of scale that didn’t really match reality. It was tiny, just a set of rapids, not a set of falls. I regret not getting some photos with people in it for a sense of scale… 

We continued driving, and the road climbed to a little over 1500m (5000’) up the road to the Pu’u O Kila lookout at the very end, but instead of expansive views down over Na’Pali Coast, we were deep in the clouds. The information panels illustrated what the views should have been, and they seemed stunning. There were several moments of tantalising gaps that confirmed this. There was another sign that claimed it was ‘One of the wettest spots on Earth’ – which I wouldn’t contest.

Awa’awapuhi Hike

It was tempting to stay, waiting for brief openings in the clouds to get a chance to appreciate the views, but there was another hike to be had. The Awa’awapuhi hike was a short/steep 5km, taking us down nearly 600m right out onto the edges of one of these knife edges above the Napali Coast. We were just below the cloud line, but still there were waves of thick fog that came and filled the valleys, obscuring all views. In fact, when we arrived I didn’t quite appreciate just how precarious a position we were in, as I couldn’t see the steep cliffs below. 

This landscape was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and the shapes of them just seemed hard to believe that it was naturally created. 

But, as we’d been a little delayed getting here (due to getting Covid vaccination), we were now in a race against time to get back to the car before the rapidly approaching sunset. It was quite a gruelling and relentless climb, averaging a solid ~10% gradient in quite warm and muggy conditions. It was timed to near perfection, with just the last few hundred metres getting to point that we were slowing down and squinting (and using the light in our phones) to see the way.

Believe it or not, but by the time we’d driven back down to sea level, there weren’t a lot of options still open for dinner. But, the one we did fid, Hamura Saimin, was exactly what I was looking for. Ever since stepping off the plane here in Kauai, I’d had this weird deja-vu like feeling of being in Okinawa at the very south of Japan. Okinawa is still very much Japanese, but with the large American base there, it has this kind of hybrid feel to it. So, seeing a very small Japanese noodle restaurant only added fuel to those feelings. It was by no means a fancy meal, but that was the point. It was delicious, hearty, and something novel while also a reminiscent feeling.

Day 7

The accommodation last night was in a basic Motel 6-kinda place on the border of an industrial neighbourhood. It had just as many frills as you could expect, but as we were arriving well after dark, and leaving first thing in the morning, this wasn’t a concern. Today was going to be yet another jam-packed day, with no time to laze about.

Wailua River Kayak

Just to mix things up a little bit, we went and rented a twin kayak, and set out to explore (the well trodden) Wailua River. It was a few peaceful kilometres up a wide and gentle river, lined with palms, mangroves, and other dense and lush vegetation. The river continued, but the suggested route had us park the kayak, and embark on foot across a shallow set of rapids on a side branch, to hike up to some “Secret Falls”. We were lucky to have arrived between larger tour groups, so for the most part the hike along the narrow boardwalk was silent and empty.

The hike left the riverbank, and started deeper into the rainforest, across muddy rocks and slick roots. It didn’t take long to be able to navigate based on the roar of the falls, which was honestly a lot larger than I had been expecting! It even drowned out the 30-odd other tourists that were just finishing up their lunch and preparing to return back to the kayaks. It was blissful having the area return to a little silence (at least silence of man-made noise). 

We joined the lunch crowd at Mark’s Place. Once again the food captured a Japanese vibe, with steamed rice, and juicy/crispy crumbed pork cutlets – but the mac-n-cheese salad somewhat ruined that illusion. 

Kauai Helicopter Ride

I’m not one to splurge on luxuries like this, but Jane gifted this as a Birthday Present, and how could I say no! I’ve taken other smaller helicopter rides, like in the Great Barrier Reef, but this was a whole other beast, travelling 100km across the island, and deep into the valleys of the Napali Coast and back (thank-you Google for tracking my location so accurately…)

The helicopter was a tiny little thing, with the doors removed to give best visibility. It took off like a rocket, and only moments later we were above lush foothills and farmland. There were some pretty strict warnings about using any devices that weren’t strongly attached to you via a lanyard, and attempting to pull my phone out was terrifying, with the wind wanting to pull it out of your hand. It had a lanyard added, but still it was hard to trust it wasn’t going to fall! But, the views were so spectacular, and my memory so poor, that I really wanted to be able to capture as much as I could to revisit the experience.

We flew past some of the area that was used to film the original Jurassic Park – and the theme music started in our headsets right on cue. You could just picture those little CGI dinosaurs, and Sam Neil roaming through the grasslands below

We also flew past countless waterfalls, some large multi-tiered spectacles, many tiny little white threads of agitated water. But they were everywhere, and it was hard to find a place absent of waterfalls.

Next up was back up the Waimea Canyon that we’d driven up yesterday afternoon. Seeing it from the air, and getting deeper into the canyon only made it seem more rugged and impressive. The red rock peered out more from under the greenery, making the comparison to the Grand Canyon just a little easier to believe. But, we were flying into thick fog and rain again, and with that went the visibility.

And then we suddenly dropped out of the fog and cloud, and right there in front of us were the jagged-edged cliffs of the Napali Coast line that we’d stood above yesterday. It was just incredible, jaw dropping, breathtaking – choose your superlative, it was exceptionally unique and beautiful.

The little chopper flew in and out of a few of these super narrow valleys, and the sense of scale, and inaccessibility continued to blow my mind.

The other way to access this little piece of paradise is via sea kayaks, which I recognise is far beyond my ability! 

We buzzed around the island, past countless more coves, cliffs, waterfalls, and just stunning scenery. There are no roads, and few trails to most of this area. It was all rushing past faster than I could process, and my mind had become overwhelmed and fried from stimulation. I was ready for us to land and to process what I’d just experienced.

We’d booked in for a few nights up in Hanalei Bay, which was on the other side of the island from the heliport. Thankfully Kauai is pretty small, and we’d managed to check-in and settle down in time for a brief sunset that fought its way through the clouds.

Day 8

Not being settled with yesterday’s amazing experience of flying in and around the Napali Coast in a helicopter, I’d organised permits to hike along the coastline, too. Unfortunately the overnight hike was a bit more than we were prepared to do, and couldn’t quite manage the full hike in a single day, so settled to just walk for a few hours and return.

There were quite a few logistics to organise for this hike, starting with a camping permit, as it was required to hike beyond the 2km mark. In reality, I’m unsure how strictly that was enforced, as there were no signs of rangers, or others checking for permits later on in the hike. We also had to organise parking with the camping permit. Thankfully I learnt about this well ahead of time, and was able to arrange these permits. The hike starts from the cleared area at the bottom left of the image, and then follows the coastline into the distance.

Napali Coast Hike (Kalalau Trail)

It was a much clearer morning, and after a big breakfast (and some sandwiches to go), we’d managed to check in at the ranger station, and start our hike. It started off quite easy, with well formed trails through thick and lush forest, which for the most part blocked the views of the coastline. 

But, once the trail ventured closer to the cliffs, and we were able to peer through the canopies, the views of the ocean and the coastline were sublime.

It didn’t take long until I was drenched with sweat, but even as we arrived at Hanakapi Beach, there was something about the waves here that didn’t seem particularly welcoming for swimming in, so I made do with soaking my legs in the stream flowing down from Hanakapi falls.

Rather than hiking up and inland for the falls, we continued on towards Kalalau Beach. This was the point that technically the overnight camping permit was required. This was also the point that the nicely formed trails turned into a muddy quagmire. We’d made good pace from the trailhead to Hanakapi Beach, and I had it in my mind that doing the entire 22mi return trip in a single day wouldn’t be too difficult. Seeing the state of these trails, I realise I was wildly naive.

I’d wanted to travel at least mid-way along the trail, to Hanakoa Falls, but after seeing how slow this progress was, and how late in the day it already was, we just weren’t prepared for another few hours of hiking.

I was sad to have to cut it short, as this little taster left me wanting to complete the full trail even more. But, thankfully I can always return another day, with proper preparation, and complete the hike.

The sunset from the hotel in Hanalei Bay was clearer than yesterday’s, but no less dramatic.

Day 9

While yesterday’s hike hadn’t really been all that physically stressful, we were definitely feeling the constant movement from the past week of travels. It was also sunny and clear, so I didn’t need too much convincing to go and spend the day exploring some of the beaches on the northern shores.

Kauapea Beach

This came highly recommended from a friend that had been a long-term traveller/resident to Hawaii. It does make me laugh when things are listed in Google Maps as ‘Secret Beach’ – can hardly be all that secret now that it’s online and visible to the world… Anyway, it was a nice little ramble downhill to the beach through some dirt trails. 

The first views of the golden beach, the light blue waters, and the deep blue skies after exiting the access trail honestly floored me. It was gorgeous. It also felt like home, as this could easily be any beach along the Gold Coast/Northern NSW coastline (minus the giant skyscrapers). 

After a quick walk down the length of the beach, a suitably quiet and semi-shaded spot was found to just relax, read, and rest. The sun was warm, but with my magical 

P20 sunscreen I remained unhurt by the sun – even after several dips into the water to cool off. (I still don’t understand why it’s not available for purchase here in the USA, it’s phenomenal sunscreen). 

The day passed by quickly, and while there was a small sense of guilt in not trying to cram more sightseeing and activities in, it did feel magical to just rest.

Day 10

After yesterday’s ‘laziness’, we felt the need to do a little something more physically demanding, and to see a little more of the island. During our helicopter ride, the pilot pointed out a hike that she said was her favourite on the island – so naturally we paid attention, and made an effort to take it on. 

Moalepe Hike

It didn’t turn out to be too strenuous of a hike, and other than the humidity, it would have been a gentle walk. 

I’m not sure it rates higher than the views we saw on our small sample of the Napali Coastline, but still it was a quiet walk, and some beautiful lush green views, into what looked like impenetrable forests.

It was one final evening in Hanalei Bay, and to explore a little more, we walked down from the hotel to the attached beach. It would have been an amazing place to pack a picnic and enjoy the sunset from, but sadly hadn’t quite planned for this, and had to leave to get dinner.

Day 11

It was genuinely difficult leaving Kauai, as I now felt like I had more unfinished business than when I arrived. It might be physically a small island, but there is a richness here to explore – and we just didn’t have the time.

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  1. Trevor Neish

    Amazing beauty!
    Rice, crumbed pork cutlets and.. mac-n-cheese salad!? “american/japanese fusion” ? 🙂

    • Absolutely American/Japanese fusion going on here! The BBQ meat was also kinda seasoned like Philipino style, too!

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