Aloha readers! After many years of happy daydreams we were thrilled to finally visit Hawaii on our latest USA roadtrip. We weren’t totally sure what to expect. If we tried to think about these Pacific islands all the usual stereotypes came to mind: surfers, tiki bars, pineapples, wide sandy beaches, spluttering fiery volcanoes… we had seen so many alluring glimpses of Hawaii on film and TV, but after wanting to visit for such a long time, would Hawaii be worth the wait? Yes. Oh yes. Yes it would.
After a bit of research and a little head-scratching – because every island seemed to have lots of beautiful experiences to offer – we settled upon visiting two Hawaiian islands with the time/budget we had. We’d first go from L.A. to Kauai for 4 nights, and then to Maui for 4 nights before a couple of days in San Diego. As soon as we arrived at Lihue airport we were amazed and delighted at several things all at once: there was no long queue for immigration, the air itself was warm and smelt of flowers, and there were chickens and cockerels strutting around everywhere like they owned the place! This was an airport experience like no other we’d had before and we instantly felt relaxed and charmed by Kauai.
After a bit of a wait for our rental car we drove over to Kapaa and stopped at Java Kai for a laid-back lunch. Hannah munched avocado on toast ($8.50) and slurped on a huge ‘Go Green’ smoothie: $9 for organic kale, apples, ginger, banana and coconut milk. Josh ate a BBQ pork sandwich ($13) and we both sat out front, in the sun, and watched teeny geckos wandering around on the furniture.
We then checked in to the rustic and relaxing Kauai Country Inn (which has now closed). Our room was huge and the grounds were beautiful; tropical and so so green, with two boars – Emma and Isabel – housed at the end of the garden, rescued by the B&B’s owners who told us all about how they came to live in their garden. Because it’s located in the jungle there were massive spiders outside, ants everywhere and we did spot a few bugs in our room. We also heard the noise of all kinds of birds chattering away from just before sunrise. They were so noisy but we loved hearing them and loved feeling the fragrant, tropical breeze coming through the windows. Breakfast was pretty decent: fresh pineapple, juice made with freshly-picked fruits from the trees outside, pastries cakes, toast and peanut butter. Just down the road from the Inn are honour-system fruit and avocado stands and there was lovely coffee and snacks waiting in our room when we arrived. Everything we needed to start our day right.
After relaxing in our room for a little while we drove over to Wailua Falls: a 173 foot waterfall located near Lihue that feeds into the Wailua River. Apparently, in ancient times, Hawaiian men would jump from the top of the falls to prove their manhood, which is absolutely terrifying! It was a beautiful sight though and the drive there was so verdant and lush.
For dinner, we drove back to Kapaa and stopped by the cute little Tiki Tacos. In no way fancy, it served up tasty and huge tacos. Hannah had marinated tofu and (actually pretty spicy) tiki fire veggies. Josh enjoyed the chicken tacos. It was cheap and very cheerful meal and open 10am – 8.30pm.
For après-dinner drinks we headed over to Duke’s Barefoot Bar where Josh ordered a lovely Kona pineapple IPA and Hannah a Pina Colada inside a hollowed out pineapple (truly she is the female Del Boy), we watched the ocean and played with the local beach cats. It was lovely. So lovely that we returned another day, not least so Josh could try a Hula pie dessert that he’d spotted in the menu and thoroughly enjoyed eating.
After a blissful sleep and delicious breakfast it was time for an experience we had waited years for. A Jurassic Park Falls Helicopter Trip. So, this was simultaneously one of the scariest and best things we’ve ever done. If you’ve ever watched Jurassic Park you might remember the waterfall at the start of the film that Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern and the rest of the crew land at in their helicopter. Well, that scene was filmed in Kauai and for $350, per person, you can take a helicopter trip, land there too and gawp at the waterfall, before jumping back in the chopper and having an aerial tour of the island: including Waimea Canyon and the Nāpali Coast. It is not cheap and it’s probably horrible to the environment, but it is exhilarating, terrifying and beautiful. As we landed near the waterfall the captain played the theme tune to Jurassic Park and we very nearly burst into tears of joy. Throughout the trip our pilot was kind, entertaining and very professional. It was brilliant hearing various songs in our headphones – including this version of Wonderful World – not least because it distracted Hannah, who was quite literally enduring a white-knuckle ride.
When we were back on terra firma we jumped in the car and headed over for a look around Larsen’s Beach, the beautiful Kilauea Lighthouse and stopped by Banana Joe’s Fruit Stand (which, alas, was closed). We then stopped at Hanalei Valley Lookout, which is one heckuva a photo-stop where we drank in the view. Offering sweeping, panoramic views of the valley, fields of taro and verdant hillside, it is so vibrant and green.
By now we were peckish so headed over to Hanalei Bay to take in the gorgeous vistas and buy some food. Hannah bought a salad box filled with hummus, stuffed vine leaves, noodles and veggies at Harvest Market whilst Josh bought a tasty burrito at Pat’s Taqueria: a van right next to the beach at Hanalei Bay. We fed the local chickens sweetcorn and peas from Hannah’s salad box and felt very content.
From there we enjoyed a very happy afternoon driving to the north shore, stopping at caves and beaches, looking at the verdant scenery, before ending up at Ke’e Beach at the end of the road. It’s the farthest you can drive on the north shore and the beginning of the Napali Coast and the Kalalau trail that leads to Hanakapiai and Kalalau Beach. It’s a safe spot for snorkelling and swimming within beautiful clear waters next to a palm-tree lined beach. Majestic.
After trying to get served and being ignored at Tiki Iniki (such a shame as we LOVE a tiki bar), we instead tried Kauai Beer Co for dinner and drinks. Josh loved his mac n cheese and selection of all the beers they brew and Hannah had beer battered chips and a beautiful salad made with soft lettuce leaves, fried avocado, candied macadamia nuts, and a Thai coconut dressing. All totally delicious and a great place to spend an evening or two!
The next morning we jumped in the car and headed south to Po’ipu. We had a stroll along the shore before cooling down at Uncle’s Shave Ice. Traditional Hawaiian shave ice was reportedly brought to the islands in the 1800s via Japanese plantation workers and is created by shaving a block of ice and can feature a bevy of flavored syrups, sometimes a scoop of ice cream, azuki beans, or a drizzle of condensed milk. Uncle’s Shave Ice who serve vivid cones of bright ice creations with flavours like Birthday Cake, Blue Hawaiian, Blue Raspberry, Bubblegum, Cotton Candy and Creamsicle. Hannah went for a rainbow one and Josh had a passionfruit and mango and both were bright, technicolour and sugary! It was a lot of fun and we’re now big Shave Ice fans.
For lunch we stopped by Makai Sushi. It might not look like much from the outside but once you’ve ordered your sushi and are tucking into the most juicy, delicious morsels you’ll be so glad you stopped by Makai. They have a short menu and if no veggie option is listed you can ask for them to make it up for you: my sushi came with avocado, cucumber and sprouts and was spot on. The rice was perfect, the veg super-fresh. There’s no designated seating that we could see, so we ate on a bench out front and it was so windy I couldn’t stop to take a photo for fear of dropping my lunch, but when food’s this tasty it’s worth it! So tasty we didn’t even stop to take a photo. Yikes.
From there we joined the dinner Sunset Sail along the Nāpali Coast with Captain Andy’s. As we sailed from Poipu along the Nāpali Coast we saw beautiful sea birds, flying fish, turtles and then, spinner dolphins frolicking in the sea. And that’s not to forget the backdrop: towering pali, or sea cliffs, punctuated by narrow valleys, streams and cascading waterfalls: this is nature at its most cinematic. The cliffs rise as much as 4,000ft from the Pacific Ocean and are spellbinding. The day we sailed the sea was exceptionally choppy, but this just made it even more thrilling! Dinner was fun and there were loads of free soft drinks, cocktails and beers available throughout the trip and the crew were super friendly and helpful. The tour was $150 per head and worth every cent: the natural beauty of the coastline and getting to enjoy the sunset as sea was unforgettable.
After another restful sleep in the jungle and hearty breakfast we set off for Waimea Canyon: nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. It is ten miles long, around 3,600 feet deep and formed by erosion from the Waimea River, boasts a colorful array of red, brown and green hues which are complimented by waterfalls and frequent rainbows. It is jaw-dropping. Two lookouts – the Puu ka Pele and Puu hinahina – have parking and provide great views.
Just north of the Canyon is Kokee State Park which offers commanding views of the lush Kalalau Valley from 4000 feet elevation and plenty of hiking trails. It is home to one of the wettest spots on earth: Waiʻaleʻale and is so fertile and wild. After all of this excitement we enjoyed a beautiful lunch at Island Taco. Hannah had a massive, crispy tortilla shell filled with salad greens, olives and tomatoes. Josh had a really tasty pork taco. With outdoor seating, really friendly service and big flavours it was easy to see why this was so popular and award-winning.
We then drove to Hanapepe, known as “Kauai’s biggest little town” a cute collection of historic buildings that served as the model for the Disney film “Lilo and Stitch.” These plantation-style buildings are now home to charming shops, local eateries and more art galleries than any other spot on Kauai. It’s perfect for a spot of lunch and a stroll around. Japanese Grandma’s Café looked especially adorable. We however had a date with the Fresh Shave who make all–natural, organic shave ice. Hannah ordered a pineapple and coconut shave ice topped with fresh pineapple and shredded coconut. It was a little pricier and less sweet than the Uncle’s Shave Ice. Hannah preferred this one because she loved the real fruit (some of which she fed to a nearby inquisitive cockerel) but Josh preferred the more artificial flavours and high fructose corn syrup buzz of the previous one.
For our last meal on the island we went to Eat Healthy Café. With twinkly lights in the garden and great music on the stereo (lots of Madonna) that we could hear the chef singing along to, it was a very relaxing space to eat dinner. Hannah ate the Coconut Mac Nut Tofu which was served with local veg, rice and a coconut cream sauce. Josh ordered the pasta with local veg, wine, tomato, herb oil, parmesan and garlic bread. The food was nutritious and well-cooked and there were beautiful cats in the garden – a great spot for veggie-lovers.
We were both really sad to leave beautiful Kauai. There’s a gentle, happy vibe there that is magical. As you might know, ‘Aloha’ can be used as a greeting – for hello and goodbye – but it also means love, affection, kindness and goodness. As we said Aloha to Kauai we felt so much affection and love for the island and couldn’t wait to say hello to it once again.