Back in September 2015, I visited the Honolulu, Hilo, and Wailuku, the county seats for Honolulu, Hawaii, and Maui counties respectively. The state of Hawaii has only 5 counties, though only 4 county seats (more on that in my next post on Kalawao County), meaning the only remaining city I needed to visit was Lihue, the seat of Kauai County. At the time, I had not anticipated returning with a year and a half, but as my 50th birthday approached, celebrating in the 50th state sounded like a great idea. So about a year ago, the planning began for a trip to Kauai to complete my county collecting of Hawaii. If you’re curious, the details about my planning can be found at Big 5-0 in Hawaii.
I could ramble on for quite some time about the journey to SAN and then on to Kauai, but I’ll stick to the island itself and some of the great activities we enjoyed. We arrived early afternoon and got settled at the new Koloa Landing - Autograph Collection property on Kauai. Many of you have read about the challenges I faced just a few days before leaving home, so I won’t relive those here. Read through the thread highlighted at the end of the first paragraph for more. We used the afternoon and evening to get settled into our villa and explore the property.
For our first full day on the island, we opted for a modest schedule. The plan was to drive up into the Waimea Canyon. On my last visit to Kauai (2004), I made the same drive, but a combination of road closures and cloud cover meant I saw virtually nothing. Fortunately, the weather cooperated this time. It’s easy to see why the place is nicknamed “The Grand Canyon of Pacific,” a moniker attributed to Mark Twain, despite the fact that he never visited Kauai. If you ever visit, you’ll likely here this myth repeated. It’s not true, but because it’s such a good story, it persists. Whoever came up with the nickname, there is no doubt of its appropriateness.
At the end of the road is the Pu’u O Kila lookout which affords fantastic views of the Kalalau Valley. On my last visit to Kauai, the road was closed just beyond the Koke’e Lodge, so this was my first chance to see this breathtaking scenery.
I’m glad I got this picture when I did because within about a half hour of arriving, the clouds rolled in, completely obscuring the valley and the ocean beyond. After enjoying the Waimea Canyon drive, we stopped for a late lunch at the Kauai Island Brewery & Grill in Port Allen, which boasts of being the “World’s Westernmost Brewery.” One slogan stated “the last beer before tomorrow.” Another said “beer brewed with aloha.” We somehow managed to time our arrival with the start of happy hour, so I happily tried the Wai’ale’ale Golden Ale and a couple of happy hour-price ahi tacos.
Having seen the canyon from the ground, we planned to get the birds-eye view on a helicopter tour Saturday morning. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate. A storm rolled in, bring rain and high winds; too dangerous for a helicopter flight. With still several days on Kauai, we postponed the tour until Tuesday morning, just a few hours before our flight to Oahu. Instead, we headed north towards Princeville and the north shore beaches. We stopped by the Kilauea Point Lighthouse before grabbing lunch at Tahiti Nui in Hanalei. If you’ve seen the 2011 movie “The Descendants,” you might recall the tiki bar where George Clooney and Beau Bridges hang out. If not, watch it. Besides, it’s a tiki bar. You know how much I love those.
By mid-afternoon, we headed back to the south end of the island. Naturally, I stopped by the county courthouse for a photo and to mail my postcard.
Sunday began early with a boat trip along the Na Pali coast. Much of Kauai is inaccessible by road, so the only way to see it is by hiking, by boat, or by air. We didn’t plan on doing the first, but air and sea were on the agenda. The snorkeling had to be eliminated due to high seas, so we settled for a 5 hour round trip excursion along the coast. No complaints here. The scenery is just as amazing as from the lookout points along the Waimea Canyon drive.
On the return, we saw humpback whales (kohola) and Hawaiian spinner dolphins (nai’a). I wish I could have captured shots of the whales breaching or when a couple of them swam under our boat. Sometimes it’s hard to be in the moment and take pictures at the same time.
Since we missed out on snorkeling that morning, we drove over to Po’ipu Beach Park that afternoon to enjoy a little time in the water. Much like my last visit, a Hawaiian monk seal (‘ilio holo i ka uaua - Hawaiian for “dog that runs in rough water”) was sleeping on the beach. A group of volunteers had roped off the section of beach and continued to monitor the area to prevent people from disturbing him. These seals are endangered, with a population estimated at around 1400 in the world. I guess I should consider myself lucky that I've seen one here twice. Perhaps Po'ipu Beach is just a good place to see them.
By Tuesday, it was time to head to Oahu, but we still had one last big thrill planned. Our helicopter tour, postponed from Saturday, was scheduled for 10:30 that morning. After finalizing our packing and checking out of the Koloa Landing, we drove to the heliport, just north of the Lihue airport. The weather could not have been better; almost no wind and very little cloud cover. We boarded our Eurocopter AS 350 B2 and flew over the airport and on toward the south shore. About 15 minutes into our flight, we approached our only stop, a secluded valley inaccessible by road. We all hopped out and I snapped a quick picture of our sweet $3M ride.
From there it was a short walk (maybe 50 yards) down a grassy trail to Manawaiopuna Falls.
It might look familiar to anyone who saw Jurassic Park. It’s located on private land, and only one tour company has permission to land there. OMG! For the next 20 minutes, the 6 of us on the tour, and the pilot were the only people around for miles, staring at this gorgeous waterfall. After gawking and taking picture after picture, it was time to climb back into the helicopter and resume our flight around the island. We zipped through the Waimea Canyon and on to the Na Pali coast seeing some of the same views as earlier in the week from a completely different perspective. For example, we saw this beach at the bottom of the Kalalau Valley on Friday from the lookout and again on Sunday from the boat.
Then it was over Hanalei Bay and into the crater of Mt. Wai’ale’ale. Our pilot told us that most days, clouds prevent flying into and along the crater walls. Not on our visit. All too soon the tour ended and we were back at the heliport. Check out these three happy folks just back from an unforgettable experience.
With about an hour and a half before our flight to HNL, we drove the 2 minutes to the airport to drop off the rental car.
Having blogged about my visit to Oahu in 2015, I will only mention a few highlights about that portion of the trip in my next post. More important, at least as it pertains to my county collecting hobby, is my day trip to the Kalawao County on the Kalaupapa peninsula of Molokai. That will be the primary subject of the next entry.