Kaua’i: Almost Eden
by Marla Norman, Publisher
Kaua’i is total sensory immersion, beginning with an infinite color palette derived from over 2,200 plant species that exist on the “Garden Island.”
Among the brilliantly varied hues are the heart-stopping fragrances of plumeria and trumpet flowers. The intoxicating scent of tulip trees falls from lush canopies more than 100 feet high.
Giant palms flap and whoosh gently, like a string orchestra providing accompaniment for a percussive ocean that blasts away thunderously then fades to voce sotto. And, at the end of the day, when the sun slips over the Pacific rim, another thousand colors blot the sky.
Feel the soft sand squish between your toes and a sweet salty brine as you wade out into the ocean — unforgettable immersion.
Kaua’i is the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands. It’s also–miraculously–the least developed. Steep mountains and constant rains have deterred commercial investment. And the local inhabitants, known for their independence, have also resisted the lure of tourist dollars. Called “the separate kingdom” Kaua’i alone refused to join King Kamehameha’s campaign to unite all the islands. Eventually, Kauai’s own king married Kamehameha’s widow and the island became part of the Hawaiian chain.
I’m staying at the Grand Hyatt Resort on the south shore – the sunniest side of Kaua’i. The beaches are wide and inviting. It would be extraordinarily easy to just laze around and do nothing. But, I have a cute yellow jeep parked outside the hotel and within seconds of checking in, I’m racing up the coast to the rain forests on the northern side of the island.
Mountain peaks jut out in surprising formations while spectacular valleys loom below. One of the wettest spots on Earth, this part of Kaua’i receives an astounding 460 inches of rain annually. Greenery becomes thick and tangled as I cruise along the coast. Tree branches arch over the road to create leafy green tunnels.
At Hanalei, I stop to view the magnificent bay and surrounding waterfalls. The Garden of Eden must have been something like this. Now, of course, Adam and Eve are long gone, replaced by world-class surfers, who flock to the beaches. They jump on the huge waves that break off shore, displaying an agility and grace that seem to be of another world as well.
Less graceful, but also incredibly agile, are the ubiquitous Kaua’i chickens. Thousands live on the island, where they roam freely. Brought in originally by the first Polynesian settlers, the chickens have almost no natural predators, so their numbers have increased through the years. Seems only natural that the Garden Island should have liberated chickens as well.
Back in the jeep, I reach the end of the highway at Ha’ena Beach. I park and take a short walk through mammoth trees and knotted vines to reach the shoreline. Fish of every color and dimension swim along the reefs. But the area itself is mostly deserted. I feel as if I have my own giant fishbowl to observe and be dazzled by. I sit mesmerized by the views until the sun begins to set.
THE EMERALD QUEEN: NA PALI
Easily some of the most impressive sea cliffs in the world, Kaua’i’s Nā Pali is over five million years old and rises some 4,000 feet above the ocean. Vegetation and rock formations blend into remarkable colors and sculpted volcanic remains. Seeing the 15-mile coastline and at least a portion of the 6,175 acre national park is essential. If you do nothing else in Kaua’i, visit Nā Pali!!!
Part of the fun is getting to this part of the Island. Cars are not permitted – both by law and by the steep terrain itself. Options include helicopter tours, boat cruises, kayaks, or guided hikes.
Since the helicopter tours are quite pricey and hiking would require almost a full day, I decide a four-hour sunset dinner cruise would work best with my schedule and budget. (NOTE: There are a number of cruises available, all with good ratings. I select Captain Andy’s Nā Pali Boat Tours.)
Our captain points out interesting sights along the way: sugar mills, pineapple plantations, and – neatly tucked into the terrain, U.S. Navy missile launchers. Dolphins, swimming in pods, leap in the water, jubilantly showing off.
Moving quickly up the coast, we’re able to see huge, towering formations. The colors grow more vivid as we continue on. Now, our captain points out caves, mountain goats, and gigantic rock arches. As we move farther north, closer to the rain forests, gauzy clouds flit in and out, catching on the rocks. Gradually, the clouds and vegetation grow thicker, seeming to actually braid together. The air becomes heavy and damp. A fog emerges and a fine mist begins to fall. The constantly changing view and environment are thrilling.
At the end of the 15-mile cliff wall, the captain makes a big u-turn and starts back. Now, the sun is setting and the cliffs are adorned with a brilliant new set of colors. The cruise staff begins to serve a three-course dinner and “Sneaky Tikis,” a tasty rum punch that also nicely compliments the sunset. By the time the ship docks, the ocean and sky are dark. All the vivid colors I saw have been swallowed by the night. The images live on in my head and memories of the island.