Kaua’i: Not-to-Miss Natural Wonders Beckon All
By Kathy Chin Leong
Crystalline waters. Raging waterfalls. Green canyons teeming with life. It is no wonder that Kaua’i, the fourth largest of the Hawaiian Islands, has now become the preferred island for repeat travelers. Such beauty is not taken for granted. Frequent Kauai traveler, Debbie Recine of Palo Alto, Calif. says, what makes Kauai her destination of choice is its “color and tranquility. The deepest greens and most majestic pinks and earth tones, mixed together with light breezes and sweet plumeria.”
Sue Kerr, a island fan from San Francisco, puts it this way: “It's my favorite since I love the size and pace of the island. It's big enough to boast wildly varying terrain, but compact enough to explore without feeling overwhelmed or having to deal with distances too big. After going so many years, I really just prefer to stay in one place and veg.” Receiving over one million visitors annually, the Garden Isle enchants with only-here, bucket-list natural wonders and evokes a small town ease, bringing time to a standstill.
Nature’s template for heaven is here, and the eye candy, for the most part, is free. For starters, hiking remains a chief pursuit for advanced, down to beginner hoofers. Take for instance the easy 5.1-mile Poipu beach hike. It leads visitors up a hill which reveals crystalline ocean vistas and pummeling waves.
On the west side of the island, families can tackle trails at Waimea Canyon State Park, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. This free-of-charge treasure features gorges, canopy trees, and postcard waterfalls. Scenic lookout points provide handicapped wheelchair access. Bring your binoculars to find the little sheep and goats on the mountainsides.
On the northeastern side sits the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, home to the Kilauea Lighthouse. The white Laysan albatross nests on the cliffs as monk seals sunbathe below. The $10 entrance fee for the lighthouse gets the curious inside for a docent tour. You can view all of this at a distance for free.
KAYAKING & FLOATING
Kayaking yields calm charms as you can explore the rivers and seas on your own. Water lovers can rent their own vessel to ply along the Wailua River. Kayak Kaua’i serves up excursions such as the five-hour Wailua Sacred Falls tour for $95 with kayaking, hiking, and swimming.
One of the most unique activities is the inner tube float by Kaua’i Backcountry Adventures. Girded with helmets and headlamps, guests sit atop an inflatable inner tube and meander down a private sugar cane ditch and through pitch black caves. Young guides regale with stories of the sugarcane past. Cost: $116 per person.
If you want to explore, simply drive around the island and stop off at the various beaches. Do see Spouting Horn, a natural blowhole in the center of a lava rock formation. When the waves smash against the lava shelf, the water trapped beneath shoots up to as far as 50 feet, creating a mesmerizing show.
When you take the time to do a beach day, never leave your child unattended, even for a moment. Find the ones with lifeguards to understand the surf issues you will be facing. If you are lucky, you may see tortoises and monk seals. They are protected, so do not go near them or touch them.
Here are a few spots listed as lifeguard-ready : Poipu Beach, in the south, is a family-friendly area with all the amenities you need for a safe wading vacation with a bike trail nearby. Close to this one is the hidden Baby Beach, popular for infants and toddlers, as its little strip of beach has very shallow and calm water (this one may not have a lifeguard, however, since it is so small).
Over in the East Side, lifeguarded Lydgate Beach is excellent for kids of all ages. It’s got shaded pavilions, a playground, picnic tables, and restrooms. As the water is quite rough, the beach authorities have created two rock wall ponds so families can wade, swim, and snorkel in calm waters. The west side’s Salt Pond Beach Park is excellent for sunset viewing, snorkeling, and beachcombing. With shallow waters here, the white sands are part of the longest chain of white sand beaches around.
Driving to take in a few waterfalls is a must for all Nature Junkies on this lush island. Sorry, no swimming under these ones mentioned here. But be sure to take amazing photos at a distance. First, you can find the Waipo’o Falls at Waimea Canyon State Park. The two –tiered falls that drop a dramatic 80 feet are at the canyon overlook past Marker 10.
Wailua Falls, two separate falls adjacent to each other, is north of Lihue, and fenced off with a parking lot. Parking is tight, so come early.
Opaekaa Falls or “Rolling Shrimp” Falls is also driving distance, fenced off, and features a parking lot so no hiking is required. It is located off of Highway 56 up Kuamoo Road.
Indeed, Kaua’i is the isle of choice for the Scenic Wonder aficionado. There are magical sugar cane ditches, secret beaches, and waterfalls to gawk at. Don’t be surprised when this island captivates you with its natural charms unlike any other. Like Debbie Recine and Sue Kerr of the Bay Area, you may wind up coming over and over for years to come.
Kaua’I Visitors Bureau – www.kauaidiscovery.com