Kauai: A Paradise for Every Age
By Julie Pitta


It may lack the urban dazzle of Oahu or the more understated glamour of Maui, but Kauai more than makes up for it with sheer natural beauty. And, there is little on this rustic paradise to distract from nature’s bounties. For families caught up in the rush between schools, play dates, soccer games and quickie meals, Kauai’s simplicity will be a welcome respite and its sensual gifts will replenish the soul.

BACKGROUND

Kauai is the Hawaiian island with more beaches per square mile, more botanical gardens, and the wettest jungle in the world. Only 25 miles wide, Kauai’s top attractions can be accessed in a day by car.
A car is essential for exploring the island; public transit is spotty and tours can be prohibitively expensive for families. (For the best car-rental deals, reserve well in advance.)

POIPU BEACH

Set up home base at Kauai’s Poipu Beach, on the island’s sunny south shore. Poipu is home of Kauai’s largest hotels like the Sheraton, Hyatt and Marriott’s as well as scores of vacations rentals. For families, consider a cottage or condominium with a full kitchen since dining out is expensive and few of the island’s restaurants are, at best, mediocre. The Poipu Beach Resort Association will send along a lodging directory and maps.

Most Poipu lodgings will place you walking distance from the island’s warmest and most tranquil waters. Bring along snorkeling gear since it is home to some of Hawaii’s most spectacular fish, an underwater kaleidoscope of colors.

Strong swimmers can get close to a community of turtles at their refuge at the northern point of Poipu. But only fit adults and teenagers should attempt this challenging swim, about 15 minutes from the shore.

For those with little ones, the Poipu State Park offers a protected cove that serves as a wading pool for tots, outdoor showers, a thatch-covered cabana for refuge, and a playground. Across from the park, popular Brenecke’s serves reasonably priced burgers, dogs, fries and onion rings. A small ice cream shop is but steps away.

NA PALI COAST

Kauai’s western shore, the Na Pali Coast, is rugged and wild. For the physically fit, it offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Cliffs, four thousand feet above sea level, loom over lush scenery and crashing waves. Frequent rain showers nourish the exotic flora in the verdant valleys separating craggy rock formations. Any overflow rushes over rock to create spectacular waterfalls.

The famous Kalalau Trail, which starts at Ke’e Beach, represents about 11 miles of rough terrain. Before long, hikers are immersed in the magic of Na Pali. But it is not for the timid, or even the occasional hiker.

Another way to see Na Pali is a helicopter tour. About a dozen companies offer tours. At about $200 per person during high season, these tours aren’t cheap. But given that Na Pali is one of the most spectacular sites to be seen in Hawaii, if not the world, they are a worthwhile splurge.

KOKE’E STATE PARK

Also on the western side Kauai, is the Koke’e State Park, a 4,000-square-acre parcel that is home to the Waimea Canyon. Ten miles long and 3,000 feet deep, Waimea Canyon is considered the Grand Canyon of Hawaii.

Meteorologists say the canyon is the wettest spot on the planet; hence, the foliage here is spectacular rivaling that of Na Pali.  The park boasts numerous trails for the experienced as well as the inexperienced hiker. Again, weary or impaired travelers can opt for a bus, or a helicopter ride. Before you head out, check out Kokee’s Natural History Museum for trail maps and interesting exhibits. In the summer, the museum host guided “wonder walks.” Donations are encouraged.

BOTANICAL GARDENS

Near Poipu are two of Kaui’s three botanical gardens; all three are on the U.S. register of National Botanical Gardens. Most choose to see knowledgeable docents guide the two adjacent gardens – McBryde and Allerton -- at once, and last a total of two hours. Tour groups meet at the visitor’s center across the street from Spouting Horn, a Kauai landmark. This natural phenomenon occurs when a wave sends water beneath a lava shelf. The water then bursts through a small opening in the shelf, going as high as 50 feet. Again, a donation is encouraged.

After visiting Kauai, you’ll understand why so many finding themselves returning. Life. Here, is slower, the better appreciate Kauai’s abundant beauty. Any time spent in this natural paradise is bound to nourish both body and soul.

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NOTEWORTHY WEBSITES:

Accommodations -  The Poipu Beach Resort Association can help you find appropriate accommodations. An online survey at www.Poipubeach.org will help you narrow down the options. Or call (808) 742-7444.
Helicopter tours in Kauai-
Will Squyres Helicopters, www.kaui-helicopter-tours.com .
Air Kauai Helicopter Tours, www.airkauai.com .
Jack Harter Helicopters, www.helicopters-kauai.com .
Island Helicopters, www.islandhelicopters.com .
Ohana Helicopter Tours, www.ohana-helicopters.com .
Koke’e Natural History Museum-  This web site offers an abundance of information the park’s hiking trails, flora and fauna, as well as frequently updated calendar of events. www.kokee.org .
The National Tropical Garden organization-  This is filled with information on its charter as well as the individual gardens like the McBryde, Allerton and Limahuli gardens of Kauai. www.ntbg.org .

Journalist and mom Julie Pitta is a frequent contributor to BAFT. She is a former senior editor from Forbes Magazine. 

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