Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Kauai, Hawaii

Anyone who knows Craig or me knows that we don't like to sit still for long. After living and working in the hustlin' and bustlin' state of California for about 7 months, we decided it was time for a vacation. Originally, because California is experiencing a record low year for snow levels, we planned on booking a flight to Alaska for a backcountry ski trip. It was going to be great...the plan was to live out of an RV for 10 days, cruising around the remote wilderness of the Thompson Pass area while the northern lights danced on our faces. Unfortunately, Alaska has also had a wacky snow year, receiving more rain than the white fluffy stuff we like to carve. Planning around snow is so hard.

Our backup plan was Hawaii--rough backup plan, right? After doing a bit of research about which island to visit and toying with the idea of island hopping, we finally settled on Kaua'i. It's the farthest island north of the Hawaiian chain and is one of the least developed. Below are photos and highlights from the trip organized by day.

Day 1 -- March 6
This was mostly a travel day from Oakland to Honolulu and finally to Kauai. There was quite a bit of boozing to get through the flights starting with mimosas and bloody marys at 8 am. This eventually led to one of the day's highlights--the discovery of tequila sunrises. This fabulous mix of tequila, orange juice, grenadine, and Don Henley was the soundtrack to our time in Hawaii.

After finally arriving in Kauai, it was impossible to not be blown away by the palette of bright greens and blues. Although we didn't have much sun left in the day, Hawaii still had an amazing sunrise up her sleeve. The first place we stayed was very close to the beach so we were able to appreciate the sunrise with our feet in the ocean.

Hawaii trying to make a good first impression 
Day 2--March 7
The weather report notified that the rainiest day was predicted to be our second day into the trip. Fortunately, the rains in Kauai are pretty warm and there's nothing to do indoors so we headed out for a hike on the 'Sleeping Giant' trail. The trail gets its name because from below, the ridge along the trail looks like a huge face lying on its back. As we hiked, the mist turned to light rain and stayed with us until we reached the summit. At some point along the hike, we couldn't figure out which trail was actually THE trail and ended up on a wild boar path. Our decision took us along muddy cliff edges and landslide scarps that dropped off for what seemed like hundreds of feet. Luckily, the detour intersected with the actual trail along the ridge and we escaped without any scary interactions with landslides, falling rocks, or nasty spiders (which we saw...eww). 

Hiking the ridge was a bit of an adrenaline rush. Parts of the trail along the giant's chin, nose and forehead dropped off and peering over the edge, you could see all the tiny little trees hundreds of feet below; it still makes my hands sweat just thinking of it!  We sat on the giant's chin for a while marveling at the vistas. Turn to the east and you see the mountains give way to the Pacific Ocean, turn the opposite way and get a view of a floodplain valley and even bigger mountains. Amazing.

Craig along the Sleeping Giant trail 

Craig in cognito

Sleeping Giant trail
Just before we were sidetracked on the pig trail.

 view of the Pacific from the trail

 Craig on the Sleeping Giant's chin

another view from the top

One last view before the hike down

After returning from the hike, we cleaned up and headed out for a drive farther north along the coast. We saw a few cars that appeared to belong to surfers parked along the roadway. We pulled over at the next turn out and followed a trail down a wooded hillside to the ocean hoping for some big waves .  Although we didn't ever see the surfers, we stumbled upon one of my favorite combinations-- a large basalt cliff and an angry sea. Adding to this fantastic find...we were the only ones there! We sat on this tiered basalt platform for about 3 hours watching large waves rolling and crashing into the rock face while the rain intermittently fell. Years of erosion had carved out a cave that seemed to go pretty far into the hillside and would occasionally be filled up with rushing water and blow a huge spout of sea spray and warm air onto the cliff we were standing on. It was quite an experience and I almost got caught a few times in the direct crossfire of the spout.

As if the day couldn't get any better, it did! While watching the waves roll about in their fury, we saw humpback whales breaching about a 1/2 mile offshore! I repeat, we saw humpback whales! They put on a fantastic show, slapping their flukes and jumping out of the water backwards a few times before finally swimming offshore where we couldn't see them any longer. Around the same time they left, the sun started to go down and we kept the amazing day going by driving home and partaking in more tequila sunrises. :)

 Some afternoon wave and whale watching
Blast of sea spray from the cave almost gets me
I go back an wait again for the cave to fill...this time equipped with an ocean-proof armored rain jacket

Craig likes the tequila sunrises

Day 3 -- March 8
Today was kayaking day. We rented a few kayaking and headed out on the Wailua River to paddle upstream to "Secret Falls." The paddle was pretty, but our kayaks were definitely the most inefficient on the river and were getting easily passed by everyone else in ocean kayaks. Once we arrived at the falls take out point, we quickly realized that it didn't quite live up to it's name. The entire landing area was covered in kayaks of others coming to complete the same hike. 

The trail was so much fun. When the locals who rented us the kayaks said it was very muddy, they meant it. The mud was almost to my knee in places. At first I found myself being careful to step around it, but after both feet sank within 10 minutes of being on the trail, my cares went out the window and it became a lot more enjoyable. We slid and splashed through mud puddles and stream crossings the whole way there. To put icing on the cake, the mud-playing was soundtracked by hundreds of singing tropical birds and...ROOSTERS! Along with its occupation by Polynesians, Kaua'i became home to hundreds of chickens, which were brought as a food source. Over the years, the chicken population expanded and, with no predation, took over the island. They are absolutely hilarious and crow throughout the entire day starting at 5am. 

We arrived at the waterfalls covered in mud, but amazingly managed not to fall down. The waterfall was very pretty, cascading from a wall of columnar basalt about 100 feet high. We quickly swam out for a picture, but didn't stay long because the water temperature was much colder than anticipated. After making it back out of the muddy trail, we were exhausted and ended up eating Hawaiian BBQ and sleeping for 12 hours. Ha!

Kayaking on the Wailua River

We arrive at "secret falls" seconds after everyone else on the island

Signs of wildlife along the trail

Ivy taking over everything on the trail

...it was a pretty muddy trail

One of the many stream crossings


"Richard Gere"

 Babies keeping warm!

Chicks want to kayaking

Swimming at secret falls

Chicken wants some tequilla sunrise
Getting muddy on the hike out
Day 4 -- March 9
We were in luck! Our last day on the north side of the island coincided with the clearest day of the trip so far. We drove literally to the end of the road where the gently sloping beaches turn into the Na Pali coast--a large, dramatic stretch of cliffed-backed shoreline. Originally, we wanted to do the 22 mile round trip hike along this coast, but with only 6 days on the island, we thought it would be too rushed. Instead, we settled for the 8 mile hike to the Hanakoa Falls. The day was gorgeous and the first half of the trip traced the shoreline and increase quickly in elevation, providing a fantastic vantage point above the ocean. At the midway point, the trail opened up after a creek crossing to a large cobble beach being pummeled by a continuous angry sea. There were signs all around warning how many people have died at that spot due to their venturing into the water and getting swept out by hidden currents. I'm sure it must be calm at times, but by the looks of it when we were there, I can't imagine anyone willingly stepping anywhere near that water. It was obvious of the confusion being experienced by the sea here with waves appearing to approach from every angle. They then combined to form even large, peaked waves, which instantly broke and separated only to run into another incoming wave--it was almost like a mosh pit. We sat here for a long time in awe and almost decided to skip the waterfall and spend the day here.
Morning view along the NW coast of Kauai

Start of the Kalalau trail leading to the Na Pali coast

A short stop at Hanakoa Beach to watch some crazy waves


The second half of the trail took us inland with many stream crossings and through an overgrown rainforest. It was such a beautiful hike with lush green plants surrounding us and every now and then a clearing in the trees revealed the mountains surrounding us, which were also draped in green.

Hanakoa falls was spectacular. It was a 300 foot tall waterfall crashing into a shallow, rocky pool. The force of the water hitting the rocks was enough to spray everything within 100 feet with heavy mist. This continuous moisture allowed for large ferns to grow up the steep hillsides and moss to coat the rocks surrounding the waterfall. It created a verdant sight typical of the northwest coast of Kaua'i, but one that we could not stop staring at with astonishment.

Craig demonstrating the strength of bamboo

View of Hanakoa Falls from the trail

Lunch by Hanakoa Falls

Quick dip on the way back from the falls

Quick dip on the way back from the falls 

 Flowers along the trail

It was always so lush on the north side of Kauai

Another stop at Hanakoa Beach for another look at the waves

Na Pali coast
 Na Pali coast
As we hiked out of the Na Pali coast, we noticed clouds were starting to build in the mountains behind us and were spreading out toward the coast. We managed to make it to the ocean before the cloud veil and enjoyed the remainder of the hike with sunny skies, giving the the ocean the most amazing colors of blue and turquoise.

After the hike we rested for a while at the Ke'e Beach (also located at the trailhead) with the local chickens. It didn't take long for the clouds to catch up with us, so we headed to a local restaurant for fish before driving back for our final night on the northeast side of the island.

After getting back from the trail, we lounged at the beach with this guy and 10 of his friends...

Day 5 -- March 10
The next morning, the tide and waves were low enough that we could walk out onto the platform offshore of the beach next to where we were staying (I really don't know how else to explain that feature). Because the weather was so nice, we stayed longer than anticipated here and didn't move on to the south side of the island until late morning.

Along the drive south, we stopped at Poipu Beach, acclaimed for some of the best snorkeling on the island. We rented snorkeling gear and popped our faces in the water, but were pretty bummed. Most of the coral was dead or dying and a lot of the folks snorkeling didn't know what they were doing and were stepping all over what was left. There were still some beautiful, flashy fish, but I couldn't help but fantasize about how gorgeous this place must have been before becoming such a popular spot.

Another heavy afternoon rain event forced us to carry on south until we arrived at our next accommodation. The place was very separated from the ocean and had much more of a hilltop oasis feel to it. Birds (and roosters) could constantly be heard outside and we were surrounded by lush plant-life.

Shortly after arriving at the new abode, the rains let up and the skies turned vibrant and beautiful. Refusing to not take advantage of this break in the weather, we got back in the car and went for a drive to check out this new part of the island. To access the western shore of Kaua'i, you have to brave a long, rutted dirt road, surrounded by nothing except a military base and large fields for agriculture...something I wasn't expecting on a tiny island like Kaua'i. When you finally reach the end, you are treated to Polihale Beach. This  is 7 mile stretch of white sand beaches--the longest in the state of Hawaii. At the very north end of the coast, the beach is interrupted by a set of very large cliffs that impede access any farther by land. This is the southern portion of the Na Pali coast, which is impossible to see except from the trail on the north side of the island or by boat.

We spent the remained of the day on the beach soaking up the sun and ocean views while awaiting the sunset. It was, of course, nothing short of beautiful.

This beach had a cool offshore shelf that we were able to walk out on.

...and then waves would roll over it. So cooool!

More views of the platform
 Start of the Na Pali coast from the western side of the island

Enjoying the last rays of the day

Yay for Kauai!

Ridiculous sunset silhouettes 

Beautiful sunset

Beautiful sunset

Day 6 -- March 11

We started the day at Kauai Coffee's Koala Estate, the largest coffee producer in the United States. The plantation was stunning complete with a tasting room of all their coffee varieties, a free self-tour around part of the estate, and an ocean backdrop.

Starting off the day at the coffee plantation

Afterward, we headed for the southwest side of the island to Waimea Canyon A.K.A. "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific." The views into the canyon were breathtaking; there was so much exposed history. It was if the earth opened up to reveal what it's been up to for the past six million years.

We marveled at the canyon for about an hour before a thick fog started to spill in. Back in the car, we were hopeful to get to Kalalau Lookout, despite the heavy fog. Regardless of our wishes, the fog persisted and it looked to be socked in for the rest of the day. The lookout, which offers some of the best views on the island was a complete white-out. Huge cliffs plummeting into the ocean vanished with 20 feet from where we were standing. Occasionally, looking straight out through the fog, the mist pulled back to uncover the tops of fluffy, white clouds hovering just over the ocean. It was an eerie sight and we stayed here for a while to enjoy the weather while waiting to see if it would change. It never did and looked pretty comfortable where it was so we eventually drove back down the canyon to the beach to hang out and watch the sunset.

 A huge waterfall added action to the otherwise tranquil scene.

If you look closely, you'll see a feral goat in the photo diving head first to the next ledge.

Wailua Canyon

Fog starts to roll into the canyon

Craig waiting for the fog to clear

We dine while looking into the abyss

such a cool view of the clouds from up here

One of the beaches we stopped at was called, 'Glass Beach.' It's located just shoreward of the Chevron gasoline holding tanks in the industrial part of the island. In the olden days the industries here used to just toss their glass into the ocean without even knowing that they were creating a cozy little cove beach from the glass being transformed into sand by constant battering by the waves. There were several people here picking through the glass sand and taking what I'm assuming were the blue and green pieces, which explains why most of the glass occupying the beach was brown and white. Regardless, it was still an interesting stop and we managed to spot a few colored pieces.

Me admiring the sand at Glass Beach

We found some blue and green pieces!

Craig sorting through the sand

With a couple of hours left in the day, we grabbed a six pack and headed to some tide pools near a small airport. We weren't really expecting to find such a great place to watch the sunset. In fact, we just stumbled upon it while walking down shore to get away from all the people at the public beaches. These seemingly forgotten tidepools were full of life--load of sea cucumbers, small fish, crabs, and EELS! We spotted two very small eels with just their heads hovering beneath the rocks. They appeared to be looking at us too so we took part of Craig's sunglasses and slowly put it just beneath the water and held it there to see if they would be interested. When one of them came in for a closer look, the other came all the way out of the rock (his body was waaaaay longer than I anticipated) and tried to attack the one investigating! They squabbled and the instigator flipped his tail out of the water and quickly swam away under another rock in a neighboring pool. The whole thing took about 2 seconds, but it was so crazy to see such an unexpected reaction. I didn't even think they were going to give the sunglasses a second glance! 

The sunset that night was so great! Some clouds rolled in, but they only added to the colors lighting up the sky. 

Our own private tide pool!

Corona? Yes, please!

Checking out some wave action

I think I like him. :)

What a pretty sunset!
Day 7 -- March 12

Since all of our other days were packed full of things to do, this was a pretty down day. We spent most of it on Shipwreck beach watching kite surfing (something I'm dying to try!) and waves. 

The California hat made it to Hawaii!

Shipwreck rock

Day 8 --March 13
Our last day on Kauai! We really only had until around 11am to soak up the island before we had to catch a flight back to California. There were several beers and some tequila that we couldn't let go to waste so we grabbed them and headed back to the secret tide pool area to spend the last of our time. 

It was a bittersweet couple of hours--I was so happy to have experienced the trip, but I was certainly not ready for it to be over. Until next time, Kaua'i!! Aloha!

Craig giving it to the bottle...

..or is the bottle giving it to him?

Me not wanting to leave

driving back to the airport

At the airport drinking a tequila sunrise for old time's sake.