Exploring Kauai

Today will be an exploration of the southern part of the island. After a lazy breakfast, we find a seal on the beach. A sign describes this tagged individual that looks withered. She had just given birth and is here to rest. Then, we drive down to Po‘ipu. Snorkeling is pretty good. The clarity is reasonable, although not as nice as the pristine waters around Thailand’s Ko Phi Phi. From the beach picnic area, we find ourselves marveling at how blue the water looks, where the beautiful green lawn juxtaposes with the cobalt sea and clear sky. We find more ocean views as we enjoy virgin drinks and fish tacos and tofu wraps for lunch at the Beach House.

Further down the road, Allerton Gardens is a delight. Our tour guide, Kevin, who has degrees in botany and Polynesian culture goes over this place’s history, identifies plants that Queen Emma planted herself, and points out movie spots. Jurassic Park’s dinosaur eggs were nestled among the garden’s banyan tree roots. We take a picture near the spot. Across the street is the Spouting Horn, where a lava tube connects the rocky crag with the sea. This is Kauai’s version of Old Faithful, Kevin had told us. We see the similarities, although the interval is more on the order of seconds, rather than ninety minutes.

Koloa’s old town is small but charming. After that, we find ourselves strolling along Hanapepe’s Art Walk, which happens every Friday night. From the crowded main street, we imagine the sunset as the Sabbath begins. We make our way back to the eastern shore, and along the way, we stop into Masa’s Sushi for dinner. We decide to try raw fish: tuna rolls and ahi sushi. Raw fish turns out to be tolerable and actually pretty good.

Day 20 starts out with another lazy breakfast: spinach mushroom omelets with multigrain toast, Greek yogurt, fresh cherries, and apples. Today will be an exploration to the north. Our first stop is Hanalei Bay. We find beachfront parking and walk out to the end of the pier to snap some pictures. Then, the plan is to hike part of the Na Pali coast. On the drive there, we find some beautiful spots along the coast and stop for pictures at Lumaha‘i Beach. By this time, deciding on the timing is difficult, as a hike will cause us to skip lunchtime; it’s too early to eat now though. We figure we could visit another location before lunch, and the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and Lighthouse seems like a good idea. Soon, we’re marveling at the acrobatic flight of seabirds out on this craggy point. We have lunch at the Kilauea Fish Market nearby, where we sample raw ahi marinated with sesame and green onions and have the traditional plate lunch: two scoops of brown rice, a side of salad, and some protein. In this case, it’s seared ahi and mahi mahi.

We make our way back along the same highway to the Kalalau trailhead and while passing through town, we find a cute church. The Wai‘oli Hui‘ia Church, originally founded in 1834, was built in 1912 and has beautiful stained glass windows. We find hymnals and programs printed in Hawaiian. Leaving the church, we cross into Ha‘ena State Park, where a picturesque stream is dotted with mini waterfalls. Just as we park, we are slammed with a huge rainstorm. We figure it would be a nice time to take a nap. After the showers let up a little, we venture out to Ke‘e and the Kalalau trailhead. Many hikers heading out are drenched. We hike the first hundred yards and agree that it is better to turn back. Instead, we find some beautiful cover among the ironwood trees at road’s end.

On the way back, we visit Kilauea’s Art Walk. Despite the intermittent showers, people seem oblivious to the rain. Here, we see Scuba Tom’s display again, showing the same amazing photographs of turtles and other sea creatures as displayed at Hanapepe’s event last night. From here, we go chasing the sunset. Earlier, we had scouted a spot near Anini Beach, and we pull up about fifteen minutes early. We see a taxi pull up, bringing a well-dressed couple. Then, a woman pulls up in a truck. We step out and walk out onto the rocky shore, and to our surprise, we find an oceanfront wedding taking place. This special Sabbath day ends with this beautiful wedding, where the sun paints a ring of fire among the clouds.

We find a late dinner at The Bistro in Kilauea, where we sample fries made from purple sweet potatoes grown on the Big Island. Then, there is more ahi.

Sunday begins with another lazy breakfast on our lanai. This time, though, it’s a bit more rushed, since we are planning to hike the 11-mile loop starting with the Awa‘awaphui Trail.

We zip off and circle around the southern shore, reaching Waimea and turning northward to wind up the ridgeline. Along the way, we stop and take in the views from the Waimea Canyon Lookout. There are helicopters zipping through the canyons as well, sightseeing the same way we did three days ago. Then, there are more great views across from the Pu‘u Ka Pele picnic area. Before long, we reach the Koke‘e Museum, where we ask for trail suggestions. The ranger tells us that the loop trail connector is closed off and suggests the Pihea Trail instead, so we head up to the Kalalau Lookout. The sky and water are a deep blue, and only a few clouds paint the mountaintops. Below is the verdant Na Pali – Kona Forest Reserve.

Just further down the road, at the Pu‘u o Kila Lookout, the Pihea Trail takes off. We figure that if we spend a half hour hiking in, we could return in time for a picnic lunch. At first, it is a fairly easy scramble down a wide dirt trail, but this route becomes very muddy and slippery in places. We find ourselves following the ridgeline as the trail heads east from the parking lot, and each time the trees part and we glimpse the valley, the view is as spectacular as the one before. At about a mile, we watch the clouds roll up and abut the ridge, never quite gaining enough energy to cross over to the leeward side. Yesterday, when we reached Ke‘e Beach, we arrived at road’s end. And now, we’ve circled to the other side of the island and got to the other end. Having explored both termini, it’s time to head back.

Back at the Koke‘e Museum, there is an old picnic table in the middle of a natural lawn. The surrounding trees make this place look like something one might find in Yosemite, except that the field is overrun with wild chickens. We picnic here: trail mix, lettuce wraps, coconut squares, English muffins, vegetarian sausage.

Despite trail closures that complete the loop, we decide to hike down the Awa‘awapuhi Trail anyways. The trail descends steeply through thick forest. Many of the trees are labeled with their Hawaiian names. We had heard that the best views are at the third mile marker, but we’re doubtful that we will make it that far. About a half hour in, the clouds rolled over into the valley and give a light sprinkle, and at this point, we are in a beautiful valley blanketed in fern fronds and fiddleheads. After taking pictures here, we head back. We pass by the museum again where we wash up in the outdoor restroom and snack on apples.

We figure it’s best to head down now, taking our time to enjoy some of the sights we passed earlier. At the Pu‘u Hinahina Lookout, we stare into the Waimea Canyon again, but this time, we notice people along a ridge to the left, standing on ledges that are thousands of feet above the valley floor. Thinking that this is probably the last section of some treacherous trail, we look at each other and are happy that we didn’t get to this point on the Awa‘awapuhi, as the vertiginous cliffs and slippery trails do not make a good combination. Beyond the Pu‘u Ka Pele picnic spot, between the mountain ridges just off to the left, there are great views of Waipo‘o Falls.

Approaching Kekaha, we figure it would be nice to chase the sunset again. The Lonely Planet mentions that Kehaha Beach Park is a nice place to do just that, so we drive around to find it. After picking the spot, we drop into Kalapaki Joe’s in Waimea for dinner—more ahi. Here, we look up the position of the sun and find out that it will be setting 294 degrees east of north. Judging from the map, going to Kekaha puts the sun far to the right of the shoreline. We agree to look for a better place. On Google’s map, it looks like there is a phalanx that juts out just south of Pakalas. Heading there, we pass by the Russian Fort Elizabeth, settled two centuries ago this year when they left their Alaskan base and tried to gain dominance in the Pacific. We take some pictures of the golden sky. Having only fifteen minutes to go, we rush back along the highway to a turnoff one or two streets beyond the post office. Instead, we find that all the roads heading to shore are marked as private property. Having no choice, now with the sun low in the sky and piercing our eyes, we speed back to the Russian Fort.

It is here that we have one of the most spectacular sunsets during our time in Kauai—the silhouetted trees, the rocky beach, the river flowing into the sea, and the bright amber disk dipping behind a faraway knoll. We take in every moment as the evening begins and linger for another half hour while the first stars emerge. The nearly full moon, suspended in silver mist, sneaks a peak through the branches.

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