On July 31, 2010, we went to Kauai for five days and four nights. I had been to Kauai once before, but that was years before and the trip was a vague memory. This would be Jen’s first trip to the island.
The basic plan for the trip was a short hiking and camping stint in the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, on the northern coast of the island. This would be followed by some sight-seeing in the southern part of the island.
On the first day, we took off from Honolulu in the morning, on a Go! Mokulele flight to Lihue Airport, Kauai. The flight was on-time, smooth, and uneventful.
At Lihue, we picked up our rental car from Thrifty. It was a Toyota Yaris, which is kind of a weird little vehicle, with the instruments in the center of the dashboard. This one had a tricky trunk that only latched every now and then, and responded best to Jen.
By now, Jen realized that she had forgotten the battery and charger for her Canon EOS 7D SLR camera – the “real” camera. We figured that would be no problem, as Lihue is a no-kidding town, and any self-respecting camera store or department would have plenty of Canon stuff…right?
…and so began the first quest of the day…
Jen called two camera stores she found by searching the internet on the iPhone. Neither of them had the battery in question, and one recommended hitting the town’s Walmart, which they claimed was putting them out of business. So, off to Walmart…
Well, the Walmart camera selection was just about non-existent, and did not have the needed battery. If these guys are putting a camera store out of business, it can’t be much of a camera store.
Next stop was Costco. Neither of us have a Costco membership (life-long avoidance of Costco and Sam’s Club being a goal Jen and I share), but we decided that if they had the battery and charger we’d suck it up and get a membership just to solve the immediate problem. We never made it past the entrance, as the membership-checker dude at the entrance took his job all too seriously. Frankly, he was kind of an asshole; but he did at least call for a store worker to come to the entrance and let us know if they had the battery. They didn’t.
On to a nearby mall, where we made the circuit through K-Mart, Radio Shack, Sears, and Macy’s. The losing streak remained intact.
At this point, we had exhausted every option – save for flying back to Oahu to get the missing part, or mugging the first person we saw with a Canon EOS 7D. Jen had even scanned Craigslist for a Kauai battery seeking a new home. At least I had my point-and-shoot digital camera, and we had the iPhone’s camera as a backup to the backup.
Our tour through the ugly commercial underbelly of Kauai was complete, with both of us feeling dirty for having gone into stores we usually avoid like the plague. We had even walked through a mall – a clear indication of madness and desperation.
Somewhere in all this, we managed to eat lunch, stopping at Kauai Pasta in Lihue. We both got portabella mushroom sandwiches, which were pretty good. As things would develop over the next few days, Kauai Pasta became our most-visited eating establishment. It has some vegetarian options that can be served vegan, and the food is done well.
With the battery quest complete, we headed to our hotel for the night – the Westin Resort in Princeville on Kauai’s northern coast. The drive and hotel check-in went smoothly, and the room was nice and comfortable. I arranged with the front desk for a bag to be stored, and for use of a box in the hotel safe, while we went backpacking on the Na Pali Coast.
After dropping our bags in our room, we headed out to snorkel at a site called Tunnels, which is west of the town of Hanalei. It was a fairly decent location in terms of fish and bottom topography, although the water was a bit cold and the visibility a bit murky.
After snorkeling, we decided to stop for dinner in Hanalei on the way back to the hotel. First stop was a place called Kalypso, which listed a taro burger on its menu. It was now almost dusk and Jen was cold, so I headed across the street to pick up something warm at Hanalei Surf Company. The guys at this store were helpful, although I had difficulty finding anything in a small (seems that tourists only come in large and extra-large these days). After a few minutes, I returned with a sweatshirt in hand.
Jen had a couple beers waiting. When the waitress returned, we ordered the taro burgers, only to find that they were out of them. With nothing else vegan-friendly on the sandwich or entree listings, we ordered fries and onion rings (healthy stuff, huh?), figuring that after these and some beer we would be ready to scout for a real meal.
…and so began the second quest of the day…
After paying the tab at Kalypso, we first headed back to the Hanalei Surf Company, where Jen successfully exchanged my sweatshirt selection for one more suiting her tastes (I’m color blind and partial to bare walls, and therefore unqualified to select clothing). Again, the guys at the store were very helpful.
Now, we were off for food.
The first stop was Hanalei Gourmet. We didn’t get past the menu posted at the entrance. No good vegan options here, other than a veggie burger listed on the menu. We figured that if we were going to go for a burger again, we might as well sit outside. So…
We walked to Bubba Burgers, which did have a garden burger on the menu, but was out of the non-meat patties (apparently there was a veggie and taro burger famine striking the island that day). So…
We checked next door at Papaya’s Natural Foods & Cafe, the local health food place. It was closed. So…
We went to Neide’s Salsa and Samba, a Brazilian and Mexican restaurant, but again didn’t make it past the menu at the front door. No good vegan options that attracted us here, either. So…
We strolled across the street and ran into the Polynesian Cafe, which is a place-your-order and pickup-when-called joint with an outside veranda-of-sorts for seating. It had vegetarian options on the menu, and we seemed to be striking out everywhere else, so Jen ordered a Mexican-themed meal and I ordered a curried tofu meal. Well, this stuff just plain sucked. Absolute garbage served on a paper plate. We got through a couple bites before we just got up and left. Horrible. Bad. Not good. So…
We wandered over to Tiki Man Pizza, located behind the Tahiti Nui bar. It looked totally uninviting and unclean. We were not willing to risk food-borne illness. So…
We resigned ourselves to just drinking at Tahiti Nui. This is a locals-heavy place; the kind of joint where regulars have “their” seat, which I appreciate. In fact, I discovered that the stool I took belonged to a local who had stepped out for a few minutes. While he was a bit disappointed in having lost his place, another local told me to stay put while she accommodated him with an open stool next to her. He was three sheets to the wind and readily followed her instructions.
Having surrendered in our food quest – and substituted beer, fries, and onion rings for a real meal – we headed back to the hotel for some sleep.
The one place we did not try in Hanalei is Postcards Cafe. It is a little bit down the road from where we quested on foot, so we didn’t see it; but we have since read that it has vegan options. We’ll check it out on the next trip to Kauai.
The next morning we got up early, finished packing our backpacks, stored the battery-minus camera and an extra bag with the hotel, and headed out for Haena State Park. Haena is the beginning of the Kalalau Trail along the coastline of the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park.
Along the way, we headed to the Makana Terrace inside the St. Regis Hotel at Princeville for breakfast. The view of Hanalei Bay from the restaurant balcony is fantastic, but that is about the only positive thing I can say about the joint. I ordered Belgian waffles, and received three little things that looked like thawed-out frozen fare. Jen ordered a banana nut cake breakfast thing that looked like…well…a slab of banana nut bread. We also got coffee and a mango. When it was over, we were out $70, still hungry, and feeling like we’d been mugged. I could have lived with the bill had the food been something great, or even decent; but it was no better than what can be pulled from the frozen food section of any chain grocery store.
From there, it was on to the Kalalau Trail…
The trail is 11 miles long, ending at the Kalalau Valley, where there is an approved campsite on the beach. About halfway to Kalalau Valley there is another approved campsite in the Hanakoa Valley. The trail winds along the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, offering both amazing views and some uncomfortable moments for those conscious of the equation “cliff + gravity = fall.”
The first couple miles of the trail – from Haena State Park to Hanakapi’ai Valley – are heavily trafficked by tourists. These are the folks just doing a day hike to the beach at Hanakapi’ai, which also has a connecting trail leading up the valley to a waterfall. There is a stream to cross here that requires a bit of wading, best done by ditching boots for water shoes or hiking sandals.
There is a good amount of up and down on the trail, lots of roots and rocks, and a bit of mud here and there (and things were pretty dry for us). So, it’s not quick going. If you are heading all the way to Kalalau Valley in a single day, you should get started no later than 8:00am. Otherwise, you can stop overnight at Hanakoa Valley and continue on to Kalalau Valley the next day. The same timing applies to the return trip.
As to the Hanakoa Valley campsite, it isn’t exactly an idyllic location. It isn’t on the beach, instead being a bit inland within relatively dense foliage. The porta-potty on a raised platform that serves as toilet facilities is pretty nasty, and the mosquitoes are fairly thick. Nonetheless, it’s a place to camp, with a nice stream running through it for cleaning up and filling your canteens.
For a leisurely backpacking trip that allows a bit of sleeping in and some time for lunch and photo stops, I’d recommend planning two days in and two days out, making an overnight stop at the Hanakoa Valley midway point each time. This, of course, translates into a minimum five-day trip, assuming you want at least a full day at Kalalau Valley. (By the way, the maximum stay in the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park is five nights, which would give you two full days at Kalalau Valley if you took my advice on using Hanakoa Valley to break up the hike.)
Jen and I stopped for the night at Hanakoa Valley, and then hiked back out of the park the next day to continue our trip to the southern part of the island. Our schedule didn’t permit the ideal 5 or 6-day excursion on this trip to Kauai, so Kalalau Valley will have to wait for now.
You are required to have a permit to hike past Hanakapi’ai Valley and to camp in the park. These can be acquired on the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Online Reservation System (https://camping.ehawaii.gov/camping/welcome.html). This online system gives you the ability to browse availability for the limited number of permits, and then purchase and print your permits from home.
Another useful resource is the Hawaii State Parks website (http://www.hawaiistateparks.org). Here, you will find information on parks, hiking and camping throughout the islands.
After emerging from Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, we headed into Hanalei for another go at Kalypso Restaurant, knowing that even if they still didn’t have those taro burgers we could at least get a decent beer. But we were in luck, and managed to down a couple taro burgers along with a couple beers before continuing on to our hotel accommodations at the Kauai Marriott Resort in Lihue.
…and here begins another quest, this one being the quest for a decent room…
Let me start by saying that I am a frequent Marriott user. Absent a particularly unique alternative, I default to the Marriott when I travel. Until this particular experience, I have found Marriott’s to be pretty consistent in their quality of service and accommodation.
…with that said, back to the saga…
When we arrived, the front desk was not aware of my request for a feather-free room (Jen is allergic to down), and neither was housekeeping; so we were told it would take about forty-five minutes to get the room in order. OK…no worries. We headed to the beachside bar to have a beer.
After waiting the specified time, we went to the room, where we discovered that it shared a wall with the elevators. Well, after countless nights spent in countless hotels in countless places, I just do not do elevator shafts. Not only do I invariably hear the elevators operating, I get to hear the noise created by half-drunk tourists waiting for those elevators at all hours of the night. So, I called the front desk and requested another room. After a bit of back and forth, they found a substitute and asked me to head to the desk to pick up the new keys.
(As an aside, when we first checked in, the front desk clerk made an extra effort to point out that we were being upgraded on our room. I gotta wonder if this was an effort to make us feel grateful for the elevator room no one ever wants.)
After getting the new keys, Jen and I headed to the new room, only to be hit by the stench of heavy mildew. It was so bad that Jen went right into an asthma attack.
I dialed “zero” on the phone while Jen sat outside and recovered, and told the lady on the other end my criteria for a replacement room: no feathers, no elevators, and no mildew. Eventually, I was told we had a new room, given the number, and told that a bellman would move our bags and meet us there with the key.
Outside the door of the third room we waited…and waited…and waited… Still no bellman to let us in. Eventually, a security guard came by, saw us now sitting on the floor of the hallway, asked us what was going on, and let us into the room. Once in, I called “zero” again and asked about the key and the bags and the maid service to de-feather the bedding, and was assured they were all are on the way.
Again, we waited…and waited…and waited… I called “zero” again, and was advised that maybe I should call the bell desk myself to find out about the keys and bags. I did, and was told by the bell desk that they know nothing about bringing us keys or bags.
At this point, I had given up and resigned myself to taking care of things myself. I headed to the old room, got the bags so that Jen could at least start to clean up (we still hadn’t showered from the hike), and went to the desk to get the new keys. I also gave the desk manager an earful on all the run around, and asked her to call housekeeping to make sure the de-feathering hadn’t gone ignored, too.
An hour later, when we headed out for a now-very-late dinner, housekeeping had still not shown; which I pointed out to the front desk on the way out.
That night, we went back to Kauai Pasta in Lihue for dinner. Again, it was a good meal, and they were accommodating to a vegan diet.
Thankfully, by the time we returned, housekeeping had done their part on de-feathering the room. However, there was no longer a comforter of any type on the bed; just a thin blanket. At this point, I was ready to call and bitch about almost anything, so I called “zero” again, and was told that the hotel had no feather-free comforters. I pointed out that I found this curious, as I could instantly tick off four Marriott’s in four other cities that had provided me feather-free comforters (downtown New York City, Kansas City, Portland, and San Francisco).
OK, maybe the comforter thing is getting nit-picky – and I’m probably sounding like some high-maintenance chick right now – but it was just one more thing in a string of things that indicated not-good service. Besides that, the consistency of the beds (comforter, pillows, mattress, and all) is one of the reasons that Marriotts have been my default choice in the past. I like their freakin’ beds, damn it…and I want the comforter that goes with it.
My faith in Marriotts has been shattered.
From there, it was into the park for a look at the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” We stopped at the viewpoints for a look, and drove the length of Kokee Road, which transits through the state parks and forest reserves that comprise this part of the island. There are numerous hiking trails throughout the area, but we decided to stick with a windshield tour for the day.
After leaving the parks and reserves, we headed back east toward the Poipu area, located on the coast between Lihue and Hanapepe. We were looking for a place to snorkel, but weren’t successful, as all the places we checked were a bit rough that day for decent snorkeling.
So, it was back west to Waimea to check out the Waimea Brewing Company, which operates a restaurant on the grounds of the Waimea Plantation Cottages. The beer was decent, but the service at the restaurant was slow to the point of non-existent. We just got some garlic fries and some sweet potato fries, as nothing else on the menu was going to work.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Brick Oven Pizza in Kalaheo and got a vegetarian pizza to go, which we ate back in our room.
The next morning – our last day – we got up early and reserved a kayak by phone with Kayak Kauai. We figured we’d take a look up the Wailua River as a final event.
On the way, we stopped at Papaya’s Natural Foods in Kapa’a and got a few things to eat. This place is fairly difficult to find, as it’s tucked back into the recessed courtyard area of a strip mall, and cannot be seen at all from the road. The only tell-tale is a small sign on the side of the road, which can be easily missed.
Then it was off to pickup the kayak, which was fairly painless. The guy manning the rental shop helped with mounting the kayak on the roof of the rental car, and from there it was just a mile or two to the launch point on the river.
There are several kayak tour operations on the river, so the paddle traffic is pretty heavy. We worked our way past and through the groups, up each of the branches of the river; eventually stopping at the head of a trail that leads to a waterfall. Of course, every other kayak also stopped here, making it look like a shopping center parking lot. The trail was pretty busy, and the pool at the base of the waterfall was surrounded by over a hundred other kayaker/hikers. Definitely not the place to go to get away from the tourist crowds.
Returning to the car, we loaded the kayak, dropped it back with Kayak Kauai, and headed to Kauai Pasta one more time for lunch. Then it was off to the hotel to pickup our bags and the airport for the flight back to Oahu.
The area we liked most was the Hanalei area on the northern shore. The terrain and vegetation are impressive, and it feels more rural than the other areas (save for Princeville, which is definitely not rural).
As for things to do…The snorkeling in the Hanalei area was decent, based on a sample of one. Backpacking into the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park is certainly recommended. Although we didn’t get out of the car, the day hikes in the area around Waimea Canyon look very promising.
As to kayaking, we are already planning a return trip to see what can be had in the rivers and stream of the northern shore. We’ll tell you later about how that goes.
For more photographs from our Kauai trip, go to our Flickr site at http://www.flickr.com/photos/refractoryroad/sets/72157624558570429/.