This time last year we were excitedly preparing for our long-awaited trip to Hawaii. While there we got to five of the six major islands accessible by visitors: Kauai, Molokai, Maui, Hawai’i (a.k.a. the Big Island) and Oahu. The only one we didn’t manage to see was Lanai… which just gives us an excuse to go back!
Before we left, we were repeatedly told that each Hawaiian island has its own feel and character. And slightly to our surprise, we discovered this is absolutely true. So, with snow already on the ground here at home, I thought the perfect escape would be to revisit these Pacific paradises, one by one, over the next five weekends.
The first Hawaiian island we set foot on was Kauai, after a direct flight from LAX to Lihue. We arrived in the early evening, with the sun setting behind the island. Stepping foot outside the airport was a particularly special moment for us, since it meant we had now been to all 50 US states.
Kauai is known as the Garden Island. And from the front cockpit of a reproduction biplane (see The Red Baron of Kauai) it’s easy to understand why.
At the heart of Kauai is the ancient volcanic peak of Mount Waiʻaleʻale. Standing well over 5000 feet tall, Mount Waiʻaleʻale is one of the wettest places on Earth. Between 1949 and 2004 it had an average annual precipitation of 374 inches, and between 1931 and 1960 this average was 460 inches. This explains the lush vegetation that cloaks the mountainous interior of the island.
High rainfall also produces high rates of erosion. Consequently, Mount Waiʻaleʻaleʻs steep slopes are deeply incised with sheer-sided valleys, such that much of Kauai is inaccessible, even to hikers.
Most dramatic of the island’s valleys is the breathtaking Waimea Canyon, which featured in Jurassic Park. This 10-mile-long chasm, which reaches almost 3000 feet deep in places, cuts so deep into the flanks of the volcano it’s often called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.
On the east and south sides of Kauai, the steep flanks of Mount Waiʻaleʻale level out into a relatively flat coastal zone. This is where most of the island’s agriculture occurs, including cultivation of Kauai’s famous coffee.
In the northwest part of the island, the eroded slopes of Mount Waiʻaleʻale plunge straight into the ocean, forming the cliffs and valleys of the stunning Na Pali Coast. We saw this jaw-dropping stretch of coastline, which has been the backdrop for a whole host of movies (including Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean and the 1976 version of King Kong), three times during our visit to Kauai.
We saw it from below, while hiking the first part of the wonderful Kalalau Trail.
I’m not a beach type of person. Just lying there, I start to go crazy after five minutes. But I love to walk along the beach, perhaps stopping for a paddle or a swim. We visited several of Kauai’s pristine beaches while we were there, but our favourite was undoubtedly Lumaha’i Beach on the north shore, which featured in the classic movie South Pacific.
That said, watching the sunrise on Nukoli’i Beach near our hotel was also pretty spectacular!
No visit to Hawaii would be complete without sampling a bit of local culture at a traditional luau. And it’s fitting that on the Garden Island we attended the first of our two luaus in Hawaii, at the Smith Family Gardens.
Kauai is without doubt one of the most beautiful islands I’ve ever visited. I can’t wait to return!
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