When in Kauai...
Updated: Nov 5, 2019
A few weeks back I asked for your input regarding what you'd like to hear about my visit to the island of Kaua'i. By overwhelming majority, the answer was 'highlights' or 'favorite things to do or eat', so thanks for your input! By no means are my recommendations in this letter absolute - I'm not saying "this is the best"; I'll only tell you that "this is highly recommended, worthy of your attention, and did not disappoint". Because this was my first visit to the island, and only for a week, I did not do comparisons of all the tour companies, restaurants, beaches, etc. However, as a travel advisor I have connections to those preferred, vetted, and reputable providers of all kinds, for your benefit. Here goes...
First adventure: a real Hawaiian luau. There are many luau providers; they vary in price, level of culinary delight, entertainment value, and duration of event. Most of the big resorts do a luau night once a week. I was told that Smith's Family Garden Luau, is the most 'authentic', so Smith's it was. Their show runs three to five nights per week depending on the season. In addition to the luau feast you are treated to the unearthing of the Kalua pig wrapped in ti leaves from its earthen imu oven.The Smiths are descended from an Englishman who married a native Hawaiian (Mrs. Smith!), and their descendants still run the family biz. The gardens are lovely, the peafowl and chickens ubiquitous, the food tasty, and the entertainment phenomenal. Photo opportunities abound and your friends will know you're not in Kansas anymore. The after-dinner "Rhythm of Aloha" show is a history of the islands, with authentic professional performances of the unique dances from Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, Philippines, New Zealand and Japan in open-air, torch-lit amphitheater. Who knew that what we think of as "hula dancing" is its own language?
Here was the funnest excursion ever - an exhilarating bike ride down Mt Waialeale. I'm not a thrill-seeker; I don't hanker for zip-lining, bungee-jumping or even roller coasters...call me whatever colorful name you wish, it won't change the lack of my need for adrenal stimulation. However, this ride was a kick in the pants, and I was ready to do it again. We went with Outfitters Kauai; a web search didn't yield any other outfitters with a similar excursion, but they may exist. The Outfitters Kauai team of Mike, Mattias and Alex provided coffee and muffins before the early morning trip, which is all downhill once you're on the bikes. The often cloud-shrouded peak of Mt Waialeale is, depending on the year, either the wettest or second wettest place on earth. With one guide leading the riders, another at the rear, and one driving the van, the winding (and fast!) downhill ride offers stunning views of Waimea Canyon. Do this!
When in Kauai, PLEASE take a sailboat/catamaran/rubber raft tour of the stunning, iconic Na Pali coast. If you are too faint of belly to do a boat ride, do a heli-tour. We took a four-hour sunset dinner cruise with Holo Holo Tours. Despite a windy day with rough seas for the first part of the trip, Captain Mike navigated expertly, while the crew was attentive to the passengers' safety (and beverage) needs, simultaneously teaching the lore, history and geography of the island, and the coastal area in particular. There are no roads to the Na Pali coast; it is only accessible on foot, by helicopter tour, or boat/paddleboard/kayak; camping is allowed certain times of year by permit. Tours leave from Hanalei Bay and Port Allen. I'd love to get into everything about this beautiful area, and I told you I could write you a book...but I won't. You'll need to go there yourself.
Now, food. First, shaved ice, or shave ice as it's called colloquially - you will have this, if only because you're in the tropics and you'll be in the heat of the day. These things are BIG. My half-eaten one, below, is about, well, half the size it was when it was made. The ice is shaved super-fine then compacted into a giant snowball. We enjoyed JoJo's Shave Ice several times; the difference between vendors is mostly in the flavor combinations and concoctions they offer. Be sure to have anything that includes macadamia nut ice cream.
While you're in Kauai, you'll want try some local food. Top of the list is poke (pronounced "po-keh"), a raw fish dish with traditional roots. Modern versions abound, flavored with avocado, ponzu sauce, teriyaki sauce, mushrooms, green onions, pickled jalapeño, sriracha, cilantro, pineapple or cucumber or any number of flavorful additions. Ahi tuna is the most popular, but other seafood can be used. We were told that the best local poke is at Ishihara Market, so we took the bait and stopped there on the way from spending a day on Mt Waialeale. They had about ten varieties to choose from, but we were able to control ourselves and narrow it down. A subsequent web search showed that Ishihara Market rates number two on Yelp when searching for 'poke Kauai'. So give theirs a try.
Oh...breakfast. Go to Tip Top, aka Tip Top Motel and Cafe. Locals eat there (a good sign), so good luck parking, but it's worth it to wait until a space frees up. Jus' sayin'.
Fine dining: without hesitation, Hukilau Lanai is my number one recommendation for fine dining. Scrumptious food, (ultra fresh seafood, and locally-sourced produce) and first-rate service. Totally yummy. Apparently, as I'm not in the habit of photographing my food, I am remiss in properly sharing this establishment's delectables with you. However, be sure to finish off your meal with one of their delicious desserts and a cup of Kauai Coffee. Kauai Coffee plantation is right by the sea, unlike mountain-grown Jamaican coffee with which I am familiar (that's not a knock, just part of my education). Their website describes their coffee as "Grown in rich volcanic soil, touched by abundant mountain rain, warmed by the Pacific sun and cooled by the gentle Hawaiian trade winds." Sounds irresistible, eh? Located 17 miles from the Lihue airport on Kauai’s southwest side, they have a delightful gift and coffee shop, and offer free samples as well as walking and guided tours of their estate. Their coffee is available online and at local retail outlets on the island.
A trip to the Hawaiian islands will unavoidably include history, sociology, geography and geology. If I go into all of that, this will become an unbearably endless tome. Therefore, you have to go and experience the islands for yourself. Kaua'i is the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain, geologically; many of its features differ from the other islands for this reason, and those islands reflect their youth in the ways their features differ from Kaua'i.
When you're ready to explore, give me a call.
'til next week.