Monday 2 July 2012

Kauai five-oh

It's only just turned July and already I remember I'm not built for winter, and neither is the house I live in (no matter how many door-snakes I put around the place). So I could hardly pass up the chance to go to Hawaii a couple of weeks ago. Spent most of my time there on Kauai which, to my eyes, is the most beautiful of the main Hawaiian islands.

Hula-girl in wintry Sydney
If ever you wanted to invent the perfect island, you could do worse than use Kauai as your blueprint. Aside from the perfect beaches, there are lushly forested mountains, waterfalls, hiking tracks, the massive Waimea Canyon. It oozes "lost worldness".

Which brings me to the doorstep of my top five things to do on Kauai:

Just keep the cliffs on your left
1. Paddle the Na Pali coast – this 27-kilometre paddle along the roadless north-west coast of Kauai is billed as the Everest of sea kayaking trips. Not having climbed Everest I suspect that's a slight exaggeration, but Kayak Kauai (which has been running these trips for more than 20 years) says it is the longest and roughest commercial sea kayak trip "on the planet". That's the fun of it; you're out there, in the elements, all day, just you and the turtles. Your guides carry things like EPIRBs and flares. And the scenery - those 1000-metre cliffs, crescent-moon beaches, sea caves you can paddle into - will blow your hat off.

2. See Jurassic Park Falls. First, a confession: this one ain't no-impact. But it's hard to say no to a helicopter flight that takes you to one of the world's most spectacular waterfalls. Our Island Helicopters pilot Gary, with his smooth-as-caramel voice and an iPod soundtrack to match the views (Mission Impossible, Born to be Wild), flew us all over the island but the highlight was speeding along a canyon towards Jurassic Park Falls (aka Manawaiopuna Falls), the movie theme playing in our headsets. We landed at the base of the falls too, the only people there (it's on private property); I felt like Laura Dern about to see my first living dinosaur.

Janet waxing up
3. Go surfing. On one of my five days on the island I rented a surfboard and caught up with my friend Janet who has moved to Kauai from New York (we both lived and surfed in Japan about 100 years ago). Surfing is the best "in" to island life, because, well, everyone surfs. We met so many people that day; even up at Waimea Canyon, sightseeing on our way back from the beach, we got talking to a guy who, on hearing my accent, started reminiscing about the Australian surfers who “busted down the door” of the North Shore surfing scene in the 1970s. 

Palm trees at sunset, Koa Kea
4. Stay at Koa Kea Resort. I don't usually love resorts; I get bored after five minutes of reading by a hotel pool (though I can read for hours almost anywhere else, go figure). But I loved Koa Kea. Beautiful coral-themed d├ęcor, friendly staff (the valets were surfers too) and a superb waterfront location at Poipu on Kauai’s south coast – I swam off the beach every morning and even surfed right in front of the resort one afternoon.

5. Watch the sunset at Hanalei Bay. The day I arrived was Memorial Day, the American equivalent of our Anzac Day and EVERYONE was at the beach. I caught up with friends who live on Kauai’s north shore and we drove to the pier at Hanalei to watch the sunset. There were cars parked on the sand, people paddleboarding with their dogs, girls hula-dancing in the shallows while their fathers and uncles played drums on the shore, a guy strumming a ukulele. Behind the curve of beach, ruggedly handsome mountains stood with their heads in the clouds. If I lived here I’d believe in Puff the Magic Dragon too.

That’s my Kauai-five, but oh, there’s one more Hawaii must-do: have a ukulele lesson, listen to ukulele-playing kids busking (click for a little video clip) on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki or, at the very least, listen to the song that has become Hawaii’s unofficial anthem: "Somewhere over the rainbow" (another clip) by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. Humming along is a good way to keep warm...

Hands up who's been to Hawaii? What did you love?


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