Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Kauai in a Box

A couple months ago, my partner, Dwight, announced he had some spare vacation days. That was my cue to rush to the computer and put together a trip to the island of Kauai (Hawaii) based on previous visits: Kauai in a Box.

How you approach Kauai depends on your definition of activity.
The Kauai.com list of "top activities" includes ATV rides, helicopter rides, and luaus. 
These activities don't interest us: we've done none of them on our many visits to the Hawaiian Islands.

We build our Kauai around a favorite activity: hiking. I like to feel the trail move under my feet, see the changing perspectives, hear the small sounds around me, smell the dirt, let my mind run free.

Most visitors stay in one of three main hotel areas: Princeville, Kapaa, and Poipu. We've stayed in these places, but over the years, we've found three other areas that best fit our way of approaching Kauai:
  1. Lihue, because it's close to the airport.
  2. Haena (near Hanalei), because it's close to good hiking, including the Kalalau Trail.
  3. Waimea, because it's close to good hiking, including Kokee State Park.
    These towns have elements of Old Hawaii. They're working towns: people live there, they go to work, their kids go to the local schools, they buy groceries and hardware. There's limited accommodation choices.


    Being in Life, Phase 3 I got a two-day start on Dwight. I arrived at Lihue Airport on a late evening flight from LAX, and picked up a car.
    I found the best rates through Discount Hawaii Car Rental. I've used them before, and will use them again. 
    I drove to the Kauai Marriott Resort because it's just two miles from the airport. By the time I checked in, it was 11:30 p.m. (3:30 a.m. back home in Minneapolis).
    As with any hotel chain, I try to get a rate as close as possible to the lowest rate the hotel can charge, the government/military rate. If the rate goes down, I re-book. This time the best rate available to me was an AARP rate.
    Sometimes we stay here for the last night on the island. In the morning we check out, but later in the day we ask to use a "courtesy room" to shower off the sunscreen before we get on an overnight flight. There's no charge for this service.
    Sunset, smudge pots, Kauai Marriott Resort
    Normally I would just stay one night here, but I was the advance party and would be picking Dwight up at the airport two days later. He would take the same late evening flight, so I wanted to get him quickly from the airport to the hotel.

    Meanwhile, I got a start with the hiking:
    "Urban hike" aound Lihue: business district, neighborhoods, port. The Kauai Museum is worth a visit.
    Mahaulepu Trail: coastal hike, crawl into a cave to reach an oasis-like sinkhole.

    Two days later, I picked Dwight up at the airport. He had a tiny daypack and no checked bag, so I got him from plane to hotel room in just about record time.


    The drive to Haena takes about 2 hours along mainly 2-lane roads. We stayed at the Hanalei Colony Resort, a series of low-rise buildings, each with four condos.

    Our lanai, Hanalei Colony Resort
    Alternatives are guest houses or house rentals. Two years ago we rented a cottage (recommended).
    Walks included:
    Okolehau Trail: nice climb, great views. As we were driving off at the end of this hike, we saw two nene (pronounced nay-nay) birds. These birds are native to Hawaii, flightless, and threatened. The current population is about 2,500.
    Nene standing next to taro field
    Kalalau Trail. We walked half the trail, then walked back. I've posted about previous Kalalau hikes here and here when we backpacked to the end, and camped by the beach.
    On the Kalalau Trail
    The trail follows the Na Pali (cliffs)
    Wai Koa Loop Trail: mahogany plantation, orchards, community gardens, a fish farm.
    Haena to Waimea

    The drive from Haena to Waimea takes almost 3 hours. Haena and Waimea look much closer on the map, but the road connecting the two runs clockwise round the island. We broke the drive up by stopping for a hike:
    Sleeping Giant Trail: climb and view.
    We also stopped for an authentic Hawaiian mixed plate in a Lihue industrial park.


    Waimea, Kauai
    We stayed at Waimea Plantation Cottages. We first found out about this place from a segment of PBS This Old House, and have stayed there several times. Former sugar plantation cottages have been moved into a beautifully landscaped area beside the ocean.

    Kokee State Park's hiking trails are a 40-minute drive from Waimea. We've camped there, and stayed in basic cabins. Because of the altitude (4,000 feet, 1,220 meters) it can get chilly and rainy at night.

    Walks included:
    Nualolo Trail.
    A combination of Pihea Trail, Kawaikoi Stream Trail, a jeep trail (Mohihi Road), and Alakai Swamp Trail.
    Beach walk, starting at Waimea Plantation Cottages. 
    This was a short visit, so there were several trails we did not have time to revisit. We'll be back.

    Sunset at Waimea Plantation Cottages

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