TRIP DATE: APRIL 2015 DURATION: 5 DAYS
I spent 10 days total in Hawaii in April 2015. The first half of the trip was on Maui (more on this later), the second half was on Kauai. In Kauai, we stayed the first 3 nights in a condo in Princeville, the 4th night at the St Regis Princeville and the 5th night closer to the airport on the South Shore of the island to connect with an early morning flight. Although the promise of sunnier weather always tempted us to the South Shore of the island (we actually called businesses each morning to see how the weather compared down there and if it was worthwhile driving down), we remained drawn to the exoticism of the North Shore, with it's misty rainforest foliage and some of the longest waterfalls in the world that dipped in to the hills and ran all the way down to the ocean. Even though it wasn't beach weather, it oozed quintessential Hawaii.
NA PALI COAST HIKE
The full Na Pali trail, also known as Kalalau Trail, runs along the North Shore of Kauai. It starts from Ke'e beach and runs West for about 11 miles. The first 2 miles (4 miles roundtrip) to Hanakapi'ai Beach are very doable in an afternoon and is the only portion that does not require a permit. The trail itself can be a bit touch and go if the weather is not cooperating. Be extra careful in rain-- you need to jump over streams and wade through rivers and it can get quite dangerous with fast-moving water. The trail is literally a dirt path that can be muddy even on dry days. I slid numerous times and there are no railings or shoulders in the path (it has been named one of the 20 most dangerous hikes in the world- something I read about only later..). Because of the fast-changing weather, plan to get muddy and wet and wear layers. There are no bathrooms or vendors along the way so keep this in mind. Hanakapi'ai beach, 2 miles in, where the first part of the hike ends, is a pretty beach where people have made stone hills/sculptures. The generous amount of flash flood warning signs around this part of the trail meant we didn't linger long before heading back the way we came.
After our kayak and boat trips continued to get cancelled because of the swells, we decided to book a helicopter tour instead. Sunshine Helicopters is the only operator to depart from Princeville airport, so we booked with them- far more convenient than driving down to the Southern part of the island. We were also able to book fairly last minute which was great. The helicopter ride is about 60 min and takes you all over the island. I'd recommend doing this as so much of the island is only accessible by sea or air. You'll be able to see the dramatically different environments from deserted beaches to the Waimea Canyon and the dramatic Na Pali coast.
PADDLEBOARDING THE HANALEI RIVER
If you have a couple of hours, doing stand up paddle on the Hanalei River is a fun option and super close to Princeville and Hanalei. We rented boards from Hawaiian Surfing Adventures which is on the main Hanalei Road for $30 each for 2hrs. You are measured for your board and paddle and the company delivers the boards to the river for you, which is a couple minutes drive away. The river is calm without much current so it's a sheltered place to get your bearings. Once you feel a little more confident, head out to where the river meets the ocean in Hanalei Bay and try your hand at surfing the break out there. Since you may fall off the board, especially out on the waves, it's a good idea to wear swimwear and leave the sunglasses behind. We brought our waterproof phone cases and wore them around our necks so we could take photos while out there.
SURFING HANALEI BAY
There are a number of outlets in Hanalei town that rent boards and organize surf lessons (Hanalei Surf Company, Hawaiian Surf Adventures were two that we spoke with) and Hanalei Bay is a great sheltered bay for surf school. Even though we played a bit in the waves on our paddle boards, we never got to try our hand at surfing on Kauai. These photos were taken on our last night in Kauai, when we had a picnic dinner from Sushi Girl (total favorite) on the beach. Surfing is a great spectator sport and even though the larger break is further out at sea, we could still watch the tail end of a local competition wrapping up.
I found the best food in Kauai was the more underrated, local fare. Our first day we met some locals who cut down some fresh coconuts for us on the beach. We then discovered Sushi Girl Kauai, a tiny stall just west of Hanalei on the road towards Ke'e beach, which quickly became our favorite spot. You'll find shaved ice and acai bowls all over Hanalei. We sampled the 'colada special' shave ice from JoJo's which consists of 3 flavors + macadamia nut ice cream + fresh cream on top, and apparently used only all natural flavoring. Although JoJo's keeps rather strange hours- they would close at random points, especially when we tried to stop by for round two one evening-- luckily, there is no shortage of shave ice in Hanalei. There are a number of food trucks by the Hanalei Pier and we had tacos there while sitting on the beach before going paddleboarding one day. We had salads and sandwiches at Hanalei Gourmet, a local bustling casual spot, and then shared the 'Kauai Pie', pictured above, which consists of Kona coffee ice cream, Hawaiian macadamia nuts, shredded and lightly toasted coconut, and rich dark chocolate fudge. I thought this was some local delicacy but we soon realized that it's available at the Lappert's in Sausalito..(!) Hanalei Coffee Roasters had fantastic coffee (by the glass and bean form), as well as some fun vintage Hawaiian postcards. We also found some great snacks at the Health Food Store in Hanalei, where they had local homemade cookies with coconut and macadamia nuts.
The beaches on north side of the island tend not to have parasols, food amenities etc—some have restroom facilities and life guards but shade is mostly found around the trees. Definitely bring your own mask and snorkel. There are plenty of spots to just pull over on the main road that runs along the coast and jump in the water. Other than the rich marine life (we were thwarted in seeing turtles though), there was a surprising amount of animal activity on all the beaches. Yes, harbor sees (especially on Ke'e beach), but also CHICKENS!! They would run wild all over the beach, and the parking lot. Ke'e beach is also a great spot to jump in for a dip (and wash off the mud from your shoes) after doing the Na Pali hike. Ha’ena park beach just before Ke'e was really nice too, and we went for a long walk here between rain showers. One afternoon while drying off after a swim at Ke'e we met a local veteran surfer who had been living on the island for the past 30 years or so. He mentioned that Bethany Hamilton was hanging out at the next beach over, by the famous 'Tunnels' surf break on the edge of the reef on which she was famously attacked and lost her arm. The sun was setting and we decided to stop over there on our way home, to get a feel for the place and see if she was still around. She wasn't, but that night we watched Soul Surfer, the film about her experience. On another night, we also watched the big-wave surf documentary Riding Giants, which features a history of surfing and surf culture and live footage of surfers on mindblowingly huge waves.
We stayed at a condo in Princeville which worked out really well and had an ocean view. Since we had a car, we were able to shop locally (and stocked up on some sliced coconut from Whole Foods immediately upon arrival), and cook breakfast and some dinners at home. Once we had explored the area the first 4 days, we then returned our car and moved into the St Regis Princeville (which was actually right next to our condo), and were happy to stay put and finally relax in one spot. While the property was great, I was happy to have had done the earlier part of our week exploring the North Shore and trying the local spots.
IN MY BAG
1. JCrew jean shorts- these are now perma-stained with mud from the Na Pali coast. (Similar here)
3. Nike Terra Kiger Hiking Shoes- these were great on dry trails but totally failed me when mud clogged the grooves on the Na Pali Trail. (Similar here)
4. Forever 21 tank top- for when we tried to look a little more presentable our last night. (Sold out unfortunately)
5. iphone 'dry bag'- once we got over the mortification of wearing these, we found them to be surprisingly handy for keeping our phones close for photos while on the water.
6. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman (inspired to download this book on my kindle while away, thanks to my travel companion). Speaks to certain design mysteries that make no sense at all for the user experience.