Lost in the Garden: Kauai

Kauai is called the Garden Island. Sure, all the tour books will tell you that this is because of its lush tropical landscape, but maybe it’s really because, secretly, it’s what remains of the Garden of Eden. I mean, it is paradise here! And not just because of the beauty all around you. Because this is where all the stress somehow leaves your body and is replaced with carefree bliss. It’s where you feel fully alive, serene and happy. Then, once you leave, you yearn to go back. And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden…

But you just got here. So, let’s get started.

There’s a different “head” here. A dude I did shots with called it Maluhia. Google it. Some locals say it’s because the air has a higher oxygen content than normal. Others speak of “energies.” Whatever it is, you’re gonna feel it. So, as you deplane at Lihue, change your pace. Walk slower, breathe deeper, let your eyes wander. Talk less. As soon as you hit the tarmac, you’re getting hugged, and then Lei’d with pink orchids or yellow plumeria. And it’s just wonderful. No, really. It’s not campy at all, and the flowers smell just great. Next, you have to go lease yourself a Jeep. Trust me: You want one in Kauai. Put the top down straight-away, and get ready for a change not only in the chemistry of your brain but in the very structure of your soul.

You Know What They Say, “When in Poipo…”

If you’re staying on the South Shore in Poipo (yeah, go ahead, say it like a Klingon if that amuses you), slow down and get your camera ready when you reach the Tree Tunnel on Maluhia Road. This mile-long stretch of byway has eucalyptus trees planted just a few feet apart on either side of the road. Their foliage meets to form a canopy, creating the impression of a tunnel. You’ll smell the eucalyptus, and wonder “Who planted these trees, and how long did it take them? Did they do it by hand?” Ahh. Mysteries of Kauai. Or maybe you won’t, and you’ll just let the Maluhia take over.

While in Poipu, go to Tide Pools at the Hyatt Regency for dinner, optimally at sunset. Feel the trade winds blow through the dining room, hear them rustling that thatched straw roof. Ask for a seat against a window, out over the koi pond. Please DO feed the koi. Then pray for rain! Because the spectacle of a storm from that spot is awe inspiring. Watch the lightning over the sea. Feel the thunder. Marvel at how unaffected the koi are, as the rain creates circles moving psychedelically in the pond. You can close the shutters to stay dry if the winds move against you and still enjoy the sounds of the storm. Drum roll sounds, river sounds, and waterfall sounds; rumble sounds and jungle sounds. That’ll work up an appetite. Then enjoy some of the freshest and most artistically presented seafood you’ve likely ever had. And top it off with their intense molten coconut chocolate cake and macadamia vanilla Kona coffee. Sit back.

Kalakaua, King of Hawaii, with Robert Louis Stevenson (center) and Lloyd Osbourne

Now stroll through the lobby to Stevenson’s Library, a sushi bar and lounge that features live music, pool tables and a wonderful selection of cognac, sherry, and port. The schtick here is that this is the library of Robert Lewis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island. And it is certainly charming. But the real draw is the quality of the musicians that play the room. The night my wife and I went, a fella’ I never heard of was just killing it on piano and vocals. What a voice! And yet he was being heckled by some woman from the States, repeatedly bellowing, “’What You Won’t Do For Love!’ Bet ya’ can’t play that.” Well, he ignored her for a while, but that just made her heckle more frequently and louder. So he addressed her:

“Ma’am, I was in Bobby Caldwell’s touring band for years. I can play that tune note for note. What’s more, I can sing it just like him.” And at that, he launched into a perfect, soulful rendition of that classic. I was astounded. And the crowd went wild.

It freed my mind so well, I don’t even remember what we ate.

But maybe you’re heading north to Princeville. This is where the stars stay, at the St. Regis. But dig Sly Stone: EVERYBODY is a star, you can feel it when they shine on you! So pay the celebrities no mind. They prefer that anyway. Focus instead on your companion, and the parallel mountains, velvety green and craggy purple and beige, one in front of the other, right across Hanalei Bay. Have a sunset dinner on the Makana Terrace at the St. Regis, whether you’re staying there or not. The setting sun peeking from beyond the horizon and mountain tops, reflecting on the infinity pool and Bay, is incredibly pretty and peaceful. It freed my mind so well, I don’t even remember what we ate. But it was very good.

Ok, let’s talk about your room. It matters here.

Get a room with a private balcony. Hopefully, you are with your S.O. Definitely, go for it. Kauai is one of the rainiest places on earth. During at least one of the inevitable mini-typhoons that come nearly every late afternoon, make love on that terrace. Listen to the dashing rhythm of the falling rain; feel the warm wind; see the flashing lightning; anticipate and experience the thunder. Watch every motion, pay attention to both of your breath.


Go Chasing Waterfalls

Kauai is chock full o’ waterfalls. It would be great to see ’em all. But if you can’t, don’t miss these two:

  • Wailua Falls: The 150 foot falls shown on Fantasy Island. Yeah, “the plane, the plane.” They’re magnificent.
  • Waipoo Falls: The 800-foot falls at the center of Waimea Canyon. Visible from the highway, but best experienced, in all their glory, if you hike the trail through the canyon and rainforest.

If you’re the Spartan Race type, trudge through the Kaapoko tunnel. You’ll get all the hiking through mud and brush and water you ever wanted. You’ll sweat, shiver, slip, swat, scratch and get scratched, all while subjecting yourself to much potentially fatal stuff. I hear it’s worth it. But ancient, crumbling irrigation conduits through volcanic rock are not my thing. So I did a quick about-face.

But ancient, crumbling irrigation conduits through volcanic rock are not my thing.

Couple’s massage, now that’s more like it. Head over to the Hanalei Day Spa. Go for the couple’s Lomi Lomi massage with coconut oil. It’s sooo intense! If you’re lucky, a storm will pass, and the rain will play the steel drums on the corrugated aluminum roof of the massage room. As the breeze blows the curtains toward your table. And in the end, you and your special someone can jump in the shower together and sponge away that oil. Suddenly…more intense.

Speaking of intense, we haven’t surfed yet, you’re thinking. Well, if you know what you’re doing, go ahead. But if you’re new to the sport, try another island. Me? Shipwreck Beach bitch slapped me! One second I was regular, and the next I was rag-dolled. Lost a great pair of Ray Bans and all my confidence.

But I never lose my chops! So after the wipeout, I headed to Scotty’s Music House. An amazing selection of guitars and ukuleles: Fenders and Taylors and Hawaiian-made ukes aplenty. Lotsa’ koa. Scotty has discovered the Rosetta Stone of the ukulele. If you play guitar, his staff will teach you a visualization technique that will have you jangling the uke in minutes. First song I was shown was “Walkin’ On Sunshine.” Really easy, really fun.


Over the Rainbow

Off to the striking Napali Coast. Tomorrow, the lush Wailua Jungle. Then the trails of the North Shore. Spouting Horn. Waimea Canyon. Really, there are so many natural wonders to see on Kauai, it’s not realistic to expect to experience them all in one trip. On top of that, there are so many ways to experience them! By catamaran, sailboat or kayak. In an off-road vehicle or on horseback. By zip-line. By helicopter. And my fave, on foot.

A part of the road had been turned into a river.

On our last day on Kauai, my wife and I decided to drive north to the Limahuli Garden and Preserve. We started out in sunshine with the top down. I drove the slalom course that passes for a roadway as my wife watched the birds and pigs and monkeys in the surrounding jungle. We arrived in the middle of a monsoon, after a part of the road had been turned into a river, and donned yellow ponchos. We were the only souls there. We climbed the terraces. We smelled the flowers. We danced in the rain. And we looked up at Makana Mountain, Bali Hai from the movie South Pacific. Then the rain stopped. And a rainbow appeared to the north! I photographed my wife sitting beneath it. We climbed some more, then decided to follow the rainbow.

It took us to the very end of the road at Ke’e Beach. Ours was the only car on the road. And the only car in the parking lot. We walked the beach hand-in-hand. Again, the only souls there. I commented that if we could see forever, the next thing our gaze would hit would be Alaska. The whole time, that rainbow just lingered above us. And I suggested that we were so out of anyone’s sight, we should return completely to nature, leave our clothes on a nearby log, and stroll au natural. “Ah, next time, honey.”

As with that other tempting garden, you can’t wait to get back.