On our first full day on Kauai, we set out to discover the north shore area of the island. We really didn't know what to expect other than just to follow the Kohui Highway until you couldn't go any further. It turns out that the north shore of Kauai was probably the highlight of our visit to Hawaii.
We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn near Kapaa and just up the way from the hotel off of Kohui Highway were the Opaekaa Falls. (see map) Opaekaa literally means "rolling shrimp" in Hawaiian and the waterfalls were named after the thousands of shrimp that were found in the stream that feeds the falls. The 150 foot waterfall feeds a hidden pool below and the small stream eventually flows into the Wailea River. On the other side of the road from the observation point for the falls was the green and lush Wailua River Valley.
Continuing up the Kohui Highway past Kapaa, we drove about 20 minutes to the small village of Kilauea. Just north of Kilauea is the Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge area. (see map) The lighthouse area was closed that day, as it had been since early January. There was a turnaround point that allowed people to get pictures of the lighthouse in the distance and to watch the Red-footed Booby birds (that's their name - click on the link to look it up) that were nesting in the rocky crevices above the small bay. The park ranger stationed at the fence line was telling us that the lighthouse area was closed to shore up walking trails and for general maintenance. Of course, it was going to open the following Sunday just after we left Kauai.
Speaking of Kilauea, we stopped in the small village to get a coffee. We found a small place in the historic Kong Lung market area called Kilauea Bakery and Pau Hana Pizza. (see map) Nestled back in the courtyard of the open air market, this little bakery had an amazing array of baked goods including some off-the-hook lemon bars and lilikoi-filled pastries. The espresso they made was some of the best I've ever had. We had to come back one more time to get coffee and pastries at this great little place.
The market place - which was the original plantation market for the Kilauea Sugar Plantation dating back 100 years - had an art gallery, a women's boutique, a soap and candle store, and a bistro-style restaurant in addition to the bakery/coffee shop. Cindy bought a couple things in the art studio and took a brief look through the boutique. I wanted to come back and have a meal at The Lighthouse Bistro at some point, but we never had the chance. Next time...
We drove to the very end of the road past Hanalei to the Ke'e Beach. It is just to the east of the famous Na Pali Coast line on the north side of Kauai. (see map) Scenes from the movie Jurassic Park were filmed in the somewhat forbidding landscape of the Na Pali Coast. (Na Pali in Hawaiian means "high cliffs". Some of the cliffs go straight up 4000 feet from the ocean.) Cindy wanted to either take a helicopter ride to see the full Na Pali Coast (too expensive - $300 per person), or take a boat ride along the coast (it was a minimum 3 hour trip and included snorkeling, of which I wasn't interested in at all). So this was the closest we got to the coast.
Just up from Ke'e Beach was the Limahuli National Botanical Garden. It is one of a handful of botanical gardens found on Kauai. It's nestled between the ocean and Makana Mountain, an important landmark to the ancient Hawaiians and the inspiration for a number of local legends. We decided to stop in to walk around the place for awhile. It cost $20 bucks per person to get in - a bargain compared to others we found on the island that wanted as much as $50 per person to walk around their botanical gardens.
The garden featured a number of tropical plants and flowers, fruit trees and exotic bushes. There was a walkway with markings on the trail to point out different species of plants they had on display in the garden. Before we set out on the trail, we were given a guide book to use along the way.
A stream coming down out of the mountains trickled by on the one side of the garden. We were told by the lady at the welcome station that they were in the midst of a drought - although we couldn't tell by the green grass and colorful flowers on display. It was slightly raining - more of a mist - when we were on our little hike through the botanical garden. The lady told us, "We'll take all we can get at this point." It certainly wasn't like our last trip to Hawaii six years ago when streams and ponds were literally dried up.
Makana Mountain towered over the Limahuli valley. This mountain played a key role in what were called 'ōahi ceremonies in ancient Hawaiian culture. When a celebration was called for, men known as fire throwers would climb the mountain, set logs on fire and hurl them out toward the Pacific Ocean after the sun would set, sort of like ancient fireworks. The embers of these logs would drift in the winds coming off the ocean and would sail up to a mile off shore. To make this seem even more crazy - it was considered a badge of honor for ancient Hawaiians to CATCH the embers in their canoes. Sharp ridges that rise out of the mountain are said to depict people who climbed the mountain but didn't come back down.
Makana Mountain is famous as the mountain that is called Bali Hai in the 1958 movie adaptation of South Pacific. Much of the movie was filmed at nearby beaches with Makana Mountain as the backdrop for the mystical island of Bali Hai. The mountain is referred to by its movie name by many to this day. You'll also find a number of businesses on Kauai with Bali Hai incorporated in the name.
The view down to the ocean from the back of the botanical center was a beautiful sight. The clouds literally ended at the ocean front with a beautiful deep blue sea contrasting with the light blue sky. It took us a little over an hour to traverse through the botanical garden.
From the botanical garden, we made it back to Hanalei to do a little looking around. The small village features a number of small shops, restaurants and bars, all with a laid back feeling. This was one of the most chill places I've ever been to. I immediately loved the place.
In Hanalei along the main road in the town was the Wai'oli Hui'ia Church, a place of worship for the outgrowth of Christian ministries that started with missionaries William and Mary Alexander coming to Kauai in a double canoe in the early 1830's. The church was built in 1912 in an American Gothic style by three brothers, Sam, George and Albert Wilcox, sons of former missionary Abner Wilcox. Just after World War II ended, three churches in the area combined to make what is now the present day Wai'oli Hui'ia congregation.
Inside the church was a quaint country-style interior with a number of beautiful stained glass windows. It had withstood two hurricanes before it was extensively damaged during Hurricane Iniki in 1992. The church and the nearby mission hall were both rebuilt and today both structures are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Walking around the little village, we came upon a little tiki bar/restaurant by the name of Tahiti Nui. This little place has been in business since 1963 when Bruce and Louise Marston opened a little cafe in Hanalei. They had met when Bruce was stationed in the United States Air Force in Tahiti in the late 50's. After Bruce retired as a Lt. Colonel, the two were married (Louise had Tahitian royalty in her family lineage) and they moved to Kauai to open the small eatery. Over the years, the Marston family added on to the little place and today it is run by their son, Christian. While tourists were mainly the only ones in the place, it didn't seem to be a tourist trap at all.
Tahiti Nui iasn't all that large and they had a couple guys entertaining the small late afternoon crowd. One man played a slack key guitar (he told the crowd how a slack key guitar worked and I knowingly nodded toward him when he said Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones had made millions of dollars playing open-tuned guitars on their songs) and the other guy was playing a Hawaiian lap-steel guitar. The music was fabulous.
Mai Tai's are their signature drink - naturally - at Tahiti Nui. They had something that was called the "Man Tai" that was served in a pint glass. These were especially yummy - I had two and they were going down pretty smoothly. That's the problem with mai tai's - they taste great, but they really sneak up on you.
Tahiti Nui is also somewhat famous for a scene from the movie The Descendants that was filmed in the place. It featured George Clooney's character running into his cousin, played by Beau Bridges, in the Tahiti Nui. (Photo below left courtesy Orange County Register.)
But the shops and laid back style in Hanalei pale in comparison to the magnificent bay and beach on the north side of the village. We loved the bay, beach and the pier so much that we went back for a second day at Hanalei Bay before we left Kauai to come home. The panoramic photo at the top of this blog entry is Hanalei Bay with the pier on the right.
Here is a video of the beach and bay that I took if you'd like to see how beautiful the place is -
This place was just gorgeous. There were a number of homes that were on the beach and we found a couple that we really liked - such as this one. But this was also - quite probably - a $5 million dollar home. Or more...
Once again, The Descendants had scenes filmed on Hanalei Bay, as did South Pacific in the late 50's. It's no wonder they used this as a back drop, the scenery is simply breathtaking.
Depending upon what you read on numerous web sites or publications, Hanalei Bay was the inspiration for the magical place "Honalee" where Puff, the Magic Dragon lived. Or it wasn't. We read some tourist rags on Kauai that said the crescent-shaped bay was the inspiration for the Peter, Paul and Mary hit song from the early 60's, while other things we read said that lyricist Lenny Lipton (the co-writer of the song along with Peter Yarrow) maintained it just happened to be a "serendipitous coincidence" that Hana-LAY Bay was similar in name to Honalee. All I know is that the place had a magical hold on me.
Before we left the north shore of Kauai, we had to stop into the planned community of Princeville. Princeville is home to the St. Regis Resort, one of the most exclusive places to stay in Hawaii (and also featured on The Descendants). Formerly a sugar plantation that was turned into a ranch, the area was sold in 1968 to developers who installed the resort and golf courses. We drove around Princeville for a bit one afternoon to take a look at what we would call modest middle-to-upper middle class homes in the town.
One of the things that we had to try while we were on Kauai was some ice cream from Lappert's. There was a Lappert's in a small market area in Princeville and we stopped in to try some of their ice cream before heading back to the hotel. (see map) The Lappert's in Hawaii - we were told - are not part of the Lappert's ice cream shops that are found on the Mainland. The Lappert's that are found on the Hawaiian Islands were founded in the early 80's by the worldly Walter Lappert. Lappert - an Austrian by birth - grew up in Czechoslovakia. He joined the French Army at the start of World War II at the age of 17 and eventually became a lieutenant. He was wounded in battle and recovered to move to South America to become a liquor distiller. After several years in Ecuador and Venezuela, he moved to Northern California to run two successful restaurants in the Bay Area. It was said that Lappert was fluent in eight different languages.
At the age of 61, Lappert turned the restaurants over to his son and he and his second wife, Mary Pratt, moved to the small Kauai town of Hanapepe, a small art community on the south shore of the island. It was there that Lappert decided to invest the family's life savings - over $150,000 dollars - into making ice cream, mainly because he couldn't find any good ice cream on the island. The ice cream was an immediate hit with islanders and tourists. Within years, Lappert's was available in dozens of stores across Hawaii and in six Western mainland states.
Lappert and Mary Pratt divorced in 1991, but remained business partners up to Walter's death in 2003. Mary Pratt took over the Hawaiian operations of the Lappert's while the Mainland Lappert's were willed to Walter Lappert's son, Michael. Mary Pratt continues to run the Hawaiian operations of Lappert's Gourmet Ice Cream and Coffee.
It was late in the day when we stopped in Lappert's in Princeville to try their ice cream. We both decided to get one scoop cups of their ice cream - I got the mint chip and Cindy tried the Kona coffee flavored ice cream. While we thought it was good, we felt that the ice cream we get at Whitey's back home in the Quad Cities was on par, if even better, than the Lappert's gourmet ice cream. But that's just us.
We had one last stop on one of the days we were coming back from the north shore. We stopped at Kealia Beach just north of Kapaa to watch the surfers at dusk. (see map) The winds from the easterly trade winds gave surfers three to five foot high waves to ride. We walked along the beach and watched the surfers until they started to come out of the water just before it got too dark for them to see. I'm mesmerized by surfers. I'm mesmerized by the ocean. I could watch both for hours.
The north shore of Kauai was truly magnificent. We spent most of our time on Kauai on the north shore - Hanalei to be more precise. It was everything that I look for in Hawaii - a laid-back paradise with beautiful vistas, pristine beaches, and rum-packed mai tai's. Look for an upcoming entry on our visits to the south shore and western interiors of Kauai. But in the meantime, enjoy one last video from the beach on Hanalei Bay with a quick view of the home we fell in love with on the beach, as well as an editorial comment by yours truly at the end.