There is one main highway around the perimeter of Kauai - north of Lihue, it is known as the Kuhio Highway; west of Lihue, it becomes the Kaumualii Highway. Our first day on Kauai, we had taken a right out of our hotel to head up to the North shore of Kauai. Our second day, we went left toward Lihue and the south shore and the west side of the island.
There's not much to Lihue. It's a nondescript small Hawaiian town that has a handful of resorts, vacation condos, with a few shops and places to eat. We spent little time in Lihue, opting to go further west along the Kaumualii Highway to visit the small villages and head up toward the Waimea Canyon.
Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, first formed over 5 million years ago from a volcano rising from the floor of the Pacific Ocean. The volcano erupted continuously for over a million years before part of the island collapsed forming the core of the Waimea Canyon from the lava flows. After the volcano quit erupting, erosion from rain falling on the upward slopes of Kauai carved out more of the features on the west side of the canyon with the east side of the canyon a deep red color from the basalt rock that has weathered over the centuries. Much of Kauai is covered with the deep red dirt - it's sort of the official color of Kauai.
The lookout over the canyon is an 11 mile drive up the side of the mountain from the small village of Kekaha. (see map) While it is called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, the view of the ocean on the drive back down toward Kekaha is nearly equally as breathtaking as the colorful scenery of the canyon. There is an expansive view of the ocean looking out toward the small island of Niihau, also known as the Forbidden Island. Privately owned, Niihau is one of only three places on earth where most modern technology is eschewed in favor of natural living. Solar power is the only power available on the island, there is no running water as rain catchment systems provide fresh water, there are no paved roads, and there are no stores, restaurants or hotels on the island. Nearly all of the 130 residents on the island speak the native Hawaiian language and rely upon boats to bring products from nearby Kauai. And by seeing Niihau off Kauai's coast, this was the last of the main Hawaiian Islands that we've either visited or have seen in the distance.
We tried to go to the western part of the island - we had read that Polihale State Park had the longest beach on all of the Hawaiian Islands, but it turned out that the road that took you to the beach was pock-marked and bumpy. We had also read at the Hertz rental place that rental cars were forbidden to use the road to Polihale. Well, we had to go see for ourselves. Sure enough, the old sugar cane hauling road was bumpy and slow going. We decided to bag the trip to the beach - a four-wheel drive vehicle would have been the preferred way to travel the road.
Along the west side of roads of Kauai were military installations and some mysterious farms. It turns out that the farms are owned by large bio-tech firms such as Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto, BASF and DuPont - all of which are engaging in the experimentation of growing Genetically Modified crops on the island. "No GMO's" signs were all over the island and we didn't really understand what was going on until we found the farms along backroads on the west side. Many residents of the island - especially on the west side - have been resisting the GMO farms, primarily due to the excessive amount of pesticides they use in the process of growing the genetically modified organisms. However, there are other island residents who recognize the economic benefits the big bio-tech companies bring to the party. The GMO farms are a polarizing topic for the residents of Kauai.
Just past the small town of Kekaha is the village of Waimea. Waimea literally means "red dirt" in the Hawaiian language and there was a lot of red dirt on Kauai, especially on the west side of the island. The orange/copper color was sort of the unofficial color of Kauai - lots of shirts, hats and other articles of clothing were available in the deep red color. There was a black sand beach at Waimea and we found it as we were driving around the area.
There's a nice pier at the beach at Waimea. We walked out to the end of the pier and hung out for awhile taking pictures and taking in the beautiful scenery. The weather along the South shore of Kauai was sunny and hot. The winds coming off the ocean made it tolerable, however.
Waimea can best be described as a lazy little town. NO ONE was in a hurry on what was a beautiful mid-week day. This town was the personification of a laid back lifestyle.
There were a number of shops along the main highway through town. Most of them were touristy-type places, but there were small markets that featured island grown fruits and vegetables. It was kind of fun to look through the different types of food they had to offer.
Also along the main road was what appeared to be a farmers market going on. It was on the grounds of an abandoned sugar mill and it featured primarily arts and crafts. A man was singing Hawaiian songs accompanying himself on a guitar.
We hung around for a bit looking at things before we got back in the car to head down the road. Our next stop was to the beach at Salt Pond Beach Park near the small town of Hanapepe. (see map) There are a handful of salt ponds where sea salt is harvested in ancient traditional Hawaiian ways that date back centuries. Of all the islands in the Hawaiian Archipelago, Kauai is the only one that has ponds where sea salt is harvested by hand - much of it very labor intensive. (Read more on the harvesting of Kauai sea salt by clicking here.)
The beach at Salt Pond Beach Park was of a crescent shape with some rock reefs just off shore. This beach is also a haven for monk seals, an endangered mammal that makes Hawaii their home. Signs along the beach warned people not to go further toward the water as not to disturb the monk seals. A solitary monk seal was lying on the rocks near the shore and we wondered if this was the monk seal that was viciously attacked by a young Hawaiian man days earlier. Fortunately, the attack was caught on camera and the young man was arrested. We were told that some islanders have a hatred of the monk seals because authorities have closed off long-time fishing and surfing areas for secure places for the seals.
We drove through Hanapepe, a small art community that were told had a great Friday night artist's night with displays, music and food (we didn't go). And then we drove to the south and east of the small town to the home of the largest coffee plantation in Hawaii - the Kauai Coffee Estate.
Kauai was the first island to product coffee beginning back in 1836. As sugar plantations closed down, coffee trees were planted in many of the plantations including the Mcbryde plot which had over 3000 acres of land. Today, the Kauai Coffee Estates produce more than half of the coffee beans grown in Hawaii. They had a little visitors center where you could buy coffee and sample some of the coffee they had, and they had both guided and self-guided tours of areas of the plantation to show how coffee beans were harvested before the advent of modern harvesting methods. We took the self-guided tour - it lasted about 15 to 20 minutes - and then got some coffee in the visitor's center before we decided to get the hell out of there since two tour buses pulled up while we were there.
We ended up heading over toward Poipu and a natural geyser that we'd read about - the Spouting Horn at Spouting Horn Beach Park. (see map) When waves crash underneath the lava rock, a spout of water is forced up through a blowhole and creates a geyser. Depending upon how big the waves are and how high the tide is, the spray can reach up to 50 feet in height. It was actually pretty cool to see. With the crashing waves under the rock, it made an interesting "whooshing" sound before the spray geyser came up out of the hole.
I did a video of the Spouting Horn geyser. Click on "play" below if you'd like to see the short video of what it was like -
On the opposite side of the viewing area was an area of black lava rock where the waves were crashing hard. Here's a short video of that -
From there, we drove over to Popui Beach, the main part of a number of upscale resorts and condos in the area. We didn't get out to walk along the beach mainly because of the number of people that were there and lack of parking in the immediate area. That was fine with us - you see one beach, you've seen them all. Well, not really...
North of Koloa going back toward the Kaumualii Highway is a stretch of eucalyptus trees that forms a natural tunnel - the Kauai Tree Tunnel. We tried to get a good picture of the trees, but it was sort of difficult when you're traveling 40 miles an hour down the road in a line of cars. I got this picture from National Geographic. But I have to tell you, this picture wasn't quite indicative of the stretch of eucalyptus trees that we saw. When Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai 26 years ago, it stripped most of the branches from the trees - at least the ones that weren't blown down. There were some sparse looking areas along the road. Local guide books oversold the Kauai Tree Tunnel.
We stopped in Lihue at the Kalapaki Beach which was the main beach for the Kauai Beach Marriott Resort and the Nawiliwili Harbor. The Harbor is home to a number of small boats and can handle large cargo ships and cruise ships. To the west of the harbor is Niumalu Beach Park, a small beach primarily used by kayakers and made famous as the backdrop for opening scenes from the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.
We were told by a friend of mine that when we were in Lihue we needed to stop into a place by the name of Hamura Saimin and get a piece of their lilikoi chiffon pie. It turns out that their lilikoi (passion fruit) chiffon pie is pretty famous. It was a little difficult to find the place - it was off the main street going into the heart of Lihue and I'm not certain I would have found it if it weren't for our GPS. (see map)
The place isn't all that big - it featured three low counters with a big window looking into the kitchen. Their specialty is saimin, a Japanese/Hawaiian noodle soup that is served in a broth. Shrimp, won tons, and barbecued beef or chicken can be added to the saimin. Even late in the afternoon they had a good crowd of people in there eating saimin.
But the pie was, well, out of this world. Cindy and I shared a piece ($3.25 per piece - $3.50 if you go it to go). The meringue on top of the pie was light and fluffy, but the heart of the lilikoi chiffon was heavenly. I love the taste of lilikoi in just about anything - it's especially good in margaritas, I've found. But this pie was simply wonderful. And it was very rich. We contemplated getting a second piece of pie, but it was getting late in the day and we didn't want to spoil our dinner plans we had a couple hours later.
Finally, just north of Lihue was another somewhat famous landmark - Wailua Falls. Off the main highway and a three mile drive up into the hills above Lihue, the overlook to the falls is easily accessible. (see map)
The falls drop 80 feet into a pool of water that feeds the last three miles of the Wailua River. The falls are also famous as the backdrop for part of the the opening segment of the late 70's/early 80's television program Fantasy Island. ("Da plane! Da Plane!") I never really watched that show, so I had to go back to YouTube to find the opening segment to see the falls. (Click here to see the original show introduction.)
Here's a short video of the falls that I took -
We were told that normally three flows come over the falls, but with the drought they've been having on the island the water levels in the streams from the mountains feeding the falls have been abnormally low. Had I not known that, I still would have thought the falls were spectacular.
The Western part of Maui was interesting to visit. We liked our time in Waimea and enjoyed the vistas of the Waimea Canyon and the beautiful view down to the ocean. The sunny south side of the island had a different feel than the north shore, but it was still laid back and welcoming. Over toward Poipu and Lihue, it got to be a little more commercial and touristy, but it was still nice. We think we saw everything we wanted to see on the south shore and the west side of the island, but I'm sure we'll read about something that we missed and want to go back to Kauai. And that won't be that bad of a thing...