When we decided a few months ago that we were going to go back to Hawaii in April, we were looking to stay in Hilton properties to take advantage of the points I've accumulated through the Hilton Honors program. However, when we were looking up the Grand Wailea in Maui, it was clearly evident that just three nights at that property would have bled me dry in terms of points. My wife was determined to get back to Hawaii, so she was looking up all the different Hilton properties in Hawaii. One evening in January she was looking at Hilton hotels on the Internet and she yelled out to me, "Hey, where's Kauai in conjunction to Maui?" This perked up my ears when she said, "Kauai" as I've been told by those who have gone there that Hawaii's Garden Island is - in many cases - even more beautiful than Maui. It turned out that a Hilton Garden Inn was getting ready to open on Kauai and they were taking reservations for stays after April 1. I booked four nights there using Hilton Honors points and suddenly our trip to Hawaii was on the front burner.
After 3 days on Maui getting to places that we hadn't discovered or been to on our previous visit (click here to see the overview of our return trip to Maui), we took a Hawaiian Airlines flight from Kahului to Lihue on Kauai. Now, Hawaiian Air is still one of the better airlines on the planet - they're always on time and the prices aren't too bad. The inter-island planes are clean, but rather spartan. The flights usually aren't more than 45 minutes - tops - so the seat backs don't recline, there's a small table on the back of the seats and the seat padding isn't quite conducive to comfort as you'd find on long distant Hawaiian Air flights to and from the mainland. About the time our butts were starting to feel like they were falling asleep, we swooped down to the Lihue airport.
If you remember our ordeal at the Kahului airport when we arrived on Maui, it took us about an hour to get our bags and almost an hour to get our rental car that turned out to be sort of nicked up and dirty. When we got to the baggage area of the Lihue airport, our bags were already waiting for us. We walked out of the terminal, across the access road and walked right up to the Hertz shuttle. We were the only people on the shuttle as we were whisked less than two minutes away to get our rental car. This one we had to pay for (but I did present coupons at the return of the rental car where we were able to get three of the four days for free) and it turned out that this one was a clean and newish Hyundai Elantra waiting for me in stall number 34 - the Hertz Gold member board telling me where it was when we got off the shuttle. Less than 20 minutes after we had gotten off the plane, we were in our rental car heading to our hotel.
The Hilton Garden Inn on Kauai is located north of Lihue and just south of Kapaa along the Kuhio Highway (see map). It is located next to the mouth of the Wailua River, one of the more well-known rivers in the State of Hawaii. It is one of the newest properties for Hilton - the only problem was that it wasn't a true "new" hotel. Hilton had taken over the former Aston Aloha Beach Hotel and closed the property for about six months for a complete overhaul of the premises. It turned out that it was still a work in progress in terms of the renovation. Our building was pretty much updated - the rooms were nice and we had a sort of a lanai (patio) that looked out on the pool and the ocean beyond. But to the dismay of my wife the hot tub was not functional and they were still working on walkways around the pool area. Another large building next to the main lobby was still under construction, as were some cottages on the back side of the property. There used to be a tennis court toward the front of the building, but that had been neglected. Parts of the property looked like it was in a third world country.
The lobby area was open and breezy with a nice bar/restaurant area toward the back side. There was a good sized meeting room off the bar restaurant with a nice patio that would have had a great babbling brook had there been any water in it. They were filling it with water on our third day there - Cindy and I were the first ones to throw pennies in the water pool. My wish on one of the pennies was to make it back to that particular spot sometime in the future to see our pennies in the water. But by that time, the pennies would be indistinguishable with the other pennies in the water, or someone will have waded in to snatch all the coins that people had thrown in.
They had a $22 daily amenity fee that is assessed to each room that included coolers and mats to take to the nearby beach, Internet service that was pretty bad, two daily 2 hour bike rentals, and two mai tais (or soft drinks) at the bar each day. These mai tai's were pretty small - a couple of gulps and you were done. Thankfully, they had adult-sized mai tai's that you could buy after you finished the free ones. The good thing about all of this is that the $22 daily amenity fee was waived for me - I'm now a Hilton Lifetime Diamond member because I've been staying at Hilton properties for so long. None of the amenities we used at the hotel added up to $22 daily.
The Hilton Garden Inn on Kauai was next to an ancient Hawaiian place of refuge known as the city of Hauola that overlooked the mouth of the Wailua River . This was a place where Hawaiians would seek refuge if they somehow made royalty upset centuries ago - such as walking in the shadows of royal family members, which was punishable by death. People could live within the brick walls of the compound and chill out while the royals got over whatever it was that pissed them off. (How's that for a 21st century explanation of the refuge?)
The area is sacred to Hawaiian people and there were signs all over the place to not go into the area surrounded by a series of boulders - the remnants of the ancient city of refuge. We were reading up on the place on one of the many information boards that lined the perimeter of the area. It turned out that after the refuge had been abandoned over a hundred years ago, the government came in and took many of the boulders to use for road projects in the 1920's. However, once historians figured out that the site used to be a human refuge, excavations were halted and the area was deemed to be a sacred site. Three days a week the hotel offers a traditional Hawaiian sunrise service near the site of Hauola. That's also included in the $22 daily fee the hotel charges some people, whether they participate in the service or not.
One thing that we noticed right from the start of our visit to Kauai were the number of wild chickens that were scurrying about. They were in the parking lot of the rental car place, they were in the lobby of the hotel, they were picking around on beaches and grassy areas, and they were just a part of the rural, laid-back life on Kauai. And the bastards were loud in the morning, too - we had some trees outside our hotel room where the chickens would roost at night. The roosters would began to crow around 4:45 a.m., easily waking us up. I suppose after awhile, one would get used to the early morning wake-up calls from the wild roosters.
We were talking with one of the bartenders at the hotel who grew up on Kauai. He said that as a little kid he and his friends would shoot the chickens with their B-B guns. We asked if they ate them and he said, "Yeah, but the meat is really tough. They're not eating chicken feed, they're scavengers. They'll eat anything." Even other chickens, he told us. It didn't matter where we went - there were chickens on Kauai.
The beach area near the hotel wasn't quite that nice - large sea-weathered tree trunks and branches lined the beach near the mouth of the Wailua River. Years of mountain floods on the east side of Kauai brought these trees and branches down the river and deposited them in the surf and were subsequently washed up on shore. There was a man-made swimming lagoon at the state park that was next to the mouth of the Wailua River, but walking on the beach around that lagoon was treacherous at best.
Just up the road less than a half mile from our hotel was an abandoned hotel property - the former Coco Palms - that was in the middle of what was an old coconut plantation. The Coco Palms was THE place to stay on Kauai from the 50's thru the 80's hosting movie stars, royalty and socialites. It was also the main filming location for the movie Blue Hawaii starring Elvis Presley. However, when Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai with full force in 1992 the Coco Palms was severely damaged. It has never reopened even with the property changing hands numerous times over the past 20 plus years. We were told that the Hyatt corporation had bought the property a couple years ago with the promise of reopening the hotel to its former glory. But there was still chain-link fencing and "No Trespassing" signs that lined the perimeter of the property.
We found some great places to go on Kauai - fantastic beaches, botanical gardens, quaint little villages, and ate at some very good restaurants while we were there. We also attempted to drink the island out of every last mai tai that they had. Look for a couple of upcoming posts on trips to the north shore of Kauai, as well as a trip to the south shore and Upcountry areas on the western end of the island. When we left Kauai, it was truly difficult to do so.