Where to Stay:
Grand Hyatt Kaua’i Resort & Spa
The St. Regis Princeville
Aston Waimea Plantation Cottages
Welcome to the Garden Isle
Kaua’i, the oldest and fourth largest island in the Hawaiian Islands, is nicknamed “The Garden Isle” for its lush, green landscape. With temperatures ranging from mid-70’s to mid-80’s all year, it’s always a good time to visit. Kaua’i has the most beach and hiking trails of all the islands, as well as the only navigable rivers. Thrill seekers can hike, kayak, zipline, paddleboard, horseback ride, take a helicopter tour of the mountains, and more, while those looking for relaxation can lounge on one of the island’s many beaches and pools, tour historic plantations and trails, or experience rejuvenating spa treatments. There’s something for everyone on Kaua’i.
Adventure in Poipu
We are in Poipu, driving through a fragrant tunnel of eucalyptus trees to the Grand Hyatt Kaua’i Resort & Spa on the sunny south side of the island. We are welcomed with purple orchid leis and an “Aloha.” Our greeter tells us that “aloha” has many meanings in Hawaiian, including “hello” and “goodbye,” but it is also used as a way of living, treating everyone with “aloha.” The open-air veranda lobby has no doors or windows, letting the warm ocean breeze waft through the resort, which has everything you could possibly need: a salt-water lagoon, a sprawling lazy river, the 45,000 square-foot ANARA Spa, state-of-the-art fitness facilities, and many restaurants and bars.
Our room is spacious and bright, with a private balcony that overlooks the ocean. We head to Cabana Beach for mai tais and delicious pupus, or “appetizers.” A guitarist is playing traditional Hawaiian music and we are given leis again, this time made of kukui nuts symbolizing enlightenment in Hawaiian culture. After dinner we are so relaxed that we barely make it back to our room. We leave the balcony doors open, the gentle crashing of the waves lulling us to sleep.
We wake up early to watch the sun rise before getting on a catamaran for a Napali Coast sail with Kaua’i Sea Tours. Napali literally means “the cliffs,” and some parts of the majestic rock formations are almost 1000 feet high. The Napali coast is home to Honopu Valley, a giant, natural arch in the cliffs. It looks familiar, and when we ask our guide, he tells us that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was filmed there! The ocean is full of sights as well. We spot three sea turtles, and both bottlenose and spinner dolphins come to play with us, riding the current underneath the catamaran.
That evening we dine at Tidepools, one of eight restaurants at the Grand Hyatt. We have fresh ahi and mahi mahi, which is straight from the sea and delicious, served with jasmine rice. For dessert we indulge in molten lava cake.
In the morning we’re craving adventure so we go on the Lele ‘Eono Zipline Trek on Kipu Ranch, a day trip organized by Outfitters Kauai. It has eight thrilling ziplines with expansive views of the pristine Kauai valleys. At one point we are more than 1,000 feet in the air, and we are brave enough to flip upside down in our harness. We are surrounded by mountains, including one locally known as the Sleeping Giant. It gets its name because it looks like a man lying on his back. He is considered a guardian of the island, and ancient lore says he threw fireballs to protect Kauai from invasion. In reality the myth probably refers to a volcanic eruption.
We finish our exciting morning at a private freshwater swimming hole shaded by tall trees. I jump into the 25-foot deep cool water from the zipline and also from the 18-foot high dive.
Exhilarated, we relax with a rum tasting at the Koloa Rum Co. on the Kilohana Plantation, which is open to the public for tastings. The company uses only locally grown cane sugar from the Koloa Plantation. Though they have many different varieties of rum, we try the dark, spice, and gold rums, all which are smooth.
Romance in Hanalei
After the rum tasting, we check into The St. Regis Princeville, located in Princeville on the north shore of the island. The hotel is built into a cliff overlooking Hanalei Bay. Elegant and expansive, it has many open air corridors, and the service is impeccable. From our room we can see Hanalei Bay and Makana Mountain, more colloquially known as Bali Ha’i from the musical “South Pacific.”
We spend all afternoon relaxing by the vast pool. There are couples everywhere finding their own nook of the pool to swim and play. We work up an appetite so we have a huge dinner at Bouchon’s, a seafood restaurant in Hanalei Town. Our favorite parts of the feast include the abundant Riesling, the fresh sushi, tender sirloin served with scallops, and poke, raw tuna that is a specialty on the island. We retire to our luxurious room, where there is a bubble bath waiting for us with chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne.
The next morning we take a trip to Princeville Ranch to go horseback riding. We are with two honeymooning couples. The ranch takes incredibly good care of their horses; each horse gets three months’ vacation a year! Our guide Scott is knowledgeable and helpful, especially since we’ve never been on a horse before. Scott teaches us the basics and soon our gentle horses, Sarge and Moki, are leading us across expansive meadows to a secluded 80-foot waterfall, where we hike and rock climb.
After saying goodbye to the ranch, we head back and visit the Halele’a Spa at The St. Regis, which has everything needed for deep relaxation, from an herbal-scented steam room to a sauna to a rainforest shower. There are separate facilities for men and women and a co-ed lounge with many large, private couches for relaxation with delicious and healthy snacks such as fresh fruit and almond biscotti to share. There’s even a room for couples to get massages together.
After our night of blissful relaxation, we are ready for some adventure again. Kaua’i is home to the only navigable rivers in Hawai’i, so we kayak down the scenic Wailua River with Kayak Kaua’i. Adventurous kayakers can paddle all the way to Wailua Falls, a secluded waterfall at the south end of the river. We return from our trip feeling proud of our hard work and, having worked together so well as a team, with a stronger relationship.
Historic Charm in Waimea
Our last stop of the trip is Waimea. We visit Jo Jo’s Shave Ice, a Hawaiian staple, and indulge in strawberry shave ice with mochi bits and vanilla ice cream. Then we head to the Aston Waimea Plantation Cottages, located on the western coast of Kaua’i. All the historical, rustic cottages are fully restored with comfortable accommodations, and are ideally located next to Waimea Canyon, known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
From our private cottage we have an unobstructed view of a huge banyan tree on the property. At night we decide to take a stroll on the black sand beach and watch the sunset. We can also see the island of Ni’ihau in the distance. The Robinson family-owned island is kapu or “forbidden,” and is home to less than 200 Hawaiians. Due to the restrictions on habitation and visitation, the island is kept pristine.
After a wonderful trip, it’s time to say ‘aloha’ to Kaua’i. We are sad to leave paradise, but looking forward to the day when we can say ‘aloha’ again!
By: Mercedes Pritchett
Photos: Wilfred Rosado