Highlights that can’t be bought – Kauai, Hawaii

It never fails.  We save up for a vacation that requires a flight and, on the return, we ask the kids what they liked best.  All three, in unison – “the movies on the plane.”  Guys, we went to Kauai! This is Hawaii’s garden island, the island with the most miles of beach.  This is the island where the emerald cliffs pour into the sea, where movies such as Jurassic Park were filmed.  And you liked watching movies on the plane the best?!  (And one of our kids even watched a movie they had seen, like, 30 times before.  Still the highlight).  Next time we’ll just fly to Dubuque.  

I pressed them further.  Well, when we were actually in Hawaii, not on the plane, what did you like? 

The Chickens

Shimmering plumage struts across streets and into restaurants.  Fiesty birds meander on the sand, weaving through sunbathers.  Wherever you find yourself on Kauai, you will likely find gorgeous, wild, pesty chickens.  They reminded me of the baboons in Livingstone, Zambia, which would enter restaurants to steal food off your plate or hop through an open car door to rummage for snacks.  As much as they are a nuisance, chasing chickens, like chasing pigeons in a European piazza, became a daily, much-anticipated past time.  Waiting for food at a restaurant?  Chase the chickens.  Waiting in line at a public bathroom?  Chase the chickens.  And when a hen with a day-old brood of chicks comes by, watching the critters has a cute factor we’re not accustomed to (we don’t live on a farm).  It was all I could do to keep the kids from picking them up, continually reminding them that these chickens are wild, filthy, disease-ridden birds, just like the pigeons in Lyon that swoop down to eat vomit (sorry, it’s true, and beared repeating to make my point).

The Beaches

As I mentioned, Kauai has the most miles of beach of all the Hawaiian Islands.  One afternoon, while Peanut (age 6) was whining in the back seat of the car, I took a great risk.  I tossed the guidebook in the back seat. “Here, look at the pictures of the beaches and find one you like and we can go to it.”  This became quite the occupation as we drove along Kauai’s main ‘highway’ at 45 miles per hour (the posted speed limit).  She, along with her sister Lil’ P (age 8), settled on a photo of the Queen’s Pond at Polihale State Beach.  At over 15 miles long, Polihale is the longest stretch of beach in Hawaii.  The photo that lured the girls to the beach showed a calm enclave of water protected by a semi-circular reef.  In the distance, tall sand dunes were covered in tufts of grass.  Fortunately, this beach was conveniently located near our lodging. 

Polihale is only accessed from an old agricultural-use dirt road.  We turned off the pavement and began bumping along at a snail’s pace in our dented, rented, mini-SUV.  The children were delighted!  This reminds me of the road in front of our house in [rural] Romania!  This is like a road we took on safari in Tanzania!  Memories flooded back – for me, memories of my childhood in Africa and more recent trips to the region (where, I must say, many of the roads have improved); for the children and my husband, more recent memories of rutted byways.  The car was all giggles as we dipped and turned, bumped and dodged over tracks and culverts.  Oh bliss.

Then we reached the beach.  The warm water, clean sand and distant vistas, like all the beaches in Hawaii, didn’t disappoint.  The kids scuttled down dunes, explored an ancient beached army tank, crashed with the waves and raced the creeping water within eye-shot of the Napali coast.

Poipu, Salt Pond, Kalapaki, we enjoyed them all.  But their favorite was the one they picked.

The Coffee

Kauai is home to the largest coffee plantation in the United States.  The Big Island and Molokai also have coffee plantations, but they are not as expansive as Kauai’s coffee-laden, verdant hills.  The Kauai Coffee Company is open to the public with a free walking tour of the facility, which highlights the coffee process from seed to cup.  The gift shop had the nicest staff along with supplying tasteful gifts and artisanal coffee not available for export – it’s only sold in their shop.  Of course, these are minor details.  The important thing to note is there is unlimited, free coffee tasting!  Tables on the veranda hold fresh brew organized by roast (dark, medium, light).  Then there was the one table off to the side where the kids picked up their habit.  We allowed them to sample the decaf.

Coconut caramel, vanilla macadamia, plain.  They sampled at will, interspersing refills with seats on the front bench of the Kauai Coffee Plantation promotional video.  Understanding they were partaking of a ritual usually reserved for adults, they sat up straight and sipped delicately, their level of maturity rising to the occasion.

The following Saturday, back home on the mainland, Lil’ P announced bright and early, “I’m ready for my morning decaf!”  It has now become a thing.

The Hiking

With me in the final stages of a pregnancy and the kids still quite young, I use the term ‘hiking’ loosely.  We didn’t strap on packs and delve down canyons into the jungly wilderness, as much as we would have liked to.  We didn’t even carry water bottles when we left the car.  We did, however, allow ourselves to explore trailheads along the magnificent Waimea Canyon.  Clouds can accumulate quickly, not totally unexpected when one is mere miles from one of wettest places on earth.  Trails can be slick with fertile slime.  Nevertheless, is was a hiking paradise for kids, and an anxiety attack for parents who try to keep their progeny from getting too close to the extreme drop-offs.  All the children survived their hiking adventure, with mud-covered legs and huge grins to prove it.  When they’re older, we’d love to return and do some ‘real’ hiking.  For now, we’ll just appreciate that no one fell off a cliff into the gorge.  As my four-year-old son noted today as I uploaded photos, “that hike was my favorite part of Hawaii.”  Perhaps the experiential memories will be favored over the airplane movies as time goes by.  Maybe.



10 responses to “Highlights that can’t be bought – Kauai, Hawaii”

  1. Aw, sweet, momma/daughter coffee time. When we came back Lil’ P would say “Where’s my morning decaf?” as if it was owed to her now. She’s over it, fortunately:-)

  2. How fun! Thanks for the memories. Noelle picked Spouting Horn, if I recall, when she was 8. Hard to pick a favorite island, but we’ve loved Kauai. Can recommend a very special masseuse, with a house on stilts on the beach, when you go back. We really enjoyed visiting churches in Hawaii, most of them meeting in schools. Wonderful gospel folk!

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