As Hurricane Sandy hurled her wrath at the east coast this week, I was haunted by a vision. One of pristine blue skies and warm ocean breezes, prehistoric mountain landscapes and quiet sandy beaches. And as the wind and rain pelted my windows, I wondered, did my life take a wrong turn somewhere? Why did I decide to live in Washington, D.C., instead of 4,800 miles westward on the island of Kauai?
In short, I realize that this was a tragic error in judgment. But perhaps I needed to experience suffocating summers and chilly, gray winters in order to fully appreciate a climate that hovers between 65 and 85 degrees year-round. So for now, I will content myself with periodic visits to this island paradise, celebrating Kauai’s stunning landscape and fresh, local cuisine when I’m there.
Although it’s easy to be tempted by the resorts on the sunny south shore, make your home base for the weekend in Princeville, a quiet north shore peninsula community just minutes away from Hanalei Bay and the breathtaking Nā Pali Coast. And if an incredible value and location are what you seek, look no further than the rental properties at Pu’u Poa, a small collection of condos scenically perched near one of the island’s most beautiful beaches.
So grab your bathing suit and pull up a lounge chair. If you find yourself on the north shore of Kauai, here are some unforgettable ways to spend three days.
Hideaway And Go Seek
Perhaps the greatest allure of staying at Pu’u Poa is its proximity to Hideaway Beach, a small sliver of sand tucked just around the bend from Hanalei Bay. The steep, unmaintained path near the tennis courts helps thin the crowd of morning beach-goers, unless you count the handful of ever-present wild chickens. So you’ll be free to snorkel through shallow coral reefs, enjoy the breathtaking view of Bali Hai (the mountain made famous in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific), and allow a quiet morning to drift away.
The Bubba Boy
When the first guided kayaking tour comes ashore on Hideaway Beach, take that as your cue to head into town for lunch. A short drive on the Kuhio Highway will bring you into downtown Hanalei, a peaceful community nestled at the base of the Hīhīmanu, Nāmolokama, and Māmalahoa mountains. Here among the green fields of taro, you’ll find the town’s favorite coffee, baked goods, and breakfast and lunchtime sandwiches at Hanalei Bread Company—and a delightful picnic spot on the historic Hanalei Pier (5-5161 Kuhio Highway).
I Wanna Get Back To My City By The Bay
After admiring Hanalei Bay from the sand, you’ll spend the early afternoon getting to know this horseshoe cove from the water. Opt for a guided kayaking excursion with Kayak Hanalei (5-5190 Kuhio Highway), or cast off on your own with a full-day rental from Kayak Kauai (5-5070 Kuhio Highway #A). Either way, you should use the next few hours to mingle with green sea turtles, soak in the view of the surrounding mountains, and snorkel on the surface of crystal clear water.
Kauai’s fishermen have no greater showcase for their work than the Kilauea Fish Market, the go-to joint for ready-to-grill seafood, mahi mahi tacos, and the illustrious, island-famous ahi wrap. A genius concoction of ahi tuna, brown rice, organic greens, fresh vegetables, and a pitch-perfect Asian-inspired dressing, the ahi wrap alone will keep you coming back to this roadside gem again and again. And again (4270 Kilauea Road, Kilauea).
Have You Seen Musical ‘Grand Hotel?’
Sunset on the north shore isn’t just a time of day, it’s a full-scale event. So if you know what’s good for you, you’ll secure prime seating for this spectacular nightly show. Join the small crowd that gathers near the Hanalei Pier, or make your way to the St. Regis Princeville Resort, the lap of luxury that awaits mere steps from the Pu’u Poa residences. To those in the market for a dinner splurge at Makana Terrace, I salute you. I’ll be enjoying a mai tai with the regular people at the Nalu Kai Grill and Bar (5520 Ka Haku Road).
Do You Find Chief Orman Attractive?
Like its younger sibling islands, Kauai is actually the peak of a massive volcano rising up from the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Nearly four million years ago, as the island was erupting continuously, a portion of Kauai collapsed, forming a depression that filled with lava flows. As time passed and rainwater from nearby Mount Wai’ale’ale continued to erode the depression, Waimea Canyon was born—a canyon that now measures ten miles wide and up to 3,000 feet deep.
Make a day out of your visit to this Grand Canyon of the Pacific, located a two-hour drive from Hanalei along the Coconut Coast and the sunny south shore. Hike the morning away, but don’t leave without getting your first glimpse of the legendary Nā Pali Coast at the Kalalau Lookout, the natural balcony that overlooks the 4,000-foot gorge of the Kalalau Valley (take Waimea Canyon Road through Kokee State Park, following signs to the Kalalau Lookout).
Fast There, Captain Cook! Where You Headin’?
When lunchtime rolls around, make a pit stop near Poipu at Puka Dog, the home of Kauai’s favorite Hawaiian-style hot dogs. Using bun-sized loaves of bread with a hole—or puka—pierced in one end, Puka Dog serves premium Polish-style sausages slathered in your choice of specialty relishes, sauces, and condiments (which certain long weekenders prefer on the side). And don’t worry, they have ketchup—but lilikoi mustard and mango relish might make the day a bit more interesting (2360 Kiahuna Plantation Drive, Koloa).
As you picnic on the south shore, take note that it was less than 20 miles away—in Waimea—where British explorer Captain James Cook landed in 1778. A statue of Cook, who introduced the world to the Hawaiian Islands (or the Sandwich Isles as he called them), stands there today.
Lights, Lights, Lights, Lights
Driving home along the Kuhio Highway, take two short detours before rolling back into Princeville. The first? The Kapa’a outpost of Bubba’s, the casual, good-humored beach shack that has been flipping Kauai’s best burgers for years (4-1421 Kuhio Highway). The second? The Kilauea Point Lighthouse, which was built in 1913 as a navigational aid for commercial shipping between Hawaii and Asia (3500 Kilauea Road). And if the double bubba didn’t tempt you, you now have a valid reason to return to the Kilauea Fish Market for dinner.
Nā Pali Wants A Cracker
Seven miles west of Hanalei, the Kuhio Highway comes to an abrupt end on the shores of Ke’e Beach, the gateway to the Nā Pali Coast. This 6,000-acre state park encompasses 16 miles of some of the most beautiful coastline in the world—and it’s entirely inaccessible to cars.
But hikers, fear not. The Kalalau Trail, spanning 11 miles between Ke’e Beach and the Kalalau Valley, offers adventurers several spectacular options for exploring. Day hikers can trek two miles in to Hanakapiai Beach and Falls, while hikers with permits should consider venturing four miles further to the secluded Hanakoa Valley and Falls. But overnighters will receive the greatest reward of all, as they set up camp at the end of the trail on the other-worldly Kalalau Beach (permits required).
Bali Hai May Call You, Any Night, Any Day
After a strenuous morning on the trail, unwind a few miles eastward at Tunnels Beach, a favorite among locals for some of the best snorkeling on the north shore. It’s a draw for both novices and veterans alike, as this two-mile stretch of sand offers commanding views of Bali Hai, a large reef near the shore, and a series of hidden caverns beneath the waves.
Sundown, You Better Take Care
Report to Hanalei Bay by mid-afternoon, where Captain Sundown’s Nā Pali Coast Sunset Charter will be waiting for you and a small group of lucky travelers. Some experienced adventurers opt to kayak this 16-mile journey, but Captain Sundown’s catamaran tour is a less strenuous—and equally thrilling—way to view the knife-edge cliffs of the Nā Pali Coast. For the next three hours, you’ll ride coastal swells, admire a prehistoric landscape, and bring this long weekend to a close by sailing into the sunset.
A Few Notes
Sure, Kauai’s north shore is beautiful year-round, so there’s never a “bad” time to visit. But to take full advantage of boating and hiking opportunities, time your visit for late spring, summer, or early fall, as winter’s rain and high surf can make the Nā Pali Coast less accessible.
TITLE: The Nā Pali Coast | FRIDAY: Bali Hai, from Pu’u Poa; the parking lot of Pu’u Poa; Hideaway Beach; the clear water of Hideaway Beach; Hanalei Bay; a paddle surfer on Hanalei Bay | SATURDAY: Waimea Canyon; Waimea Canyon | SUNDAY: The beginning of the Kalalau Trail; the Nā Pali Coast, from Captain Sundown’s charter; the Nā Pali Coast; the mouth of the Kalalau Valley.