Story and Photos by Krisha Chachra
Of all the Hawaiian Islands, Kaua’i is the oldest. It is said that with age comes a timeless beauty that is consistent throughout seasons and never withers on this island. Convincingly, it is the most striking landscape – covered in living blankets of lush, green tropical forests, pastures and monstrous mountains. It has everything an island enthusiast is looking for: towering coastlines, deep red canyons, surfable waters, alluring sea caves, and gorgeous sunsets. Although Kaua’i is an outdoorsman’s dream – complete with the most documented list of hiking and biking trails, natural waterfalls and beaches – 80 percent of its terrain is highly inaccessible by foot or by car.
That is why when you visit Kaua’I, you must book a helicopter ride. The fee may be steep, but it is worth every penny. My family and I recently visited the island on vacation. It was the first time on the island for everyone else, and even though I had puddle jumped to Kaua’i when living on O’ahu many years ago, I had never seen the Garden Island from the sky. My brother chose Island Helicopters because it was the only company with a license to land at the famous Manawaiopuna or “Jurassic Park” waterfall. For fans of “Jurassic Park,” which was filmed on Kaua’i, think of that 400-foot waterfall where a helicopter lowers itself in front of the falling water in the beginning of the movie. Landing at the falls costs extra and adds 20 minutes to the trip, but it is an exclusive and exciting experience for travelers who go with Island Helicopters. If you want to save the cash for other activities, Island Helicopters offers a Circle Island Tour which flies over Manawaiopuna Falls without landing and includes all the thrills of exploring by sky.
In the helicopter, we danced over the peaks of the N? Pali coast, were lowered into the “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific” or Waimea Canyon (Waimea means “red water” in Hawaiian), swallowed by the crater of an inactive volcano, hovered in parallel with natural waterfalls and spotted mountain goats playing on steep cliffs. The helicopter tour ended with a view of Wailua Falls, the scene where the opening credits of the television show “Fantasy Island” was filmed.
A sunset cruise of the N? Pali Coast is a must as well. We chose Captain Andy’s Southern Star for their clean, updated catamaran, good food, free-flowing drinks and fabulous service. On the 4-hour cruise, we spotted whales jumping for joy, breaching off the coastline as if they were happy to see us. Spinner dolphins also joined the show and sailed out of the water in 360 degree turns. But the most spectacular sights are the famous emerald-colored, jagged mountains darting in and out of the ocean, forming an accordion-like profile against the pink and red sky. The N? Pali coast is the most photographed landscape in Kaua’I, and your camera and phone are sure to run out of juice when clicking away at all the angles and images this 15-mile natural wonder has to offer.
You can’t come to the islands and not save some time to relax. The winter brings tricky trade winds that make the surf in the North too dangerous to swim. Instead, check out the hipster town of Hanalei (think Puff the Magic Dragon) or the posh golf course in Princeville. Opt to sunbath down South at Poipu Beach, and when you’re fried, take a break from the sun and stroll through the cutesy town of Hanapepe, the art capital of Kaua’i. The biggest pool in all the Hawaiian Islands is boasted by the Kaua’i Marriott Beach Resort in Lihue – completely worth booking for at least one day of your stay so you can swim in the magnificent water and paddleboard on the calm ocean.
One simply cannot attain true nirvana on the island without an authentic lomi lomi massage from a local. I picked Mana Massage which gladly booked us for an outdoor massage style of our choice. Manima, the head masseuse, will book the other local therapist so that up to six people can get treatments at the same time. The setting, which is exclusively yours when you book, will take your breath away. High atop the sacred Wailua Valley, you can feel the trade winds, listen to the birds sing and gaze over the river and waterfall. Under the tent where your treatment takes place, if you’re lucky, a slight tropical rain will pass over during your massage carrying the natural sounds and fragrant smells of the island which lulls you into a true Zen experience.
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Krisha Chachra is Vice Mayor of the Town of Blacksburg and a regular columnist and author who has traveled to over 40 countries in 6 continents and reported and hosted shows for public radio and television. Her columns are taken from her journals and personal insights from traveling nationally and internationally throughout her life. Her book about returning to Blacksburg, Homecoming Journals, may be found online or in local bookstores. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.♦ End