Our trip to Kaua’i, better known as the Garden Isle, did not start auspiciously: Hawaiian Airlines was having a bad day.
When we arrived at Honolulu Airport, over 200 passengers were slowly snaking their way toward the one harried check-in agent manning the counter. The airline had very few people available to answer questions, so it was some time before we realized that we – along with many other passengers – were actually in the wrong line. The one benefit of Hawaiian airline’s bad day was that we did not have to pay the $10 surcharge for each of our checked bags.
Nevertheless we finally, after a half-hour flight, taxied into Kaua’i main airport at Lihu’e. Kaua’i, the oldest of the eight main Hawaii Islands, is the third largest (552.3 sq. mi or 1,430.5 sq km), after the big island of Hawai’I and O’ahu. (By the way, Kaua’i is actually pronounced two ways: Kuh why, which in how mainlanders pronounce it, and Ke why ee, which is how the Hawaiians pronounce it.
When we picked up our rental car, the two lovely ladies behind the counter asked where we had come from and, when told Waikiki, assured us that if partying was what we were after, Kaua’i was not the place to be. Perfect, we thought.
As we drove north along the Kuhio Highway to our resort in Princeville while admiring the scenic beaches and picturesque landscape, we were astonished to see a large number of free-ranging chickens roaming every corner and beach on the island, as well as along the two-lane highway itself. When we stopped for groceries at a local Foodland (ask them about their customer card – it’s free and food is expensive on Kaua’i) we questioned a local about them. He told us that these formerly-domesticated birds had escaped during a hurricane in the early ’90s and had been roaming free, and propagating, ever since. (However, a quick check upon our return revealed that these “wild” fowl have been roaming the island much longer.) He also told us that the roosters tend to crow around the clock, not only when the sun comes up.
The drive between Lihu’e and Princeville takes you through scattered small towns and past a large number of roadside shops, interrupted by stretches of foliage straight out of Jurassic Park. In fact, parts of the film were actually filmed on the island. The inland view from the highway consisted of lush and undisturbed majestic mountains veiled by clouds of vog (which we found out was a combination of volcano and fog and is a quite popular term on local TV weather forecasts.)
Kaua’i seems to be inhabited primarily by aging hippies, some of whom shared stories with us of having arrived in the ’70s to either find paradise and waves or to escape their “strange” families back home. Some left us wondering just how strange their families could be! One young woman who worked at the St. Regis resort in Princeville told me that when she first arrived she slept on the beach for over four months, a common enough occurrence we soon learned. She also went on to explain that it was not uncommon for Kaua’i islanders to hold more than one job due to the high cost of living.
The spirit of Aloha is alive and well on Kaua’i. Everyone is very friendly – I’ve never seen so many smiles and such a laid-back attitude – and has a story to tell, which they are very willing to share. Aloha, by the way, means hello, goodbye, love and literally “sharing God’s breath”: When native Hawaiians greet each other they press their foreheads together and hold each other’s’ shoulders to literally share the breath of God.
We stayed at The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas, perched upon a cliff overlooking the Pacific. It all the luxury amenities any four-star guest could desire.
Its restaurant, Nanea, provided an authentic Hawaiian buffet one evening which gave us a chance to sample a few specialties: Ahipoke, salmon lomi-lomiand poi (a rather purple flavourless gruel). Without a doubt the Banana Bread Pudding and the pig and cabbage were standouts. Grilled chicken teriyaki and beef provided lovely grilled alternatives to the superb fish appetizers. Dessert was a luscious, moist coconut cake, fresh fruit, Haupia (stiff coconut pudding) and pineapple upside down cake. All in all, the buffet was a satisfying cross-section of Hawaiian favourites.
But finding great and authentic food elsewhere on Kaua’i proved to be an onerous and disappointing endeavour. Although we did venture to several of the “highly recommended” hotspots, we were not impressed. The lack of innovative flavour in the restaurants was made up for by the abundant selection of incredible fruits on the islands, in particular the pineapple.
One last note: If you love to snack then you will love the abundance of Macadamia nuts which come in every conceivable style: milk chocolate covered, dark chocolate covered, toffee coated or, for the savoury palate, garlic and onion. Contrary to their marketing, however, Macadamias are NOT native to Hawaii. These buttery gems made their way to the isles in 1910 from Australia, New Caledonia and Indonesia.
If you are looking for a relaxing way to spend a week or 10 days, you can’t do better than Kaua’i. We came away refreshed, tanned, with a firm desire to go back. In fact, we had a hard time getting back on the plane.
| Cynthia MacDonald