Tunnels Beach, Kauai
Incredible tropical beaches, playing “ball” with sand crabs, hogs and frogs while dining at a vegan restaurant, mangoes falling from the sky, canyons, mountains, rainforests, hiking volcanoes, river rock jumping and leaping over waterfalls in the most remote islands in the world :-).
Photo’s are here or you can just click on the photograph above.
11 of the world’s 13 climates in one small island chain – packing for every eventuality was going to be challenging ;-).
Our travels through the Hawaiian islands began on the island of Hawai’i – the Big Island. Not quite what we were expecting of a Hawaiian island although neither of us could quite put our fingers on why.
We felt right at home in our Waikoloa Beach apartment when a kitten strolled past the patio and stopped to say hello as we were sipping tea watching the sunrise (jet lag! ;-) ) over the golf course on our first morning. Fifteen seconds later it’s twin appeared and then mommy appeared from the undergrowth and wandered up for a stroke and a chat. Mommy looked distinctly more bedraggled than her kittens so I whipped down to the local store to get a couple of cans of food in case she was hungry….
By the time I got back the “family” had expanded to 4 with appetites so voracious I had to whip back to the store again… ;-)
After breakfast (not ours, as I hadn’t had time to deal with that yet ;-) ), mommy cuddled up to one of the cushions on my patio chair and the kittens curled up under Geoff’s chair and dozed off.
On our exploratory travels that day we grabbed a few more cans and a box of dry food in case they were back the following morning…
Needless to say, when we returned, mommy hadn’t moved at all after her gargantuan breakfast and she had clearly decided that she was staying for dinner (she could sense a kitty sucker a mile away, obviously). The moment we flipped the lid on the can the kittens also miraculously reappeared with a friend. We asked in reception who they belonged to as when we looked more closely around the pristine resort landscaping there were a number of kitties running loose, catching geckos on the lava rocks. We were told that they had wandered from the cat colony on the beach a mile or so away and while guests continued to feed them contrary to all the rules ( the most heinous of which was letting them enter the apartment… oops ;-) ! ) they weren’t inclined to leave the luxury of the resort…
So, we inadvertently adopted a family of 4 with a daily rotating friend for 8 days … breakfast and dinner…and occasionally if I were lucky enough I was able to sit on the patio chair too enjoying the breeze if mommy could be bothered to move her furry butt. We can only hope the next guests after we left were as kitty silly as we are or they might have had to head back to the cat colony for dinner where the felines were considerably more lazy and similarly well-fed… I did mention in passing to Geoff that maybe we could slip the family into the hand luggage but he didn’t seem inclined… rotter… :-(.
Anyway – Hawai’i – the Big Island – it is the largest island of the chain whose landscape is dominated by 2 enormous dramatic volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Measured from the sea floor base to the highest peak, Mauna Kea is the highest mountain in the world. It also snows up there in winter.. whilst a few miles away the coast basks in sunshine…
The island also has one of the world’s most famous volcanoes – Kilauea – which has been erupting constantly since 1983. No helicopter flights to witness the legendary luminous red lava flow into the ocean for us, however! The closest we got was to view the eruption through a long-distance telescope due to poisonous gases blowing in an inconvenient direction… Still, once we’d seen the quite incredible sight of the earth roiling, boiling and churning like the ocean that was probably as close as we needed to get ;-).
We took a hike across the Kilauea caldera – the dormant part ;-). Even so – the crater was still distinctly warm under foot in places, with steaming fissures in the rock which you could stick your hand into if you were a really stupid tourist… With all of that underground activity around us I didn’t want to spend too much time loitering for a photo shoot ;-).
The Big Island is a land of vast diversity – from wind-blown, green, rolling hills in North Kohala with it’s views down to the ultramarine sea rimmed with calm turquoise waters lapping the sandy or rocky shores; to the stark, dry, rugged, black lava and boulder strewn rocky landscapes around the bases of the volcanoes in the center of the island where mongooses and bearded mountain goats roam wild; to verdant, rainforest-covered headlands on the wet northern and eastern sides of the island where wild boar roam the forests and roosters and hens with their families of chicks peck through the undergrowth.
As to the beaches, they covered the whole gamut from wild, black sand volcanic beaches with huge crashing waves to calmer yellow sand coves with warm lapping water where you could watch large green turtles haul themselves up on the sand to rest.
And just to emphasize the difference in climates from one side of the island to the other – it was nothing to register 90F on the car thermometer on the dry sunny, western side of the island, drive through the misty, cloudy hills of Waimea and plunge into 56F en route to the east coast – all in the space of 40 minutes.
On the west coast, where we were based, were the greatest concentration of the most beautiful sandy beaches on the island (which was convenient :-) ). Even from the roads you could see the route of swaths of historic lava flows from the volcano, crossing the farmland down to the beaches. It was a breathtaking sight to see the sun setting on the volcanoes behind us in the centre of the island, and on the colorful farmland at their feet, from the comfort of your beach towel with your toes dipped in the warm, transparent, turquoise waters of the Kekahakai coastline :-).
Our favorite and most remote find was also the most pure white sand beach which we discovered on any of the 4 islands. Fabulous Makalawena Beach was almost always deserted – something to do, no doubt, with a 15 minute off-road crater-filled drive followed by a hot 30 minute hike across steamy (not literally ;-) ) black volcanic rock to reach it’s shores. Clad in bikini, sunhat and hiking boots I wondered why I had thought that the spangly bejeweled beach resort sandals and my collection of embroidered indian silk sarongs would be useful items to pack in my limited Geoff-imposed hand luggage allowance for 3 1/2 weeks ;-).
Whilst Geoff had some work to catch up on (courtesy of our 4 months in South East Asia interfering slightly with our pre-planned summer vacation), I drove through the island checking out the hot-spots for Geoff’s subsequent guided tours. Highlights were the northern wilderness areas such as Pololu Valley with it’s forest trail down to crashing waves on a wild, black sand beach which was breathtaking at sunset; Laupahoehoe Point State Beach; and a tough almost vertical 1 mile hike down to Waipi’o Valley where only local Hawaiians are allowed to enter by car and the secluded valley is one of the wettest and most remote areas on the islands.
The coastal routes on the east coast to the south were punctuated with beautiful sparkling blue coves dotted along winding, tree lined roads with waterfalls and streams at every turn. On the hiking trails bright with hibiscus, wild ginger, gardenia and plumeria flowers, ripe orange mangoes literally fell from the sky onto our heads. The north and south of the island had quaint bougainvillea draped villages (Hawi, Kapa’au and Holualoa were favorites) so I was never far from an emergency latte if needed ;-). On my lone travels I even managed to squeeze in a cultural side-trip to the sacred historical coastal site – Pu’uhonua-O-Honaunau, also known as the City of Refuge. Here, miscreants would be safe from penalty if they made the dangerous journey and arrived safely – benefiting from absolution by a priest for their transgressions – thereafter they could return safely to their villages without fear of death.
The Big Island has some beautiful and spectacular sights but we were still looking for the picture-postcard, quintessential Hawaiian beach…so….onwards to Maui :-).
Wow….Maui certainly ticked all of the boxes when it came to cute country villages, great cafes serving amazing organic, island-grown food, fabulous dramatic coastal drives, cloud covered rainforest mountains, waterfalls, and a handful of pretty beaches where you might get lucky and swim with a turtle.
It is known as the Valley Isle. I, on the other hand, would probably call it the Windy Isle though that may not be so good for marketing purposes ;-). It’s landscape reminded us of a combination of New Zealand, England, the Caribbean and California rolled into one. Obviously, we were going to be quite happy there for a week :-).
Our first afternoon seemed a little blustery (to put it mildly) so it was spent trying to find a beach where we could shelter from the clouds of sand which were billowing down the coast on the south of the island. I thought I had struck lucky with my careful analysis of wind direction and the orientation of the various contenders on my list of must-do beaches so we settled onto the sand at Makena Beach to absorb some rays. Unfortunately, I was disturbed from my afternoon reveries by a very unhappy husband covered in one giant sandblast from head to foot in thick, dark, yellow sand. Whilst he frantically tried to remove a bucketful of sand from his ears, I was tasked with picking sand from his hair like an orangutan grooming it’s offspring. Not quite the anticipated romantic Hawaiian beach vacation quite yet! ;-). Luckily, I survived the worst of the onslaught by the human shield lying next to me but even I was still locating inappropriately lodged particles of sand from various orifices for several days afterwards.
Luckily, the main purpose of our trip to Maui – to hike the Haleakala volcano and to drive the “Road to Hana” – were both infinitely more spectacular than most of the beaches turned out to be in the wind ;-).
Having said that we did find one which we loved – Oneloa Bay on the north shore which was still a little windy but far more beautiful than the others (albeit that it backed onto a golf course community – so it wasn’t winning in the “wild” category). We also saw our first (and last) surfing dog at Oneloa which I am sure was worth the drive to the other side of the island from Paia alone :-).
Clearly, although it has some unbelievably wild and beautiful spots, Maui was still not quite the island of our beach dreams (some might say we are getting very fussy in our old age, of course ;-) ). Many of the well-known ones (Napili Bay, Kapalua and so on) would have been pretty if it weren’t for the 500 beach chairs and kids toys strewn everywhere.
However, to give it it’s due, it was most definitely the Hawaii of our dreams when it came to spectacular coastal drives through lush waterfall fed rainforest and mountains (the Road to Hana and the even hairier single lane cliff edge road to Kahakuloa and beyond); and to crashing waves and cerulean seas; to blowholes and dramatic headlands; and, when it came to volcano hiking.
So we concentrated our efforts on the countryside instead – exploring the highland area villages inland from Paia, and hiking the Haleakala Volcano National Park, the Ohe’o Gulch Valley and the Iao Valley State Park.
By the time we had hiked down 1000 feet, across the Haleakala crater in the Volcano National Park and back up out of it again at an altitude of 10,000 feet we were probably fit to expire and spend the rest of the week on a beach, albeit a sand blasted one. It was incredible (visually and physically ;-) ) to hike down the scree and shifting sands to the dark red cinder cones, through the surreal, stark moonscapes passing weird and wonderful vegetation. We picnicked on a lava rock (is there any other kind on these islands?) watching the afternoon clouds roll in around the mountains below us…it was quite magical .. as if we were on top of the world :-).
The other 2 hikes we did were barely less physically exhausting.
The first was a hot and humid hike into the valley from the starting point of the Ohe’o Gulch Falls which cascaded into the ocean. The aroma of fermented mangoes which had fallen from the trees onto the flower filled trail was enough to knock us off our feet before the hike even started ;-). Still, we pressed on, passing through fern valleys, pristine wilderness and tall bamboo forests rustling in the wind until we reached beautiful Waimoku Falls.
But the best hike of all on Maui was trespassing at Iao Valley State Park ;-).
I had read about the great hikes around the Iao Valley State Park – with it’s iconic image – the Needle – but I hadn’t got around to picking up a map. We asked at the pay booth for a hiking map and the elderly local selling tickets looked bemused and told us there were no hiking trails and, consequently, there was no map….Umm…great…
On further cross-examination, Geoff managed to elicit that there were actually trails which some brave locals used but they weren’t legitimate as they were all sectioned off behind “Do Not Enter” signs…
Not to be deterred, Geoff took matters into this own exploratory hands when the park ranger had his back turned, leapt over a fence barring our way and scuttled up a slippery slope. Not entirely convinced that we wouldn’t be sacrificed at an altar somewhere deep in the valley for trespassing on sacred land, never to be found again, I was a little bit more cautious until we met a young couple in flip-flops descending the mountain trail covered from head to foot in thick slimy mud. They were the only other people we met for the whole hike to the viewpoint – 2 miles uphill. They mentioned that it was muddy in parts ;-). That turned out to be an understatement. 2 miles uphill doesn’t sound like much but when every step uphill is accompanied with 1/2 a step slipping down the mud slick hillside and the rest of the more horizontally oriented hike we were jumping over streams and traversing wide muddy swamps on fallen logs (at the same time as trying to avoid being caught up and asphyxiated by strangler fig roots) it was actually quite a time consuming and hot and sweaty feat.
Obviously, we had no excuses at any juncture to turn back as we couldn’t be outdone by the two 20 something hikers who had managed the whole route in flip-flops ;-). The view was spectacular… miles of wilderness and mountains with no sound other than the birds in the trees around us :-).
Maui is also justifiably famed for it’s rustic local fruit stands. We stopped at one far out into the boonies on the road back from Hana. I suspect our vendor – stoned to the high heavens – foraged for wild fruit in the forest to sell (and why not?!). He was so excited that somebody had stopped to buy his produce that he insisted that we try every variety of fruit on his stand. Sounds great – but this wasn’t good for my cleanliness phobia. If he had washed his hands anytime in the last 10 years I would be stunned. With these very same bacteria and grime encrusted fingers he cut up chunks of fruit with a rusty old knife (similarly filth encrusted) and handed us the most delicious pieces of mango, papaya and banana we had ever eaten.
(As an aside – even better, of course, neither of us regretted our acceptance of his generous offerings by spending the next week glued to the toilet in our luxurious beach house bathroom on the north shore in Paia … thank goodness ;-) ).
We decided to take a risk on a coconut too as we were thirsty and fancied some coconut water (having already purchased a pile of fruit we would struggle to get through). He hacked the top off and we asked if he had a straw. No – ahh – that might be awkward then…A moment later he grabbed a piece of hollow stem from some unknown forest dwelling plant lying at the side of the fruit stand, cut out a 9” section and said we could improvise with that. Smiling at his impressive innovation – it was perfectly clean he said – running his fingers up and down it with enthusiasm before sticking it into the top of our coconut and handing it over to me. Nothing if not imaginative… As a parting gift he handed me a sprig of rosemary which he had just picked from the roadside. It was for our dashboard to make the car smell nice. Someone less cynical perhaps may not have thought that it would also be ideal to mask the heady smell of cannabis which wafted in the air around him ;-). Nice of him to share the tip though ;-) ;-).
Somewhere along the road to Hana (or maybe dangling over a precipice on the mountain road from Kahakuloa in some of the most drop-dead gorgeous rainforest landscape in the world) we mooted that surely this is what life is really supposed to be… It can’t all be corporate America, art shows and Starbucks coffee….surely…
How does someone drop so far out of the “real“ world that they survive on the spoils of their foraging for wild organic fruit to sell to the occasional passing tourist? And by that I guess I really mean …. how can WE do it?!! ;-).
Would we go stir crazy on a tiny island in the North Pacific where GMO’s are banned, the evil Monsanto is vilified and local food is grown organically and sustainably… and everyone seems so happy because they live in paradise?
Umm… I don’t think so… :-). We couldn’t go the whole hog, give up washing and walk the streets barefoot but so much of the ethos of life there speaks to us….
We loved Maui – for it’s fantastic scenery, for the irresistibly quaint (organically and hippie dominated) town of Paia; for Grandma’s Coffee House (and her depressingly delicious selection of cakes :-( ;-) ) in Kula; for the diversity of hiking terrains from volcano to rain forest; for our nightly coastal sunset run along the beach; for the general ethos of life; and for the peace and tranquility of the highland villages …
But one or two beautiful wind blown beaches wasn’t quite enough to make this our absolute perfect Hawaiian Island…
So… back to the open air hopper flight airport and 40 minutes later we were touching down on the island which I hoped would have it all… Kaua’i – known as the Garden Isle (or Gardner’s Paradise ;-) ).
Certainly on initial impression, it seemed that we had found the most laid-back, chilled out place in the US.
The people were friendly, we found a couple of vegetarian organic cafes (our favorite had a family of wild hogs roaming quite safely in the fields behind it ;-) and giant frogs hopped about our feet in the garden at night catching bugs)…and a great coffee shop…all was looking good…
So, having settled into the hotel in Kapa’a on the central eastern coast, we hit the road for a week in search of what we really wanted Hawaii to be.
And we had, at last, finally found it :-).
We also found some of the toughest hiking we have ever done – the Koke’e State Park, parts of the Kalalau Valley Rim Trail, Waimea Canyon (the Grand Canyon of the Pacific) – around the rim, clambering over rocks in the dark red dust and giant roots to reach our spectacular lunch stop – the Wai’poo Falls which dropped off 800 feet below us and our sandwiches :-).
Whilst Waimea Canyon is dry and desert like (aside from a few waterfalls), the dramatic pinnacles and steep valleys of the Napali Coast next to it is covered in rain forest…and in the interior of the island (to give you an idea of exactly how damply exotic Kaua’i’s rain forests can be), Mount Wai’ale’ale is the wettest place on earth, receiving on average 450″ (11.43 meters) of rain annually.
Days hiking were often ended with a sunset stroll on the beach…Ke’e or Tunnels…
Days without mountain or canyon hiking were usually frittered with a day on the sand – some obscure beach located down a dirt track perhaps…where Geoff would body-surf or stare wistfully out to sea whilst playing “ball” with sand crabs…rolling seeds (fallen from the trees swaying overhead) towards the crabs on the sand and watching them scuttle off sideways after them … I guess he missed playing with the cats ;-).
The true beach of our Hawaiian dreams, however, was infinitely more accessible.
Tunnels Beach at Haena State Park… at the far end of the North Shore close to where the road runs out and the unbelievably spectacular Napali Coast wilderness begins.
This is the land of “South Pacific”, “Jurassic Park”, “King Kong” and countless other movies. It is everything we could possibly have imagined :-).
….except for the lethal waves, riptides, deadly undertow and a myriad of other watery threats which even the locals don’t seem able to avoid. A constant reminder of possible mishaps are the makeshift shrines dotted along the coastal road – memorials to teenagers swept out whilst chasing their last big wave.
However, I won’t hear a word against Tunnels, of course, because it is my dream beach ;-). It was also calm, peaceful and pristine whenever we laid our towels under the shade of it’s ironwood trees and bobbed about in it’s crystal clear waters staring gooey eyed at the Bali Hai headlands and the towering rainforest covered mountain backdrop :-).
It shouldn’t be a great surprise that anywhere with a coastline as dramatic, wild, rugged, untouched and unspoiled as the Napali Coast might have some large, treacherous and unpredictable waves. We got lucky with most beaches on Kaua’i but whilst others looked gorgeous it was easy to see how their waters might rip you from your perch on a rock or knock you clean off your feet and drag you out into the Pacific…
And so on to the Napali Coast – probably the most stunning coastline in the world. You can take a scenic flight over it, or cruise around it, but the only way to see it up close and personal is to hike in…. so that is what we did…
The first stop was Hanakapi’ai Beach – a small cove with crashing waves and hikers crashed out on the rocks… and most importantly, a warning sign advising visitors to say away from the shoreline. It showed a tally of 88 deaths in that one tiny cove alone… this didn’t, however, seem to stop the family with 3 young kids playing in the surf… Either they were very stupid or actually trying to lose one … unbelievable :-(.
The other hikers began to dwindle in number after the beach stop as we proceeded onwards to the Hanakapi’ai Falls. In total only an 8 mile round trip in picture perfect 78F weather….but it turned out to be one of the most exhilarating and tiring hikes of our trip. We straddled waterfalls running down the mountainside, leapt across streams, jumped from one huge precarious rock to another and negotiated slick boulders and fallen logs over rushing rivers, craggy rock faces, tree roots and muddy slopes…
It was absolutely worth every effort :-).
It is difficult not to wax lyrical ad nauseum about Kauai because it ticked all of the boxes – it even had a couple of quaint towns – not Maui quaint – but Hanalei, Kilauea Town and Koloa Old Town were appealing all the same.
So, I won’t …. wax lyrical…that is.
But I will say that we will be back … maybe for a few months…or maybe a year or 2… :-). Next time we will do the considerably more strenuous full 11 mile overnight hike on the Kalalau Trail … unless we are too old and rickety by then to hike into the Napali Coast again … So maybe we would just fly over it or sail around it instead… either way, we are not done with it, nor the island, quite yet!
Leaving was miserable…but leave we had to as we started our journey home via our fourth and final destination – the island of O’ahu.
Oh boy… I had my reservations when I booked it but our flights home made it inevitable to stop off somewhere – and better another Hawaiian island than Los Angeles – so we decided to spend a few days on Waikiki Beach.
It is probably the busiest stretch of beach we have ever seen outside of the French Riviera on a sweltering day in August. Ram-jammed with crispy fried and blistered white bodies, blow-up kids toys, loud music, umbrellas and discarded beer cans and cigarette butts…. :-(. With hindsight, Memorial Day weekend may not have been the best weekend to choose to visit this incredibly popular beach destination either.
Aside from an evening walk to watch the surfers in the dying rays of the sun hanging 10 against the backdrop of Diamond Head headland (and a subsequent attempt to body board (me) and surf (Geoff) in the lovely, clear and irritatingly calm, warm and wave-free waters), we decided to avoid Waikiki and make the best of O’ahu by checking out some of the other parts of the island.
The signature tune to “Hawaii Five-O” blaring from my cellphone, and suitably decorated with my first orchid lei of the vacation, we zipped about the streets in a fittingly flashy bright red Mustang which I’ll admit I rather liked :-).
We did find some parts of O’ahu which were appealing. The historic town of Haleiwa on the North Shore where we enjoyed our last lattes of the vacation and a final lilikoi (passionfruit) Aloha bar under the shade of a giant acacia tree and surrounded by papaya trees loaded with fruit was quaint. The mountain ranges en route from the south coast to the northwest were beautiful, as were parts of the coastline past the iconic Diamond Head headland onto which Waikiki Beach backs.
Undoubtedly, the weather is perfect on this island all year round with an average temperature of 80F and it was admittedly relaxing and peaceful to watch the surfers catching their dream waves on the quieter beaches whilst listening to the surf crashing on the shore. Beach life here is all consuming – whether you are walking your pig on the beach or smoking a joint with your school friends – it all happens at the shore ;-). Which I suppose is not much different to life in Florida…except for the pig ;-) …
However, O’ahu, for us at least, had a less appealing, less laid-back atmosphere.. it had a far more mainstream US feel to it than the other 3 islands… Honolulu was like a miniature Miami or Fort Lauderdale but set against a mountainous backdrop…and, just like Miami, the streets were noisy and the peace was shattered by constant police sirens. That’s all fine in Miami – we love Miami – but this is Hawaii and we just wanted it to be so much more than that…
So, when it comes to these tiny islands in the North Pacific, the most isolated and remote land masses in the world, none of them will ever speak to us quite like Kaua’i… the island of our Hawaiian dreams … :-)