Kaua’i is an emerald-colored chunk of land, accented with powdery gold sand, red-rocked canyons and multi-hued, bursting blooms. It is a place of rocks and rainbows, sudden showers and smashing sunsets, blissful breezes and breathtaking beauty. No building is taller than a coconut tree. That’s the law.
The south and southeast shore around Lihu’e (pronounced La-who-ee) and Po’ipu Beach (pronounced Poe-ee-poo), are more touristy with big resort hotels, shopping malls and Hilo Hattie, the store that sells every conceivable Hawaiian souvenir. The North Shore - Hanalei and Princeville - is quiet. Walk the lonely beach with a couple of sand crabs. No shopping malls either; just six hamlets that look more like old cowboy towns with cool boutiques.
But Kaua’i is a place to get out and smell the roses - or whatever tropical flower is in your path. Practically anywhere you go, the 5,148-foot-tall Mt. Wai’ale’ale looms. Hike its northwest slope to the Alaka’i Swamp from which flow dramatic waterfalls. Trek the 11-mile Kalalau Trail down steep cliffs and around waterfalls to the Napali coast.
Maybe just check out dramatic vistas from Kalalau Valley Lookout or Waimea Canyon scenic point. Though much greener, this 10-mile-long, 3,600-foot-deep abyss of red rocks and gorgeous gorges has earned its nickname, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
Waimea Canyon State Park abuts the green and golden Napali Coast. See it by boat and whiz by valleys, waterfalls, caves, secret beaches and 3,000-foot-high cliffs. Often spinner dolphins catch the bow wave and frolic alongside the craft. Some rock formations at Kalalau Valley doubled as Machu Picchu in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Close up, they don’t look very much like the incomparable Incan sky-high site - but that’s Hollywood for you.
The whole island seems to be a film location. Locals love to tell you about movies or TV shows filmed here, like Jurassic Park, Fantasy Island, and would you believe Honeymoon in Vegas?
Scenes from Blue Hawaii and South Pacific were filmed on the Wailua River. The Smith Motorboat Tour of the river includes hula lessons, music and talk about Hawaii. At Fern Grotto, passengers disembark and walk a 600-yard colorful tropical path. Over 19,000 weddings have taken place at this fern-covered cave.
“Are there any honeymooners? How long have you couples been married?’” the guide asks. Then the crew sings the Hawaiian Wedding Song. If this is a little over-the-top for you, take the kayak trip.
The zipline tour is much less sappy. Just Live! (www.ziplinetourskauai.com) near Lihu’e offers a tree-to-tree adventure. With the wind in your face, the tall Norfolk Pines become a green blur on the flight to the next platform. Besides the zips, there are 26 rope swings to traverse and a rope to sidle across. Confidence reigns on the last zip. Everyone jumps off backwards. They’re all scenic routes
Exploring the island by car is less challenging. The scenery becomes lush as you head north. If it’s great photo ops you crave, Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge has a lighthouse, cliffs, thundering waters and birds: Layson albatrosses, magnificent frigate birds and red-footed boobies that look mighty silly when stretching out their crimson feet for a landing.
Got enough pictures? Continue toward Hanalei Bay. Surrounded by mountains, its big waves attract the most avid surfers. Stroll the Hanalei Beach Park Pavilion pier, breathe in the salt air and watch the surfers skim the waves.
Toward the end of the road is the 80-acre National Tropical Botanical Garden. Its greenery dramatically cascades down the mountain. Get an umbrella and slather yourself with mosquito repellant before meandering the 3/4 mile loop. Then tread 200 feet up the mountain and learn about this 5.1 million year-old, volcanic isle. The first section has breadfruit, ti, sweet potato and other plants which Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands brought here about 200-300 AD. Above are more unique plant species like awapuhi - the stuff that shampoo manufacturer Paul Mitchell uses to make his shampoo. The path continues to an archeological site, believed to be the digs of the first inhabitants.
This park, like all of Kaua’i, is about nature. Just hearing about the verdant paradise should make you green with envy that you aren’t there right now. Contact the Kauai Visitors Bureau (800) 262-1400, or www.kauai-hawaii.com