When I asked a local her favorite place to spend time in the water, there was no hesitation, “Hanalei Bay.” After our time on the north shore of Kauai, it’s hard to disagree with her.
We traveled north at an absurdly early hour of the morning, more out of a desire to bypass Kapaa’s horrendous traffic than any real thought as to what our day would like.
Like most normal folks, procuring our poke for the day was at the forefront of our minds at 6:30 am and so we stopped at Pono Market on our way out of town. Locals were up early too, waiting in line to buy coffee and fresh rolled musubi (spam or fried chicken with rice wrapped in nori). We were definitely the only ones getting raw fish at this hour (along with some of yesterday’s coconut manju pastries) and I was just happy to find caffeine. You can probably tell which of us got coffee.
This overlook, a little ways down the road from Princeville, provides a stunning vista of the the Hanalei valley and taro fields below.
The north was lush and so green, with a mist that hung on the hillsides. The road was nearly empty as we drove up the coast to Princeville. Rolling through town it was clear that it was cute, charming and mostly closed this early in the morning.
Hanalei Bay was calm and very beautiful. We could see paddleboarders drifting across the waves; the bay is popular with the surf crowd as well. After scoping it out, we decided to stay in the area, have some beach fun and check out the town when it opened later in the day.
We were able to grab a delicious fresh ginger and mango juice from the helpful folks of Akamai Juice Company and a surprisingly on-point and very cheap breakfast sandwich from the hole-in-the-wall Village Snack Shop & Bakery to fortify ourselves for more adventures.
The beach next to the Hanalei Pier was an awesome place to set up for the day. We were toting an umbrella, beach towels, bodyboards, chairs, and a cooler, all thoughtfully on loan from the Fern Grotto Inn where we spent two nights.
Different sections of the bay offer different opportunities for recreation and feel. This area is incredibly shallow, with sandbars forming standing-depth water way out off shore. Novice surfers tried their luck as instructors literally stood by and families boogieboarded and giggled in the waves. I enjoyed just floating in the salty water and taking in the mountains stretched out around us.
Intermittent clouds provided some sun cover and temperatures rose to the high 70’s in the afternoon, perfect for warming up on the sand or stretching out with a book. It was warmer than it looks!
After a day of swimming and relaxing, we strolled through town and popped into some nearby shops. We couldn’t resist checking out the local food truck pod, though where once we were too early, we now arrived too late to try them out and at 4:30 pm, they were packing up for the day. The smell of waffle cone wafting through the air proved too hard to resist and we ended up stopping into Pink’s Creamery for some homemade coconut pineapple and macadamia nut ice cream before heading out.
We passed watery fields of taro as we made our way slowly home. Taro was once the lifeblood of islanders and was so culturally important that it was considered an elder sibling of the Hawaiian race. While over 300 varieties of taro were cultivated in ancient times (since around 700 AD in this valley), competition for land, among other factors, has decreased the amount of taro grown on the island. Now, the wetlands of Hanalei Valley are part of a wildlife sanctuary program, a partnership between conservationists and local farmers; farmers get affordable land to cultivate taro and birds and other wildlife use the fields as habitat.
Our last stop for the day was the Kilauea Lighthouse. We were bummed that it closes early (hours are Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 4 pm, admission is $5/person). But it was a beautiful sight nonetheless and we spent our time watching for whales on the horizon and following the many sea birds as they circled on ocean breezes.
There were all sorts of birds in the area. Hawaiian geese (Nene) wandered by with their gaggle of chicks and Red-footed Boobies soared overhead before touching down on the nearby cliffside where they make their nests. And of course there were chickens and frilly roosters crowing nearby. When are there not chickens on Kauai?!
Even when the road out to the lighthouse was closed, the area around it was a fun place to explore!
What didn’t we get to in the north?
Before we got sucked in by the magic of Hanalei Bay, our plan was to head to Anini Beach. Hawaii’s largest coral reef prevents this area from getting too choppy even in the winter and there is supposed to be pretty good snorkeling.
The Napali coastline is a must-see, though it is easiest to take in from the air or by boat. The Kalalau Trail is another way to check out the mountainous coastline, however, completing the steep, narrow trail is not for the faint of heart. The full trail is 11 miles long and a permit is required to hike the whole way or camp, but day-trippers can trek to Hanakāpīʻai Beach (4 miles round trip) or up to Hanakāpīʻai Falls (8 miles round trip).