Hanging in Hanalei: the North Shore

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.

IMG_7096.jpgWe 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.

IMG_7091.jpgThis 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.

IMG_7104.jpgWe 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.

IMG_7159.JPGThe 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.

IMG_7158.JPGIntermittent 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! 

IMG_7100.jpgAfter 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.

IMG_7160.JPGWe 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.
IMG_0481.JPGOur 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.

IMG_0462.JPGThere 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?! 

IMG_0477.JPGEven 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).


Po’ipu and Beyond: Kauai’s South Shore

Po’ipu and Beyond: Kauai’s South Shore

If you’re thinking sandy beaches and sunshine with a side of cultural sites as central to your Hawaiian vacation, the south shore is right up your alley. Winter days with overcast skies in the east or rougher seas in the north are often still sunny and calm in the south.

Kauai is easy to navigate and directions mostly consist of knowing when you need to turn off the main highways which connect the island. The exit into Koloa, Maluhia Road, is pretty tree-lined stretch surrounded by eucalyptus planed over a century ago. The heart of Old Town Koloa is a charming stretch of shops and restaurants, with a number of foot truck options as well.


We struck out to the southern side of the island, with fueling up for the day as our first priority. Anuenue Cafe, known for local favorites like loco moco, was our brunch go-to, since people rave about their benedicts and macadamia nut pancakes. Everyone else had the same idea, however, and so in the interest of time, we opted to go the beach picnic route instead with some yummy looking ready-made handrolls, fresh fruit and other snacks from a local store in the same shopping center.

Pro-tip on upping your beach lunch game: pretty much every grocery store has poke, and so if you’re like us and this is a “must-eat as much as possible” on your trip, pick up a few plastic tubs of spicy ahi, tako poke or seaweed salad while also stocking up on other picnic essentials. Stow the tubs in ice and you’re good to go!


We stopped at Spouting Horn before finding a beach to park ourselves for the day. Hawaiian legend is that the spout is the breath and angry hiss of Kaikapu, a moo (lizard), that is stuck in the lava tubes after a clever boy, Liko, outwitted her to be able to swim in and fish the nearby waters. I ended up thinking the lava shoreline was cooler to photograph than the spout (not pictured lol) which is apparently more impressive at high tide, when water can spray up to 50 feet under the right conditions through the lava rock. There’s also a little marketplace set up next to it with Hawaii tchotchkes, jewelry and other souvenirs. With bathrooms and a water fountain on-site, it’s an easy stop if you are in the area and want to pull in to check it out.

We considered visiting McBryde Garden and Allerton Garden, which are two adjacent National Tropical Botanical Gardens of rare and endangered tropical plants just across the road. Visitors can take in the giant Moreton Bay Fig trees, seen in Jurassic Park and countless Instagrams, as well as novelties like allspice and vanilla. At $30 dollars a person for the self-guided experience, we decided against it but countless TripAdvisor reviews strongly recommend it.


Po’ipu Beach Park is one of the more popular beaches in the south. It has it all: snorkeling, swimming, surfing and bodyboarding but it can also get crowded since the main beach is not very large. There was a surf shop right next to the beach where we rented our snorkels and fins ($6/set) and a bodyboard ($6). There were also umbrellas, chairs, surfboards and other beachy accessories available to rent by the day or week.

Po’ipu has golden sand, an abundance of sun and fun for the whole family. The water right in front of the lifeguard tower is protected by rocky outcroppings and there’s a cove area for little kids with calm, shallow water. We mostly explored the area on the far side of the beach where the snorkeling is better and there’s also a surf area with bigger waves. The deeper water contained everything from the reef triggerfish Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (the Hawaiian state fish) to parrotfish, sea urchins and even an eel! There is a rip current (but luckily no undertow) so stay aware of the conditions, stay calm and swim parallel to the shore and before swimming in if you get caught.


We were lucky enough to have a Hawaiian monk seal (one of only about 1,200 of these type of seals endemic to the Hawaiian islands) and a honu, or giant green sea turtle sunning themselves right on the beach. The south is known for its monk seal sightings and they can be found basking on the sand and swimming around Kauai’s beaches year-round.


The bodysurfing cove has more waves and is a short walk from the main beach. Alex had a blast but wished he had used water shoes or the smaller bodysurfing fins since the rocky area bashed up his bare feet a bit.

While Alex was boarding, I hung out in the shade of the Casuarina trees (also known as Ironwood pines), which are plentiful on the divide between the coves at Po’ipu, reading my book in the shade atop some lava rocks. These trees were introduced to Hawaii, but unlike most introduced species, are a benefit to the islands because of the excellent tsunami buffer they provide. Their shade is a nice break from afternoon sun but the prickly cones they drop make some stretches of sand less pleasant for barefoot beach walking. Poipu also has picnic shelters and bathrooms. Come early in the day if you want to find parking right next to the beach.

Looking for more to do in the south? There other great beaches, like Salt Pond Beach Park, and the area’s rich history can be explored on the Koloa Heritage Trail, 14 stops along ten miles which are marked with plaques exploring the culture and history of the area. We stopped at a few and it’s an easy way to learn more about the island, from some of Kauai’s oldest occupied sites to the plantation sugar mill history.

Aloha! Alex and Alexis Head to Kauai (Part 1: West Shore)

Aloha! Alex and Alexis Head to Kauai (Part 1: West Shore)

We love adventure and the Garden Isle has it all- snorkeling, waterfalls, swimming, hiking, surfing and scenery fit for the movies (hello Jurassic Park!).

img_0374We went the 18th to the 25th of February, about a week on the island. The weather was pretty nice- highs in the mid to high 70’s and lows in the 60’s- but this time of year can be rainy. We were lucky to not have any real precipitation, which can affect water visibility, trail conditions and overall outdoor enjoyment if you’re not prepared. Even still, some days and some zones of the island were definitely a little misty or cool at times. Winter can also mean intense surf and higher winds on the north and west shores of the island. One plus of this time of year is that January and February are peak Humpback whale season; there are many boats and tours around the island that will take you out to see them in action.

When picking a home base, the east side of the island was attractive for its easy proximity to all the different regions. We settled in Lihue, the capital of the island and location of one of Kauai’s two airports. We chose the Aqua Kauai Beach Resort because it had fun amenities (saltwater pools with waterfalls) but was actually pretty frugal by island standards.

img_0436There were four saltwater pools and two hot tubs, plus a stretch of beach, so it was an ideal place to get into the island mood and relax for a day before we picked up a rental car. The pools and hot tubs are open 8 am – 10 pm, leaving our options open for soothing sore muscles at the end of the day or taking an afternoon break in one of the lounge chairs with a book.

img_0369The hotel beach was lovely. The wind blew through the nearby palms, we could feel the sand between our toes and we spent time just watching the waves. This beach was not safe for swimming but it was a place we visited most days during our stay.

img_0380We love exploring and so ambitiously planned trips to check out all the major regions on Kauai. With only a week, there was a lot we knew we wouldn’t get to but wanted to get a flavor for all the different microclimates and zones as much as possible. Another advantage was that each area has slightly different weather patterns- if it was cooler or rainy in one area, sunshine could likely be found in another.

3387172731_9ed975e020_b-1.jpgOur first venture to go way out west as far as you can go. We struck out from Lihue and went down the 50 to all the way out to Polihale State Park. Immediately, I was glad the we rented a Jeep, as the road was not one I would want to brave without four-wheel drive, especially if it was wet at all. Our Jeep was fun (“like a go-cart” according to Alex), but also somewhat of a joke by the end because of how many of the exact same grey Jeep rentals there were on the road.

Access to the park is down a wildly dipping and bumpy five mile red dirt road which will probably go on longer than you want it to. I would not try this trip in the rain as the area is prone to flooding and it would be crazy muddy.

IMG_6895 (1).jpgPolihale State Park is backed by the high sea cliffs of Nāpali Coastline and sets up next to the ocean with 15 miles white sandy beaches. It would be a killer place to camp ($12 a night with a permit) and is the perfect place to catch a sunset.

A few people were in the water, though strong currents and generally rougher conditions in the winter meant we just waded in the surf. Swimming is not recommended off the beach here generally, but we hear that Queen’s Pond, a shallow sandy bottom pond protected by reefs within the park, is a good place for to be in the water.

IMG_0318.JPGIt’s a super chill area and we could have spent longer soaking up the vibes.

Lacking more than a few snacks in our vehicle and short on water, we decided to head back towards town. We drove to Waimea to re-hydrate and plan our next move.

We shared a shave ice from JoJo’s, where they make their own syrups. Shave ice can be found all over the island and is a nice treat to cool off with. Next time, I would try the same tropical flavors (coconut, pineapple, guava) but add coconut cream on top for extra decadence. Waimea was a cute small town and apparently there is a cool farmer’s market there on Saturdays. We paid an outrageous amount for a ripe and very delicious mango at a local fruit stand and browsed some of the souvenir shops on the main drag.

unnamedWe were originally trying to stay in Waimea for part of our trip and I still think these Plantation Cottages look cute. I enjoyed our time in west Kauai, but it definitely would be a trek to get up north if you were staying down this far.

By the afternoon we just wanted to get into some water! It was in the high 70’s and we were looking to swim. We went to Kekaha beach, which seemed popular from the amount of locals who had driven trucks out onto the beachfront. It also had bathrooms, picnic areas, a lifeguard station and showers.

IMG_7150.JPGWe enjoyed playing out in the water, though there is a pretty strong current. I only almost lost part of my swimsuit to the ocean when I misjudged some waves. Be smarter than us and go talk to the lifeguard about conditions and best places to swim on the beach or bring a boogie board like some of the local kids.  

If you want to drive out onto the beach, look into it before you try it- locals were in the process of towing some other people out when we arrived. There’s definitely a method to driving on sand and it’s easy to get stuck if you wing it.

IMG_0331.JPGWe caught the sunset out at the Russian Fort Elizabeth State Historical Park on our way back east. The fort was started by the Russian in 1815 but interestingly only held by them for two years. It was finished and occupied by troops for the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1817 until it was abandoned in 1853.

IMG_0334.JPGThe area had the remains of the fort (a stacked outline of lava rocks) and some remnants of that time, such as a flag pole. The park has historical plaques and small beachfront, with some nice trees and fields to walk around. There are also a lot of feral cats in this particular place, which was kind of surreal and not something we experienced elsewhere.

IMG_0366.JPGAlso of historical interest, the fort is right next to the beach where Captain Cook first landed (Alex is pointing the way). Overall, not a ton to see but was pretty to walk around.

My biggest regret of the west side is failing to make it to Wong’s in Hanapepe. I got a pro tip that their lilikoi (passionfruit) pie is the best ever and their plate lunches looked good too but they were closed the day we were there. Definitely a disappointment (sorry Gabe!) but go Tuesday-Saturday and let me know what we missed out on.

What’s missing? Kokee State Park (with the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”) is a must-see for most people on the west shore. We chose to check it out in a different way- more on that to come!