The Garden Isle. An outdoor paradise. A mecca for active travelers. There are many ways to describe the Hawaiian island of Kauai, but on my recent travels there I found that the most accurate description of this magical place is not in words at all–it’s in the impression it leaves upon your heart.
Kauai is not only the northernmost Hawaiian island, but it’s also the oldest. Because of its age, its landscape is much more varied than the younger isles scattered to the south. Ringed by soft, sandy beaches and breathtaking cliff coastlines, the interior explodes in a number of steep mountain ridges, most of which are covered with the green velvet of jungle foliage. Climates here vary from mild and temperate lowlands along the southern coast to dry, jagged canyons to the west, and the wettest mountain summit on earth at the island’s central peak, the extinct volcano Waialeale.
This lovely island also attracts more than just people–it is frequented by a wide array of wildlife, both seasonally and throughout the year. The southern beaches are a favorite rest area of adorable monk seals, which lumber ashore in the mornings to snooze all day after their nightly hunting forays. Whales are easily spotted off the northern coast near Kilauea, and the world’s most endangered goose, the nene, has found a refuge in Kauai. Many of these slow-moving and friendly birds are found on the northern part of the island, a large percentage of them on the greens of the scenic Makai Golf Course.
Because the landscape is so varied in Kauai, it is well-known among active travelers, thrill-seekers and outdoor enthusiasts. There are countless activities to enjoy, including scenic canyon hiking, horseback riding, river kayaking, mountain tubing, and a host of water activities. It’s also becoming a hotspot for foodies. With fine dining establishments, hole-in-the-wall dives, and food trucks from end to end, this island showcases its local resources in its extensive variety of phenomenal cuisine and is making a name for itself even among its sister islands. In particular, it’s known for Hawaii’s best poi, locally grown and produced in the puddled fields of quiet and charming Hanalei.
One of the most enriching things I experienced here was to climb aboard the Namahoe, a double-hulled voyaging canoe built one piece at a time by a small group of locals dedicated to bringing back the voyaging culture to Kauai. For hundreds of years, Hawaiians were sedentary and had given up the voyaging ways of their ancestors. More recently, a handful of Hawaiians with strong passion for reviving this part of their culture are making great strides toward reinstating it as a central theme in local life. As I sat under the rigging, swaying with the small waves and listening to men who have sailed around the world using only the stars to guide them“talk story,” I was overwhelmed by their determination, bravery, and love for their heritage.
Kauai has left a mark on my heart not for any one adventure in particular, but rather as a collective cultural experience. I remain in awe of the island’s beauty, but more so of the true spirit of aloha offered by those who are fortunate enough to live here. I was warmly embraced and treated to genuine hospitality throughout my stay, and it has left me longing for more. For now, a hui hou Kauai……