Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hawaiian Engagement

Emily and I just got back from the best vacation I’ve ever had in my life.... and we came back engaged!  It seemed throughout the trip that everything worked out perfectly for us, from seeing all the wildlife we wanted, to timing, to weather, everything just worked out perfectly!  Our trip, which I had spent several months planning, took us first to the Big Island of Hawaii to night swim with giant manta rays and climb Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in the world from base to summit (where I proposed at sunset).  We then hopped onto an inter-island flight to Kauai to hike/camp and tour the Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon.  We got to the islands just after record rainfalls there for nearly two weeks which trapped tourists inside their hotel rooms.  The weather for us was literally beautiful and sunny every day with just one or two days of late afternoon showers that only lasted about 20 minutes it seemed and cleared the air for even better views!  We were gone for 8 days so you can believe I have a lot to tell about so read on by clicking the “read more” link and get ready to see some amazing photos!

Emily and I were able to book both our flights to Hawaii from Portland with frequent flyer miles I had built up but as anyone who uses miles as well knows they are a pain in the ass to use with all the restrictions on time frames.  We were able to find several weeks in March (the rainy season there) where we could get round trip tickets for 40,000 miles a piece which was great compared to the 80,000 a piece they were at peak times.  The only restriction was that we would have to leave on a Sunday and return on a Monday to get those rates.  This stretched our available vacation time thin but we were able to pull it off by taking a week and a day off of work and leaving at 5am on Sunday to return at nearly midnight on Monday, 8 days later using 80,000 of my miles to do so for both of us combined.

As the weeks past and I was busy at work I asked Emily to help me with the booking of hotels and rooms for our trips and she wisely got us a room at the Radisson near the airport for Saturday night.  This allowed us to get our packing done all day Saturday before heading towards Portland.  On the way north Emily had the fantastic idea to try to find a dinner and a movie combined venue in Portland.  I was able to find a place called “Living Room Theaters” in Portland and booked us two tickets to see the movie “Chronicle” about several teens who, after discovering some sort of meteor, find themselves endowed with super powers and since it took place in Seattle with amazing special effects and was filmed creatively with just hand cameras, both Emily and really enjoyed it.  On the way to Portland we had some spare time so browsed around an REI buying a few more things for the trip including a better head lamp for me and some smaller items.  We also had time to browse through Powell’s book store (the largest book store in the world that takes up a full city block in Portland).  At the venue we sat down for some food and drink before the film in the restaurant area and ordered a Deviled Egg trio topped with bacon, caviar and avocado and also ordered a spicy tuna roll to split.  I got a stout and Emily got a spicy cocktail she absolutely loved called “monkey love” with spicy vodka.  When we entered the theater it was small but the seats were roomy with lots of drink holders for our second round of cocktails we ordered.  It was a great time and I highly suggest the place for anyone looking for a fun night in Portland before a flight.

Day 1 - Sunday - Kona Beach and Night Diving with Manta Rays

After getting settled into our hotel we were asleep by 11pm which only gave us a little bit of sleep before we had to wake up at 3:30 for our shuttle to the airport for our 5:22am flight through San Francisco to Kona on the Big Island.  Thankfully the Radisson had a “park and fly” option where we could leave the Prius for 8 days.  Seeing that 8-9 days of parking at a parking lot facility would have cost at least $90 bucks it pretty much paid off the cost of the hotel room for the night.  Great thinking Emily!  Our flight was pretty uneventful with a couple hour layover in San Francisco.  When I got on our flight to Kona I took a couple sleeping pills and was out cold until we landed in beautiful 75-80 degree weather!

After picking up our Enterprise Rental Chrysler Sebring 4-door at around 12:30pm we headed to Mahaiula Bay in Kekaha Kai State Park just north of the airport.  Garrett had suggested the beach to me before I left and I think it may be where he proposed to Cassie his now wife.  What he didn’t make clear was the road we would have to drive down over lava rock to get there.  The road was only a few miles long but it was definitely not paved and taking the rental car down it was a little sketch but we made it.  Garrett had told us to take a trail from the parking lot through the woods which would have taken us directly to the bay but it seemed like everyone was going that way so Emily and I just took a more direct route straight out to the nearest beach.   

The beach was beautiful!  The color of the water was absolutely amazing!  I was instantly happy to have both polarized sunglasses as well as a pricey new polarizing filter for our DSLR.  We set up some towels by a picnic table near a shady tree and soaked up some rays for a few hours.  I took some time to explore the rocks off shore a bit and go for a wonderful swim in the ~70 degree water.  When I got back to Emily laying down I placed a white gold necklace around her neck with a heart-shaped pendant with a diamond in it.  This was of course all part of my grand proposal scheme and I knew she would like it yet be disappointed it wasn’t an engagement ring.  I was right and her reaction was priceless yet filled with love and gratitude for the necklace.  

After laying on the beach a bit longer we headed into Kailua Kona, or “Kona” as everyone refers to the small town.  Driving around Alii Drive we were impressed by the beauty of the waterfront shops.  It was definitely a touristy town with the usual t-shirt and souvenir shops but intermingled with some cool looking bars, restaurants and amazing resorts.  We checked into our room at the Royal Kona Resort around 3pm to take showers after our long flight and the beach and to clean up before dinner and our night snorkeling trip.  The room was really impressive for the cost we paid of only $130 a night.  It had a huge deck and the resort itself was amazing with a beautiful pool and large outside bar overlooking the ocean.  It also had a cool Coi pond with the biggest Coi I’d ever seen.  Unfortunately, we found our room without towels so had to dry ourselves with hand cloths but found a maid with towels on our way out so grabbed a few for after our trip that night.  

We made it to Big Island Divers shop a few miles away at 4pm to check in and get fitted with flippers and gear but some really nice, yet really laid back employees at the shop.  We quickly found on this trip that most residents of the island chain were incredibly nice, but also lived their lives a lot slower and wayyy more laid back than mainlanders.  I’m from the east coast and found, upon moving to the northwest, that the pace of life was a lot less stressful and slower in Oregon which I loved.  Well, Hawaiians make the pace of life in Oregon look hectic in comparison.  Thus, my hints of “how long will it take us to get dinner at the brewery” didn’t really clue Mikey in to the fact that we were in a hurry.  No worries, though as we found the gear we needed (Emily had to use kid fins... haha) and snuck ourselves into a spot at the bar at the Kona Brewery a block away.  

The bartender definitely moved at a Hawaiian pace so I was worried about time to make it back for our trip a few miles north at the marina by our departure time of 5:30pm.  Thankfully, our dinners came fast as well as the refills on my special version of the koko brown ale.  I ordered the IMU pork sandwich made from Kalua pork with cabbage, onions, cheddar and provolone with BBQ sauce and Emily ordered the Cubano which was pork with bacon, provolone, pickles and onions on flatbread.  Both were delicious!  We also sat next to a young guy from Kauai who was at the brewery for a week long beer festival that was ending that night.  He was a kayak guide for the Napali Coast and told us all about the incredible rain they had been getting and that we would have no problem on the Napali Coast trail that we had permits for.  He was definitely a talkative fellow and kept us entertained with personal stories and helpful information about the islands and our upcoming plans.  

We made it to the marina and joined the Big Island Divers crew on their small diving boat.  I of course have my SCUBA diving license but since Emily didn’t I decided to go snorkeling with her.  It was a short 20 minute ride out to the bay where we would get into the water and our guide (I think his name was Jonathan) was really great at explaining all about the manta rays we would hopefully see once in the water.  Our Captain was Captain Craig and Mikey (the guy who fit our gear) was the dive master for those with tanks.  When we were being told about the manta rays it was mentioned that a baby was born that was 200lbs... this caught me off guard as I thought the adults were that big.  I was blown away to find out that they can be upwards of 1.5 tons and have wingspans up to 15 feet!  And we were about to get into the water with these animals!  Fortunately for us they are “ram-jet” filter feeders that swim around filtering out plankton and other food in the water with their mouths open all the time.  They and whale sharks are the only other creatures that swim around with their mouths open all the time getting food by swimming through it.  They also had a mucous coating that wore off and got infected if touched so we were told not to touch them.  Each manta had a specific marking on their bellies (sort of like a birthmark) and the divers said that them and scientists in the area knew each one of them and each had a name.  We were told that if we could get first pictures of a one that wasn’t already known we would have naming rights.

 The point of the night dive was to set up a weighted light system shining up brilliantly from the ocean floor where the divers would be as well as a floating light system at the surface pointing down which we the snorkelers would hang on to.  This would therefore create a huge area of light between the two groups that would attract plankton and therefore their predators, the manta rays.  The rays would come to the area and then do barrel rolls between the divers and us snorkelers, literally going belly to belly with us only 6 inches from our chests.  

When we reached Makako Bay I was the first to jump into the water as I was super excited for this adventure.  When we first started swimming towards “the bonfire” at the bottom which was visible from the surface we caught a glimpse of a couple rays in the distance which instantly made the trip worth it for me.  Little did I know what I was going to experience for the next hour!  When we got above the lights below things instantly got amazing.  Huge manta rays seemed to come from everywhere around us (15-20 they guessed) and they began to do graceful barrel rolls directly underneath us.  On several occasions one did 3-4 big rolls directly underneath me coming within inches of my chest.  Each time this happened one of the girls in our group would start screaming like crazy, thankfully not scaring them away.  Thankfully, I had our underwater camera with us so was getting amazing video of the encounter with these gentle, yet massive creatures.  Suddenly, while one was doing a barrel roll underneath me and coming up back towards me it “misjudged” and just came straight at me hitting me in the chest with it’s huge mouth!  I think part of my arm actually went into the poor creatures mouth.  Having been told our touch could harm them I did my best to minimize contact with it but it had also, with it’s massive wingspan, bumped Emily besides me too.  After collecting myself and taking my mask off at the surface I turned to see our guide with a completely shocked look on his face who said, “yeah... that never happens... that was crazy, you came almost out of the water!”  I was completely fine and  really excited that I had actually made contact with the ray, even if by accident.  

We continued in the area for a while longer while I got amazing video and photos of what I believe to be the greatest experience of my life so far.  I then helped our guide pull our light rig back to the boat for our trip back to the marina.  On the way back we were served hot chocolate and snacks much to our appreciation and talked about my close-encounter with the rays!  Back at the dock we tipped our hosts and then headed back to our room for the night, still amazed at the unbelievable experience we had just had.  There were more rays than usual and my special encounter is something I will never forget.  A perfect end to our first day in paradise.

Day 2 - Monday - Mauna Kea Ascent and Engagement

On monday morning we woke up early and had a great buffet breakfast at the resort before checking out.  We had been told by our manta ray guide that we absolutely must be on top of Mauna Kea at sunset so we postponed an early start to relax in Kona with nice breakfast first.  At breakfast we enjoyed fresh island fruits and wonderful native pork bacon and sausages.  We took a few photos of downtown Kona and the beautiful trees overhanging the main drag before heading north across vast fields of lava flows to connect to Saddle Road (Hwy 200) which would take us across the interior of the island to the town of Hilo on the east side of the island.  This trip would only take a couple hours and we needed to check into our hostel at Arnott’s lodge there early because there wouldn’t be anybody at the front desk after 9pm if we were too late after our climb.

We stopped on several occasions to snap photos of our drive uphill over the island back at the expansive lava flows extending down to beautiful turquoise beaches as well as interesting volcanic features such as cinder cones and lava tube caves.  We crossed vast volcanic fields that didn’t appear to be used for any crops as the island is geologically young and I doubt there was enough fertile soil anyway.  Suddenly on the side of the road I saw a hawk... nope to my disbelief it was an owl in the daytime.  It’s called a Hawaiian Owl, or Pueo in the native language.  It landed on a fence just off the road and I was able to get some great photos of it as I had asked Emily to drive so I could play photographer.  We also saw a ring-necked pheasant in a field but with a car behind us Em wasn’t able to stop for photos.  

On our drive we found the western side of the island to be very dry (much like Bend area in Oregon) and we had great views of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea which we were driving between on the way up.  Once we got to the road for Mauna Kea we had a decision to make on time and I made the call that we had enough time to get to Hilo and back for the climb before sunset.  On our way down to Hilo the weather and environment around us completely changed .  We found ourselves descending into a rain storm with tropical, lush rainforest all around us.  The town of Hilo was one of the greenest places I have ever seen in my life with vegetation on every inch of soil.  We quickly found our way via the iphone to our hostel and quickly checked in before heading back into the interior of the island for our climb.  

Our rental car barely made it up the steep access road of Mauna Kea to the visitor information center at about 9,200 feet.  It was about 1:45pm at this point so we both hustled to get our daypacks ready and head up the trail.  Unfortunately we took the wrong trail from the very start.  Luckily we met another couple coming down who informed us of our poor decision.  We hustled back down but didn’t get started on the correct trail until just after 2pm.  This left us only about 4 and a half hours to get to the summit by sunset.  We were at over 9,000 feet and the summit was at 13,796 feet, the highest Emily had been to date.  I was very familiar with the effects of altitude and I knew we would be moving slow near the top so I honestly didn’t think we were going to make it by sunset.  

As we climbed above a sea of clouds below us to the east above Hilo and nothing but sunshine to the west above Kona we passed by many smaller cinder cones on the flanks of the broad volcano.  The polarizing lens on the camera definitely made for some good shots.  As I’ve always told friends and family that don’t climb, altitude is the great equalizer.   I, and many of my friends consider me a pack mule when I climb.  I’m a very strong climber and am usually leading the way and pushing others.  But, on this occasion the altitude really affected me and I found myself unable to recollect simple things in my head a bit wobbly on my feet.  Usually, when climbing a 14,000 ft peak you do it over 3 days to acclimate but we were both coming from sea level in an afternoon.  Emily seemed to handle the altitude a little bit better than me and both of us fortunately didn’t end up with headaches on the climb.  We drank a lot of water and ate a bunch of energy foods on the way up which I’m sure helped us a bunch.  

We made quick progress covering 2,000 feet of elevation in a little over an hour but when we got above 12,000 feet things slowed down a bit and we began moving at a grueling slow pace up the mountain which also flattened at the top meaning we had to cover more distance as well as elevation.  We made it up to Lake Waiau by 5pm which sat at the bottom of one of the many smaller cones at near the summit.  We also began to get our first glimpses of snow on the way up.  We soon hit the road at 5:30 with views of all the observatory buildings on top and my guide for the climb said we had a mile to go still which meant doing a mile in about 45 minutes at altitude to make the summit at the start of sunset around 6:15pm. At this point I actually started to believe we would make it as we started our ascent up the paved switchbacking road to the top as cars of other tourists passed us on the way up giving us amazed looks.  

When we reached the end of the road we still had a couple hundred more yards of trail over a snow covered trail to the true summit which we made quick time over passing other tourists in their sneakers and shorts on the way up.  We had started at the visitor center in about 70 degree weather with a light wind but now found ourselves in close to freezing weather with a bit of a stronger wind and in our jackets.  In my rush I had forgotten my hat and gloves in the car when we left so I had my hood on and hands in pockets at the top.  The sun was just starting to set and the sky was lighting up in amazing colors above a sea of clouds below.

I hustled over to a spot on the summit away from the 10 or so people that were at the top with us and told Emily to start asking people if they had any room for us in their 4x4 vehicles to help us avoid a 9 mile walk down in the cold darkness.  I began shuffling through my bag on one knee and called Emily over and asked, looking busy, “Babe, will you do something for me?” and as usual she said, “sure” to which I replied, “Will you marry me?”.  After a quick gasp and shortness of breath she replied, “yes, of course!” and we embraced.  We had hustled as fast as our legs could take us up the mountain and as she said yes the sky behind us was lighting up in oranges and red at nearly 14,000 feet on the highest point of Hawaii and the tallest mountain in the world.  

She was completely surprised after the necklace I had given her which threw her off and combined with the altitude of our location she was a bit overwhelmed.  I had been stressed about the “perfect proposal” but it went off perfectly in my mind.   With the phrase “We just got engaged 2 minutes ago, could we have a ride down?” it didn’t take us long to find a really nice guy to take us down the mountain after we spent another 10-15 minutes getting some last shots of the setting sun in the distance.  We both of course held on to the summit post at the top and got photos of each other together. 

By the time we left the summit my fingers were nearly frozen from not having gloves and both of us were completely beat from the climb.  When we got to his car there was another kid with a backpack asking for a ride so we gave him a ride down too.  He turned out to be a park ranger at Yosemite with the winter off to travel and the man driving was a cop from Roseville, California whose sister went to Oregon State back in the day.  We had a pleasant chat heading back down the bumpy dirt road to the visitor center.  Our rental car never would have made it to the top.  

After saying goodbye Emily and I hung out at the visitor center which provided free powerful telescopes for star viewing every night as well as educational programs about the planets inside.  I had no idea that Venus and Mars would also be in their closest conjunction for years.  They appeared as two brilliant stars in the sky and apparently for would be highly visible all through March.  We now found ourselves at one of the world’s premier astronomical locations with a very rare planetary viewing experience!  What could be better?  Oh yeah, the crazy expensive telescopes sitting on the pavement in front of us!  That was even better!  Through one of them we could even see clearly the rings on Jupiters surface.  It was truly amazing to be able to view the milky way and stars from one of the best locations in the world for it.  

Emily was a getting a little cold and after trying in vain to take some star photos with my camera (too many cars with headlights nearby) we got in our rental and headed east down the mountain towards our hostel in Hilo.  On the way into town I called a few restaurants but nothing was open past 9pm except for Ken’s House of Pancakes which of course sounded questionable to us.  It turns out the joint is one of the most popular on the island with locals and with an enormous menu to chose from and open all night we both found it fantastic!   When we pulled in there was hardly a parking place and it was packed with locals for a Monday night.  I was starving after not having much since our breakfast at 7am in Kona before the climb and had a headache due to not drinking enough water on the climb.  I turned to the Island Favorites section of the multipage menu and ordered the Kalua Mocho which was a traditional Hawaiian “mocho” dish of Kalua pork with two eggs over it over a bowl of rice with gravy.  Emily had the Saim in which was a soup of shrimp broth with chicken which she said was a little like a chinese soup.  I also had to try the local oxtail stew with veggies and “special sauce” with a large soda to quench my thirst.  When we got to the hostel the keycard to our door didn’t work but thankfully the owner was nearby to let us in.  It was a nice place without a tv and a comfy bed with air conditioner.  There was a common space where others could hang out but we got the deluxe room with our own bathroom.  It was only about $80 a night and we certainly didn’t miss the tv which was the only thing that set it apart from a luxury room in our mind.  The place also rented bikes and had a large outside tv area and brunch tables that we didn’t take advantage of due to time constraints.  After admiring her ring for a while longer and listening to male tale of what I went through to make the proposal a surprise (another blog post to come) we both happily fell asleep after a truly adventurous day.

Day 3 - Tuesday - Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Sea Turtle and South Point

On Tuesday we woke up and again returned to Ken’s House of Pancakes for a fantastic breakfast both of us getting belgian waffles with strawberries and vanilla ice cream before heading out of Hilo towards Volcanoes National Park.  After a short hour drive we entered the park and went directly to the visitor center to check out what our plans for the day would be.  They had several different itineraries for visitors and we decided to check out the half day one heading to the Jagger Museum and the overlook over the Kilauea volcanic crater.  Mt. Kilauea is the most active volcano in the world but all we could see was a steam and smoke coming out of the smaller crater within the much larger Kilauea summit crater.  

Apparently, at night visitors can see a glow from the crater but we were not going to stay that long.  On our way to the Jagger museum we stopped at the Wahinekapu steam vents overlook.  We couldn’t see much activity besides some steam along the rim of the crater near us and within the bigger crater but it did provide a good view for a panoramic photo of the massive crater.  At the Jagger museum we got to see some great exhibits about the area’s past volcanic activity when it used to, and will again someday, shoot 2,000 foot fountains of lava into the air.  We also learned about the newest island, Lo’ihi which is still just a seamount off the southern coast of the big island.   Apparently the road used to run completely around the entire crater of Kilauea but due to lava flows over the past 20 years and “danger” it has been closed for a very long time but we could see it in the distance, covered by lava in places.

From there we headed to the parking lot for the Kilauea Iki Crater trail.  This trail took us first through a lush forest and then down and across a vast lava lake still steaming from a massive eruption in 1959.  That loop hike was about 3.5 miles long and took us just about two hours to complete.  We actually passed by a couple we had done the manta ray dive with while crossing the lake (the screaming girl).  It was absolutely fantastic to see the massive lava dome that formed and then collapsed during that eruption 50 years ago.  To think that there was a 1,900 ft fountain of lava erupting from the hillside next to us was just nuts to me.  At the actual vent Emily and I took some time to explore the area and found some pretty beautiful and amazingly light lava rocks that glimmered with every color in the sunlight.  Despite our warnings of how unlucky it is to take lava from Hawaii, a foreign tourist nearby definitely took a shiny piece we think....

 We took a short side trip at the other end of the hardened lake to get another view of the steaming Kilauea crater and got a few shots of a female Kalij Pheasant on the trail who didn’t seem to be afraid of us at all.  We also took the time on this hike to call our parents about the engagement and they all seemed pretty stoked about it.  We got also got to see some really spectacular flowers and enormous ferns on the hike as well.  It was the most interesting part of the park for us because it was the most unlike the usual volcanics we see in the Northwest.  

We then headed over to the Devastation trail to check it out but after about a quarter mile down the trail around a small cinder cone we decided it was too similar to Oregon and we didn’t want to waste our time hiking any further.  We then drove down the Chain of Craters road for a few miles to a pit crater on the side of the road but again it was so similar to the Oregon Cascade volcanics that we didn’t stay long.  Instead we drove back to check out the Thurston Lava Tube.  This, as expected, was a typical lava tube similar to what we have been in just outside of Bend although there was of course a bit more tropical plants around than in bend.  

From there we headed back to the visitor center to do what I thought would be a quarter mile walk but turned out to be nearly a mile and a half around some sulphur vents on the Sulphur Springs trail.  We ended up taking what I thought was a loop trail but it actually took us out to the first viewpoint we stopped at in the park and we then had to walk back along the edge of a steep ravine that was steaming in the forest far below us.  Occasionally we would pass by steaming vents that were warm to stand next to and didn't smell too badly of sulphur.  This entire walk was similar to something we would see in Yellowstone but to a much smaller extent.  

Satisfied with what we had seen and walked through in the park we left and headed around the south end of the island back towards Kona.  We heard that there was flowing lava visible at a site outside of Hilo but we would have to backtrack and others told us that we could only see it from nearly a mile away so it just wasn’t worth the effort to try to visit.  Instead we focused on trying to find a beach on the south end of the island where we might find a sea turtle to check out.  Upon looking on the iphone we found a black sand beach at the Punaluu County Beach Park.  

We got to the beach around 5pm and shortly after someone let us know that there was a green sea turtle among some rocks and asked if anyone had a polarizing lens to cut through the glare of the water, to which I smiled of course.  We then spent about 20 minutes taking photos of us, the sea turtle and the beautiful coast line off the black volcanic sands of the beautiful beach.  Just before we were about to leave the sea turtle left and swam out to sea.. perfect timing yet again!

We were pushing our time limits for the day and still had an hour and a half to get back to Kona to go to The Fish Hopper, a local restaurant suggested to us by a mate on the manta ray dive who said the restaurant only serves Monteray Bay approved sustainable seafood and was delicious and moderately priced for the islands.  But, I also wanted to see the sunset again and had heard that the most southern point of the United States was nearby so I risked it and pulled off the main road to head down South Point road just past the town of Naalehu.  The iphone said 45 minutes, but we had to make it in 20!  

Thankfully, the road was paved nicely and I didn’t see any cops as we flew down the road past old retired wind farms and horses in broad fields.  We got to the end of the road and I took the rental car past the parking lot off road to the true southern most point where we made it just as the sun was setting.  We got some truly amazing sunset photos of us and the coast here before jumping back in the car and rushing around the island to make it back to Kona before all the restaurants closed.  There was a memorial along an old rock wall for a local Hawaiian that had drowned while fishing at the point 4 months ago.  

On the road back out of South Point Park I pulled over to try to get some interesting photos of some horses in the fields with the sunset and a large wind farm on the horizon with the beautiful sunset beyond. As I stood there taking photos the horses came over to investigate me and Emily snapped some photos.  The landscape on the way out to and from South Point was much different from the rest of the island we had seen as it was vast flat fields of green grass with grazing animals and endless expanses without a single tree.  There was a very old abandoned windfarm next to the road that we passed.  Apparently, it wasn't as good of a location as the one we had seen on the horizon.  I visited with the friendly horses a little longer then got back in the rental to foor it to Kona for dinner.

We made it back to Kona by 8pm and after checking into our hotel at the Kona Seaside we walked around the corner to The Fish Hopper and had a wonderful dinner of fresh Hawaiian fish.  We both shared a bowl of their fantastic clam chowder and I ordered a fish trio special of sesame tuna, panko Ono, and macadamia encrusted Mahi Mahi.  Emily had a pasta dish of seafood that I certainly helped her finish.  We also ordered the “bucket of fire” drink to share which was 64 ounces of booze and exotic juices with a 151 flaming sugar cube on top.  Awesome finish to another great day!

Day 4 Wednesday - Flight to Lihue, Waimea Canyon and Disappointment

On Wednesday we got up early and headed to the airport at 6am to return the rental car which was literally running on fumes at that point.   Unfortunately, Enterprise wasn’t open but we were let in by National nearby.  We were running pretty tight on time and when a TSA agent asked if I had a camp stove in my pack.  When I said yes, but no fuel he said we couldn’t bring it to my surprise.  After explaining to him that it was simply a hunk of metal and after he took it into the back and submerged it we were finally allowed to bring it in our checked baggage.  We flew through Honolulu with a brief 15 minute layover on our way to Lihue on Kauai.  I got some good shots of Pearl Harbor as we flew over.  

When we picked up the rental car at Enterprise I was disappointed to find that we were given an ugly Chevy HHR which I’m sure had awful gas mileage.  I also paid for the extended coverage for damage as we would be leaving the car at the Kalalau trailhead for 3 days and it had a bad reputation for break-ins.  The girl at first seemed pretty short with us but by the end had changed attitude and suggested a place called the Tip Top Cafe where we could grab some breakfast after our flight from Kona.  It was definitely a locals place and we had a quick yummy breakfast and coffee before continuing out of the commercialized (and obviously depressed) city of Lihue around the south end of the island towards Waimea Canyon which we would explore for the afternoon.  We stopped at a McDonalds for an ice coffee on the way and I notice something... there were chickens and roosters everywhere just walking around... huh?

At the town of Waimea after taking a few photos of the coast and the “forbidden island” of Niihau we drove up into the canyon to check out the “grand canyon of the pacific” according to Mark Twain.  The canyon is a mile wide and 3,567 feet deep and about 12 miles long... and absolutely, beautiful.  We stopped at every overlook of the canyon we came across and got some really amazing photos.  I tried to get some shots of some Koa ‘E ‘Ula (red-tailed tropicbirds) circling below but even with our long lens they were too far away.  We did see plenty of other tropical and brightly colored birds at many of the overlooks.  Once again there were chickens everywhere!  There are several theories of where they all came from but many believe they are feral chickens evolved from either chickens brought to the island from polynesians and sugarcane plantation workers in the 1800’s and 1900’s or farm/cock-fighting chickens that were released by hurricane Iniki in 1992.  In any case, they multiplied and there are a ton of them!  The other islands back in the day brought in mongooses to control the population but they only hunt at night which means that those islands have a mongoose AND chicken problem.  Mongooses weren’t introduced to Kauai so without any predators the chickens have flourished on the island.  

I was super excited when we got to one of the final overlooks, the Kalalau lookout because you could see down the valley towards the beach that we would be camping at on the Kalalau trail.  We couldn’t quite see the beach but the view of the steep fin-like ridges leading down to the water was amazing as were the waterfalls cascading down them.  On the way out we passed by some erckel’s francolin which were introduced to the islands in 1959.  We would later learn that over 95% of the Hawaiian islands plant and animal species were introduced!  We also saw a bunch of red-crested cardinals in the high canyon.  

On the way out of the canyon we stopped at the Kokee State Park for lunch and had a couple mai tai’s.  I had a pulled pork sandwich as usual as I love the native Kalau Pork of the region.  The descent out of the canyon was beautiful and we stopped at several spots for photos before the long drive around the entire island to Hanalei where we would camp for the night.  We decided to drive to the end of the road to check out the trailhead for the next morning and I was extremely disappointed to come across a road block near a landslide where a road crew worker informed me the Kalalau Trail we had permits for was closed due to the extreme rains the week before.  I was heart broken as that was the main reason for going to Kauai in the first place.  Very upset, we drove Anini beach near Princeville where a local Kayak Kauai employee named Sean told us to camp for the night before returning to see him in the morning to set up other activities to take the place of the 3 day Kalalua Trail we now couldn’t go on.  Upon arriving at the campsite and nearly setting up our tent we we assured by a park employee who was collecting tent fees that the trail was indeed open and that we could get to the trailhead after 6pm. 

With renewed hope we packed up the car again and drove the 30 minutes out to the roadblock again, which was now open!  With gaining hope we drove down the road to the trailhead where we saw police tape across the trail entrance and two big signs announcing the trail closure.  Upset again, and it being now near 10pm we simply tilted the back seats down and camped in the back of the rental car for the night.  Yes, this was the worst I had felt all trip, but thankfully everything would soon turn around for us again resulting in a trip that was probably better than us hiking the trail in first place!

Day 5 - Thursday - Snorkeling, A Lighthouse and Salt Pond Beach Park Stars

On thursday morning we woke up, and after a truly delicious breakfast at a Cafe in Hanalei we met up with Sean at the Kayak Kauai shop at 10am as planned to discuss some possible itineraries for us over the next 3 days as we would not be able to hike the Kalalau trail due to it’s closure.  I was still super bummed out about it but after we successfully booked a tubing tour through the inner part of the island for Saturday and a highly recommended Dinner Cruise on a Catamaran of the Na Pali Coast on Sunday I was feeling much better about our prospects.  We still had all day Thursday without any plans so Sean graciously gave us some snorkeling gear for free to use in the North Shore around the Hanalei area and told us the best place to go for snorkeling and diving on the island called “tunnels” which was back towards Haena Beach Park where we had camped that night.

We grabbed the gear and headed down the road again.  There were cars everywhere on the side of the road as they were still clearing out a landslide that blocked the actual parking lot for the beaches.  I crossed my fingers not to get a ticket and eventually found a spot directly under a “no parking” sign and guided by a few painted signs on trees we found our way down a path to the “tunnels” area.  There were plenty of other divers and snorkelers in the water and the beach seemed pretty busy.  We left all the stuff in the rental and prayed that it wouldn’t be broken into while we were at the beach.  I only took the waterproof Nikon to get some snorkeling shots. 

From the beach we had absolutely beautiful views of the Napali Coast up towards the jagged peaks of Mt. Makana and Mt. Puluo.  There was also a monk seal on the beach relaxing in the sun and sticks had been up all around it by lifeguards warning the tourists not get within 15 feet of it (basically, to not disturb it’s rest).  We heard from a hotel guest near us that the seal had been in that same spot for over a week!  I went over to check him out and he definitely turned to give me a look up and down as well.

Emily and I then spent a good hour in the water snorkeling in our bathing suits.  The water temperature felt great to us, especially with a hot sun overhead, but to other people the water must have felt cold as many had light wetsuits on.  What do they want?  Bathwater?   We saw some amazing fish while snorkeling including gold ring surgeonfish, Tangs, Wrasse, and the state fish of Hawaii, the trigger fish, or as native Hawaiians call it, the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a fish.  Yeah... had to practice saying that one.  We also saw butterfly fish, a few brilliantly colored parrot fish and a long, skinny cornet fish that looked almost like a tiny submarine floating through the water.  

When we got back to the beach there were a bunch of kite boarders offshore ripping up the waves which looked like a lot of fun.  Looking up at Mt. Kulanalilia and west down the Na Pali coast from this amazing beach we decided that if we were filthy rich we would absolutely love to live on the north shore of Kauai, possibly even in Hanalei.  While we had been snorkeling we figured out why the beach was called “tunnels” as the reef was pitted with myriad holes and tunnels for the tropical fish to swim through and hide from curious snorkelers if need be.   The reef also dropped off abruptly to deeper ocean at a point where sea turtles and even the occasional shark may be seen although we saw neither.

After returning the gear to Kayak Kauai in Hanalei and thanking Sean again we headed around the island towards Queens Bath, a relatively new “hidden” spot on the island that had recently become popular from a writeup in a guidebook.  Now there was a parking lot and a trail headed down from the Princeville resorts to the rugged coast.  

We followed the trail down to the beach alongside a small stream under palm trees until it ended in a waterfall and sign warning us that nearly 30 people had drowned in the area from large waves washing them out to sea.  The first spot we came too made it very clear to us how this could happen as we saw a beautiful small pool of water that looked inviting under a small ledge of rocks, almost like a hot tub.  I took a few photos and within minutes a large wave had come in and completely submerged the whole area before the water ripped out to the rocks below and then out to sea!  Yikes!  I couldn't tell if it was low or high tide but I could definitely see the danger in the area if a storm was brewing.  Thankfully, we had beautiful weather to check out the location!

A bit further along the coast we came to the actual Queens Bath which was a beautiful turquoise pool of water protected from the ocean waves by a wall of rocks.  Occasionally, a larger wave would wash over the rocks into the pool helping to refill it and circulate the water for the tropical fish in the pool, but the waves were small and posed no threat.   There was also a small waterfall of water cascading into the pool from tide pools above the bath.  This cascade would turn into a larger waterfall when those pools got filled up by bigger waves.  This little micro-coastal-environment was pretty amazing.  Emily immediately jumped in upon arriving and after I took some photos of her from above I set the camera down and then jumped the 15’ or so feet from the rocks into the pool.  A couple other guys saw me and were amazed.  They tentatively climbed the rocks too and after some coaxing by each other jumped off the rocks too encouraging their girlfriends/wives to get photos.  This amused us as Em and I are used to jumping 50-75’ drops into rivers in Oregon and 15’ just looked silly.  :)

After swimming around a bit longer and relaxing we climbed back up the trail and continued on to the Kilauea Point Lighthouse and where the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge was located east of Princeville.  When we arrived we saw a small group of Hawaiian Goose, the Nene which are making a big comback after near extinction on the Hawaiian Islands.  There are about 2,000 of the birds on Kauai.  Caught up in the excitement of seeing the rare goose we missed our last opportunity to enter the road out to the lighthouse and the refuge which closed at 4pm.  This didn’t really matter though, as we had a spectacular view over the lighthouse point and down to the cliffs below where hundreds of seabirds resided on nests in the cliffs.  

The most numerous bird in the area was red-footed boobies that circled above our heads and sat on nests in the cliffs.  They had blue bills and bright red feet.  Just below us we saw an apparent mating couple of birds and it was cool to see how affectionate they were to each other pruning each other and stretching in delight.  I used this opportunity to try some different settings on our camera with a long lens and got some really amazing photos of them flying around us.  In the far distance we also spotted an albatross and Kevin’s favorite seabird, the great frigate bird flying far off the coast.

We then continued our drive away from the north shore stopping for short side trips off the main road to see Opaekaa Falls above the beautiful Waimea River (the only navigable river on Kauai).  Across the street was a great view over the Wailua River with a small boat heading up it.  We then drove down the road a little bit further and turned off the main route to check out Wailua Falls.  Both falls were reminiscent of falls we may see in Oregon in the Columbia Gorge or Silver Falls.  The Waimea River looked pretty cool and we thought that perhaps on a future trip we would either kayak or paddle board up it.  

We then continued around the island past Lihue to a camping spot Sean had suggested for the night, Salt Pond Beach Park.  Because we had been planning on camping on the Kalalua trail we didn’t have any hotel reservations which worked out fine because it turned out to be really easy (and cheap at $10) to camp at any of the numerous beach camping areas on Kauai and everyone we met at these areas were super friendly.  After we set up our tent we hung out with a young couple who were also touring around Kauai.  Nate had just gotten to the island with an internship at a hospital near Lihue while Sarah had been on Kauai for a month already working for an organic farm near the north shore.  This was the first time they had been able to get away for some touring on the island and had hitched a ride (what a lot of young vacationers do) to the park for the night.  

Emily and I cracked open the box of wine and offered it up but they decided to pass on it.  I had planned on packing the wine into Kalalau beach before finding out the trail was closed so we now had a few days to drink the 4 bottles worth and I did my share that night.  I ended up spilling my Mountain House dinner on the ground which a very happy feral cat came to nab outside our tent.  We had a great chat with Nate and Sarah in a lighted picnic area out of the winds along the shore before everyone turned in for the night and I spent some time with the camera on the beach capturing the Hawaiian night sky as well as the spectacular display of Jupiter and Venus on the horizon. 

Day 6 - Friday - Awa’awapuhi, Pihea and Alakai Swamp Trails in Waimea Canyon

On Friday we woke up to yet another beautiful day and headed up into Waimea Canyon again.  I hadn’t expected to return to this part of the island but since we weren’t on the Kalalau Trail we decided to instead do a two of the best hikes suggested to us in the canyon, the Awa’awapuhi trail and the Pihea to Alakai Swamp Trail.  By doing these trails we would at least be able to hike down to the top of the cliffs on the Na Pali Coast and see a bit more of the island by foot as well as by boat which we had planned for Sunday night.

The Awa’awapuhi trail descends over 2,000 feet into the Na Pali Coast from the Waimea Canyon road in just over 3 miles.  I always find it odd when I do on a hike that descends to it’s end instead of ascending to start off.  The trail started off through the woods and was actually quite boring which had us both wondering if it was a good idea or not but it was well maintained with clear distance markers every quarter mile.  We soon began to come across view points over the many ridges of the Na Pali coast and could see the weather/astronomy observatories above the Kalalau lookout in the distance above us.  We also had a great view of Niihau, the “forbidden” island off the coast from the trail. 

We passed many beautiful flowers on the hike and passed under spectacular coastal trees on our descent.  While hiking ahead of Emily I kept noticing small critters scurrying away on the sides of the trails and after some effort was finally able to get a good photo of one of the small geckos that seemed to be everywhere.  As we were nearing the final overlook we came across two skinny black dogs that looked like a mix of labrador retriever.  It was a male and female and the female looks to have been nursing puppies possibly.  They had no collars or identification and although looking to be in good temper they didn’t care to have anything to do with Emily and I.  It then dawned on me that they may be feral dogs that live in the Na Pali coast as no one on the trail claimed to know anything about them and Emily and I were the only ones to have caught a glimpse of them.  I’d never seen a truly wild dog before living in such an area.  

We finally reached the end of the trail and a fence blocking a narrow ridge descending between two valleys of the Na Pali Coast.  No words can describe how beautiful this area was.  Instantly, both Emily and I agreed it was the most beautiful place we had ever hiked to.  The cliffs of the Na Pali coast were a vivid green from the rainy season but we arrived on a day of beautiful sunshine and small puffy clouds whose shadows drifted over the blue-green water just off the coast.  We watched as helicopters, one after another, entered into the canyons with tourists on board.  Personally, I think standing on the edge of it was far better than a helicopter ride would be.  We could see boats on the water below and later I would notice that the catamaran sailing far below us was the same exact boat we would take on Sunday night for our dinner cruise.

There was of course a sign warning people of the dangers of continuing past the fence but the ridge looked completely safe and there was a clear path down it so I decided to go exploring.  The ridge extended out into open space it seemed with nearly 2,000 foot drops on either side down to the valleys.  On the right side of us facing the ocean was the incredibly beautiful Awa’awapuhi Valley with a stream at running below the sheer cliffs.  There wasn’t much vegetation in this valley and the cliffs looked like curtain ribbons running towards the sea.  It was truly one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever stood.  

On the left side of me was the Nualolo Valley which was a bit broader and had trees at the base surrounding the Nualolo stream draining to the ocean.  We were directly across from the nearly vertical 2,000+ foot cliffs at the head of the Nualolo Valley that were still in the shade due to the morning sun to the east as we were on the western facing side of Kauai.  Below the ridge in the Nualolo Valley were again white-tailed tropicbirds circling below us.  Even with the 300mm lens I could barely get them in focus they were so far away and yet also seemingly direct below my feet.  Oddly, I also noticed small cactus plants on the side of the ridge we were on!  

We spent easily a half hour relaxing on the ridge between the two most beautiful valleys I’ve ever seen in my life watching helicopters and touring catamarans fly by below us, yes, even the helicopters were below us in the valley.  I easily blew through over a hundred photos in this time as well trying to capture everything around us but no photo could ever explain the exhilaration both of us felt standing there.  The uneventful hike down from Waimea Canyon had 100% been worth the effort.  Even though we weren’t on the Kalalau trail I felt that this hike had put us directly in the Middle of one of the most beautiful parts of the Kauai Coast which satisfied me completely!

After climbing back up the 2,000 feet we had descended on the Awa’awapuhi Trail we continued down the road to the last viewpoint of Waimea Canyon and started our hike down the Pihea Trail above the Kalalau Valley towards a viewpoint over the valley called Pu’u o Kilau just ahead of us on the ridge.  The trail started off down a broad ridge of open volcanic clay with spectacular views down into Kalalau Valley, or Valley of the Kings as they call it in Kauai.  At the base of the valley was Kalalau Beach which we would have camped at if we had been able to do the trail of the same name.  Instead of at the base of the valley we were now hiking along the top of it which I thought was equally as cool.

Quickly the trail became muddy and steep.  The red clay that we were walking over was easily conformed by many tourist footsteps into what seemed like stairs up the steep sections but the clay itself was super slick if wet so walking from muddy sections directly into steep climbs made it a bit tricky.  I say “tricky” not treacherous because what we were traveling over was a breeze compared to what it was a week ago during the torrential rains the island received.  A local (who may have actually lived/squatted in the canyon) chatted with us briefly and said that a week ago the trail was literally a 1-2 feet of mud and almost impossible to travel on!  

It took us a little bit to traverse the ridge with all the small mud holes and steep sections which several tourists gave us suggestions on how to get around, but when we reached the Pu’u o Kalau lookout we were rewarded with a fantastic view of the Kalalau Valley below us to the northwest.  The valley is the largest on the Na Pali Coast and we could see why Hawaiian Kings would want to reside there as it was absolutely beautiful.  From the lookout we descended back to an intersection with a sign pointing towards the Alakai Swamp Trail and began our descent on what I thought would be just a mile or two more of trail to another overlook... nope.

Remember, at this point in the day we had already climbed over 2,000 feet in 7 miles.  Now we were headed off on another trail into an alpine bog with a map without any scale bar on it.  Comparing distances on this cartoonish tourist map I guessed it would be another mile or so which wasn’t too bad.  Well, it took us at least a half our to make it to the intersection of the Alakai Swamp trail from the Pihea Trail and we had descended easily 500 feet down many wooden steps to the boardwalk across the alpine bog.  At the intersection I thought it would be no more than half an hour to the overlook.  Again, I was wrong.  An hour later down the trail Emily was clearly not in a good frame of mind having expected just an easy day of short hikes.  Whoops!  So, knowing she needed some space I distanced myself in front of her and kept a good pace to urge her on as by now it was too late to turn around and just give up.

The Alakai Swamp trail was simply amazing. It brought us through alpine rainforest environments and out across broad bogs of flowers and plant life in the middle of the island.  We actually crossed over part of a ridge on Mt. Waialeale at the center of the island which is the wettest spot on earth with an average of 452 inches of rain a year.  In 1982 it got the record with 682 inches (27 feet) of rain in one year!  The day had started off beautiful on the Awa’awapuhi trail but now in the wettest part of the island I could see clouds moving in fast so I hustled us out to the Kilohana Lookout at the end of the seemingly endless boardwalk.  When we got to the end there was another couple there sketching out the view, or what was left of the view as clouds were quickly engulfing the area. 

Emily and I took off our packs and rested at the small overlook over the Wainiha Valley towards the towns of Hanalei and Princeville below.  This spot is the only place easily accessible by foot that you can see clear across the Napali Coast area to the north shore of Kauai.  After about 10 minutes of waiting the clouds finally broke for about 20 seconds to allow for some photographs of Hanalei Bay below us to the East.  With us making it to the end of this trail I truly felt we had made up for the Kalalau Trail closure as we had now seen parts of the island that most tourists don’t take the time to visit.  After eating a some jerky we headed off back down the trail to hopefully make it out by sunset.  On the way out we passed several telephone poles falling apart that I hadn’t noticed on our rush to the viewpoint.  It was eery now as we were surrounded by clouds and heading through the swamp over nearly 3 miles of boardwalk through the mist made them creepy looking.  Apparently, after the attack on Pearl Harbor the army had tried to construct a communication system over the middle of the island to reach the secluded west side but since it had fallen out of use.

We caught up with the couple we had met at the end of the trail and found out their names were Katherine and Eric and were from Seattle.  Somewhere in the conversation I mentioned ski mountaineering in the northwest and Eric smiled.  Apparently he was an avid ski mountaineer and we spent the remainder of the hike chatting about various trips he had done over the past 30 years in the Northwest giving me a lot of ideas along the way.  Emily hung back with Katherine on the way out and by the time we reached the trailhead both of us had concluded that these two were simply older versions of the the people we wanted to be with lives that we would love to have at that age!  Unfortunately, we were not smart enough to get their emails but we may be able to track down Katherine as she does environmental education in the Puget Sound and may be able to track her down online.  

On the way down the canyon we made it to a spot where we had, what I considered, our best view of the sunset in Hawaii setting over the islands of Niihau and little Lehau off the coast.  We watched with another car nearby as the sun simply melted into the ocean behind Lehau with some of the most beautiful colors in the sky I had ever seen.  We then continued down the canyon and headed even further west around the island towards Polihale Beach Park past the Barking Sands Missile Facility.  

Our guidebook said we would again have to travel off road to reach the park we would camp at it.  It would be the closest park on the west side of the island to the Na Pali coast which began as cliffs down to the water at the parks edge.  The book said it would be about 5 miles and immediately as we turned off the paved road I knew it would be a bumpy 5 miles so instead of rolling slowly over each I simply gunned it to minimize the ups and downs which I’m sure did a job on the suspension of the ugly HHR we were in.  At one point down the road a family of wild pigs crossed the road which were the first time we had seen them in Hawaii.  We got to a point in the darkness where we almost turned around thinking we were lost but I decided to drive just a little bit further which thankfully brought us to the parking lot for the the park. 

Bot of us took quick and cold showers in the free facilities and then wrapped ourselves in warm clothes to sit at a picnic table and cook up some dinner with the jetboil and enjoy more of the box wine.  It was a beautiful night with stars all around us above the towering cliffs to our backs of the start of the Na Pali Coast.  There were many other people, locals I assumed, who had driven their vehicles directly onto the beach and were partying with campfires and booze as it was a Friday night on the island.  There was no chance that I was attempting that with our rental!  After dinner Emily decided not to bother with the tent and we again stretched out in the back of the rental with the seats folded down.  Unfortunately, this night we were visited by a couple mosquito’s and although they left me alone they apparently went for the sweet meat and tore Emily up which we discovered the extent of later on our flight home.  Before heading to bed I took the time to again snap some photos of the night sky.  The view of Saturn and Jupiter on the horizon lighting up the Pacific Ocean as bright as the moon normally would blew my mind.

Day 7 - Tubing Sugarcane Irrigation Ditches and St. Patty’s Day Hawaiian Style

On Saturday morning we awoke to another beautiful day and view up the coastline of the Napali Coast was stunning.  We were literally at the furthest point you go safely camp at on this side of the island as just a quarter mile down the shore were vertical cliffs entering the ocean.  Walking around I found a flower for Emily’s hair and we both noticed the mosquito bites on her legs.... whoops!  We ate a few bagels and then leisurely made our way around the island again back towards Lihue to the small town of Hanama’ulu where we signed in for our tubing adventure with Kauai Backcountry Adventures in their warehouse.

Today would be a leisurely day of floating on tubes and relaxing in a condo in Poipu which we were both excited for after the long day of hiking the previous day.  Emily’s feet were fine but she had some mosquito bites from camping while the bugs avoided me but my toes had some large blisters on them from all the hiking.  I wrapped them in bandaides and we jumped into the outfits Pinzgauer’s (an all terrain military vehicle with 6 wheels) for our trip into the center of the island.  I didn’t have the gps with me and forgot to turn on the gps in our camera so figuring out where we went took quite some time when we got back to the mainland.

We drove from Hanama’ulu into the Wailua Valley in the interior of the island with sweeping views over old sugarcane fields to the peaks in the center of the island, the highpoint Mt. Kawaikini at 5,243 feet, and the wettest spot on earth, Mt. Waialeale which we had been directly next to on our hike the previous day.  The tour took us to a fantastic viewpoint of the mountains then capped with clouds in the early afternoon (we picked a great day to go tubing as it was mostly cloudy only on that Saturday).  We could see a particularly awesome stream of water pouring down the face of Mt. Kawaikini which was the headwaters of the Wailua River which fed the Hanaumalu irrigation ditch that we would float down.  

When we arrived at the put in just before 1pm I noticed the area was overrun with bamboo but this bamboo was unlike Oregon Bamboo, it was literally as tall as eastern pine trees with the trunks of the stalks 4-6 inches in diameter!  Our guide would later tell us that these stalks only took about 6-8 months to grow that tall.  While checking out the bamboo I noticed a small spider in a web that was the coolest looking spider I’d ever seen.  It looked to have a shell on it like a crab with 6 different red points.  I looked it up on Wikipedia later and found it to be G. cancriformis, or a “crab spider” as Kevin and Alexa call them.  They are common in other tropical areas but Hawaii wasn’t listed on the Wikipedia page so I added Kaui to the list of known locations for the little critter.  Our  very entertaining and informative guide (most of the facts I write here were learned from him on our drive to and from tubing) also showed us a sugarcane plant.  I was fascinated to find that they used to have to burn the fields before harvesting the cane because the leaves of the plant were razor sharp and would tear people to shreds otherwise.  A stallk about 15-20 feet tall was needed to make just one tiny sugar cube he explained.  

Another fascinating story from the trip was about the land we were on.  Apparently, the owner of AOL was a native Hawaiian and his family knew of the sale of the abandoned plantation land.  Sugar cane used to be a major crop of the islands before they became a state and U.S. labor laws and wages drove the industry to cheaper countries leaving the plantations and fields unused on Kauai.  So, the man purchased the land for 17 million dollars (incredibly cheap for the amount of land he purchased which also gave him water rights).  He now leases out the water to local municipalities for a fee as well as the tubing company for a fee and therefore makes about 17 million each year back on the purchase, not to mention the 12 million dollar check the film studio wrote him to film “Tropic Thunder” recently on his land.  

The float itself was amusing.  Em put her barefoot shoes on and I used my five fingers shoes.  We were equipped with helmets and headlamps and sent off down the drainage ditch through the lush forest of Kauai. We sat in rugged inner tubes with our butts in the water and bounced off the walls and shore like pinballs spinning at a slow speed down the length of the waterway.  We went through 4 different tunnels through mountainsides with the longest one being nearly a mile long.  In the 1800’s chinese immigrants were employed at a ridiculously low rate to dig these tunnels and waterways for irrigation of the sugarcane fields.  They nailed the meeting of both sides of the tunnels consistently, except for the last really long one which they had to make a long s-curve to meet up.  That was the only one that we couldn’t see light at the end of for a ways.

The water was a little chillier it seemed than the ocean and when floating through the tunnels with water from the ceiling dripping on us it was a little chilly at times.  We only had one small waterfall to tumble over which was only a foot or so.  The other tourists around us thought it was exhilarating while Emily and I just took it as a relaxing afternoon after our previous days in Paradise.  In the last tunnel  our guide pointed out to me that you can still see the original pick axe marks in the walls from the chinese workers who built these tunnels over a 150 years ago.  

The entire float was only a couple of miles or so and took about an hour.  After, we had a nice picnic lunch near a tributary of the Wailua River where there was a small swimming area that several took advantage of.  Over lunch we took the time to chat with our guides who told us a lot more about the fascinating island of Kauai and how it was much different that the other islands and originally didn’t even want to be part of the Hawaiian Kingdom before it became a state.   After lunch it was a short ride back into town and our rental car.

We then headed to Poipu to check into our resort at the Suite Paradies.  There was a local concert being set up for St. Patty’s day in the parking lot so I parked on the side of the street and went into the check-in building where the girl there told me she had grown up playing in those ditches we just paid over $200 to float down!  She then gave me a bunch of keys, info packets and two free Mai Tai’s for Emily and I to take to our condo!  We only had to drive a couple hundred feet to our room and when we entered was amazed at the size of it!  The rental was as big as our apartment and just as furnished with washer/dryer/dishwasher and two bathrooms and two bedrooms!  We both thought that next time we go to Hawaii we are bringing friends and renting this place out for a week of exploring and comfortable nights at a resort.  

Emily wanted to check out the pool so we put our suites on and headed over to the nearest pool for some time laying in the sun.  I took a book on Kauai that I found in the rental (which also had snorkels, fins, boogie boards, games, movies etc just like a SunRiver rental does).  When the sun began to set behind the palm trees we returned to the unit to shower and get ready to go out for St. Patty’s Day.  Upon looking on my phone I discovered there weren’t many bars around so we decided to just go check out the free concert down the road at our own resort!  

The concert was traditional island music with a hint of irish folk mixed in at times I think.  Of course there were Guinness signs everywhere and Emily and I had just enough cash to buy two car bombs which we had to pound down super fast as the girl simply poured the the liquor directly into the plastic cup of Guinness!  While in line for the beer we asked an older couple if they knew of a place to eat.  After visiting every year for 20 years they said the best place they knew of in Poipu was just walking distance away.  So, Emily and I headed out of the concert and down a narrow path under palm trees to the rocky shore of Poipu which we walked around a short ways before finding Casa Di Amici which also had great reviews on Yelp.  Although it was primarily an Italian restaurant it served fresh Hawaiian fish in the dishes and both Em and I were hungry so it worked out perfectly.  
Emily and I ordered some calamari fritte at the suggestion of the couple we met and it turned out to be the thickest, meatiest calamari I’ve ever had.  I ordered the Scampi Di Amici while Emily had the Fettuccine Putanesca which had mussels, shrimp, calamari and of course olives for Emily.  We both also had a couple Mai Tai’s of course.  The meals were pricey but the ambiance was pleasant with a live piano player behind us and great service.  It was a great “final meal” as we would be on a Catamaran for dinner on our last day.  After dinner we headed back to the concert at about 9:30 and barely made it in before they shut the entrance down to the bar and the concert area.  On stage was Anuheake’alaokalokelani Jenkins or “Anuhea” as she is known.  Apparently, she’s huge on the island as the place was packed and she was on the local radio all the time.  She was beautiful with an amazing voice and had a pop edge to her traditional Hawaiian sounding music.  We both had food coma so didn’t stay long at the concert and retired back to our very comfortable room for a little tv and relaxin’.  After 3 full days of camping without a proper shower it felt wonderful.

Day 8 - Shipwreck Beach Tanning and Captain Andy’s Na Pali Coast Dinner Cruise

On our last day in paradise we woke up early (well 9am) and after a nice breakfast of fish and eggs (that’s what I had) at Kalapaki Joe’s where the concert was held the night before, we headed towards the nearest beach we could find which was called Shipwrecks.  At breakfast we actually met a couple on vacation from Albany, OR just 20 minutes from where we lived!  We heard from Sean in Hanalei that it had a spot for cliff jumping but when we saw Makawehi Point there were fishermen on top and no other locals were jumping (I later read it was also the site of multiple deaths from jumping and spinal injuries) so we wisely didn’t give it a second thought. It took us a little bit to find the beach just beyond the Hyatt parking lot but it was worth it as it was beautiful.

We laid out our towels and spent the next 3 hours soaking in the sun and watching myriad skilled bodyboarders and surfers tackle the 6-8 foot perfect waves rolling in to the beach.  When I say perfect I mean I’ve never seen such smooth waves with perfect barrels before in my life.  I was tempted to run back to the room and find the boogie board in the closet but read in the guidebook that this was a local’s beach for experts only and realized the last thing I wanted to do was steal a wave from a local surfer and end up with a black on the last day of the vacation.  So, I wisely remained on the beach with Emily only venturing out into the nearby surf to cool off and have some fun in the waves for a few minutes, well away from any of the surfers.  We brought the long lens for the camera and we got some great shots of the locals shredding the pipeline.

We laid on the beach until we had just enough time to head back the room for a quick shower before heading to Port Allen to check in with Captain Andy’s sailing for our catamaran tour.  I finished the box of wine before we left and when we got to the check in we had enough time to get a martini before the cruise so by the time we took off our shoes and boarded the brand new 1.5 million dollar catamaran I was slightly buzzing.  We took off up the coast with our Captain Kurt (yes that was his name) amusing us the entire way with jokes and descriptions of the island and its history.  

Then, it started to pour rain and my heart sank.  But, unphased and determined to see the Na Pali Coast in full by any means we both remained on the upper deck and a crewman gave me a plastic bag for our DSLR.  This determination paid off though as we suddenly saw humpback whales on the horizon and they began to breach all around us out of the water.  There were adults and babies both splashing in the water all around us and in a short distance after rounding the tip of Polihale Beach (our last camping spot) we came upon a cove where the captain believed a mother whale had just given birth.  The mate on the deck with us told us we probably weren’t going to see dolphins so when we pulled up to the cove with the mother and baby I was overjoyed to see spinner dolphins coming right up to our boat to check us out. 

Once we started cruising down the Na Pali Coast along the cliffs the weather dramatically changed to beautiful blue skies with puffy white clouds which made the views amazing and spectacular photos with the polarizing lens.  The long lens was also perfect for capturing the dolphins and whales that seemed to be everywhere around us.  As we passed historical points along the Na Pali coast the captain told us all about the history of the early polynesians that lived here.  There seemed to be ancient waterfalls all along the coast that were no longer running.  This, we found out, was due to the re-routing of the water for the sugarcane plantations that are no longer in use on the island and unfortunately due to water rights the water will not be returned to the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast... booo.

As we sailed we came upon many sea caves in the cliffs and one of them the captain actually backed the catamaran right under until the water from the lip of the cave was nearly falling onto the boat.  Above us were the fluted knife-edge ridges of the Na Pali coast which were simply amazing.  The weather had cleared and we could see the entire length of the coastline as we approached Alapii Point which was just below the Awa’awapuhi and Nualolo Valleys we had stood on top of on our Friday hike from Waimea Canyon.  Later in photos I could even see the ridge that we had climbed down to take photos into the valleys.  This part of the coast was the most beautiful landscape I had ever seen.

A bit further down we passed by Queens Bath (not the same one on the opposite side that we visited earlier).  This was a huge sea cave that had collapsed with a tunnel leading into it that our boat could probably have fit through had we not a tall sailing mast.  We passed by the Valley of the Lost Tribe and around Honopu Arch to the Kalalau Beach, again, the same beach we would have ended at had the Kalalau trail been open upon our arrival to Kauai.  There was a beautiful waterfall on the south end of the beach and kayaks had been pulled up to the shore.  The curtain of cliffs and ridges above the beach was the highpoint of the Na Pali coast in my mind.  A small helicopter passed in front of the cliffs which gave us a good perspective of how enormous they were.  

At this point a rainbow also started to form over the coast line and it remained there spectacularly for the rest of our tour as it was apparently raining near the north shore but thankfully not over us.  We floated just off the Kalalau valley which we had peered into from the Pihea trail on Friday and had a wonderful catered dinner of sweet chicken, rice, steak and onions, salad and an amazing pineapple dessert.  The crew had broken out beers for us earlier and fresh fruit from the open bar but now they started making mixed drinks called “Tiki Surprise” for us with dark rum on top and I thoroughly enjoyed putting many of those down as we soaked in the views.  

Just before we left the captain said that the conditions were right for him to raise the sails and we started to sail back along the coast, again, running into multiple pods of humpbacks breaching out of the water all around us and teaching their babies how to slap the surface of the water with their fins.  At one point we could see a line of 7 spouts of water as they surfaced and I got a great shot of a whale in the distance breaching nearly completely out of the water.  We followed a brown booby for a while as it flew alongside us and another beautiful rainbow appeared over Polihale Beach we had camped at on Friday night.  

As the sun started to set over the small islands of Niihau and Lehua for the last time on our vacation we had quite the display with humpback whales surfacing and diving in the foreground while the sky lit up in orange and red.  This last sunset was spectacular and with the marine life around us and the great view the captain kept us out longer than the actual tour was meant to returning us back well past the five hour cruise we had paid for.  

We had seen dolphins, mother and baby whales, whole pods chasing females and at one point the mates had even dropped a listening device into the water and killed the powerful engines so we could hear the whales singing to each other.  Apparently, they sing the same song for 4 years until they all suddenly change and sing something different.  We had never heard anything like it before in real life, amazing.  We were both all smiles as we drove back to the comfy condo for our last night in paradise.

Day 9 - Flight Home

On Monday we boarded our flight in Lihue without issue after dropping the rental car off.  We were early enough to the airport to get some breakfast before our flight.  We had a beautiful sunrise and the day was just as great as all the others for our flights.  This allowed me to get some great shots out the airplane window (thankfully I was on the side with the views) of the other Hawaiian Islands we didn’t visit like Molakai, Lanai, and Oahu.  When we had a short layover at Honolulu again I got some spectacular shots of the battleships in Pearl Harbor, over the skyscrapers of downtown Honolulu and of Waikiki and the southern tip of Oahu.  Oahu was pretty from above but was visibly highly populated with cities creeping up all the hillsides of the western side of the island.  It definitely did not look appealing to the tastes of Emily and I as we appreciated the remoteness of the more adventurous island of Kauai.  

As we flew into Kona I got some great shots of the coast and a beach just north of the first beach we visited when we arrived as well as the rugged road we had to drive down to get to it.  We had a bit of confusion at the Kona airport as we had to leave one terminal and then walk to another for our flight back to the mainland, being forced to go through security a 2nd time to do so.  Once in the air again we looped around the Big Island I was able to get some shots of the summit of Mauna Kea above a sea of clouds, the place I had proposed to Emily just a week earlier.  

It was hard to imagine we had done so much over two islands in just a short week.  We decided next trip we may just fly directly to Kauai as it was by far our favorite island from what we experienced and from what locals and other tourists had told us.  The manta ray dive had been the greatest wildlife experience of my life and, the proposal the most romantic and the views of the Napali Coast and Sunsets on Kauai the most beautiful landscapes I had ever seen.  

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