This morning we had breakfast in the Skyline Restaurant as the ship pulled into the port at Nawiliwili, Kaua’i. Our tour today was called the “Best of Kaua’i” and covered a lot ground.
We boarded the van a little after 8:30am with our driver and guide Kats. She is 75% Hawaiian and is originally from Oahu. She has been on the island of Kaua’i since 1992 and has been giving tours for most of that time.
Nawilwili is in southeastern Kaua’i and we started out driving along the southern coast of the island going west. She explained that Kaua’i is known as the “garden island” and is the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain. Because of its age, it is completely covered in vegetation, though 90% of this vegetation is not native. All native plant life in Hawaii was brought in by either wind, water, or wings. Kaua’i is the least commercialized of the major islands, and there is a building code that prohibits any structure taller than 40’ (4 stories).
Kaua’i is 555 square miles in size, which makes it the smallest of the major islands in Hawaii. There is one main highway that goes around much of the coast of the island, but 77% of Kaua’i is inaccessible by vehicle. 1/5 of the island is privately owned by the Robinson family. Their property used to be a thriving sugar plantation, but it folded in October 2010 after 120 years of operations. Some of their land was used for Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Wai’ale’ale Mountain in the center of Kaua’i is 5,148ft tall and is the wettest place on earth with 400 to 600 inches of rainfall per year.
Kats told us about a category 5 hurricane that hit Kaua’i in 1992, and the impact of this event reverberated through the narrative of our tour today.
Our first stop was in the town of Hanapepe, which is the “home” of Lilo from Lilo and Stitch (I’ve never seen it). We went to a store called Mariko. Sara purchased a stuffed rooster that she named “Heihei” after the rooster in Moana. There are lots of wild roosters and chickens on Kauai that are the result of being brought via canoe by the first settlers, and were spread all over the island by the 1992 hurricane.
I bought a Hawaiian “Red Dirt” hat, that has been dyed using actual red dirt from the islands. The dirt is red on Kauai due to high iron content. I remember also buying a “Red Dirt” shirt in Kaua’i when we were here 15 years ago.
We passed through the town of Waimea, on the western side of the island, on our way up to Waimea Canyon State Park.
This canyon was dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” by Mark Twain. It is one mile wide, 15 miles long, and 2,800ft deep. On the way up we saw lots of eucalyptus trees, and we also saw lots of dead vegetation. Kats said that this was from wind, as wind speeds topped 300mph up on Waimea during the 1992 hurricane.
At the canyon lookout, we were at 3,400ft above sea level and had travelled all the way to the northern side of Kaua’i. Kats said that there are times when the temperatures on top of Waimea can get down into the 20s.
The canyon itself is stunning and we had a perfect, sunny day to see it. There is a waterfall on the northern end of the canyon that is quite beautiful, and looking south we could see all the way to the ocean. I love this place and one day I hope to be able to come back and hike to the bottom.
After we got back down we drove along the south shore again going east toward the town of Koloa. On the way we passed through the coffee fields of the Kaua’i Coffee Company. This is the largest coffee plantation in U.S. with over 4 million plants. They grow arabica coffee and it is all machine picked. We passed through Koloa, which is named after a native duck. Koloa was the location of the first sugar mill in 1835.
We next came to Po’ipu, which is a high-end resort area. A half acre lot costs one million with no home. This area is at the southern tip of the island. The beaches are mostly lava rock with a little white sand. We stopped at Spouting Horn Park where there are lava tubes on the beach that create water spouts with the crashing waves.
For lunch we went to Keoki’s Paradise in Po’ipu. This restaurant is owned by the same company that owns Duke’s where we ate back in Waikiki. The lunch was a yummy buffet and the restaurant was beautiful.
From there we drove back through Koloa and passed through the “Tunnel of Trees,” which used to make a complete tunnel over the roadway. Many of the trees were/ destroyed by the hurricane in 1992, and are just now starting to grow back over the road. On a related note, Jurassic park wrapped filming in September 1992 right when the hurricane hit.
Our next stop was Opaeka’a Falls on the eastern side of the island.
At this stop there was also a lookout for the Wailua River where we would be headed next.
We boarded a flat bottom river boat at the mouth of the Wailua River. This river is 22 miles long and is the only navigable river in Hawaii. The boat travelled 2 1/2 miles up the river to the Fern Grotto. Along the way we listened to a band play some Hawaiian music and even learned some hula dances.
At the Fern Grotto, we walked about 200 yards through some beautiful vegetation up to a platform just outside of the grotto. A grotto is a shallow cave and this one is 20 feet deep.
There are Boston Ferns growing upside down from the top of the grotto. At one time the ferns were 30 feet long, but many of the ferns were lost in the 1992 hurricane, and it is taking a long time for them to regrow.
We came here 15 years ago and I remember being able to go all the way up into the grotto. In 2006, there was rain for 42 consecutive says and it washed out the upper portion of the trail. The platform was built after that time.
At the top of the grotto is a small water fall that is fed by spring water. The Fern Grotto is a popular place for weddings and has hosted over 12,000 since it was discovered in the 1950s. While we were there, a small group performed the Hawaiian Wedding Song for us.
On the boat ride back the captain told us about some of the movies that have been filmed Wailua River. These include Outbreak, Six Days and Seven Nights, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Back on the ship, we got cleaned up and headed up to dinner in the Liberty Dining Room. The ship and dining room felt very empty because so many passengers were at a luau on the island.
After dinner, we took some photos in the Capitol Atrium before dropping off Sara at the Splash Academy Kids Club. While Sara was a kids club, Olivia, Kate, and I went back to the room to do a little packing and went to watch a comedian in the Hollywood Theater.
Tomorrow we have a rainforest hike planned for our second day in Kaua’i.