Kauai June 2003
Revised 08 July 2003,
Photos & Text © 2003 by Len Schwer
Ms Becky & I traveled to Kauai, the Garden Isle of Hawaii, 29 June - 4 July 2003.
We drove a rental car from Windsor to San Francisco airport (SFO) and took
the new tram system that shuttles people between the central rental car location
and all the terminals. There is also a Red Line that only runs between the
terminals, so when you return from your trip be sure to select the Blue Line to
get to the renal car facility.
We flew on United direct from SFO to Lihue, the main town on Kauai, on a 757 with a flight time of about 5.5 hours. The flight was very smooth and trouble free. The co-pilot even announced that he and the pilot could not recall a smoother flight over the Pacific. I think this was a great use of the free companion ticket I was awarded by United for all my recent ‘seat time’ on their flights.
The only minor problem we had upon arrival with the rental car. They use a system of shuttle buses that take you to each company’s off site rental facility. I had reserved a National rental car, and since National merged with Alamo, the buses have been painted half green and half blue to represent the colors of the two companies. When the oddly painted bus arrived I coaxed Becky on to it and rode to the remote rental facility. The facility was packed with only 3 people processing rentals. In looking about the facility, while waiting, I noted everything said Alamo, with no mention of National. While Becky held my place in line, I went back to the bus and asked the driver if this was also the National rental facility, and he said no they were in a different location.
So we re-boarded
the bus and rode back to the airport rental shuttle pickup. We waited a short time
and another bi-colored bus arrived, and this was the National car rental bus. The
good news was when we arrived at the National remote facility there were only two
people at the counter and no one in line.
We found our hotel easily, checked in and found our suite. The Best Western Plantation Hale Suites consist of 10 or 11 two-story buildings with 16 suites per building. We had reserved an upper floor room with a scenic view; the other view option was a garden view. The scenic view did include a ‘white water’ view of the ocean, which even though it was a tad bit distant, was unobstructed and very welcomed. The hotel is well used around the edges, but the room was nicely decorated and looked to be freshly painted. We were very pleased with the everything about this $139 per night Kauai bargain.
We decided to just relax this evening, after the 5.5 hour flight and 3 hour time change. We headed to the nearby Safeway to buy some sodas, snacks, ice and breakfast makings. Our suite include a kitchen and thus no continental breakfast is provided. We opted for a couple of frozen pizzas to bake in our oven and a early turn in. I noted the sunsets at about 7:30 PM in Kauai, while something closer to 9 PM is the present sun set time in California. I guess Kauai must be near the eastern edge of the time zone, while Wonderful Windsor is near the western edge.
Our day started with an overview of the island, recommendations for sight
seeing, tours and restaurants. This was provided by the very nice lady, Sabrina,
that serves as the concierge at the Best Western Plantation Hale. We signed up
for an afternoon boat trip to the Na Pali Coast for Wednesday and Becky took notes
on other sights to visit along the road that nearly encircles the island.
We opted to head north on our first day and traveled to Princeville, Hanalei and the end of the road at Haena. In Princeville we stopped at the very highly rated Princeville Golf Course to shop for a Hawaiian floral-print golf shirt for my Chicago friend Larry Retzl. I found a very nice shirt that was marked down to $62 from $82. Becky read that a round of golf was $135 on this course.
After driving to the end of the road, we turned back and again drove past the very beautiful Hanalei Bay, which was made famous in the movie South Pacific and by the song “Puff The Magic Dragon.” We stopped for lunch in Princeville at a place called Zelo’s. The lunch specialty is a fish sandwich. We both opted for this special, which I think was Ono, but I know the sandwich was excellent.
Our first stop was at the Kauai’s only lighthouse, Kilauea Lighthouse, which is also a bird
sanctuary. We did not bother to walk up to the top of the rather short light
house, as we have visited the Point Arena lighthouse on several occasions and
seen the Freznel lens. But the views of the ocean, and cliffs loaded with birds,
made this an interesting stop. The other nearby sight we visited was an old church
made from the local lava rock, and the church’s graveyard where we saw several
head stones with dates in the mid 1800’s.
We next stopped at an off the beaten path public access beach, near Moloaa, to take in a close view of the sand and surf. While wading ankle deep in the surf, poor Becky had the misfortune to attract a Man-o-War around her ankle. She described the stinging as something similar to stinging nettles, if you have ever had that unfortunate experience.
Our final stop of the day was at Opaeka’s Falls. Although not nearly as scenic as the more famous twin falls at Wailua Falls, these falls, and the overlook of the Wailua River, are only a few miles from our hotel.
Dinner was at nearby Bull Shed, where Becky had the prime rib, which she said was probably the best of her life, and I had the scallops, which were quite good.
Today we headed for the western end of Kauai’s road system, the
famous Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park. One problem with Kauai’s diverse
topology is the weather can change dramatically from one place to another
very quickly. By the time we drove to the Waimea Canyon area, and ascended
4,000 feet in elevation, we ran into quite a few clouds, some drizzle, and
a little rain. Even though the viewing conditions were not optimally, the
vistas were spectacular. The Grand Canyon offer scale in terms of size and
depth, but Waimea Canyon offers color combinations that are hard to imagine.
The reds of the volcanic slopes, the lush green of the vegetations, and at
some overlooks the beauty of the sea and beach colors are added to the rainbow
For lunch we stop in the town of Waime at the Waimea Brew Pub, which is housed in an old plantation house and surrounded by lovely grounds with a view of the ocean. Becky had a fish sandwich and I ordered a Hawaiian style (Kalua) pork sandwich topped with Provolone cheese. My sandwich was excellent as the pulled pork had a very smoky flavor and the cheese added to the taste experience.
On the way back to our hotel we stopped at the local Wal Mart store. This is the place to shop on the island, as per our lovely concierge, for all your tourist needs, i.e. souvenirs. The store and parking lot were very crowded at 2:30 in the afternoon, as we had been warned. The crowd is not tourists, although they are well represented, but mostly locals.
of living on Kauai is quite high, so the locals are adept at finding
whatever bargains exist. As an example, while driving to Waimea Canyon I
passed a Shell gas station where people were parked in the street waiting
to get to the pumps, shades of the gas shortages of the 70’s, because the
price was THREE cents less per gallon than at the next Shell station I
passed less than a mile away. However, Sam Walton did not make any money
from us on this visit to ‘Wally World’. Becky was looking for floral-print
‘scrub tops’ which she wears to work, and did not find any she liked;
although she had purchased a few at Kmart the day before.
We returned to our room and relaxed for a few minutes, before Becky took off to explore the nearby shopping center and I decided to catch up on my email and journal entries. When she returned we went down to the pool and relaxed in the water. After the pool we dressed for dinner which was Thai food at a nearby restaurant named the “King and I.” The food was quite good and reasonably priced, especially as Thai food tends to be expensive and Kauai prices are generally more than you pay on the mainland. We ordered soup, noodles, a green curry and the day’s special of white fish in a mango sauce.
The great restaurant recommendations come from a book Becky purchased written by Lenore W. Horowitz titled “Kauai Underground Guide”. Well worth the $12.95 cover price, and praised by the hotel’s alternate concierge as her favorite Kauai guide.
We started our day with a visit to the very picturesque Wialua Falls.
Here the plural on falls is appropriate as these are twin falls and were
featured in the opening scene of the TV series “Fantasy Island.”
From the falls we headed to the very popular Poipu Beach area. We headed to the Poipu Beach Golf Course to purchase another shirt for my friend. One advantage of visiting golf courses is they have superb landscaping and great views of the mountains and ocean. So for other non-golfers, like me, I recommend you add golf course stops to your tour of the island. We then stopped at the nearby Kiahuna Plantation Resort. This is where Augie and I spent spring break back in 1991 just before the last hurricane hit Kauai. The grounds and gardens here are exceptional and worth a walk through while in the Poipu area. Of course, no visit to the Poipu area is complete without a stop at the famous Spouting Horn, which is a blow hole in the lava where the ocean waves are forced up through the hole and produce a geyser like effect.
We continued up the western coast and stopped again in the town of Waimea for lunch. This time Becky selected the Wrangler’s Steakhouse. This was another great restaurant selection as the food was good and relatively inexpensive, and all the lunches include the soup and salad bar. Becky had a fish sandwich (I accused her of doing a ‘fish sandwich tour’ of the island) and I had the plantation worker special of tempura, teriyaki and rice served in a traditional three tier pot that doubled as a lunch bucket for the plantation workers.
Our main activity for the day was an ocean cruise to the Na Pali coast via Makana Charters & Tours. This is an all native owned and operated business that conducts twice daily tours of the Na Pali coast on a small twin hulled boat. We took the afternoon tour which departed about 2 PM and is probably a better choice than the 7:30 AM departure when you add in the travel time and early check-in. The tours are usually limited to 12 people, but we had 13 on our tour as it included two families with teen age children and one boy of about age 10.
Our crew consisted of the captain and the deckhand/entertainer. During the lunch served while anchored at the snorkeling site, I went to the bow to chat with these two interesting chaps. Both of these young men were very high energy and a delight to chat with about the island, scenery, and especially mocking the other Na Pali coast tours.
As all the tours
follow essentially the same route, there is a lot of good natured bantering
that goes on between the crews. One insight was provided by the captain
about anchoring at the snorkeling site. He said when Makana Charters first
started and anchored to the moorings at the snorkel site he was badgered by
the other charters that had placed the moorings. They claimed these were
their moorings, i.e. chain to the bottom and submerged float with tie off
point. The native Hawaiian captain replied, “That may be your chain, but
it’s anchored to my rock!” Most of our chat was about the other boats and
tourists. They referred to the large catamarans, with over 30 passengers,
as Cattle-marans, and would refer to the female tourists on the other boats
by the native names of various fish, which they told me were evoked by the
color of their bathing suits, but I am sure I could felt my leg being pulled
a little on this point.
It takes a bit more than an hour and a half to reach the turn around point on the Na Pali coast. The scenery before reaching the Na Pali coast is fairly mundane, but starts to improve once the boat passes the point at Polihale State Park. In additional to the beautiful scenery, and snorkeling mentioned above, the boat enters two caves. The first is really an arched passageway into the rocky shore that adjoins a vertical circular cylindrical chamber, i.e. much like being in the bottom of a well. The fact that the boat passes through the very small archway, while waves are rushing through it, was astonishing to the novice. The second cave is a more typical wave eroded site. Here the boat backs into the cave to provide the passengers with the full effect of going about 200 yards back into this every narrowing hole in the rocks.
The Na Pali coast is a must see for any visit to Kauai. The only options are via helicopter or charter boat. The aerial view is a once I a lifetime experience, which Augie and I experienced in 1991, but the view from the ocean of these tall cliffs is certainly worth your time. The boat tour provides time to look at all the details of the landscape and to ask questions about oddities observed along the way. I highly recommend Makana Chaters and Tours for this experience.
Since we had a late second lunch while on the boat at the snorkeling site, we skipped going out to dinner and opted for a few snacks back in our room.
This was our last full day on Kauai and so we spent the day covering the
loose ends of sites we had not seen, and wondering into other places along
the way. We started the day with a trip to Lihue and breakfast at Ma’s
Restaurant. This is the same local restaurant Augie and I visited back in
1991. It is an impossible place to find without detailed instructions.
Although it is in the Lihue downtown business district, it is well off
the main street. Do not go to Ma’s if you are in a rush, but rather on
a morning when you have sometime to kill and want to take in an entertaining
side show. Many locals regularly eat at Ma’s, including workers who do not
have as much time to tarry as the tourists. So if you observe the flow of
people carefully, you will probably notice the locals coming, eating and
leaving while your coffee cools in the carafe. What I like about Ma’s,
other than the Hawaiian food and prices, is the pricing method. Everything at
Ma’s is priced in even dollar amounts, e.g. most breakfasts are $5 which
includes coffee or tea. This make totaling the bill easy, which is important
since there is no cash register. When your meal is done, you amble up to
the counter and ask how much you own, and one of the ‘young’ ladies Ma
employs will do the mental math.
We next headed to the near by Kauai Lagoons golf course, which is part of the Marriott Resort. This is another beautiful place to visit, but also contains a wonderful hidden ‘secret’ beach access. Apparently, the Marriott Corporation was forced to provide beach access when they built the resort. Not only is a road to the beach provided, but there is a good beach access sized parking lot, and most surprising of all, a very nice restroom for both hotel guests and beach access visitors. This is the same beach that those staying at the Marriott use, so I am not sure of the rules that might apply to guests versus visitors when using the beach. We just strolled along the walkway and took in the beach view and nearby Marriott pool, which is billed as the largest in Kauai.
We left Lihue and headed back towards the Wailua River for one of the river tours to the famous Fern Grotto.
We purchased tickets for the next available
tour boat which takes you about 2 miles up the river to the Grotto. The
Hawaiian song and hula entertainment on the way to the Grotto was very
enjoyable as the staff of the Waialeale Boat Tours makes a sincere effort
to be entertaining. On the much shorter duration, down river, trip back, a
guide talks about points of interest along the river and in the surrounding
mountains. The Fern Grotto is worth a visit as it is not just another cave,
but is in a most beautiful and lush setting that includes a tiny stream of
water falling from the ledge high above the cave creating a very exotic
We returned to our room and changed into our bathing suits for a visit to the beach that is only about 200 yards from our hotel. This beach is not suitable for swimming, but is essentially unoccupied and provides a quite beach to watch and wade in the waves. We completed this water experience by returning to the hotel and taking a refreshing dip in one of the three pools on the grounds of our hotel, the Best Western Plantation Hale.
Our dinner this evening was a luau at Gaylord's Kilohana Plantation near Poipu. The food was fairly good, especially considering it is served buffet style to over 500 people. There is an open bar, but most people opt for a few Mai Tai’s, and the entertainment was quite good. While you wait for the dinner to start you can observed demonstrations of various Hawaiian crafts and skills or tour parts of the plantation via horse carriage.
Our departure day was Friday July 4. We opted for breakfast out on our way to Lihue airport. The two possible restaurants Becky picked were both closed for the holiday. So we drove around town a bit and happened upon Oki’s Restaurant. This was a lucky find as the food was quite good and relatively inexpensive. Becky had the teriyaki beef, as it was about 11 AM and close enough for her to lunch time, and I had the famous Oki pancakes. The pancakes had a very buttery flavor and an interesting yellow color. The pancakes were served with three unusual cream style syrups in the flavors of vanilla, strawberry and coconut.
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