Waimea Canyon

Kekaha Beach - beautiful and practically deserted

We got a great deal on our trip to Kauai because the trip was a timeshare promotion. Years ago we bought a timeshare in Cabo San Lucas and it hadn't worked out. WE went for a couple of years and then air fare got to be too expensive. So we really weren't tempted this time. We did go to the sales presentation the very first morning so that we could get it out of the way. When it was over, we were free to enjoy the rest of the trip however we wanted.

Some days we spent time sitting by the beach or the pool. The weather was warm but not really hot so it was pleasant to sit out, even in the sun. The resort wasn't that crowded so it was easy to find a spot just about any time of the day. The only problem was that I brought my Kindle Fire HDX along which wasn't easy to read in the bright sunlight. That was a bad mistake. So I mostly watched the ocean while we sat out. Ok, I napped a lot too but hey, I'm an old fart and I was on vacation.

Waimea Canyon - Kauai's version of the Grand Canyon

Every morning we took a long walk before breakfast. The road near the hotel ran right along the ocean so it was very scenic. Although the south shore is the lee side, since there is no reef the surf was still impressive. To the east of the hotel, near Poipu Beach State park, there were always surfers in the ocean. To the west was a small, protected bay where there were shore divers every morning. Several times we saw whales spouting in the distance and one morning we saw two in quite close to shore. There was always something interesting to see.

While we stayed in Poipu Beach we used our rental car to explore the south side of the island. One day we drove all the way to the end of the road in the southwest corner of the island. Because the Na Pali coast is so rugged, the cliffs drop right down to the ocean, the round-the-island road has a gap of about twenty miles on the northwest coast of Kauai. The end of the paved road was unexciting. It just stopped in the middle of a field. A dirt road continued another five miles to Barking Sands beach in Polihale State Park. We didn't even go fifty yards before we turned back because the road was so rough. It was probably a good thing because I read afterward that all the rental car companies void your agreement if you drive that road. If the car breaks down or gets stuck or is damaged, you have to pay big bucks.

Waimea Canyon's colorful mix of red rock and green vegetation

We figured (incorrectly it turns out) that it didn't matter. We could see the Na Pali coast from the other end later in the trip when we went to the north side of the island. There the road is paved all the way to end. What happened when we tried that is a story for another post.

Heading back we stopped at the state park on the east end of Kekaha Beach. It's a wide sandy beach that stretches along the southwest side of Kauai. Only the very east end has public access from the road. The beach isn't good for swimming - the surf is rough and the currents are very dangerous. The water is too cloudy for diving or snokeling because of the surf and the runoff from nearby Waimea Canyon. But the beach is beautiful and there was almost no one else there. As far as we could see, there were at most a half dozen people.

The Na Pali coast is somewhere out there in the fog

Kekaha Beach is fifteen miles long, the longest beach in the Hawaiian Islands. I thought that it would be fun to take a long hike on the beach another day but we didn't made it back on this trip.

About twenty five miles away, we could see the island of Niihau. It's known as the Forbidden Island because it is privatly owned and has no private access or facilities. It was purchased from King Kamehameha in 1864 by an American family which still retains ownership today. In the past they operated a ranch on the island but that closed in 1999. There are still about 170 people who live on the island although the population is declining due to lack of employment opportunities since the ranch shut down. In the past it was impossible for nonresidents to visit the island but recently tours have started to take very limited numbers of tourists to the island by helicopter. We settled for seeing it in the distance.

A rainbow over 800 ft Waipoo Falls in Waimea Canyon

At the town of Waimea we turned away from the coast and headed into the mountains. In the center of the island is Waialeale, which is one of the wettest spots on earth with an average of 460 inches of rainfall a year. That's almost 1.3 inches of rain per day! No wonder Kauai is so green and lush and why it is called The Garden Isle. Although it may be sunny on the coast, the central mountains are usually shrouded in clouds and rain.

The name Waialeale itself is confusing. Sometimes it is referred to as Mt. Waialeale. The name is used for the spot where the weather station is located, which at 5,148 ft is close to but not quite at the top of the mountain. Sometimes it is used to refer to the high point on the ridge just above the weather station. The name is even used for the whole massif. Plus there is a lake named Waialeale high on the mountain. Kauai Island Brewing, a local brewpub where we had dinner one night, even has a beer called Waialeale Ale. You have to admit it's a cool name for a beer. I even got a tshirt for it. So the name Waialeale is heavily used.

The Spouting Horn put on a show

To make it even more confusing, the highest point on the island is called Kawaikini, although the mountain is not referred to by that name. And by the way, there are two spellings of the name, the english Waialeale and the Hawaiian Wai'ale'ale.

Ok. Is that all clear now?

Because of all that rainfall on Waialeale, the Waimea River has carved a canyon on the south side of the mountains that is ten miles long, a mile wide and 3000 feet deep. We stopped at a number of spectacular viewpoints. Waimea Canyon is often compared to the Grand Canyon, and it does appear similar, if the Grand Canyon were green and fuzzy and had waterfalls tumbling down its walls. Kidding aside, the steep cliffs, lush vegetation and giant waterfalls are beautiful. The one drawback is that there are rarely blue skies and sunshine for photos. We were lucky. Although it was overcast on the day that we were there, at least it wasn't raining and it was clear enough that we could see the view.

After passing the viewpoints for the canyon, we reached Kokee Lodge. It's a rustic mountain lodge in a large meadow at 4000 feet. Surrounded by evergreen trees, cool, damp and overcast, it felt more like the Oregon Cascades than Hawaii. Even the tourists here were dressed in standard mountain hiking clothes instead of tshirts and shorts. There are a number of trails in Kokee State Park but everything I read said that they were wet and muddy. One couple we saw in the parking lot were barefoot and had their pants rolled up above their knees, with mud caked from the knees down. That seemed to confirm what I had read. Between the mud and the overcast and the threat of rain, for once we were happy to car tour rather than hike.

The Forbidden Isle of Niihau visible in the distance

Beyond the lodge there are two lookouts which are supposed to give a fantastic view of the Na Pali Coast. We wouldn't know since when we reached the first one it was almost totally fogged in. Later I did find pictures on the web that showed what we would have seen in nice weather. We didn't bother going to the end of the road to the final viewpoint. If you've seen one fog bank, you've seen them all.

We were lucky on the way down to see a rainbow over Waipoo Falls just as we were passing one of the viewpoints. We parked quickly and were able to get an awesome picture. Then it was time to hurry down to Waimea for a late lunch/early dinner at the Shrimp Station. Coconut shrimp is one of Sandy's favorites and they claimed that they had The Best Coconut Shrimp on the Planet. By the time we drove back to the hotel it had been a long day of touring.

For the rest of our stay in Poipu Beach we spent some time walking by the ocean, some time hanging out on the beach, and some time touring. We were able to hit most of the points of interest on the south side of Kauai. We drove through the Tree Tunnel, a section of highway lined with trees on both sides that meet overhead to give the impression of driving through a tunnel.

At Kauai Coffee Company

We went to the Spouting Horn, a blow hole in the rocks where big ocean waves would blast water twenty five feet into the air. It was impressive, with a big wave coming every one or two minutes. At least it was better than the one we saw on Grand Cayman back in January.

We visited the Kauai Coffee Company plantation. I don't care for coffee but Sandy sampled their different varieties. They had a nice gift shop (we were good and didn't buy anything) and an interesting self guided tour that explained the coffee is grown and processed as well as the history of the plantation.

We visited some tiny towns that are reknowned as tourist destinations. Hanapepe is famous for art galleries and a Friday night art festival. We thought it was a complete bust. Old Koloa Town was very close to where we were staying and had some nice shops. Sandy spent a long time at the Island Soap and Candle Works picking out stuff for herself and for Christmas presents. She made quite a haul and by the time she was done she had added a lot of weight to our luggage going home. After such hard shopping we enjoyed happy hour and some good pizza at Pizzeta.

By the end of the week we felt like we had done a good job of exploring the south side of Kauai. We were ready to move on to our next hotel and explore the north side of the island. I'll cover that in the next post. Be there. Aloha.