36 Hours on Kauai is not enough

Need a break from morality?

My wife and I are headed to the Hawaiian island of Kauai on Sunday, so it was fun to find a NYT “36 hours” article in the print paper this morning.  https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/09/travel/what-to-do-36-hours-in-kauai-hawaii.html?

We’ve been to Kauai 15 or 20 times over the last 27 years, so we have plenty of our own opinions about the island. Here’s our reaction to the Times article.

“The good news is that all the raves you’ve heard are true. Kauai is a lush island with just the right mix of amenities and untamed beauty.” Agreed, it’s an amazing place. It starts with the way the air feels the moment you get off the plane. The air has a sweetness and softness you can feel before you get to baggage claim, since the terminal is open to the outdoors. You are already being seduced. Kauai has a spectacularly pleasant climate, so most buildings have neither heating nor air conditioning.

Like most Hawaiian islands, the noted lushness is only on the windward north and east sides of Kauai. The southwest corner is nearly a desert, due to the rain shadow of the extinct volcano at the center of the island. The inaccessible summit is claimed to be one of the wettest places on Earth. Fortunately, many of Kauai’s untamed natural wonders are easy to get to.

Here’s how the NYT spent 36 hours:


#1  3 pm Kauai Museum in Lihue. “Kauai has a fascinating history that’s worth investigating at the Kauai Museum ($15, adults). The museum’s director, Chucky Boy Chock, and volunteers love to share stories about seven-foot tall Hawaiian kings, Russia’s failed attempts to dominate the island in the early 19th century, the waves of immigrants who came to Kauai, and the Menehune, a mythical race of mischievous little people.”                            We’ve never been there. It’s close to the airport, so maybe worth a look.  But if you have only 36 hours, don’t bother. Outside is where you want to be.

#2  4:30 pm Aloha shirts  “Most of the Hawaiian shirts for sale on the islands are made in China, but at Jacqueline on Kauai, the “Aloha Shirt Lady,” Jacqueline Vienna will make you a shirt ($55 to $90) sewn right in the back of the shop, with a 24-hour turnaround time. Ms. Vienna asks her clients to email photos of them in their new shirts. After you place your order, soak up the atmosphere of charming Hanapepe’s Friday Art Night.”                We’ve never visited these attractions, which would require a long drive out to the southwest side. Aloha shirts are not hard to come by, and “art” on Kauai is generally pretty kitschy.

#3  5:30 pm Koloa Rum “Take a free 20-minute tasting at Koloa Rum, a single-batch rum distillery inside the Kilohana Plantation, once home to one of Kauai’s richest sugar barons. After you sample four of their premium rums, gravitate next door to the Luau Kalamaku ($110 adults, or $54 for the show and one cocktail) for Hawaiian food and a stirring theatrical performance…”                                                          We’ve never done the rum tasting, possibly worth a try. No interest in a luau. Rum is easy to find, of course. Many bars on Kauai put real creativity into their tropical cocktails. The best are fun to sample. Our experience is mostly on the south side, around Poipu.

Of the big hotels, the Hyatt does a nice job with a drink at Stevenson’s. If you go to The Beach House, don’t get the regular mai tai. You want the Majestic Mai Tai. Actually the setting is the main attraction here. Right on the ocean, with a beautiful little bay, the place is justifiably jammed at sunset. Watch surfers out past the point, even at sunset, though this break is better in summer. Forgoing any view, reasonably priced margaritas are found at Tortilla Republic. Ask for extra heat in your Jalapeno Margarita and you will be impressed. This is in an outdoor mall with live music on Fridays, to make up for missing the luau. The most exciting beverages on Kauai are at Red Salt. Their martinis are expensive (up to $22), but worth an indulgence. You just want fun and cheap? Try happy hours at Pizzeta in Koloa or Red Brick Pizza in Kalaheo. Have a good Mai Tai and watch the Warriors game with the locals. Better than a museum.


#4  8:30 Ed the Kilauea Lei Guy. “The lei is the classic symbol of a Hawaiian greeting, but sadly most hotels no longer provide them to guests upon arrival. But don’t despair — buying a fragrant puakenikeni lei from Ed the Kilauea Lei Guy ($8, 4205 Kilauea Road), near the photogenic 1913 Kilauea Lighthouse, is a much more fun and authentic experience.”                                       Charming idea, but in all our visits, we’ve never received a lei, and never thought we missed anything. Never heard of this guy. Kilauea is on the northeast corner of the island. You’re going to make it up there by 8:30 am? The Kilauea Lighthouse has incredible views and would be the top priority if you’re up here.

#5  9:30 Hanalei’s farmers market. “Kauai has several farmers’ markets, and Hanalei’s is a perfect introduction to this one-time hippie haven.”                   There are good farmers markets all over Kauai. Can be fun, but if this is your only chance to visit, don’t waste time looking at pineapples. Head for the beach. Hanalei Bay is one of Kauai’s top winter surfing spots.

#6  11 am  an off-road ATV tour at Kipu Ranch. “You don’t have to love George Clooney to appreciate some of the Kauai set locations (and the music!) from the film “The Descendants.” Those with a sense of adventure — and at least one spare outfit, because you will get dirty — should take an off-road ATV tour at Kipu Ranch (from $89, adults). You’ll experience a wild side of the island you won’t see from paved roads, including the panoramic view of Kipu Kai beach and the surrounding farmland that Mr. Clooney’s character in the film was planning to sell.”                           Sounds like fun. We have this scheduled for next week.  A lot of car driving on this 36 hour tour, though. Kipu Ranch is on the south side. Driving from Kilauea to Hanalei and then to the south shore is easily over an hour in the car. Distances are not huge on Kauai, but the roads are narrow and driving is slow. Leave your Porsche at home. 

#7  2:30 Hit the beach. “Two of the beaches where scenes from “South Pacific” were filmed are spectacular — Lumaha’i Beach has a broad stretch of golden sand that is often nearly empty because of a lack of parking, and Tunnels Beach has sweeping views of Mahana Mountain.”                                                     Great idea! But the beaches mentioned are back up in Hanalei. Another hour in the car. It takes time to get around. We doubt anyone has ever done this tour.

#8  4:30 P.M. sunset on the golf course in Princeville.  “thanks to their sunset golf tour ($50 per golf cart; tours start 90 minutes before sunset), you don’t have to play golf to soak up the splendor. Grab an order of coconut shrimp ($9), and a mai tai at the snack bar and find hole 7, where you’ll have a clifftop view of the Na Pali coast before sunset.”            We don’t doubt the view is magnificent, but the Na Pali coast is further around the northeast corner of the island. You can’t see it from Princeville. Na Pali is accessible only via the Kalalau Trail. The road that circles Kauai does not quite make it all the way around. It stops at the Kalalau trailhead on the north side and at Polihale on the south.

$50 to drive around in the cart? Interesting idea. Playing golf at Princeville is prohibitively pricey. Golf is big on Kauai, with a number of beautiful courses. Plus the world’s greatest course you can play for $1 per hole: the 9 hole course at Kukuiolono. (if you saw my game, you’d think a dollar is about what it’s worth) Spectacular views of the south shore.  The most reasonably priced 18 hole course is Wailua Muni, conveniently located right across the road from the county jail. Local lawyers can visit their clients and not miss their tee time. Some holes front the busy highway, others are right on the pretty beach.

#9   8 pm surprisingly innovative Italian food at La Spezia Restaurant and Wine Bar in Koloa. “may be the best on the island. Try the decadent antipasto plate ($20 for 2), and the house-made tortellini ($13) or ravioli ($19), which comes with smoked salmon, ricotta, lemon dill cream sauce and fried capers.”                                       La Spezia is terrific. This is the place to drink wine on Kauai. The folks there know what they’re doing. The best place to buy bottles on Kauai is next door at The Wine Shop. However, are really going to spend another hour driving back to the south shore after sunset? If not, take the short drive back to Hanalei and have excellent tapas at Bar Acuda


#10  6:30 meditation and pancakes. “Thanks to the time difference [coming straight from NYC for 36 hours?], and the huge number of crowing roosters on the island [foxes needed?], you’ll be up early, so settle into a vinyl booth at the century-old Tip Top Cafe for a stack of heavenly macadamia nut pancakes ($7.50). Then head two miles past the lookout for the photogenic Opaeka’a Falls, in the island’s idyllic interior, to the Kauai’s Hindu Monastery, a lovely spot for contemplation and stunning views of the north fork of the Wailua River.”                                                     Breakfast is quiet time at the condo; we don’t go out for it. We eat the pineapple we got at the farmers market and the good local Anahola granola. The condo is oceanfront, so keep an eye out for marine life, which in December will include humpback whales. Hindu Monastery? Wild idea.

#11 noon Puka Dogs.  “you can’t leave Kauai without indulging in a Puka Dog. Get the expertly charred Polish sausage ($7.95)”                                        Back to Poipu? We’ve never been impressed at Puka. Better dogs at Top Dog in Berkeley ($4 hot link). The best burrito in Poipu is at Da Crack. The grilled tuna wrap at Living Foods Market is fabulous.

#12  1:30 Facebook beach. “Mark Zuckerberg owns a 700-acre oceanfront property… anyone willing to walk a half-mile can enjoy Pila’a, the picturesque, deserted golden sand beach in front of his (still under construction) estate. The legal way to do this is to park at clothing-optional Larsen’s Beach…”                           Why worry about Zuckerberg? This is more driving back up the east side. If you’ve just been to Puka Dog, drive 2 minutes to beautiful Poipu Beach Park. Great snorkeling. Boogie board or body surf at Brennecke’s. Beaches on Kauai are never all that crowded, though finding a deserted one is fun. Lots of hidden gems on the east and north shores.

Worth a journey, especially if your rental is four-wheel drive with good clearance, is Polihale, a remote beach on the west side past the military facility. This is the southwest corner of these United States. Do not swim here unless you are an expert in rough water. My wife pulled a woman out of the surf a few years ago. A wild and lonely spot.


Polihale, looking north along the Na Pali coast. The Kalalau Trail is back in there somewhere.

Some other top spots. The first part of the Kalalau Trail at the end of the road on the northeast corner of Kauai might be one the world’s greatest two mile hikes (four miles round trip) you can start right from a parking lot. Gets really great really fast. Strenuous and slippery. Or just hang out and snorkel at lovely Ke’e Beach.

Waimea Canyon. A unique landscape up into the center of the island, part jungle, part log cabins, part mini Grand Canyon. 

If you’ve got the time, check out rides on boats (whales and porpoises) and helicopters (that inaccessible summit).

Kalalau Trail, near the beginning, looking back toward Kee Beach
Waimea Canyon

Bottom line. NYT = better writing. BQTA = better advice.

Photos by Susan Shores.





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