Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Aloha Voyage - Kauai

Continuing our journey around Hawaii with Norwegian Cruise Line and Virgin Holidays, we arrive in the Garden Island...

Destination Hawaii - Kauai Pt 1

After the eye-popping spectacle and contrasts of Maui and The Big Island, we weren't sure quite what to expect of the smallest of the main islands, except for its reputation of being exceedingly wet and rainy (at times) and, if anything, even more tropical than its sister islands.

We certainly weren't disappointed, especially given the chance for another overnight stop in the port of Nawiliwili. And, while the port itself was again more functional than pretty, the slow sail into the harbour is impressive with its mountainous interior - and the sights beyond were simply superb.

We also had a slight advantage here as I have another cousin out here on the islands and David and his partner Bill were able to meet us straight off the ship and take us for the grand tour.

First stop was the Kauai Coffee Company plantation, the largest on all the islands (surprisingly, given the Big Island's reputation for Kona coffee) and with a wonderfully smooth array of tastes and blends. By now, we had learnt that Dark Roast was actually the milder and less caffeinated version (as, because it is roasted for longer, it removes more of the caffeine) but the variety again came as a surprise, with their Coconut Caramel Crunch being a real taste sensation and the Peaberry absolutely exquisite.

More coffee was duly purchased and I have a strong feeling we will need to buy an extra bag to get it all home!

The coffee plantation was only the appetiser (ho, ho!), though, to the day's real highlight - the Waimea Canyon.

Formed over some 4 million years by the collapse of the original volcanic crater that formed the island (as big as Maui's Haleakala, but more explosive) and the erosive action of Waimea River, the Canyon is now 14 miles long and 3,600ft deep and rightly earns its reputation as 'The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.'

The long drive up wasn't particularly challenging but offered small glimpses as we went deeper along the southern edge, and then all is revealed in awesome panoramic grandeur as we reached a series of superb lookout points about two-thirds of the way up. 

Like the Grand Canyon itself, words (and photos) do not do it justice as there is simply too much to take in, but suffice it to say the effect is jaw-droppingly stunning, especially as, with the thick tropical foliage, waterfalls and climate, it has a very different feel to the GC and virtually every aspect of it provides an amazingly different perspective.

Dave and Bill took us all the way through the Canyon to the Kalalau Overlook, some 4,000ft up at the end of the trail in Kokee State Park. Here, looking out over the deepest and widest valley of the fabled Na'Pali Coast (the valley and ravine-filled north-west section of the island that falls precipitously and spectacularly into the sea), we had a magnificent view of the Kalalau Valley falling down to the ocean and, just at the limit of our vision (with binoculars) a pod of whales - early arrivals from their Alaskan alternative 'home.' Just amazing

A visit to Kokee Museum provided the necessary cultural and geological overview, and then it was time for lunch at the excellent Wranglers Restaurant back in Waimea, where we were able to try their signature pulled pork and cabbage and some great mahi-mahi. It's advertised mainly as a steakhouse but we were more keen to try these local specialities and we weren't disappointed. A couple of Kona Brewing Co beers went down well, too.

The drive back to Kapaa (where Dave and Bill live) wasn't quite as spectacular as the Canyon views but their house certainly was - set in three acres of truly tropical splendour backing on to the mountains. Once again, our jaws hit the floor and they stayed there pretty much the rest of the day.

Dinner that evening was Japanese style at Kintaro in Kapaa, where the long line out the door showed it was extremely popular with the locals, and the food was just as good. Superb sushi, a seafood bouillabaisse and fabulous scallops were the order of the day for us, and we left with yet another wonderful impression of this fabulous island.

Back at the house, the only sounds to be heard were the trills of the birds, still flitting about at 10pm, while the view of the night sky - with virtually no light pollution to speak of - was another visual sensation. And we wonder why people move to Hawaii..!

Next up - more Kauai, and the Na'Pali Coast