I have been to 13 countries on three continents, roughly 20 states, and 2 of the Canadian provinces, and I have to say that Kauai is now tied with Iceland for the incredibly prestigious award of Katrina’s Favorite Place. (Note: This award does not come with a cash prize.)
On our last day on the Garden Island, Chris asked me to rank my top 5 “TripAdvisor-Worthy,” moments — not an easy task, considering that at some point, I declared each day to be the best day ever.
Here are some of my favorites:
Do you remember in 2014 when 121 hikers had to be air-evacuated off the Na Pali Coast after heavy rain stranded them? This was the trail they were attempting. We only did the first couple of miles, which don’t require a permit. (I’m not that hard-core, although it is now on my bucket list — hiking the Kalalau, not being air-evaced.)
I’ve done a fair amount of hiking in the Northwest, but what we call a “trail” in our neck of the woods usually consists of a civilized gravel or dirt path that meanders peacefully through the woods until it ushers you to a lovely scenic vista.
On Kauai, it seems that trails are essentially dryish streambeds full of boulders, mud, and ropes to pull yourself along as the trail itself hugs enough cliffs and crosses enough rivers (sans bridges) that the state is required to post myriad caution signs so that litigious idiots taking selfies too close to the edge don’t plummet to their deaths, resurrect, and sue the state, saying, “Trail? That ain’t no trail!” Kauai, I like your style!
What makes this trail special is the Na Pali Coast itself. Between the jet-black rocks, caves, vines, and soaring cliffs, it looks like a herd of stegosaurus are going to come lumbering out of the philodendron, hotly pursued by a T-Rex. Add in the impossibly blue ocean, and it makes for an unforgettable hike. Plus, the trail spits you out at a pristine beach complete with a lagoon, beach caves, and hundreds of rock stacks created by successful hikers.
It was totally worth the kidney infection and trip to Kauai Urgent Care I got as a result of rationing my water too sparsely. Not even joking. I’d do it all again tomorrow.
Wailua River &Secret Falls
Chris and I are fair-weather kayakers in the summer, so we thought we would just rent a kayak on our own and paddle down the Wailua. However, very few solo permits are issued per day and even if you do get a permit, you’re not allowed to launch your kayak in the river harbor. So, we swallowed our kayaking pride and took a guided tour with Wailua Kayak Adventures (Shout out to our guide, Cole!).
The kayak trip up the river (Yes, that’s right, you paddle up the river. It’s as placid as a lake.) let us explore the historical political and economic center of ancient Kauai. We then hiked about a mile to Secret Falls.
Swimming out to the waterfall, I was so overwhelmed by its beauty and power that I had to coach myself on the basics of the respiratory system. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Literally breathtaking.
Waimea Canyon Waipoo Falls Hike
Supposedly, Mark Twain famously called Waimea “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” but considering his track record of incorrigible hyperbole, I took that assertion with a big pinch of black lava salt. I mean, never trust a guy with an alias, right?
Boy, was I wrong!
This photo is the very definition of “pictures don’t to it justice.” See that waterfall in the far upper left corner? That was the final destination of this hike.
The picture on the left is the top waterfall and the photo below is the top of the big waterfall. Yep, that’s about an 800 foot drop right behind me. Right. Behind. Me.
Sleeping Giant’s Chin
We did this hike on the recommendation of a tour guide we met at Kauai Backcountry Adventures. (Yes, we did the sugar plantation irrigation ditch float they offer that has gone viral on Facebook).
I’m so glad I didn’t read the explanation of this hike in our guidebook or I may have been deterred by the description of the steep incline and the warnings of how dangerous the chin (which is the highest point on the right) could be. Ignorance is bliss.
It was steep. The last little stretch was adorned with a “THIS IS NOT A SANCTIONED TRAIL” sign and a rope, just in case you decide to take your life into your own hands and tickle the giant’s chin. I had to coax consummate rule-follower Chris up the rope with false promises that we would turn around if it seemed too dangerous. Lies. I wasn’t turning around for the world.
You just can’t beat that view! You can see the Wailua River, Kapa’a (the town in which we stayed), and Lydgate Beach Park from up here.
Pihea Trail & Lookout
I cried on this trail — not because it was too difficult, but because I couldn’t believe such a beautiful place exists. Seriously. This trail follows the spine of the back rim of the Kalalau Valley on the Na Pali Coast.
Can you pinpoint where the water meets the sky? Me either.
We heard that afternoons up here are almost always cloudy, so we resolved to be done hiking by noon. We were rewarded for our early morning alarms with incredible views on every side.
Off to the other side of the trail are incredible views of the world’s highest swamp, Alakai Swamp. By the end of our hike, clouds had settled into the swamp, so close that we felt like we could reach up and hitch a ride on them.
Between the beach and all the outdoorsy activities, Kauai captured my heart. As I said about 10,000 times on our trip, “Best Vacation Ever!”
Aloha, Kauai. See you again soon!
What’s your favorite vacation spot, nearby or far away?