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Trip Report Songdoc’s New (and Some Old) Kauai Faves

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This was a one-month trip (Jan. 13 – Feb. 14). Being a writer, I have the luxury of being able to do much of my work anywhere I can take my laptop. I came to the Garden Isle initially to work at the Kauai Music Festival five years ago—and it instantly felt like I was home.

It’s the oddest phenomenon. I’ve been to many extraordinarily beautiful places (i.e., I visit New Zealand and Australia every year) but I’ve never had that sense of finding where I’m meant to be anywhere else in the world – or on any other Hawaiian island.

I’m trying to think of Kauai as a second home—not as a vacation. Maybe if I tell myself that enough … it’ll happen ;-) I’ve been spending a month each summer and a month each winter.

Those of you who have been reading my reports know that my wonderful DP (of eighteen years) obviously has a screw loose; he doesn’t love Kauai. He doesn’t like beaches, ocean, or warm, humid weather. To him, one beach is the same as another. (I know, it’s sick!) His idea of paradise involves cold, brisk mountain air … preferably in Northern Ireland; a far cry from Kauai! If this were not the case, we’d already be living here ;-). FYI, Nashville is about mid-way between Ireland and Kauai!

In what must surely be a miracle, I was able to use AA Frequent Flyer miles to snag first class flights from Nashville to Dallas; Dallas to L.A.; and L.A. to Lihue. The extra room made it comfy and easier to sleep.

To my body, it was 3 AM by the time I picked up the rental car. Knowing how tired I’d be, I’d booked the Kauai Beach Resort—which is only a few minutes from the airport—instead of driving an hour to the North Shore. It’s a nice hotel and I stay there every summer for the Kauai Music Festival. It was great to not have to drive when I was so exhausted. I slept like a rock, woke to a beautiful sunrise, and had a nice walk along the beach with views of Sleeping Giant.

I got off to a good start with the most amazing breakfast in the world—at Kountry Kitchen in Kapa’a. One massive banana/macadamia nut pancake and a small fruit bowl with a coupla cups of coffee, and I was ready to rock.

Next stops: Costco & Wal-Mart … and then it was lunch time: Hamura’s Saimon for a BBQ chicken skewer and a delicious bowl of wonton saimon. Yumm. So … in the first half of my first day I’ve already had my two favorite meals! Now, I can go home. KIDDING!

As always, I stayed at Sealodge, a condo complex in Princeville. I don’t think you can beat the ocean views from atop the bluff—or the value. Prices vary with different units and rental agents, but I paid $112.50/nt (plus taxes) – a lower rate than most because of a long-term discount. $125 - $140 would be typical.

My first six days were spent in J6 – a 2-bedroom unit that was exceptional. The views of the lighthouse & Anini reef were fantastic, and the first morning’s sunrise was INSANE. The sky was painted with brilliant reds, orange, and purple. It was breathtaking. The unit is really high-end (i.e., granite counters; flat screen TV …). The only negative was that the upstairs was warm. The rest of my time was in H2. The unit itself is not exceptional—but homey and comfortable—and the breezes were heavenly. I was never warm, despite highs that reached 80 – 82 almost every day. I only turned on the little fan 2 or 3 times in 4 weeks. For me, cool breezes trump granite countertops--so I will be staying at H2 on my next trip.

Much of my time was spent blissfully writing on the lanai. It seemed almost every time I glanced up I saw whales. The whale watching was awesome from my lanai and my living room window.

The best whale watching was from my favorite walking path. It starts much farther south in Kapa’a, but I think the best views are north of Kealia Beach. From Kealia Beach it’s about a 4 mile round trip with nonstop amazing views. And what better way to reward myself for taking such a healthy, long walk than with brunch at nearby Kountry Kitchen! Then back to Kealia Beach under a shady tree with a folding chair and a book--then a refreshing dip in the ocean. Perfection ...

To be continued … restaurants, favorite beaches, weather, surf, and more …

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    Songdoc: Thanks for sharing your report! I look forward to reading more. I recall that you are inspired at Sealodge on the north shore of Kauai. In fact when I take my 2nd trip to Kauai someday, I have to stay there and see for myself! Whalewatching from your lanai or living room sounds amazing! That's one thing we didn't try to do from the Big Island...whale watching. We were busy with lots of other fun things though. It sounds like you had nice warm weather this time...a lucky thing in January/February, huh? We had good weather on the Big Island too! Same time, but our trip was shorter.
    QUESTION: Songdoc, it sounds like Sealodge is on a bluff above the ocean? Can you hear the ocean from any of the units? I LOVE sleeping with the sound of the ocean. We didn't get that this time on the Big Island...because I had other priorities when I chose our accommodations. I wanted a beach that was calm for winter snorkeling, and that doesn't always match up well with being able to hear the ocean from your room.

    Nice trip report, Songdoc! Look forward to reading more. I like writing on my lanai too. >:D<

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    So glad you had such a good trip, Melissa. Re: the sound of the ocean ... Yes, Sealodge is on a bluff, and some units are closer to the ocean than others.

    From the bedroom in H-2 I could definitely hear the ocean. It was gentle and soft and lovely. But the living room had a little alcove with a single bed in front of a window where I sometimes read or drifted off to sleep -- and from there the sound of the ocean was LOUD and wonderful. The odd thing is that the bedroom window was literally right next to that living room one. But I probably didn't keep the bedroom window fully open when I slept--and I kept the curtains drawn. That must be the reason the ocean didn't sound as loud.

    While J-6 had primo views and furnishing, the ocean was only a faint whisper because the unit faced the lighthouse and reef--as opposed to open ocean.

    I've never stayed in a unit with louder ocean sounds than the living room of H-2. It was also never hot because of the breezes -- and the fact that the sun only shined on the kitchen late afternoon. I've stayed in units that bake in direct sun all day long.

    I expect to be staying in H-2 again June/July. During part of that time my sister will be visiting me and I've insisted that I'll sleep in that alcove ;-). Better make my reservation!!!

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    Before I go any further I want to address the notorious horrid winter weather and unswimmable beaches on the North Shore. I’ve spent a month (mid-January thru mid-February) in Princeville each of the past three years.

    In 2010 the North Shore winter weather was mixed. But there was one week (out of my four) that was mostly rainy, and I recall a conversation with a honeymooning couple who were miserable about their 1-week vacation being ruined. The other weeks of my trip had brief rainy spells, clouds and sunshine.

    Last year I had 21 consecutive days that were mostly sunny. Rain fell mostly at night—or for 20 minutes—before clearing. I couldn’t believe how lucky I’d been on that rainy North Shore.

    On this trip … the weather was HORRIBLE … if you hate 80-82 degrees and bright blue skies dotted with puffy white clouds. That describes at least 25 days of my month. I had two days that I’d say were rainy days the entire day. There was an additional day with rain until around noon. So … 2-1/2 days of rain during a month on that rainy North Shore. There were a couple of other times when it rained for about 5 minutes. When the storms hit, they hit the entire island. The sunny South Shore … wasn’t.

    Quite a few days began with a thick layer of clouds that seemed it would never roll away. I needed jeans and a sweatshirt while I sipped my coffee, surrounded by nenes, cardinals, chickens, with albatrosses swooping overhead, while I watched whales from the lanai. But typically, by mid-morning the sun was breaking through those clouds, and I was changing into my shorts and a T-shirt. I will say that there were some days that were quite windy. There were a handful of days with showers that blew through in five or ten minutes.

    FYI, I have never seen less accurate weather reporting. When I clicked on the forecasts, they invariably showed clouds and rain. There weren’t more than three or four “sunny” days predicted out of a month. I think their idea of “cloudy” includes a few well-placed puffy white clouds set into a bright blue sky. I still haven’t figured out what “rain” means because there were many days when I sat on the lanai, angling my computer away from the sun, while reading the weather reports for Princeville (which is quite a small area) and learning that it was currently raining ;-).

    During my final week (starting around Feb. 7th) it got noticeably cooler. Several days were "only" in the mid- to upper- 70s. And nights plunged down to 64. (My local friends needed their heaters!) By the time I'd left, that cold spell had passed and we were back to highs of 82.

    I don’t argue with the fact that Kauai’s North Shore gets significantly more rain than South and West parts of the island. I don’t know if I’ve just been incredibly lucky, but I’d estimate that I’ve had 8 – 10 trips to the Garden Isle in the past 4 or 5 years, and spent anywhere from 2 – 5 weeks each time. I love walking on beaches, hiking, and appreciating natural beauty. My moods seem to be very affected by weather. I would be miserable and would not return to a place where it rained most of the time. ‘Nuff said ☺.

    But what about swimming??? There were a handful of days with exceptionally high surf. I loved it. The waves were spectacular. I've been to Ke'e Beach when it was closed because of the high surf. During my visit this time, the cove closest to the parking lot and trail was calm and quite a few people were swimming.

    I don't think there was ever a time when I didn't see swimmers at Hanalei Bay or Anini Beach. At times, the water seemed like a swimming pool. The day I went to Lumahai was cloudy and windy. There were only a couple of kids in the rough water. Polihale was unswimmable on the day I spent there. Anahola and Kealia Beaches had lots of swimmers and safe conditions.

    When I get caught up with some work, I’ll continue. Hopefully, I’ll get this all written and posted before my next trip!

    PS. Booked my next stay in H-2.
    $3603 covers 30 nights in paradise (including all taxes, fees, and cleaning). That would buy about 1 week at the St. Regis or Grand Hyatt -- if you didn't eat;-).

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    I have to share the sweetest thing ...

    Back in Nashville, this morning I was complaining that it's hard for me to feel the creativity I feel in Kauai, when I stare out my window at cold gray skies and barren trees--instead of ocean and swaying palm trees.

    DP taped little cut-outs of whales, palm trees, and baby chickens on my office window. Awww .... :-) It ain't Kauai -- but it's awfully nice.

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    I’ve been so busy. It’s hard to return to what passes as the “real” world. But let’s talk about … Beaches!

    How can I choose a favorite?

    Sealodge Beach requires a bit of a trek—including climbing over a few large boulders. I wouldn’t do it when the trail is muddy. Mid-way along the path I stopped to perch on a rock and watch enormous waves with whales spouting in the distance. There were a few snorkelers and a few sunbathers. It’s a very pretty spot with great tide pools and I returned several times.

    I’d never been to Anahola Beach prior to this visit. It seemed to stretch forever—and I walked the length of it in the surf. Lots of locals and surfers. Awesome views of “Sleeping Giant.” It was only afterward that I learned that the Dalai Lama has said that Anahola Beach is the portal through which all souls enter the Earth. I had a wonderful day—but I didn’t feel the spiritual awe I feel on other Kauai beaches. It's not my #1, but it's certainly pretty--and I had a wonderful day.

    While I’m on the topic of the Dalai Lama … he also proclaimed that Polihale Beach is the portal through which all souls leave the Earth. I’d been concerned about driving there because I’d heard that the road was rough—and that rental car companies do not permit their cars to be driven there. I did not want the soul of my rental car (or its axles) to be leaving the Earth while I was responsible ;-). Luckily, a friend with a truck offered to take me.

    The road was indeed REALLY rough. There were about five long miles of enormous potholes that seemed to take forever to get through. It was a bit like riding a rodeo bronco in slow motion--but when we finally got there, it was worth it. Beautiful—with it’s dramatic, towering cliffs and seemingly endless shoreline. The waves were huge that day and there were no swimmers, but lots of photographers. Polihale is renowned for its sunsets—and it didn’t disappoint. I can understand why the Dalai Lama felt this is such a special place. Very dramatic.

    Maha’luepa Beach is a favorite. Again, to get there requires driving on a rough, unsealed road that begins just past the Grand Hyatt in Poipu. The striated mountains along that road were beautiful. I drove very slowly, navigating the obstacle course of potholes. It got so bad that I wound up parking a few blocks away and walking the rest of the way to the beach.

    Maha’luepa looks like no place else on the island—or anywhere else. The walk along the cliffs was absolutely stunning. For me, that's the reason to go there. (FYI, it's an easy walk. I did it in flip-flops.) Those cliffs are other-worldly, and I got some amazing photos.

    A nice bonus was coming upon a fat, contented monk seal sunning on the beach. He (or she) posed for some wonderful photos. Everyone was respectful of its “space” but the beach was narrow and we had to walk close to the seal to get by.

    En route to Maha’luepa Beach, I stopped at the Grand Hyatt to see what the fuss is all about. Wow. That is an incredibly beautiful hotel. The pools and grounds were fantastic. I was especially impressed by the pool where one can float or raft along what seems like a winding, natural lagoon. My personal taste is such that I’d rather spend a week on the private lanai of my rented condo – for the cost of ONE night at the Grand Hyatt with its wall-to-wall tourists. But for those who like resorts--this one is fantastic.

    The Hyatt's beach—Shipwreck Beach—was pleasant—especially as one got farther away from the hotel. But this is not a favorite beach. The views from the hotel’s beach can’t compare with the Bali Hai views of the St. Regis in Princeville. But, the Grand Hyatt wins for the pools.

    The beach at the St. Regis is open to the public (as are all beaches in Hawaii), and while it’s small—it’s quite beautiful. I was there during a wedding. The setting couldn’t be more perfect and the slack key guitar music mixing with the gentle sound of the surf was the perfect soundtrack. But I could hardly believe my eyes when the bride came walking quite a long distance across her "aisle" of sand—dressed in a traditional wedding gown – AND HIGH HEELS!!!

    If were ever to marry, that would be the spot I would choose. But I would definitely NOT wear high heels. Hehehe.

    I love Kealia Beach (just north of Kapa’a) but I love the paved walking path that passes it even more. I can’t count how many times I parked at Kealia Beach and walked north to the end of the trail (approx. 3 – 4 miles RT). The views are absolutely gorgeous—with the ocean on one side—and the mountains on the other, and the whales were putting on quite a show. Several perfect days were spent walking that path, followed by banana macadamia pancakes at Kountry Kitchen. Then I set up my beach chair back at Kealia, and read my book in utter bliss. I ended those days with a heavenly swim. Life is good …

    I spent a day at Makua (Tunnels) beach and was once again, stunned by the beauty. Those dramatic, jagged peaks are quintessential “South Seas” for me--the way I picture Tahiti or Bora Bora. The waves were enormous and this was not a day for the snorkeling that many associate with Tunnels. It was exceptionally windy, but that didn’t stop me from loving a long walk to Ke’e Beach.

    On a different day, I had a wonderful time at Ke’e. Arriving around 3 PM, I snagged a parking space – literally next to the lifeguard stand. (This would qualify as a full-fledged miracle earlier in the day.) After a long walk, and lots of photos of the misty, magical Napali cliffs, I set my chair in a shady spot against the rocky area closest to the cliffs. That area is protected from most of the waves and lots of people were swimming; a few were snorkeling, as well.

    Last summer, Lumahai Beach was a definite favorite. The water was a more vibrant turquoise than anywhere else on the island—and the swimming was perfect. My winter visit on this trip was on one of the few cloudy days—and the beach was almost deserted. The water was closer to gray than turquoise and too rough for me to swim—although a couple of kids were in the water. The magic seemed to be hidden behind the clouds on this day.

    To be continued …

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    Love it, Doc. We are planning a return trip to Paradise in '14, and due to vacation timing will be there in Feb. It was helpful to see your weather analysis, as I was contemplating staying south on the island.

    But, if you'll remember correctly, Lumahai is MY beach!

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    IMHO, there are some serious misconceptions about the South versus North Shore weather. Maybe I've just been lucky -- so I'm always hesitant to tell someone what to do during their precious vacation time. But as the report says ... I've had mostly beautiful weather on the North Shore during the past two winters--AND people were swimming at almost all of those "unswimmable" beaches. The idea that the South Shore is always sunny is not true -- and nor is the North Shore always rainy.

    As I'd said, I don't argue with the statistics, but I suspect that a great deal of the North Shore's rain falls while I'm sound asleep -- or in five- ten- or twenty-minute showers throughout the day.

    Succulent: thanks so much for the spelling correction. Now ... if I could just pronounce it ;-).

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    Songdoc, you know we like the south shore to stay and the north shore to visit, but years ago, we arrived at Poipu to glorious weather (early March) only to find out it had been raining every day for the previous six weeks! So yes, it does rain in Poipu too!!

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    Just a few more highlights and I’ll be finished!

    I’d never been to the Salt Pond before and didn’t quite understand what it was—or what one does there. After yet another delicious stop at Hamura’s Saimon, I learned that the Salt Pond is an exceptionally beautiful, scenic spot that one views (and photographs) from a little overlook off the road. Very pretty, and worth a look, if you’re in the area.

    Next stop was nearby Kalapaki Beach and the Marriott in Lihue. This was another spot I’d never visited—and had been curious about. With all due respect … imho … yuk. I thought it was the least appealing and least attractive area of the island. This is where the cruise ships dock, so it’s filled with touristy shlock shops. The thing that seemed sad was that for many cruise ship passengers, this was their first view of Kauai. Quite a few (mostly elderly) cruisers were sitting in the park—and I suspect this would be their only impression of Kauai. The beach was “okay” – and people were swimming -- but it didn’t have any of the beauty or majesty that draws me to Kauai.

    I continued on to the Kauai Coffee Company. I confess that I am hopelessly addicted to their Coconut Caramel Crunch coffee. If there were a Coffee Addicts Anonymous, I’d be the charter member—and a resounding failure at recovery ;-). The plantation is in a beautiful setting and I strolled along the path that has placards explaining te coffee growing, harvesting, and roasting processes. Who knew? I thought coffee grew on supermarket shelves ;-). I left buzzed to the gills, having sampled at least fifteen varieties.

    There is typically a 15% off coupon for the Coffee Company products in one of the little magazines amongst the brochures at Wal-Mart and the airport (and other locations). The gift shop is a wonderful place for souvenirs and as usual, I bought enough to satisfy my addiction – and give lots of gifts—until my next visit.

    I want to mention that I’d always wanted to eat the Shrimp Station – but with it being on the South side—and only open for lunch—I'd passed it en route to Waimea Canyon, but the timing never seemed to work out. Well … there’s now a Shrimp Station in Kapa’a. They advertise their fried coconut shrimp as the “world’s best.” Well, I haven’t tried every restaurant in the world, but these were delicious and a huge portion. My only complaint is that I would have liked a vegetable or salad to accompany my shrimp. The only side offered was potatoes. I opted for the healthier steamed potatoes instead of the fries. That was a small, but tasty portion. The star here is the shrimp (or as my former step-mother would say, “shwemps”).

    It was a stunning, crystal clear, blue-sky day when I stopped at the Kilauea Lighthouse. I didn’t walk to the end, but I’ve done that several times. The views and whale watching were fantastic. Took some exceptional photos.

    The heart of my trip was my daily walks at Hanalei Bay—less than a ten minute drive from Princeville—presuming I didn’t stop for pix at the gorgeous Hanalei Overlook (across from Foodland) or to photograph the taro fields from the road beside the one-lane bridge.

    Most days, I’d take a break from my writing, park at either the pavilion or the pier, and walk the entire length of the beach, wading in and out of the ocean. On a few of those days, the waves were enormous and dramatic. I’d watch the surfers framed with the Napali cliffs as their backdrop and feel more centered and at peace than I ever feel anywhere else. Several times, I ended my day watching the revelers beside the pier, grilling, picnicking, and enjoying the show as the sun sank beneath the ocean, coloring the sky and making the pier a perfect Kodak moment.

    During one of my last days, as I waded my way along the beach, two women struck up a conversation. One of them, a local who was originally from India, mentioned that she is a yoga teacher, involved in spiritual practices. After a lovely conversation we bid goodbye … then she said she wanted to tell me something. She said she’d been drawn to talk with me because I was so “fortunate.”

    That was one of the oddest things anyone has ever said to me. I assured her that I was indeed profoundly fortunate. Looking at that ocean and the mountains, and knowing I would soon get to return to paradise, I knew how fortunate I am.

    I hope this report helps others with their planning.

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