Hawaii's 'Garden Isle' of Kauai well worth another visit

By: Maureen Holtz

By: Maureen Holtz

By: Maureen Holtz

By: Maureen Holtz

In October, my husband and I made our third trip to the "Garden Isle" of Kauai. The fourth-largest (and oldest) of the eight main islands of Hawaii, it's the perfect size. Covering 552 square miles, it's home to approximately 58,000 people, fewer than in Champaign.

Rain falls somewhere on Kauai every day, but you'll only need an umbrella for the real downpours.

Bring plenty of sandals or sneakers, and don't bring anything white because Kauai's deep red-orange soil is potent.

Kauai entrepreneurs sell popular "Red Dirt" T-shirts, using washing machines to dye them with the rich soil.

The Kauai Underground Guide travel book helped us pick our beaches. Popular ones include Poipu and Shipwreck on the eastern side, Ha'ena, Ke'e, and Hanalei toward the north, and Polihale on the west.

My favorite – Salt Pond – is southwest, just past the town of Hanapepe. The beach is crescent-shaped with a sheltered cove where kids can swim without fear of being pulled away. Hanapepe is also home to a historic center, featuring Art Night on Friday evenings, when you can hear music, dine or visit art galleries and shops.

More than 70 movies and television shows were filmed on Kauai and a film aficionado can sign up for a "Movie Tour" that shows where scenes were shot. These include "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "South Pacific," "King Kong," "Diamond Head," "Hook," "Honeymoon in Vegas," "Fantasy Island," "Blue Hawaii," "Gilligan's Island," "Body Heat," "The Thorn Birds" and more.

The wettest spot on earth, Mount Waialeale, is on the east side. Its annual average rainfall of 460 inches has eroded deep valleys, slicing canyons with scenic waterfalls.

Razor-thin cliffs rise from above the Na Pali coast on the north. And on the south and west, Waimea's natural wonder, the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," is an incredible sight.

As you drive south and west, the drier, sunnier and less crowded the areas. The land flattens out and suddenly you see Pioneer Hi-Bred corn test plots. With the mild climate, they grow three or four crops annually.

My favorite visits are to three preserves managed by the National Tropical Botanical Garden: Limahuli, McBryde and Allerton Gardens. Limahuli is north. For a small fee, you wander the paths, exploring the verdant valley with its taro terraces sculpted out of lava rock. Makana Mountain hovers behind you as you face the Pacific.

South of Lihue, and across from the famous Spouting Horn blowhole, is the NTBG Visitors' Center where guided tours start for the McBryde and Allerton gardens. The NTBG commenced with a $1 million donation from Monticello's Robert Allerton, who lived at nearby Lawai Beach. His Kauai estate is now the Allerton Garden which – just as in Monticello – boasts interesting statues. My favorites are the mermaids.

The "Jurassic Park" scene with raptor eggs hidden among tree roots was shot just yards from those mermaids.

Whether you want to rest or run around, Kauai has plenty to offer. Restaurants galore, shopping, mountains and beaches.

You'll never see it all, but you can try!

Maureen Holtz and her husband Michael live in Monticello. A frequent traveler and freelance writer, Maureen co-authored the recently released biography "Robert Allerton: The Private Man and the Public Gifts."

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