Finding Your Way On Kaua’i

 

That’s the St. Regis Hotel in the upper left of the picture, and Hanalei Beach in front. There’s no direct walk from one to the other.

Every year on Thanksgiving our family watches The Descendants, starring George Clooney. It’s a wonderful film, and part of it is set on Kaua’i. Every year though we roll our eyes and sigh when he and his family climb into a jeep with his cousin at the airport and head north, and yet somehow end up overlooking the ocean on the south shore at Kipu Kai Ranch, a geographically impossible feat. Or, when Clooney and family walk from the St. Regis hotel in Princeville to the beach in Hanalei, making it look like there’s a seamless beach the entire way. Nope. The St. Regis sits perched on the top of a bluff to the east of Hanalei, and you’d have to cross a golf course, scramble down a wooded cliff and cross the Hanalei River at the mouth before arriving at Hanalei Beach. There are other scenes where locations are out of place, but we chalk it all up to “Hollywood magic.”

A couple of weeks ago, I was alerted to an article in the New York Times: 36 Hours in Kauai, Hawaii. They article listed a lot of interesting places to see, shop and eat at on the Island, but I was worn out by the end of reading just the first day! The author had readers start at the Kaua’i museum in Lihue, on the east side, at 3:00 p.m (after their long flight arrives), then drive out to Hanapepe on the south side to order an aloha shirt at 4:30, followed by driving all the way back  to the Kilohana plantation in Puhi to take in a rum tasting at the Koloa Rum Company at 5:30 before attending a luau at the Plantation and then driving all the way back to Waimea (in pitch black darkness) for the night. The distance from Lihue to Hanapepe might not look like much (18 miles), but in the afternoon you’re going to be mixing with the pau hana (‘quitting time’) crowd heading back home to the south and west side, and that seemingly short drive can take up to an hour. It’s an exhausting schedule, especially if you decide to go with the article’s recommendation and take in some of the Hanapepe art night before heading back up to Kilohana. Maybe for someone from the mainland the driving might not seem all that excessive, but for those of us who live here it’s absolutely crazy.

The other two scheduled days are equally frenetic, and involve an insane amount of driving back and forth from one side of the island to another. The lodging recommendations are bizarre considering how long it can take to get around the island (most of the highway is only two lanes). Most of all, the 36-hour schedule in the Times misses the whole point of visiting Kaua’i. The best reason to come here is not to try to see and do as much as possible and fill every single moment, including negotiating Kauai’s traffic, but to relax, most especially if all you have is 36 hours to spend. Life moves slower here on Kaua’i, and the best and most authentic experience of all is to embrace the slower place. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast, sit on the beach for the day or go for a hike, take a nap, pick a place or two to visit, have a wonderful dinner or attend a luau, but don’t try to squeeze in everything.

Visitors are always welcome on Kaua’i, and there are lots of things to see and do here. But finding your way on Kaua’i takes a change in how one experiences time and place. Geography is more than just places on a map, or distances between towns, or times posted on Google. It’s more than pretty scenes in a film. The geography of a place is about how and where people live, and how they use the mountains, beaches, towns, roads and the surrounding environments. It’s about how local residents spend their time, and what they value about where they live. Even a small amount of knowledge about these things can make a visit anywhere more enriching.

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11 thoughts on “Finding Your Way On Kaua’i

    • Laura says:

      You will love Kaua’i . . . I guarantee it. Just don’t try to do everything. Come to relax, enjoy the beautiful scenery and beaches, and give yourself a reason to come back.

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  1. UnwrittenLifeBlog says:

    I remember pulling into Princeville and being over the moon because we found the fountain from the movie. The Descendants is one of my favorites!

    I wholeheartedly agree that 36 hours is 1) ridiculous, and 2) just relax and take in the magic that is Kauai. Even if you never get to come back, you’ll still have a better memory than running around and seeing everything. I think Kauai is like an onion, you need to peel back the layers!

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    • Laura says:

      For us, it was driving between Kapaa and Kealia and looking out at the ocean and realizing that’s what George Clooney and crew had seen – exciting! I still get a thrill though every time I look at that particular stretch of ocean. Of course then they have to turn off on Kealia Road, across from the beach, and somehow end up down at Kipu Kai. Sigh.

      We had friends come to Kaua’i for the day (they were vacationing on Oahu). They arrived in the morning, we went to breakfast at the Kountry Kitchen, then drove down to Poipu to see Spouting Horn and spend the day at the beach. We came home and grilled some burgers, and finally put them on their plane back to Oahu in the evening. A very nice, relaxing day and they saw quite a bit of the island and we all had a great time. Easy peasy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Kelly says:

    This question is for Brett.
    When I travel to Hawaii I love to take day hikes. I have purchased or downloaded many books and have been disappointed most of the time. The directions getting to the trailhead are often confusing if not impossible to find. Also, trail difficulty, while subjective, is usually completely off.
    Anyway, I was wondering if you have ever thought about taking the hikes you post, plus some, and considered making an eBook. Your directions are detailed, the pictures along the way are fantastic, and you point out interesting facts. Every post makes me feel as if I am on the hike with you – mud and all. You wouldn’t make a fortune but I bet you could boost your travel fund significantly.
    Next year when we are on Kauai I will be armed with printouts of your hikes – we can’t wait!!

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    • Brett says:

      Thank you. I am honored/humbled by your response.

      Funny you should mention being disappointed with directions to trailheads and trail difficulty cited in both print and online guides. That’s sort of what inspired me to blog about some of these hikes, the fact that trailheads are often difficult to find by the directions gleaned from published guides. Recently I discovered that some notable guides anabashedly publish instructions that absolutely cannot be followed due to the fact that they were written 5-10 years ago (and that spans a lot of tropical storms, record high tides, and flash floods) as well as changes in property ownership and/or original landowners changing policies.

      So, thank you again; I think I will accept your challenge and attempt an eBook!

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  3. Snoskred says:

    So, apparently tourists to Australia have been told somewhere that roadtrips are awesome, and you should hire a campervan and drive from Sydney to Cairns and back again, sometimes people are planning to do this in the space of a week.

    That trip – we did it once – is nearly 2500km. One way. Return it is 5,000km. In this country we have much wildlife, and lots of it likes to come out and feed at dawn and dusk, plus many animals are nocturnal, so people really should not be on the roads at those times. There are maybe 8 hours in winter, 10 in summer, where it is safest to travel.

    The general insanity of people doing what they have read in a book somewhere, or some friend who has never been suggested, or something they saw in a travel magazine or blog.. it would almost be funny if it did not actually end badly at times, we’ve had people die on our roads trying to do these crazy road trips. 😦

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    • Laura says:

      It seemed like the author of the article I posted had never actually visited the island, but instead asked a bunch of people what they would recommend if they visited, and then he stitched it all together. The second day is actually worse than the first – he has you driving from north to south, back up to the north and then back south again for dinner (when there are LOADS of terrific restaurants up on the north side). That’s a day that would most likely end very badly. I can’t remember if they even recommended going to the beach!

      I can’t imagine anyone trying to do 5000km in a week, especially if you’re in a rental van or car and crunched for time. And, visiting a new country as well. Just. plain. nuts.

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  4. Laurel says:

    I find those 36 hour travel articles in the Times pretty insane in general. Most of the places I recognize could never be appreciated in that amount of time. I suppose it’s a sign of the frantic pace of life that many people live now. I’m so happy I’m retired. 🙂

    We visited Kaua’i in the late ’90s and we had enough time to drive up Waimea Canyon, walk out the beach at Barking Sands, and even take a day long trip along the Napali Coast. All wonderful memories. My DH had a lot of hotel points from work travel at the time and we stayed in a really decadent hotel that we could NEVER afford now. Right on Poipu Beach. Unforgettable. All that said, we also drove out to Princeville one day and had lunch. The hotels there were so spendy that’s all we could afford out of our own pockets. haha

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    • Laura says:

      I’ve never understood why anyone would go to some of those places if all you had were 36 hours to spend. The plane flights to get there alone would be enough to be discouraging, and then to rush around for 36? No thanks.

      Your visit to Kaua’i sounds lovely, and just how it should be done. Visit Waimea Canyon (truly one of the wonders of the natural world), take a day and drive up to the north side. Take long walks on the beach. Spend your money on a fabulous hotel with unforgettable service and views. And RELAX.

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