Even a visit from their larger neighbors is possible. During the spring, Humpback whales travel past the Hawaiian islands on their way up to Alaska to feed. Special whalewatching boats can be hired to chase after a spouting blow hole or an elusive fluke. However, the whales will be the ones to choose who they show themselves to. No boat can come within 100 yards of a whale, but the sometimes 40-foot long mammals can come as close to a boat as they want. Our small catamaran was heading back to the Poipu dock when about fifty yards out a large blast of water flew into the sky. All passengers on the boat yelled in unison, “10 o’clock, 10 o’clock! Whale, whale, whale!”
In the next few seconds a male and female humpback arched their namesakes out of the amethyst bay, two white flukes broke the water and rose high into the air and proceeded to dive into the depths away from these awestruck landlubbers who cheered with tears in their eyes.
Before a wonderful picnic lunch served by the captain of the Amalua and our guide, Quentin, all passengers donned snorkel gear and dived into the waters near the Na Pali coastline. Winter and Spring also brings colder waters to the area. Quentin, leaping off the side of the catamaran let out a shriek when he hit the water. To us hardy mainlanders, this is bathwater. Let Quentin swim in Lake Tahoe in summer.
Here a coral reef is home to dozens of tropical fish including the elongated trumpet and flute fish. We were lucky to be able to swim alongside a family of turtles who inched along the shallows and sunbathed on the coral.
From both a boat and on land you can get a good view of Ni’ihau, or The Forbidden Island. A look is all you will be able to get from this island. It is forbidden to tourists. The only people who live on the island are native Hawaiians who live off the land of this remote island which seems to be always enshrouded in mist.
Back on land we head from Poipu to the far western part of the island. The farthest place tourists are allowed to go is Polihale Beach, the longest beach in the Hawaiian Islands. Barking Sands Beach is one of the more accessible areas. The white sand of this very hot beach can be kicked a certain way which sounds like a dog barking. No rocks, coral or seaweed mar the floor of the blue ocean in front of Barking Sands. However during the off-season do not swim here unless you are a good, strong swimmer. The surf, waves and surge are beautiful but dangerous. The area around this 12-mile beach is on the windward side of the island and is dry and dusty. Kauai is famous for the rust colored sand that coats the roadside and the skeletons of trees robbed of water from the green side of the island.
The change in temperature and plant life becomes drastically different when you start moving up into the higher elevations. On the road up to Waimea Canyon and Kalalau the first pine trees are evident and the air becomes a lot cooler. In fact, at the Kalalau lookout it was downright freezing.
Waimea Canyon is a deep red scar running ragged through the green flesh of the western part of the island. At 10-miles wide it is the largest canyon in the Hawaiian Islands and at almost 4,000 feet deep it offers a spectacular view of rivers, waterfalls and narrow valleys certainly never disturbed by humans.
Further up the road is the Kalalau lookout. Here is where you can get a photographer’s dream view of the Na Pali Coastline and the ocean beyond. The lookout area has a nice park and eating area, but pick a day to eat here when there is no wind.
One of the best things about the island, and something that may be taken for granted, is that all beaches and parking around the beaches are free. However, everything else around the island is rather expensive. Shop around for deals on hotel rooms, buy food from the grocery store and outdoor markets. You can pick up exotic fruits and huge vegetables for a fraction of what it would cost on the mainland.
After a week in Kauai, the winds, the waves, the sand and the daily sprinkling of fresh rain will heal a body of mainland malaise. A winter and spring vacation here is better than most places during the summer. Accept open spaces as yours, drop your watch in the ocean, take a breath of the flower-laden breezes, and dip your toes in the rainwater of the garden in the middle of the Pacific.
Read Part One of Kauai: The Garden Isle