Mele Kalikimaka!

I just returned from Kauai and am reflecting on a world with clearer vision on this Christmas day.  Normally when I travel I write daily.  Upon arriving in Kauai, I decided in the spur of the moment to share my trip with friends and family blog-style.  

Having been around the world, Hawai was another check on my bucket list.  Little did I know how it would change me and perhaps even change my path.  My first clue came when I left the airport and headed towards the Kauai north shore.  As I drove north things happened…the landscape changed, the weather was different, the smell of the air was cleaner, even the way the light fell changed.

Then I came upon a segment in the road that made my eyes widen and a smile begin to creep across my face. A curve to the right opened up the gift of African Albesia trees, red flora, green pastures, and pure wonder. This was the Hawaii of my dreams.

Road to Hanalei

As I drove down into the Hanalei Valley, I could feel the stress of my crazy corporate life begin peeling away, layer by layer, like an onion. By the time I got to the one lane bridge you must cross to get into Hanalei, I knew I was somewhere special.

Hanalei Bridge

My Last Day in Kauai

A Hui Hoi Kauai

My heart is heavy knowing I leave this Garden Island tonight. I already said my goodbyes to Hanalei, but I couldn’t resist going back one more time. With most of the day free and a constant drizzle of rain, I indulged myself and headed back up to the North Shore.

There was a severe high surf advisory for most of the island today. I decided to find some hidden, locals only beaches and watch the surfers work their charms. My first stop was Kahili Beach, just east of the lighthouse. It was down a long, wet, clay road. While it was a very cool spot, no one was surfing so I moved on (but not before slipping and sliding the car back up the steep hill!).

From there I went to ‘Secret Beach’ or Kauapea, which requires a 15 minute hike nearly straight down. When you emerge from the trail, lava pools, a small waterfall, and an extraordinary view of the Kilauea Lighthouse greet you. The waves must have been 20 ft high, or higher. The surf was so rough and so fast, complete waves didn’t have time to form, but it was visually stunning.

Path down to Secret Beach

Lava Pools - Secret Beach

Enormous Waves at Secret Beach

From there I drove just down the road to Kalihaiwi Beach were from the road above I found the locals. They were gathered off of a point a couple hundred yards off the beach. Here the waves were huge, but also well formed. It was a wondrous sight watching these guys make it look so effortless to tame this wild ocean. I took some really stunning video on my camera.

Big Waves

Local Surfers

Then I went on into Hanalei to find the Pat’s Taqueria lunch wagon at the pier. Featured in Food & Wine magazine, I was very much looking forward to sinking my teeth into something spectacular. My pork burrito surpassed all expectations. In fact, I went back to order the special of the day, ceviche just to try it for myself.

I was amazed at the difference in town. My sleepy Hanalei had turned into a buzzing destination. Apparently I had hit it just right by coming before the week of Christmas. Between the holiday tourists and surfers coming out of the woodworks to enjoy the high surf, it almost seemed there been an invasion! As always, things change and we change with them. It was the right time to go, and I felt good doing so, with no regrets.

Ah, mahalo Hanalei for the peace and relaxation you bestowed.

Since my flight wasn’t until 11pm, I went back to the Hyatt to use their spa facilities. There is nothing like a steam room, pool, sauna, jacuzzi, and a lava shower to relax you for a long journey, including a red eye flight. I really am a spoiled girl, I suppose. I now have a few hours to kill before heading to the airport so I’m sitting in the outdoor pavilion at the Hyatt listening to a wonderful solo guitarist and sipping on a farewell Longboard Lager. I’m wondering if I should stop en route to the airport at Hamura Saimin for my third bowl of noodles!

Final thoughts
It is with much inflection that I leave this extraordinary place. There were times in my life when I know I missed a fork in the road. I’ve made do and things have turned out pretty well, but if I listen intently there is a voice inside that tells me I’m in the wrong place. Kauai and Hanalei have shown me what true contentment feels like. Perhaps I’m at another fork in the road?

Mahalo nui loa, Kauai

My Last Night in Kauai

It rained all night, seemingly as ferocious as a tropical Hurricane. I left the sliding door open and let it lull me to sleep. When I woke, it was still raining hard so I nixed my plans for a morning surf in lieu of a drive. I wound up on a back road that led to the Menehune Fish Pond. The Menehune are thought to be the first inhabitants, before the Tahitians, and have evolved into mythical creatures in local lore.

Menehune Pond

The Menehune Pond is adjacent to a river and as the story goes, they built it in one night by lining up for miles and passing rocks person to person. It is a stunning site, one that a picture simply can’t do justice. Since it was foggy and raining, I didn’t get a good picture, but here is one off of the net.

From there, I found the Wailua Falls, at the end of a winding road north of Lihue. It seems everywhere you go, you find something magical here.

By now I was starving and it was slightly chilly, raining, and foggy. As much as I try to always try new things, I found myself driving back to Hamura Saimin for a steaming bowl of Japanese noodles. It was just as good the second time.

Warm and satiated, I headed out to meet a zip line group. Holy mackerel, I had no idea what I was in for! We zipped under tree canopies, over raging rivers, and along waterfalls, thousands of feet high (okay, maybe not that high, but it did seem like it!). After the first section, I’d earned my wings and was ready to push the boundaries of reason. I rode upside down, backwards, and twisting. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt such a adrenaline rush. To top off the day, we rappelled down a 70 ft waterfall with nothing but the ropes and rocks below. What an experience!

Zipping and Rapelling

Wet, muddy, and slightly worn after the adrenaline subsided, I got cleaned up and headed to Tidepools for dinner. I had a glass of champagne (it is my last night after all) and grilled ahi with the vegetables julienned smaller than I’ve ever seen. How did they do that!? It was wonderful, but the ambiance was most remarkable. The restaurant appears to float on water and looks like a thatched tiki hut. There are no exterior walls so your view is of the water reflecting orange flames of tiki torches, turtles and fish floating about, and tropical trees in bloom at the waters edge. Perhaps it is simply the Champagne and Keoki coffee (Kona, brandy, Kahlua), but this is bliss.

Days 6 & 7 in Kauai

Day 6
My leisurely morning sans alarm clock didn’t go as planned. I was rudely awakened by a work call at 5am. This work stuff really gets in the way of fun sometimes. The good thing is it got me up to see the sunrise over Poipu Bay. I watched it from my balcony for about 30 minutes with a big fluffy, soft robe on and a cup of java in hand. It was beautiful with manicured gardens in the foreground and the ocean beyond.

Sunrise at Poi'pu

For breakfast, I went down to the Regency Club (an area that serves breakfast, snacks, and happy hour only for frequent travelers). I was greeted with a bubbly glass of Champagne (who could turn that down?). After two glasses, I knew paddle boarding would be delayed until tomorrow. But that’s okay, because I’m on Hawaii time (a phrase locals say to tourists all the time….a la ‘don’t worry, be happy’). For breakfast, there was an odd assortment, I suppose to satisfy folks from all around the world. I could’ve had miso soup (extra seaweed optional), buckwheat pancakes, Chewan Mushi (Hawaiian dish of steamed eggs with mushrooms), or even boiled eggs and thick sliced bacon with a bit of rind on it). I went for the bacon and sticky buns….my diet willpower has disappeared!

I headed down to the beach, with a plumeria flower tucked behind my ear. Plumeria is the blossom they use for leis and other decoration. There weren’t many people around yet, so I got a plum hammock spot, situated between the ocean and a saltwater lagoon that runs parallel to the ocean for the entire width of the Hyatt property. I settled into the hammock (without falling out, even after a few glasses of Champagne) and began to write up a rough outline of a business I could start here…..drum roll, please….culinary tours of local growers, restaurants, cultural food, etc. There aren’t any here yet (maybe for a reason)?

Hyatt Saltwater Lagoon

A few moments later a waitress arrived with a Mai tai in one hand and a bloody Mary in the other. Apparently they had marked in my records that I like both. I chose the Mary. And so continued my morning of lush-dom. There was a gentle breeze, temperature was around 78 (but a warm 78)…another great opportunity to be alone with my thoughts…Well, I did have Mary to accompany me (several times actually, extra spicy!).

For lunch, my arse didn’t move an inch. They brought me a teriyaki burger with some terrific sauce. I wish my uncle the chef were here to help me figure out what was in it. There was also a small bag of Maui potato chips. I looked at the back and discovered they were made by Frito Lay – talk about sneaky marketing. So much for trying to eat local, but the burger was really good. It is a local custom to have teriyaki on/in your burger.

In the afternoon, I did move, but only a little. I got a floaty chair and plopped into it (without spilling my beer-yes I had moved on from Mary!). I lazily floated around the lagoon reading and napping with the sound of the massive winter waves lulling me to sleep. Thank goodness for SPF 50!

For dinner, I ate at the Hyatt, which wasn’t anything spectacular, beef satay. Now I’m off to my room to take my slippers off (Hawaiians refer to flip flops as slippers), open the balcony doors so I can listen to the ocean, and settle into bed.

Paddle boarding tomorrow and perhaps a drive around the Waimea Canyon!

Day 7
This morning I woke early for a paddle board lesson. For breakfast I stopped at a little hole in the wall, I not sure it even had a name, but it did have an item called the ‘loco moco.’ It is a local dish that starts with rice on the bottom, hamburger, and eggs on top, then covered in a brown teriyaki sauce and caramelized onios. It was enough to feed four, but it was so good, I managed to eat almost half of it. The diet has been completely abandoned!

Loco Moco


With a full belly, I headed to paddle board on Poipu Bay. My instructor was seriously hot, with an extraordinary tan and bright blue eyes. It took me about 15 minutes to get it down pat (paddle boarding, not the guy!), despite the rough waves and blowing wind. I guess growing up doing water sports all my life helped. He was quite impressed I got it so fast and suggested we head farther out into the really big waves. I got pummeled a bit, but stood for long intervals. The only problem is when you wipe out, sea water infiltrates all your sinuses, which consequently drain. I wasn't worried about the board, balance, or paddling…I was doing well. Rather I was worried about my sinuses and what was making an appearance above my lip, which was NOT sexy! It is extremely hard to stand, surf, paddle, and wipe your nose at the same time without literally wiping out, which would in turn make it worse! It must have been okay because afterwards he gave me a big bear hug and suggested I meet him in Hanalei tomorrow to paddle board the river. I dont know what this place has done to me, but I am suddenly a woman in demand! My mom always says I just need to 'turn my light on.' I think it must be on now!

After boarding, I decided to head over to Kalaheo for lunch at Ohana Cafe. Unfortunately it was closed…they are apparently on Hawaii time, too! So I wandered over to the Kalaheo Cafe and Coffee. I was still sopping wet and a little sandy, and just wanted something warm. Their lentil soup with homemade wheat bread was so comforting, it hit just the spot.

At this point it was time for dessert. There were two places in nearby Hanapepe I wanted to check out. One is a bakery in a run down Chinese restaurant called Wongs. All the publications I read said they make the best lilikoi chiffon pie on island, so I had to give it a try. I bought a slice each of lilikoi and guava chiffon to sample. Both were good, but not worth a special trip if you aren't nearby. I had better lilikoi at the Village Snack and Bakery in Hanalei. Just caddy corner across the street from Wongs is Lapperts Ice Cream and Coffee, all made on premise apparently. I had one keiki scoop (child portion) of their signature Kauai pie (kona coffee, fudge, coconut, macadamia, vanilla) and one of caramel coconut macadamia. They were so good, creamy and crunchy, sweet but not too much so. What a life!

From there I headed back to the Hyatt, as I was pretty much salty, soggy, and sleepy. However, the sugar kicked in en route and I decided to drive past the hotel just to see what was around the corner. It was unknowingly a great decision. The road became dirt and there were signs posted that it was private property but if you go to the beach, be out by 6pm. I drove along washboard roads for what seemed Ike forever….I know, I can already hear you saying, "You crazy woman, what are you doing driving around rural dirt road nowhere by yourself?" My response is that the kind of adventure I crave can't be found in a Hyatt hammock (however lovely a hammock).

At the end of the road I was treated with a sublime experience. A nearly deserted beach called Maha'ulepu that went for at a least mile with nothing in sight except ragged cliffs, coconut trees, and an endangered Monk Seal taking a nap. It was by far the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. As I walked all the way to the end I saw a native Hawaiian family preparing for a real luau. They were unburying the pig, kids were running about, and hula dancers were getting ready. What an extraordinary site! How lucky am I? I wish I could have stayed to watch, but I didn't want to invade their privacy. As I was leaving I noticed a sign for the Gillin House. It turns out to be the only beach house for miles, in fact in the whole Maha'ulepu Valley, and it is available for rent. Wow! Next time, I'm there.

Maha'ulepu Beach

I headed back to the room to get cleaned up and went to dinner at Plantation Gardens. The sugar had worn off and I wanted to go somewhere close. I was treated to a fantastic glass of Pinot and seafood lau lau (ahi, prawns, scallops, julienned veggies all wrapped in Ti leaves and served with steamed brown rice with furikake on top, and wasabi aoli). By far, this was the best meal I have had on island so far. Then it was time for dessert (yes, I know-not my first or even second dessert of the day!). I had the ‘Local Lilikoi Cheesecake’ (sun baked creme fraiche and passion fruit cheesecake on a Graham cracker crust). You could have rolled me home, I was so full and happy!

Tomorrow is a half day of zip lining through the jungle and perhaps a visit to a goat farm. Woo hoo!

Do you know what the meaning of ALOHA is?
The literal meaning of aloha is “the presence of breath” or “the breath of life.” It comes from “Alo,” meaning presence, front and face, and “ha,” meaning breath. Aloha is a way of living and treating each other with love and respect. Its deep meaning starts by teaching ourselves to love our own beings first and afterwards to spread the love to others.

According to the old kahunas (priests), being able to live the Spirit of Aloha was a way of reaching self-perfection and realization for our own body and soul. Aloha is sending and receiving a positive energy. Aloha is living in harmony. When you live the Spirit of Aloha, you create positive feelings and thoughts, which are never gone. They exist in space, multiply and spread over to others.

Day 3 in Kauai

Today I woke early and headed for morning sustenance at Java Kai. I can’t get over how good the coffee is here. I want it at every meal! They weren’t serving food yet so I settled for coffee and a bagel and headed out for a 45 minute drive to Ka ‘paa where I met my sea kayaking crew. It was a wonderful drive. The sun was coming up over the ocean. The colors were all orange and pink and the ocean looked like glitter.

Sun rises as I drive south

Ocean glitters as the sun comes up

Once we got to our launch site, my legs were so stiff (the hike yesterday is still with me!) I had to stretch for a bit. We had three different two seater sit top kayaks. In addition to the guide, there was a great couple from Oregon and a whiney Lesbian couple from Denver. They were nice until they weren’t strong enough to carry their kayak down to the shore (I did it for them) AND they gave up two-thirds of the way so the guide and I each had to paddle one of them home….but it was fun anyways.

After about 10 minutes, we were nearly dive bombed by a frigate bird chasing a white tropical long tail bird. Apparently frigates frighten smaller birds until the small bird drops it’s catch. What a way to start!

We also saw several huge sea turtles and stopped at a buoy to snorkel. There we saw lots of angel fish swimming in a large school but everyone was starting to get frustrated that we hadn’t seen any whales in our first 6 miles or so. Finally, off in the horizon, we saw a tail breach! Ahhh, check that one off of the bucket list.

Not more than a mile later, though, we heard a huge blowing sound just behind us. Everyone looked at each other, not exactly sure what we heard. Then a whale breached her whole body not more then 50 yards away. It was spectacular. There were at least two of them, playing with each other. It was quite a sight. I was in a boat with the guide and turned to watch, not moving away. Unfortunately the whiney lesbian chicks were scared and began shrieking like banshees. Needless to say, we had to move on, but what an experience! Our guide said he’s only seen them that close once before, from a catamaran.

We stopped for lunch at a deserted beach, with no one around and no manmade sounds…just the birds. I had to walk because by now my legs were even more stiff and aching from not moving them. As I made my way down the beach, I saw passionfruit growing wild in the trees on the bank. I picked as many as I could carry and we all had fruit for dessert (although it was a bit tart)!

It was quite a trek so I’m expecting that my upper body tomorrow will feel like my lower body did today. Our guide, Steve lives near my Cowgirl Haven. He suggested I meet him for some jacuzzi action to ‘help my muscles.’ Man, have I got it going on in Hawaii! Apparently Kauai used to be nicknamed Man Island because there weren’t any chicks!

Anyways, anxious to take a shower and find food (I was ravenous after 5 hours of kayaking), I headed out back up to the north shore. En route I stopped at a road side shack called Banana Joes. There they made me a frosty/smoothy concoction from banana, papaya, coconut, and who knows what else. It was so refreshing after a long day-cold and semisolid like soft serve, sweet but barely so. It was perfect. I also bought rambutan (red, hairy, tastes kinda like a grape), mangosteen, fresh macadamias, and homemade coconut tapioca pudding.

Rambutan Whole

Rambutan peeled

Back home and cleaned up, I lazily ordered Chinese (Kauai pork and cabbage, which turned out to be much better than expected), took ibuprofen as a second course, then settled into TWO desserts! Coconut rice pudding and lilikoi pie. Lilikoi is made from passionfruit concentrate and is impossibly light, sweet, tangy, and creamy all at the same time.

Off to rest my sore muscles (and ribs from surfing, too). Tomorrow might be a lazy day, we shall see!

Days 1 – 2 Kauai

First 24 hours of my great Kauai adventure:

After the normal rigors of getting bags, renting car, blah blah blah, I had an hour drive to Hanalei, a sleepy little surf town on the North Shore where I’m spending my first five nights. I’m staying at the Hanalei Surfboard House (in the Cowgirl Cottage, which is fabulous).

Hanalei Surfboard House

I arrived around 5 and went “downtown” (about 3 blocks in total). Ravenous, I had Huli Huli chicken and macadamia cream pie (you know me, as much local food as I can get)…Yum! Returning home (about 4 blocks from downtown), I settled into the Cowgirl.

I’d schlepped across the pond a bottle of fantastic wine Uncle Bob and Darien gave me. I decided to open it up and start the holiday right! The Cowgirl is on the other side of the road from the beach but with all the windows open, I sipped wine, listened to the ocean, and relaxed my jet lagged bones.

When I woke today, I was ready for surfing. I met a guide by the Hanalei Pier (too chicken to try it alone with it being the winter high wave season and all). The instructor turned out to be Keaton- all of maybe 20, and that might be generous. He looks like the guy that costarred with Brooke Shields in the movie Blue Lagoon. Impossibly sun drenched blonde hair, honey brown tan, so physically fit it isn’t even funny. Talking to him, I discovered Pidgin, also called Da Kine. It is a language that tells the story of a diverse Hawaii since it developed over time as many different ethnicities came together. It is common among native Hawaiians but not used often with haole (foreigners).

It was raining off and on so the beach was empty and we had all of Hanalei Bay to ourselves. Ethereal mountains in the background, warm water, soft sand, and all to myself….what have I done to deserve this charmed life?!

Even in winter on the north shore (which means big waves), I managed to get up on the board every time and only had a few colossal wipeouts- thanks to Boot Camp Benji Butt Kicker! Many hours of swimming, paddling, push ups, and squats on the board and I was good to go the whole time. Boot camp does a body good! Leaving the pier, Keaton asked if I would like to hang later, which begs the question, at what age does cougar-dom begin? At 35 am I a cougar or simply a fun chick that rocked the board?

The salt water messed my contacts up, so back to the cottage for a shower, nap, and glass of wine (yes, it was early, but why not?). By now it was raining harder so I went to Bubba Burger. I had a divine concoction that makes Bens Chili Bowl in DC move down to the minor leagues. Rice, hamburger patty, cheese-definitely of the nongourmet variety, hot dog, chili, onions….all in one bowl. Plus a diet Coke, which is weird with that meal. Wow. Diet be damned.

On the way home I stopped at a roadside hole in the wall where I picked up a roasted boar and corn dish for dinner and some Hawaiian hot sauce for dear Uncle Bob. En route, Santa on a motorcycle passed me….an odd sight in rural Hawaii I must say!

The rest of the afternoon was spent buying gifts, whew got that over with. Then back to the cottage to get a glass of wine and walk to the beach to watch the sunset. I’m now settling down for my wild boar bonanza, wondering if I should respond to Keaton’s text….What the hell, I’m in Hawaii, right?


Tomorrow is a hike along the Kalalau Trail!

Day 2

I’ve decided, I want Hanalei to be my home. I’d be happy to do not much here. It is such an unassuming, laid back town of surfers, hippies, and the occasional tourist. If you ever come to Kauai, skip the south and east tourist traps, come here.

I started the day with the most amazing coffee and a spicy breakfast burrito that was just perfect from Java Kai. After I devoured my entire plate, I met a girl/woman who was from Buffalo. She and her boyfriend just up and moved here. Sight unseen. How brave and fun! Food for thought….

From there I went to hike the Kalalau Trail. To get there, you drive until the road ends, literally. It feels like the beginning of the world. The hike was 4 miles in and out, which doesn’t sound hard, but it was very much so. In fact, I just learned that Backpacker Magazine has named it one of the top 10 most hazardous trails, but boy is it worth it! Each step up or down the mountains was slippery and technical. After the first two miles you reach a beach only accessible by the one trail. The next two miles took an hour and a half to walk….tough going. At one point I was ready to turn back when the group I tagged along with gave up. Fortunately this great couple from Phoenix suddenly appeared and helped plow ahead. They were in their late 40’s and extraordinarily fit. It was tough keeping up, I hurt even as I write this!

The reward at the end was beyond anything I have ever experienced. The falls are more than 30 stories high. The cliffs and rocks were all covered in green moss and white birds soared above. I’ve been to Bali, France, Switzerland, all over the US, and many more places and never seen anything more breathtaking. Below the falls is a clear pool with very cold water. We swam all the way under the falls and sat on a ledge behind them. I daresay it was a life changing experience. When I die I want my ashes scattered here. Good luck to whoever has to make the 6 hour trek! The route back was hard, the last half mile my quads were visibly shaking and I’m sure I was quite a sight- covered in sweat and red mud…but it was completely worth it!

For dinner, I went to the Dolphin. It wasn’t quite open yet so I sat at the bar. Who came up and sat next to me? Titus Tinimaka, a pro surfing legend. I had read about him in one of my Kauai books and recognized him immediately, despite the fact that he was completely unassuming and kind. I asked him if he was Titus and he said yes…..I told him about my hike and inquired about his day. He had spent it filming a documentary about Laird Hamilton’s dad (Laird is married to Gabriella Reese and is a surfing icon as well). They had filmed his dads dog today (he apparently surfs big waves, too!). What a great guy, fun to listen to, and generous as well.

When the sushi bar was finally ready, I sat next to two wealthy, hilarious, gay guys who spend every December in Kauai. They kept me entertained and in stitches. All in all, a great day!


Tomorrow-a 9 mile whale watching kayak trip!