Aloha! Welcome to KauaiDec 23, 2021 10:36AM ● By Diana Barnett
Visiting Hawaii had been on our bucket list for quite some time when my husband and I finally planned our trip and went. Interestingly enough, the decision to visit Kauai in particular came as the result of failing to win a contest.
In order to win a free trip, contestants were asked to write a brief essay on the botanical gardens they would most like to visit. I picked the National Botanical Gardens in Kauai. I didn’t win, but after researching the gardens, the need to visit became an obsession. All the Hawaiian islands are beautiful, but we wanted a more relaxed environment and lots of colorful plants and flowers—and we weren’t disappointed!
EXPLORE the Garden island
Kauai, the oldest and northernmost island in the chain, is nicknamed the “Garden Isle” because its Mount Waialeale receives over 400 inches of rainfall. As a result, much of the island is covered by tropical rain forest. A large portion of the island can only be reached by boat or helicopter, where its native plants thrive.
We decided to stay at Poipu Beach and discover Kauai from there. This beautiful sandy beach borders lush gardens and resorts. Lava rock dots the shore and hiking trails abound. We were thrilled to watch monk seals hurl themselves upon the sandy beach for a little sun. These animals are carefully protected, and as soon as one emerged from the water to sun itself, a staked ribbon fence was quickly placed around his sleeping area.
Waimea Canyon was one of our first destinations. The road there winds its way up the mountain, passing a papaya plantation and fields of cattle and sheep. Often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” this beautiful landmark features red rocks covered with a multitude of flowering plants and trees. Waterfalls abound in the canyon and can be enjoyed from the many lookout points on the road. Waipo’o Falls, which cascades 800 feet, is a must-see.
“JURASSIC PARK” VIEWS
The canyon road ends at Koke‘e State Park. From this steep overlook we could see down over the top of the Na Pali Coast and its series of spires called the Cathedrals. This region of the island is a major hunting area covered in vegetation where locals look for wild pigs and black-tailed deer—both introduced from the mainland. But one creature that’s protected from hunting on Kauai is the multicolored island chicken. They’re everywhere, even resorts, and can be heard crowing all day long.
The Na Pali coastline, made famous by the “Jurassic Park” movies, can only be viewed from the water or the air. We traveled north in one of Captain Andy’s catamarans around the west side of the island past abandoned sugar cane plantations—once the main economic drivers of the island. Two hours out from Port Allen, where our cruise began, the Cathedral spires finally came into view. Pinnacles of green and red stretched from the ocean to the top of the mountain as the result of centuries of wind and 50-foot waves.
Next, and the main reason for our trip, we visited the National Tropical Botanical Gardens. This lush swath of the Lawai Valley includes three separate gardens, as well as the headquarters and research facilities of the National Tropical Botanical Garden. The research facility is attempting to bring back native plant species, many of which were destroyed when non-native predators were introduced to the island.
The Allerton Garden is the legacy of wealthy Chicagoan Robert Allerton and his companion John Gregg. The two designed a series of elegant outdoor “rooms” where they replicated fountains and statues they’d seen during visits to Europe. The gardens surround the oceanfront Allerton estate, purchased in 1938. A highlight for cinephiles was the giant fig tree where Dr. Grant found the dinosaur eggs in the first “Jurassic Park” movie.
Luau AND FOOD
We discovered that one of the best ways to learn about the history, culture and food of the island is by attending a luau. An immense feast followed by music, interpretive dancing and narration illustrated the creation and history of Kauai.
Hawaiian music is diverse, ranging from the slow melodies of the hula to the rapid beat of fire dancing. The costumes were amazing, and luau food included traditional pork, a variety of local fish, and poi—a purple vegetable grown in water, similar to rice. Even the bread was purple, with poi as an ingredient.
Every place has its “must try” foods, and Kauai was no exception. “Plate lunch” is popular, consisting of a protein (usually raw fish), scoops of rice, macaroni salad and a few leaves of green. Another popular staple is Spam in the can, found in every grocery store. For a sweet treat, shave ice is an island favorite, featuring a scoop of ice cream topped with finely shaved ice and sweet tropical syrups.
After experiencing the paradise that is Kauai, I’m planning for my next trip. Until then, mahalo!