I woke at 5 this morning, in the soft darkness, listening to the sounds of the ocean and soft night rustlings. It was a test in learning patience, waiting for the daylight, waiting to see this place where we landed on this island. I knew that our windows faced east, knew that we were above the ocean, but not on it, and while I could hear it, I wasn’t sure at all whether or not I would see it. Even in the dark, the gardens were impressive, so I knew that facet of our stay would be delightful.
The place where we are staying is called the Aloha Suite at the Kauai Gardens on Anahola Bay. http://www.kauaiproperties.com/rentals_detail15.html Some guidebooks place us on the north side of the island, some on the east side, and some just leave Anahola out altogether. We are in between east and north, so for me that is simply “northeast”. It’s a quiet rural area, about 4 miles from Kapa’a and 12 miles from Lihue. (after many misses, I learned that it is pronounced “Li-hooey”). That first night it seemed a long way, but as we have explored more we are happy with our location. It’s perfect really, with accessibility and silence.
First impressions this morning were of silence and darkness. Blessed darkness. No street lights, house lights, porch lights, nothing to mar the loveliness of that tropical night. As the sun rose, the bird sounds started up, all bird sounds I have never heard, so mentally I added “bird id book” to my accumulating list. The air is pure velvet, and caresses your body as you move about the way that the finest silk velvet slides over your body. Not hot, not cold, somehow perfect body temperature, with breezes that slide by that are just enough cooler for you to feel them. I have been hot sometimes here, but never more than a moment or two.
Watching the morning break in the gardens was so magnificent, and light illuminating the interior spaces of our home was another treat. This place was built 8 years ago by Karl and Reney, he’s the German builder and she’s the magical gardener. The gardens are a magical maze of palms and bromeliads, succulents and tropical vines that Reney has created in only 8 years, using plants from the dump! The huge row of Royal Palms that lines the driveway are only 8 years old and the grey palms outside the back terrace she grew from seed just five years ago. Looking at the photos of these gardens you will think you are in a landscape that has been developing for years and years, so this information from Reney was a true surprise. Reney herself is a surprise, a lovely woman with long hair with tiny streaks of gray, all tied in a knot wearing a long Hawaiian print sundress that she says is 6 years old, her permanent garden costume. She’s originally from New Orleans and the sound of the south is still in her voice.
But when we took our first walk, we hadn’t yet met Reney and wandered down the driveway to the main road in search of the beach. We could see it and hear it, but between us and the beach were many private homes and walls and jungles. Shortly we passed a florid man happily walking and sweating and he seemed friendly so we asked him if he knew how to get to the beach. He said, “Oh you haven’t found Reney’s trail yet” “Let me show you” and he proceeded to take us over a wall, though a jungle to a private beach, all the while telling us the story of Reney who planted gardens for the man who owns the property in exchange for a path to the beach. Our first introduction to Reney. And the beach itself was lovely, too, small and close, with some homes along the way, some rocks and some sand, and of course, that legendary clear water.
We walked the beach a bit and then decided to let this first day be one of exploration. But before I go to that part of the day, let me return to the wonderful place where we are staying.
Often we try to stay in very reasonable accommodations, and while there are cheaper places to stay on this island, I really wanted this vacation to be relaxing and the fulfillment of my dream of a tropical vacation, so here we are. The most amazing thing about it is the quality of the environment itself. The walls are all beautiful whitewashed pine, it’s all timber frame construction with bamboo mat ceilings, and big silent air fans. The floors are smooth and shiny Brazilian cherry, grown on a farm in Portland, Oregon, according to Reney, and silky and cool underfoot. The furnishings are an eclectic mix of rattan and carved Asian influences and tropical touches. The counters are granite, the coffeemaker is a Cuisine Art, and there are all the goodies that only a cook would think of, such as really good knives, and a garlic press and a big excellent electric wok. Everything is incredibly spotless, and pure and fresh and clean. One of my favorite things are the guidebooks that are thumbed and worn, and are the best guidebooks on the island. We have used them every day. Outside our bedroom door is a lanai with our own personal hot tub and a table for evening drinks or morning coffee with a bit off a view of the ocean, although that view is somewhat truncated by all the foliage. I love the foliage, though, it’s the reason I wanted to be on Kauai.
After a cup of tea and some breakfast bars I had in my bag, which was our only option on this first morning, we headed to town to explore and shop. First stop was the coffee bar in Kapaa and a great cappuccino and a lemon bar. Ahh. Then we decided to travel a bit inland and explored the HWY 580 that goes as far inland as it seems you can go on a road.
The Opaeka’a Falls Lookout was lovely, although you can see houses on the upper part of the falls, and there were lots of tourists stopping at the same pullouts. This is a busy tourist road it seems, but also interesting to see the homes and neighborhoods along here. We drove to the end of the pavement into the Keahua Arboretum, crossing the upper reaches of the Wailua River with the car. From here, the road is dirt and suggests that a 4×4 is needed to continue on to the Kuilau Trail, which we decided was something for another day after we knew more about the island and what we might want to spend our time doing.
Just breathing the air in this place was wonderful, as the book said, a giant oxygen factory. I don’t think I have even smelled air like this anywhere, ever. The greens were so brilliant they hurt your eyes, and the popping orange of the African Tulip Tree (Spathodea campanulata) made the blue skies even bluer and the white clouds were so pure they could have come directly from heaven itself. I was in awe on this whole trip, just in awe. As we drove back down the highway, we took a bit more time stopping at the various viewpoints, watching the kayakers going up and down the Wailua River, and seeing the first of the Hawaiian temple sites with their altars and history.
Our goal was to drive around the Island and get an overview of everything but we were waylaid once more by the side trip from just east of Lihue up to Wailua Falls. This is the falls that you see in all the photos of Kauai, a beautiful double fall with rainbows at the bottom. We took the obligatory photo from the tourist crowded lookout and looked around for other trails to the pools below. After seeing a hiker emerge from one of those trails covered with more than 75 huge welts from the mosquitos and looking at the condition of the trail, we thought that maybe we could save that adventure for another time as well.
Back down to the main road 56, to Lihue, a nondescript place, at least along HWY 56 and 50 as it passes through, and on to Poipu, the southern coast. We drove around a bit, and realized that we were getting really hungry so started looking for a restaurant. Surprising how hard that is to find sometimes, and we drove through Koloa before returning to Poipu to find the Keoki’s Paradise, a place not to miss with a special sort of tropical ambiance. We had a great lunch there, salad, and Hawaiian fish with a Mai Tai once more and a view of waterfalls and gardens and open air dining on the terrace. Perfect spot for a point in the day where we were feeling a bit underwhelmed with everything. Before our late lunch, we thought we might go home, but afterward, feeling refreshed and re-energized, we decided to look for some of those famous Poipu beaches. Our waitress was great and told us about the Maha’ulepu beaches and our handy guidebook had some detailed maps and directions, a good thing since it is off the beaten path and the roads that lead there aren’t really on the main maps. It isn’t even listed on the main beach page of most of the Kauai magazines either. So with guide book in hand, we headed off across the dirt roads north of Poipu. Once found, there were three beaches to choose from, and since it was late and we were tired, we chose the easiest. Another lovely beach walk, but both of us in shorts and not swimsuits meant that it was a walk and a wade and not a swim. We didn’t actually swim once on this first day, but the walk was beautiful, and we even got a close up of a monk seal, endangered here with only a few hundred individuals left. Feeling happy and beach satisfied, we headed back through Kapa’a to find the Safeway store so that we could stock up.
Speaking of that, sticker shock is a big deal here. Food in the restaurants is high, but what you would expect from a resort area and such, but the idea that you can save money by cooking it isn’t so enticing when you see the prices of stuff, even with the Safeway card. I think the one that got us the most was the mayonnaise, 9.51 for a quart of Best Foods. Yeah, that’s dollars. What planet have I been living in? The wine was 15 bucks which would normally be 10 and milk was 2 gallons for 10 bucks. We bought enough groceries to last for most of the week and spent almost 200 bucks. Best deal however was the Hawaiian drinks, at 1.89 for a six pack of passion fruit, guava juice in pure water with no fake sugar, just the real thing from sugar cane. Hmmm. But sooooo refreshing.
Lunch sufficed for dinner for us and when we finally returned to our little home we were ready for a much needed rest. Once again, dark night sounds, no ambient light to speak of, and the sounds of the ocean lulled me to sleep for happy tropical dreams.