By Nora Walsh
It wasn’t the pristine scenery of Hawaii that impressed me most, nor was it the oceanfront hotels, idyllic sunsets, scenic waterfalls or the delicious mai tais; what impressed me most was that you could enjoy the perfect temperatures of Hawaii, both day and night, undisturbed by pesky insects. There was never an adventurous hike or sublime evening cut short by bothersome mosquitoes, or a day at the beach disrupted by sand flies. As a traveler who loves the outdoors, I found this to be an unexpected and rare luxury. This may seem like a small detail in the face of so much beauty, but it actually creates an environment that allows you to deeply relax while enjoying the gifts Mother Nature has bestowed this Polynesian paradise.
Our first stop in Hawaii was the Anara Spa at the Grand Hyatt Resort on the island of Kaua’i. Breathing the delicious scent of coconut oil that slathered my body during a Lomi-Lomi massage in the open-air treatment hut, I fell into a state of blissful repose. A light rain tap-danced upon the lauhala leaves and my muscles softened more with every long stroke of the Hawaiian inspired body treatment. I was reminded on that heated table how important it is to escape New York City from time to time and recalibrate to a healthy pace of living. Watching the sunset with a bottle of red wine on our lanai also helped me stop and smell the hibiscus that wafted from the gardens below.
The Grand Hyatt Resort sits on Po’ipu Beach, located on the south shore of Kaua’i. This region receives less rain in the winter months than the more rustic northern shore. Kaua’i is the most laidback of the Hawaiian island chain and is very easy to navigate. Nothing of interest takes more than about an hour and a half to see. My husband and I rented a black Mustang convertible to explore the southern coast up to the North Shore. Large portions of the middle and west of Kaua’i are undeveloped and only reachable by helicopter. Our favorite concierge person at the Grand Hyatt, Christen DuCharme, said she has lived on the island for almost seven years and the landscape seen on the helicopter tours is the most impressive she has experienced yet.
We wanted to get out on the water rather than up in the air, so we opted for a sunset dinner cruise on a luxury catamaran along the Na Pali coast. As we sailed out to sea, a massive florescent rainbow illuminated the broad horizon inciting a flurry of camera activity because it was the largest and brightest one any of us had ever seen. It trailed us as we sailed, stretching itself over the green hills of the shoreline.
Na Pali appropriately translates to “the cliffs” in Hawaiian. The stunning geography can only be accessed by helicopter, boat or on foot. The first wave of Polynesian and Tahitian settlers arrived hundreds of years ago by outrigger canoes and built communities in its deep river valleys. It is a wonder how they survived in such an isolated and precipitous landscape. Capt. Andy’s docked us for dinner service in clear view of Na Pali’s ridged mountains carpeted in a glowing emerald. We dined on fresh shrimp and sirloin and consumed our fair share of the dangerously delicious Sneaky Tiki cocktails. On the way home, the sails were raised and we glided into the sunset with humpback whales cresting from the ocean to greet us.
A few days later with got our hands dirty on a kayak adventure to Wailua River’s secret waterfall. This river is sacred to the Hawaiian community because it once housed high chiefs and important temples, which have now fallen into unmarked ruins. It took us a few attempts to get our paddling in sync, but then we cruised two miles down the lush waterway and docked our boats in a tropical cove to start our hike. We sopped through slippery mud trails, buffalo grass and morning glory flowers. We forged waist-high waters and dropped from Tarzan rope swings into the chilly river. We walked under a shaded canopy of 100-foot trees and scrambled down rock faces to arrive at the panoramic Uluwehi Falls. The 130-foot waterfall pooled a recreational swimming hole that everyone dunked into upon arrival.
Kauai’s adventures do not stop there. The Waimea Canyon lookouts rival those of Arizona’s Grand Canyon, there are surfing lessons in Princeville, snorkeling at Lehua rock, road trips to Wailua Falls, hiking the Hanakapi’ai Trail and exploring Mahaulepu State Park. When its time to refuel, fresh poke and pork Laulau can be found all over the island, but my personal favorite is Kapa’a’s Pono Market. For a night out on the island, Smith’s Family Garden was recommended for the most authentic Lu’au experience, and the Beach House restaurant in Po’ipu has a dreamy sunset view. In Kaua’i we found the perfect mix to keep us busy, and more than enough reasons to stop and relax.
Our flight home was leaving from O’ahu, so we spent a few days in Waikiki before heading back to the East Coast. We stayed at The Modern Honolulu, a cocoon of original design and stylish amenities. Our Ocean View room was an inviting white oasis that overlooked the harbor and enjoyed a sunset view. We spent hours luxuriating at the hotel’s Sunrise Pool sipping on Coco Breeze cocktails and falling into a Zen state of relaxation floating on a raft in the shallow waters of the Sunset Pool.
The only activities that stirred us to leave the hotel were a road trip along the East Coast to the North Shore, and hiking both Diamond Head and Manoa Falls. As much fun as we had exploring, returning to our crisp and comfortable hotel room was the highlight of our time well spent in O’ahu.
We may not have been bitten by insects in Hawaii, but our visit definitely left us with a travel bug full of Aloha spirit.