KAUA‘I MAY BE THE REST OF THE world’s image of the serene South Pacific, but this green jewel of an island is Hawai‘i’s drama queen. And why not? It has starred in more Hollywood hits than Harrison Ford, who raided the island seeking the lost Ark. In 1958, the she gods of Shark Reef ran wild on Kaua‘i; in 1993 it was the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. Most recently, King Kong rampaged through Honopu Valley. Kaua‘i’s star qualities are towering sea cliffs, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Hawai‘i’s only navigable rivers, hundreds of waterfalls, supersize flora, and 43 white-sand beaches on an island 33 miles long by 25 miles wide.
Author Rita Ariyoshi Photography Todd Pearson
DAY TWO / Hit the breakfast buffet at Shells Steak and Seafood restaurant in your hotel. Enjoy the morning light on Po‘ipu Beach while you sip Kaua‘i-grown coffee. Thus fortified, stroll down the beach to the area between the Sheraton and Kiahuna resorts for a surfing lesson with the Margo Oberg Surf School. Surf champion Oberg will have you wave riding before an hour is up. If you’d like to stay after school and practice, she’ll lend you a board.
Back to the hotel for a quick shower before heading east on Kaumuali‘i Highway to Lihu‘e, the island capital. Veer right onto Rice Street in the heart of town. On your left is the Kaua‘i Museum, with an outstanding collection of Hawaiian artifacts. Kaua‘i was the only island not conquered by King Kamehameha the Great.
It voluntarily joined the kingdom when it was good and ready. See royal gowns, Hawaiian quilts, and old photos.
For lunch, you’ve earned the right to industrial-strength local food. Go east on Rice Street a few blocks more and turn right on Kress Street. That old blue building is Hamura’s Saimin. Beyond the screen door of this cash-only establishment is a time warp: You’ll see old Formica counters, steaming woks, and a crunch of Islanders on stools all hunched over big bowls of Hawai‘i’s favorite fast food—saimin—a noodle soup stocked with fish cake, char siu pork, won bok, and more. Get a side order of barbecued beef stick, and finish with a slab of lilikoi pie that stands a hefty 3 inches high. This is a true Island experience.
Ready to paddle Kaua‘i’s jungle river into the heart of the island? Head back west on Rice Street and pick up Kuhio Highway (Route 56) on the right. Outfitters Kaua‘i has a location at the edge of the Wailua River where you can rent a kayak, cooler, and maps marked with swimming holes and a trail to Hidden Falls, a towering cascade lost in rain forest. Even if you’ve never paddled before, you can handle the calm Wailua River.
Come evening, you’ll stay beside the river for a lu‘au at Smith’s Tropical Paradise. The 30-acre garden is owned by the Smiths, a Hawaiian family who really knows how to stage a lu‘au—with good food, a lot of fun, and a dynamite show reflecting Hawai‘i’s diverse ethnic heritage. The moon, a sleepy lagoon, and music: The day goes out in glory.