By: B.J. Fleming
Kauai is The Garden Island of Hawaii. It alternatively known as “the one that’s too rainy” because it’s the home of the wettest spot on Earth, or “that place where ‘Jurassic Park’ was filmed" because it was. Dinosaurs and monsoons aside, though, Kauai offers a significantly less touristy Polynesian experience than some of its larger, though geologically younger, brothers.
I traveled to the Southern coast after flying into Lihue, and though I’ll be discussing only this coast, there’s certainly something to be said for visiting the Northern coast, especially Kalalau which I hear is incredible. But, do to my only being on-island for 5 days, we’ll leave that for another article/mancation. For this trip, we stayed in the Poipu Kai condos next to the Hyatt. They were great, economical for the region, and their website really doesn’t do them justice. But, really we only used the deck for a happy hour and the beds for sleeping. We’re here to tell you what to do with the rest of your time.
You don’t need a license to spearfish in Kauai, just a spear gun, a float and a flag. It’s not quite as easy as buying those items, though, to actually get a fish. You’ll want to avoid state parks and places that are heavily-trafficked with other, non-hunting snorkelers which, of course, is counter intuitive because that’s where the fish are.
Your best bets are to go to the public beaches and then swim up or down the coastline (remembering to be careful of rip currents which are substantial on the Southern coast). Near rocks, cliffs and near-shore reefs, you should find some potential targets.
Mkay. So, maybe this is a good time to tell you that we didn’t really get a single fish. But, it’s worth noting that we had a blast regardless. That said, here are some things we felt made for a cleaner, almost-got-that-one sort of a shot. 1) remember that, depending on the gun, a shallow water gun is going to have an effective range in the neighborhood of about 10 feet. That means less than one body length + the length of your gun outstretched. This surprised us initially, so get closer to your target than you think you should be. 2) According to our waiter, you’ll want to aim for “blues, purples, and silvers and avoid reds,” as those are the fish that you’ll actually be able to stomach.
We chose Kawailoa Bay to hunt which is either a decent hike or confusing drive through cane roads to get to. It’s popular enough that there was around 15 other people there on a weekend morning, but, like we said, we had basically no luck. It was pretty, though, and is located: 21.891746,-159.410377
It’s also worth noting that local regulations forbid you from spearing crustaceans at all with a gun, and there are also several fish that are completely off limits, so familiarize yourself with that list before diving. Or, you can charter a service to take you and remove most of the guesswork.
The Beach House Restaurant
We ate at a lot of great restaurants when we were on-island. Kimiko’s and Roy’s are super-safe bets with above-reproach fare. Roy’s especially, has excellent appetizers. But, the culinary experience that stood out above the rest during my visit was the Beach House Restaurant.
Firstly, the setting is outstanding. It is a diminutive grass lawn away from the Pacific Ocean, and the floor-to-ceiling, open doorways allow a fine spray and the sound of the ocean in to accent your meal. This is especially true if, like our party, you’re seated in or below the bar area which looks out past a few gas tiki torches and palm trees to what would turn out to be the best sunset of our vacation.
We had a lot of drinks and foodstuffs amongst our party of four, but here were the things that you absolutely cannot afford to miss: The Wasabi-crusted Snapper. Our waitress said, and I agree, that the wasabi in the title unnecessarily puts people off this dish. With the possible (but probably not) exception of the Wasabi aioli Mahi Mahi at Kintaro, this was the best fish on our entire trip.
The other parts of our meal were outstanding, and if you for some (ridiculous) reason don’t want the wasabi snapper, just choose according to your own tastes. There were two cocktails, too, worth noting, though. The first was the Top Shelf Mai Tai which stands today as the greatest mai tai I’ve ever had. Ever. And I’ve had some mai tais.
The other cocktail (above) isn’t even on their menu. It’s basically a mojito, but it’s called a Capoeira. The thing that sets it apart is that they stick a giant chunk of Kauai honeycomb (which we later found here) on the ice. You let that steep into your drink, and then imbibe. It’s mind-numbing/blowing.
6 Days 7 Nights Cliff Jumping
Remember that movie “Six Days and Seven Nights” with Harrison Ford and some blonde girl? That’s okay if you don’t. It was okay. The coolest part about it is this: now you know where you can replicate the nerve-tinglingly fun cliff jumping scene from that movie. It was filmed on Shipwreck Bay in Kauai, and it is about a 2 minute hike from the very public, very luxurious beach in front of the Hyatt.
A few things to remember when you’re cliff jumping here.
- Wait for high tide
- Time it so you land when a wave is coming in
- Swim away from the rocks immediately
- Go in feet first
Not much else to be said about this. Grip it and rip it.
Waterfall Rope Hike/Swim
Waiulea Falls can be a little bit touristy. But it can also be a little bit mancationy. We went there in search of the latter. It’s only a 5 or 10 minute drive from the rental car agency, if that tells you anything. It’s a two-tiered waterfall around 80-100 feet high. You drive up 56 north, go out Ma’alo Road, and you’ll see a turnout with a little parking area where a lot of unadventureous tourists will be taking pictures over a large, stone wall to keep them from tumbling to their wet death.
You should walk back down the hill, away from that. You’ll see where the stone barricade ends, a chain link fence begins. You’ll keep walking past that. Go to where the chain link bends down near the road guard, and hop the guard. Keep walking another 20 or 30 feet back downhill, but keep an eye cast downhill and look for a dirty old rope on the ground. Seriously.
You can go down a little bit before the rope, like me, but all you will end up doing is needlessly endangering yourself on some slippery rocks (it’s likely to be raining as it was when we were there), and finding a path at the bottom which you’ll hike back up to meet your compatriots. But, a better option is to find the rope on the ground which caring locals have tied to the banyan roots permeating that area of jungle and use them to basically scale down the steep, slippery path. It’s only 3 tenths of a mile, but it’ll take a few minutes as the terrain can be fairly gnarly. When you get to the bottom, though, it’s worth it for a refreshing, fresh-water swim in your private waterfall-fueled pool.
The last thing we’d like to briefly mention is art. The art of the islands is wildly varied internally and mostly unique from the mainlands. There are, or course, the requisite turquoise blue oils of sunlight filtering through a wave’s barrel. In my opinion, they’re a little bit too dime-a-dozen (especially considering their cost in actual U.S. dollars).
One artist worth mentioning, though, is Kim McDonald. Her works were featured promininently at both the Beach House and the Hyattt, and for good reason. Her works are, as Maui Hands puts it, “descended from tropical Gaugin.” Their simple yet plush and vibrant style celebrate the uncomplicated splendor of Hawaii in a way that resonates with anybody that’s been there.
Our time was limited there, and we spent way too much of it spearfishing because our pride forbade us from getting out of the water until we were so sunburned it was near blistering. As a result, we didn’t get to do everything we set out to do. That’s okay, though, because we lived a ton of aloha. If you’re interested in other options, though, here are three adventures worth a man’s attention on the island of Kauai.
Depending on your preferences, you can take a leisurely cruise, barely pedaling, down an ocean-side sidewalk, or you can tear through the red-dirt paths zig zagging the mountain sides endangering your life minute-to-minute. Your call, really.
Zodiac crafts are hard-bottomed, soft-edged inflatable vessels powered by outboard motors used to get into areas where larger, pleasure crafts cannot. Take a tour along the wave-battered Na Pali coast on the North for some incredible sight seeing including the daring ride into sea caves.
Zipline tours are combined hiking, swimming, and ziplining tours that send you cruising through the canopy (despite the warnings of Maggie Lune), in a harnass attached to a cable. Some of the tours are all day, some include more ziplines and vertical feet than the others. Either way its a more exciting way to see the jungle than (scoff) hiking.