This blog post will follow a somewhat unusual form from the norm. This
October, Allison and I explored Kauai, also known as Hawaii's Garden Isle, and rather
than present you with a narrative, I offer some highlights of our visit in
picture form, with some minor musings along the way.
Allison here is reading in the early morning, facing a dramatic scene. Lae Nani
Beach on the east coast of the island has more turbulent waters being on the
windward side, but the area makes a good home base for exploring. Kauai,
being only 30 miles across at its widest and 25 miles at its longest, is not a
large island. There is a coastal road that goes most of the way around, with
the exception of a small impassable section along the Na Pali coast in the north
west, accessible only by helicopter or some dare-devil hiking. So, being central
along this road can save a lot of driving.
This being an active trip, I often did not carry around my bulky DSLR. Despite
that, I was quite pleased with some of the shots I was able to take on my
iPhone 6s, such as the one above of a friendly gecko. I came to like this
image so much that it has served as my phone lock screen photo ever since.
The iPhone's camera handled this uber closeup of a mantis fairly well too,
although it did take several attempts to get the focus just right on such a small
subject at a tiny focusing distance. Fortunately, young mantis was a
Na Pali, Kauai's northwest coast, is a land lost in time. Being the oldest island
in the Hawaiian chain means Kauai has undergone the most erosion of all, and what
the millions of years of water sculpting have left behind is a series of stunning,
sheer cliffs, that are somehow still green despite the lack of soil. From the view
above, it is clear why the coastal road cannot possibly close the loop.
The Kalalau Trail is Kauai's most scenic and famous trail and probably the best
way to experience the Na Pali coast short of a helicopter tour. At 11 miles
long, from Ke'e Beach (the coastal road's northern terminus) to Kalalau Beach,
it takes too long to traverse in a day, unless you are a runner, so it is quite
popular among backpackers. Unfortunately, as of 2015, one needs to obtain a
permit to access it, and slots fill up well in advance. Some locals told us
the permit system is not strictly enforced, but we did not feel like chancing
The first two miles to Hanakapi'ai Valley as well as the next two miles up to
the Hanakapi'ai Falls are fair game for anyone, however, so that is what Allison
and I stuck to. This trail is not for the faint of heart. The eight miles
round trip are some of the muddiest, most technical terrain I have experienced.
One has to cross a raging river several times to get to the falls, a river that
has killed hikers during flash floods. Many of the hikers we encountered were
honeymooners, which surprised me. Unless both partners are active outdoorsy
people, this kind of extreme hiking seems like a late test of the relationship.
Kauai is wet. Annual precipitation averages 50–100 inches. At the upper end, that's
more than 8 feet of rain! With so much rainfall, it's no surprise many creeks
drain along the mountainside. Some, like the one above, are gentle except during
The west side of the island, however, is another story. The above image, shot on
iPhone, shows just how dry it is, even though barely 10 miles in the opposite
direction, it is pouring cats and dogs. Pretty much everywhere we hiked on the
island, we encountered an unlimited supply of guavas and strawberry guavas. These
delicious gems are a godsend. No need to pack snacks before you go — just
reach over and pick a golden or deep red treat straight from the tree.
Where the landscape transitions from dry to wet lies Waimea Canyon, Kauai's
version of the Grand Canyon. These striking formations are breathtaking.
Unfortunately, helicopter tours are popular, and we found the frequent thumping
of choppers rather obnoxious, not to mention environmentally unfriendly. In
the above iPhone image, you can see a helicopter taking well paying tourists
right over the waterfall.
One of our favorite places to go for a swim was a little gem on the northern
coast called Queen's Bath. Surrounded by choppy waters and rocky shores, this
tide pool carved out by nature is a beautiful, sheltered spot for swimming and
snorkeling. To get to it, one must tackle some especially steep and muddy
terrain, and parking at the trail head is limited, so we never really saw the
We liked the Queen's Bath so much, we returned for some long exposure shots at
dusk one day, which meant we had to hike back up the muddy trail with headlamps.
The only way to tame the waters near Queen's Bath is with long exposure.
If you have more time, a standup paddleboard or kayak trip up the Hanalei River
is well worthwhile. The water is calm, and the farmland that streams by is
picturesque. At times, the river narrows considerably, and if you are not
careful, it is easy to get stuck in some thick mangroves. But these
bottlenecks are few, and overall, it is a serene experience.
This small little water cave lies just off the coastal road near Ke'e Beach.
The island has a large population of wild chickens, and as is typical rooster
behavior, they can act like you are on their property.
Nature never seizes to amaze me with life's resourcefulness. I leave you with
the above image of vegetation claiming every available space.