Monday, April 11, 2011

Garden Isle--Part Deux

Negligent am I. Just because we have bananas nearly every day at home doesn't mean it's ok to skip them when talking about our wonderful fruit selection at the cottage on Kaua'i. And these little gems (tucked away on the far left side of the plate) are the lovely, if somewhat incongruously named, apple bananas. Small but sweet, they are the perfect size for snacking and they always make us think of lazy days on the Amazon.

Now, let's get out of the cottage. There were many sights to see just on the short drive from town to the cottage. Our daily drive(s) gave us a glimpse of Opaeka'a Falls:

And the Wailua River, Hawaii's only navigable river:

Nice commute. Practically in our backyard was the start of the trail to hike up Nounou Mountain a.k.a., the Sleeping Giant. Before beginning the 1000-foot ascent to the chin of the giant, we had to find the shortcut to the trail through a fence behind a shipping container (no secret handshake required).

Then there was a brief, cool walk through a stand of Norfolk pine trees before the steep, sweaty climb.

The reward for our efforts was a nice place to sit and enjoy the view out to the ocean.

If it weren't for his big head (the Giant's), we could have had 360-degree views. No matter. What we had was lovely.

There were a couple of picnic tables for those who were inclined to linger but on this day, as was the case every day, we needed coffee. In fact, this was the only day we did anything remotely energetic before seeking  out our coffee home away from home: Small Town Coffee.

A big part of the reason that we chose to stay in the Wailua-Kapa'a area is this place. We tried several java joints on previous visits but none matched the requisite quality and quirk factor of Small Town Coffee Co. From their propensity to dress up for holidays (or undress as was the case for April Fools' Day) to their charming way of listing what menu items were unavailable ("Returning soon: decaf") and a Stephen Colbert quote on the blackboard, we knew they were our kind of people. A little crazy but thoroughly enjoyable. And outstanding people watching--this is very much a locals place. Ask Alison to tell you about the ladies of power yoga some day....

And their food and bevvy options were perfect for us. Alison is partial to the Pig in an Apple Tree (cheddar cheese, bacon, granny smith apples, and cream cheese on a sesame bagel) though she desperately wanted to order the That'll Do Pig, That'll Do just to be able to say it. Jim opted for Fritha's Breakfast (hummus, tomato, cracked black pepper, avocado on a whole wheat bagel). Parents be warned: you may have to explain to the young'uns why one of the breakfast options is called We Found Nemo. Once we were fully caffeinated, we turned our attention to their locally-made kombucha and ginger brew--the latter being the most deliciously intense ginger drink I've ever had.

Too many column inches for a coffee shop? I don't think so. We really did spend the better part of every morning here. Then we would wander through the rest of Kapa'a town which is conveniently located about half an hour from everything else on the island, so it was a great jumping off point. On the first day, we just wandered up and down the east coast of Kaua'i, keeping an eye peeled for whales. We think we saw a bit of one or two but couldn't be sure. But we were sure about this guy:

Meet Noho, an endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Only about 1000 survive in the world and 35-40 of them reside in the waters around Kaua'i. This not-quite-two-year-old male was resting on the rocks, well-protected from sharks out in the ocean and tourists on the cliffs above.

Much more common, but still thrilling to me, were the little geckos which appeared around our door each night. No doubt attracted to the porch lights which in turn attracted insects, these little guys were only a few inches long but gave me a huge amount of pleasure. Although they were silent as far as we could tell, the geckos reminded us of our time in Bali, where the geckos would loudly proclaim their name.

The bulk of our active hours on Kaua'i were spent snorkeling. An easy 30-minute drive took us to our favorite beach, Lawa'i. There really isn't much beach to this beach; just a tiny strip of sand between the road and the water. Since we're not the kind of folks who enjoy lying on the beach, having just enough sand on which to leave our towels and sunscreen is not a problem. Much larger beaches are close by, so Lawa'i tends to appeal to the surfers and snorkelers and keeps the loungers at bay.

Located on the south coast, just west of the resort hotels and condos of Po'ipu, Lawa'i offers the best winter snorkeling we've found. Unlike any other beach on this island, we've never had trouble finding parking nearby and the fish are always plentiful. We always say that snorkeling in Hawaii is like swimming in a tropical aquarium. There are so many colorful and exotic fish to look at, including our favorite: humuhumunuknukuapua'a a.k.a., the clown triggerfish. This time, more than any other, we found the fish surrounding us as though we were part of their schools. Sometimes, we just floated, not wanting to scare them off, as they swam around us only inches away. Lawa'i also has the most colorful coral we've seen on this island as well as a huge number of sea cucumbers and sea anemone. The hardest thing is remembering that time passes quickly when you're in the ocean and more than once, we stayed in so long that our sunscreen wore off. It was worth it.

The north shore is great in summer--Ke'e Beach was spectacular the one time we went in summer--but typically the surf is much too rough in winter for safe snorkeling. We did have a couple of unusually summer-like days and managed to try out a couple of north shore beaches that were new to us: Anini Beach and Tunnels Beach. The former had ridiculously strong currents which gave us quite a workout and the latter, while sporting some fascinating coral formations, didn't have enough fish around to keep us from having to compete with the spear fisherman for some good looks.  The beaches are beautiful. Think South Pacific as the north coast is where they filmed the famous "I'm gonna wash that man right outta my hair" scene and the shots of Bali Hai. For a more current reference, Tunnels Beach is where Bethany Hamilton, subject of the current film Soul Surfer, lost her arm to a shark when she was 13. The only large creature we saw around there was another monk seal lounging on the sand.

On the plus side, we discovered a really good Mediterranean restaurant not far from Tunnels Beach. Usually, we have to go all the way back to Hanalei to find good grub. It's a nice little town and is home to our favorite pesci-vegetarian restaurant, Postcards Cafe (we always budget for one splash-out dinner here) but the road on that part of the island is narrow with a series of one-lane bridges that require waiting for the near-constant stream of traffic to give way. After a long morning of snorkeling, our rumbly tummies were happy not to have to wait long for lunch. When we saw the tiny sign for the Mediterranean Gourmet Restaurant we thought it might be a small grab-and-go falafel stand with delusions of grandeur. Instead, it's a very nice sit-down restaurant with a gorgeous ocean view and some of the most nicely-spiced Lebanese food we've had in ages. And they let us in wearing our swimsuits, so we didn't have to find a place to change first.

After snorkeling nearly every day of our vacation, we hadn't seen any honu (sea turtles). We love snorkeling with these gentle creatures and every other time we've been to Hawaii, we've had at least a couple of encounters. We had to check out of our cottage Friday morning and debated whether to try one last time. The downside, of course, would be making the long trip home with wet gear and the lack of a proper shower. We decided against it but reserved the option to change our minds since we would have all our luggage with us for the rest of the day. When we had some time to kill that afternoon, we returned to Lawa'i with the idea of hanging out on the neatly manicured lawn of the nearby resort and watching the surfers.

The surfing wasn't great that day but we got to see something even better:

Yes, honu! Right along the seawall, this beautiful honu was feeding on the algae on the rocks. We were able to sit on the wall and watch it just a few feet below us. While it's not the same experience as floating next to or above a sea turtle, it was marvelous nonetheless. Best of all, it afforded us a great vantage point for pictures. The surf was a little rough that day, so the poor turtle was struggling to stay in one place. It got washed back and forth quite a few times but managed to get a flipper up on the rocks to steady itself every once in awhile. I think we watched for half an hour before the turtle swam off--much longer than we've seen a turtle stay in one place before. All the more amazing for the number of tourists above it madly taking photos.

Now our vacation was complete. We headed off to the art walk in Hanapepe, had dinner at the taco trucks (Monster Taco for Jim, Silver Elephant Thai for Alison), and made our way to the airport. Content with our short week on the island, we dropped off our rental car, hopped on the Hertz shuttle and joined our fellow US Airways passengers in a good April Fool's Day laugh when the shuttle driver said, "I think your flight has been cancelled." Oops. Turned out he wasn't joking. We got to the counter to find that our flight's crew had timed out and thus, they'd cancelled the flight. Next flight out was the following evening.

Normally, we'd have been unhappy at this turn of events, but if you're going to get cancelled, do it in Hawaii. The airline put us up in a resort near the airport, so we got an extra day of vacation in a place far fancier than we would have chosen for ourselves. We were a little worried about finding food for Jim at a chain hotel but  the Marriott had good vegetarian options for all meals (even a tofu scramble for breakfast), we think due to the large number of Japanese tourists who come to Hawaii. Thanks to our trusty and flexible farmsitter, we were able to enjoy the extra day without a care. Since we had spent the week patting ourselves on the back for spurning hotels and cooking our own food, we did a 180 and played like the other half. We swam in the pool, lounged by the beach, drank foofie drinks with parasols and pineapple slices, fell asleep in a hammock, bought souvenirs, and ate all three meals in our swimwear. Hawaii does strange things to a person. Most of them good. We'll be back. Oh yes. Despite the long flights (our next attempt to get home was successful if a bit chaotic--seat assignments were seemingly put through a randomizer overnight), we will happily return to Kaua'i again and again.

1 comment:

  1. Exceptional trip + so enjoyed your postings. Travel is magical, isn't it?