Kauai: Not Your Garden-Variety Island

By Richard C. Murray and Laurie Heifetz
Photos by Richard C. Murray/RCM IMAGES, INC

Purple-orchid leis, Polynesian dancers and bird-of-paradise flowers—we were finally in Kauai, Hawaii, after eleven hours in the air, landing at the island’s quaint airport, Lihue that was featured in the Harrison Ford movie, “Six Days Seven Nights.”

Known as “The Garden Isle” Kauai is geologically the oldest of the eight main Hawaiian Islands. Its area of 562 square miles makes it the fourth largest in the archipelago.

After checking into the Sheraton Kauai Resort, we scoped out the striking grounds. The kaleidoscopic shoreline has a sandy, swimming beach; a surfing area; and rocks of various colors accented with palm trees. We observed a wedding in progress and honeymooners walking about the glowing sunset. After dusk, it is worthwhile to experience one of six fire pits in the Ocean Courtyard bedecked with Tiki torches. Chef de Cuisine Raymond Nicasio of RumFire Poipu Beach—the resort’s signature restaurant—presents mouthwatering infusions of Hawaiian and international fare. We sampled many appetizers amid the 180° ocean views. The Kauai Shrimp, on brick-oven flatbreads with sautéed onions, mozzarella, Parmesan and basil pesto dressing was our favorite.

The flora and terrain of Kauai are among the most beautiful in the world, and the Allerton Garden Estate Tour shows why this is so. The flowers and plants in this National Tropical Botanical Garden call to mind the array of colors in a box of Crayola Crayons. Pink-purple sacks of the Aristolochia Gigantea (Giant Dutchman’s Pipe) and bright, orange-red pods of the Theobrama Cacao Tree surround gorgeous waterfalls.

We saw the three Moreton Bay Fig Trees—stars of the Steven Spielberg film, “Jurassic Park.” In one eerie scene, Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) finds dinosaur eggs between the sprawling roots of the 200-foot tall trees.

The following day, we rode the Kauai Plantation Railway at Kilohana Plantation. The journey begins at an authentic Hawaiian train depot aboard the 1939 Whitcomb diesel engine. After a short ride through the “jungly” estate, we came upon a welcoming committee of gregarious goats, pigs and sheep. They know the routine by now and will eagerly eat out of your hands.

Next, it was time to choose our walking sticks—natural tree branches—and venture into the dense terrain. The walking tour was headed by an amiable guide who pointed out all kinds of flowers, trees and fruits.

The orange-red, African tulip flowers; purple, papaya passion fruit flowers; and pink-green, Kaimana lychee fruit (unripe) were highlights. The harpsichord-like vines of the Indian banyan tree were enthralling—everyone stopped for photos.

We tasted freshly-picked oranges, pineapples and sugar cane. Caution—do not eat cashew seeds off the tree. They contain urushiol, which is also present in poison ivy and sumac. Ironically, wild animals such as deer, birds, goats and horses are immune to it, but you are not.

The Outrigger Waipouli Beach Resort and Spa was our home for the next two nights. The condominium unit was spacious and complemented with two terraces overlooking the property and ocean.

We took a plunge into the meandering swimming pool, accentuated with cascading waterfalls and rode down the flume water slides. An outdoor grill and the Oasis on the Beach restaurant top off the two-acre aquatic playground.

One evening, we dined at Hukilau Lanai restaurant in the Kauai Coast Resort. We relished in an array of palatable, pupu platters—standard fare in the islands.

The following morning, we had breakfast baskets delivered to our condos by Marie Cassel of Sweet Marie’s Hawaii. Ms. Cassel’s motto, “When your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme,” is taken from the Disney character Jiminy Cricket. From gluten-free to Dr. Atkins diets, she meticulously checks each ingredient.

After breakfast on our terrace, Polynesian Adventure Tours escorted us to three of the most visited island sites—Waimea Canyon, Fern Grotto and Spouting Horn.

The grandeur of Waimea Canyon attracts droves of tourists on an hourly basis. “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific” glows with red, green and brown hues. Waimea translates to “reddish water” in the Hawaiian language.

A riverboat cruise—enriched with Hawaiian music and dance—brought us to the Wailua River State Park, home of the Fern Grotto. Speckled with bright-green ferns, the lava-rock cave is a sight to behold. The base of Mauna Kapu Summit forms a natural amphitheater where many traditional-music concerts are held.

The force of the crashing waves against narrow openings in the lava rocks results in a 50-foot high water spray at Spouting Horn Park. The sight is reminiscent of Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park.

The most pleasant surprise of the trip was Kauai’s Hindu Monastery. We had the great pleasure of meeting resident monk Sannyasin Senthilnathaswami. He took us on an incisive tour of temples, exotic flora and Ganesha statues—one can say he does this religiously.

One of the most beautiful sights on the island is the monastery’s Nani Kaua Waterfall. The north fork of the Wailua River teams with assorted watersheds to cascade down Mount Waialeale into a cavernous pond.

Framed by the majestic Namolokama Mountain range, Hanalei Bay’s two-mile beach is accented with sparkling-blue waters, sailboats and stand-up paddle boarders. Beneath the Bali Hai Mountain peak—highlighted in the classic film, “South Pacific”—we navigated the splendor in Trevor Cabell’s hand-built, Hawaiian sailing canoe.

One afternoon, we dined in the garden cafe at Common Ground Kauai. Most of our lunch was organically grown in their gardens. We were fortunate to meet Executive Chef Rodman Machado and sample some of his homemade “Uncommon Hot Sauce.”

For the final leg of the trip, we checked into a Polynesian-style condo at Hanalei Colony Resort. The sweeping ocean views offered by the prodigious picture windows are stunning. Before dinner, we walked along the beach to catch a Hawaiian sunset.

Husband-wife owners, Imad and Yarrow Beydoun, run the resort’s award-winning restaurant, Mediterranean Gourmet. Chef Imad’s interpretations of Middle Eastern, Greek and local cuisines are delectable.

Kauai is a unique place in the world overflowing with natural beauty, history, attractions and culinary diversity. Aloha, until we meet again!