For the Love of Travel
For the Love of Travel

Fantasy island Kaua’i

Kaua’i’s watery curtains of Wailua Falls instantly brings to mind that immortal television greeting, “Welcome to Fantasy Island”

Wailua Falls are probably better known as the Fantasy Island waterfalls, given their starring appearance in the opening titles of the hit 80s’ TV show. Just north of the main town of Līhuʻe, I was on a whistle-stop exploratory of Kaua’i’s finest features, as part of a restorative tropical island sojourn, after enduring winter’s vice-like grip in mainland USA.

Wailua Falls

Thanks to the no-stress brilliance of Hawaiian Airlines’ connectivity, across the Hawaiian Islands and the USA, slotting in some quality island time with Kaua’i, is an effortlessly rewarding add-on, when flying Hawaiian Airlines to and from Auckland. I’m a walkover for a great waterfall and what makes Wailua such a superlative specimen is its dramatic spectacle doesn’t entail a hard slog to reach it.  The sublime 80-foot tiered double falls are easily viewed close to the roadside lookout, best viewed in the early morning when the sunshine intensifies its theatrical appeal and mist-formed rainbows abound. Legend has it that the chiefs of old Hawai’i had to risk jumping from the top of the falls into the rockpool below, to prove their strength and courage.

Wailua Falls in Kauai'i, Hawai'i
Wailua Falls in Kauai’i, Hawai’i. Photo: Supplied

Waimea Canyon

Heading west, I jaunted my way over to the wide-angled, scenic grandeur of Waimea Canyon, fondly dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Mark Twain is  credited with coining the phrase, despite not actually visiting Kaua’i. But unlike the Grand Canyon, Waimea is a lush, verdant and colour-popping setting, with contrasting red soil, black volcanic rock, and shades of green lining every stream and waterfall.

Wide expanse of Waimea Canyon in Kauai'i, Hawai'i
Wide expanse of Waimea Canyon in Kauai’i, Hawai’i. Photo: Supplied

This mammoth chasm of four million year old lava rock displays variegated hues of red, purple, green and blue. It is a retina-burning visual symphony. Two major lookouts and a swag of hiking trails start from the road, which runs along the rim. A fabulous trail threads you through the Alaka’I Wilderness Preserve which includes a cinder cone called Pele’s Hill. Local legend says that Pele used this cone as a stepping stone, when she leapt to O’ahu, leaving a large crater within the cone. The deepest part of the canyon is within the neighbouring Koke’e State Park, which is where you’ll want to head if you want to try your luck with the fickle weather gods at Kalalau Lookout. In theory, this sublime lookout serves up a sweeping view of the 4000-foot cliffs of the Nāpali Coast – the only place to see this spectacular feature of Kaua’i from land.  Strike the jackpot and you’ll get a picture-perfect vista. Lady luck wasn’t playing ball with me, so that long-range view of the cliffs was shrouded in mist.

Nāpali Coast

Nāpali Coast is unquestionably the jewel of Kaua’i, its emerald and copper cliffs imperiously rising above the island’s northwest shore. In Hawaiian, Nāpali means “the cliffs” and this 17-mile coastline of razor-sharp cliffs have been created by volcanic eruptions, strong winds, rain and crashing waves. Its numerous steep valleys were once home to thousands of native Hawaiians centuries ago, although today the strikingly serrated coastline is a vast nature-lover’s dream – and beloved backdrop for Jurassic Park. There are only three ways to see the Nāpali Coast: by air, by sea or on foot via the 11-mile, one-way Kalalau Trail.

Kauai Napali Coast, Hawaii.
Kauai Napali Coast, Hawaii. Photo: Supplied

Helicopter tours rank highly on bucket-lists, but for a more immersive experience with the storied coastline, opt for a boat tour. Not only do you get up-close with those 4,000-foot tall cliffs that plunge abruptly into the sea, but you can snorkel in the reef, explore hidden sea caves, stunning lava arches and see spinner dolphins and Hawaiian green sea turtles.

Hanapēpē Bay

Another essential jaunt is to take in the necklace of delights strung along Kaua’i’s sunny southern coast. At Waimea Bay you can see the site of Captain Cook’s landing, while the Spouting Horn by Hanapēpē Bay is a noisy, exuberant blow hole spectacle. The township of Hanapēpē will charm your pants off, tenaciously clinging to its settlement roots after being developed by Asian immigrant entrepreneurs, over a century ago. Moviemakers love this town and its evocative sweep of main street plantation-style historic buildings, which have served a stack of films, from The Thornbirds to Lilo & Stitch. Peckish? Japanese Grandma’s Café is a charming stop, specialising in fresh, organic Japanese cuisine with a tranquil seating space in the back garden.

Charm of Hanapepe, Kaua’i. Image: Supplied

Hanapēpē claims to be home to more fine art galleries than any other place on the island, with a swag of boutique galleries to browse, amid the gift shops and eateries. Every Friday, all of the town’s galleries open for Hanapēpē Art Night, which is accentuated with street theatre, food trucks and live music.  Definitely make tracks to the Aloha Spice Company, a family-owned enterprise that Joanna Carolan established 15 years ago. They blend and create an abundance of splendid seasonings, rubs, and flavours that embody Hawai’i’s diversity and beauty.

Hanapepe Swinging Bridge, Kaua'i, Hawai'i
Hanapepe Swinging Bridge, Kaua’i, Hawai’i.

Aloha Spice Company

Aloha Spice Company is right next to the Hanapēpē Swinging Bridge, a delightful diversion wreathed with nostalgia. For over a century, a suspension bridge has spanned this part of the Hanapēpē River, originally serving taro farmers and local residents. While the bridge may look rickety, it is actually very safe with reinforced cables and wood planks. The current bridge replaced the original that was damaged during Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

Aloha Spice Company in Hanapepe
Aloha Spice Company in Hanapepe.

Poʻipū Beach Park

Nearby, Poʻipū Beach Park is home to a chain of gorgeous wide, white sandy beaches, blessed by sun-kissed weather and calm water. Poʻipū is a family favourite because it caters to everyone: snorkelling, swimming, surfing or leisurely walks along the beach. An offshore reef causes the waves to break before the waves reach the shore, making it a child-friendly beach. While enjoying some languid beach time at Poʻipū, I marvelled over the handful of “Honu,” Hawaiian green sea turtles, that routinely park up on the sands of Poʻipū Beach, not just to nest, but to rest. They were blissfully basking in the golden sands of the beach, unperturbed by the crowds of on-lookers who kept a respectful distance. These majestic mammals pre-date dinosaurs, making them one of the most ancient species left in the world. Unafraid of people, be sure to just look, don’t touch – it’s illegal to get tactile with them.

Sea turtles on Po'ipu Beach, Kaua'i.
Sea turtles on Po’ipu Beach, Kaua’i. Photo:

National Tropical Botanical Gardens

While you’re in the area, immerse yourself in the Garden Isle’s verdant flamboyance at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens. The flagship is the McBryde Garden, with its stirring collection of palms, endangered native plants, heliconia, orchids and canoe garden. Allerton Garden is another gem, with stupendous water features and artistic flourishes including bronze mermaids and those famous Jurassic Park trees.

Allerton Gardens, Kaua'i
Allerton Gardens, Kaua’i. Photo: Supplied

I also highly recommend calling into the Koloa Rum Company Store & Tasting Room, which is housed on the magnificent Kilohana Plantation Estate. This single-batch, craft distiller of premium Hawai’i rum grows its own sugarcane, on-site, in addition to fruits and herbs. Previously a major sugar plantation, which still holds the island’s largest plantation mansion (which you can dine at), Kilohana has evolved into an agritourism powerhouse. Take a ride on the Kaua’i Plantation Railway, tootling through the vast groves of mango, banana, papaya, pineapple and hardwoods. Kilohana grants small farmers one to five acres and the option to sell their produce back to the plantation restaurant or farmers’ market.

Koala Rum Company
Koala Rum Company. Photo: Supplied

Where to stay?

Just a short drive 10km north from Līhuʻe Airport, the Sheraton Kaua’i Coconut Beach Resort enjoys a prime location, brilliantly positioned on the east coast, with blazing sunrises to alight your day. The entire property got a major makeover just before the pandemic started, and you can expect a resort that’s graced with a fresh and modern sense of low-key glamour. You’ve also got the fabulous Coconut Marketplace in walking distance from the resort, with its lavish array of colourful stores. A scattered cluster of towers house the property’s 309 rooms, which only four storeys high—below the tallest palm, which governs the local height regulations. They hook around a sparkling, cobalt-blue and ocean-facing pool with in-water loungers and attached kid’s pool, plus a fabulous hot tub.

Sheraton Kauai Coconut Resort pool at sunrise
Sheraton Kauai Coconut Resort pool at sunrise. Photo: Supplied

Accommodations are spacious and outfitted with grey hardwood floors, sleek white linens and distressed teal rugs; a crashing wave print behind the bed acts as the focal point. Wooden plantation shutters leading you out to your lanai is a particularly nice touch. The bedding is crisp, comfortable and clean with lots of pillows. Definitely bag an oceanfront room for that sunrise from your lanai. All the rooms have minifridges and coffee makers with drip coffee.

Sheraton Kauai Coconut Resort guestroom. Photo: Supplied

Tropical fare is easy to come by in Kaua’i, but the on-site Moamoa Hawaiian Fish House is a star performer. Try their take on macadamia nut-crusted mahi mahi in a buttery lilikoi glaze and wash it down with a traditional, 1944-recipe Mai Tai.

Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort dining
Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort dining. Photo: Supplied

The poolside Crooked Surf shares its impressive bar with Moamoa—offering 80 different global rum varieties—and serves burgers, salads and appetizers like poke for lunch. Customer service is cheerful, friendly and outgoing, from the moment you first arrive with a flower lei greeting and welcome drink.

Also read: Waikiki Holiday Heaven