Six Days, Seven Nights (or thereabouts) on Kauai, pt. 3

The next morning we ventured to the restaurant for fresh Kauai fruit and bagels with cream cheese then I went shopping to Foodland and picked up some snacks and other essentials (beer). We hit the road at around 9:30, this time heading south towards the big town of Lihue. While Lihue is home to a Wal-Mart and a few other major chain stores, the remaining bits are peppered with individual shops, craft stores, and a sleepy ambiance. On the other side of Lihue we saw a large sugar mill.

“Hey, this must be near the set for that movie,” I said. “You could never tell… <sniff> peeiw, roll up the windows, eeyiw, oh that’s gross.”

Note to self: sugar mills smell bad. Avoid them at all costs.

We continued on the main highway until we reached a “T” junction and the rustic town of Koloa, which consisted of one street, about a block long, small stores, an Internet coffee house, a burger and ice cream shop, and an outdoor museum. Around the town were parcels of lush tropical gardens. We were so impressed, we parked the Tracker and decided to look around.

We walked into Island Soap and Candle Works and watched them make soap and candles decorated with fresh fruits and flowers from Kauai. We bought some items then strolled around the outdoor museum, which featured black and white photographs from around the turn of the last century. At that time, Koloa was a bustling town, the main junction between the interior crop lands and port towns of Lihue and Waimea. Now it was so calm and quiet, we could have sat and stayed several more hours. We had to move on, though, and the next stop was the main tourist area at Poipu, on the South Shore.

It rarely rains on the South Shore, making it the premier spot for sun-seekers, but what you gain in weather, you give up in lush foliage and the ominous presence of nature on the North Shore: the South is brown and scrubby. The reason for this dichotomy is Kauai’s geography. The trade winds carry clouds across thousand of kilometres of ocean and usually approach Kauai from the Northwest. These warm, moisture laden clouds, are funnelled though the linear crevasses of the Na Pali coast and forced to converge at Mount Waileale, the tallest mountain on the island and the lone volcanic crater that birthed Kauai. In order to pass, the clouds are forced up the side of the mountain into cooler air where they condense into rain, become lighter then emerge on the South Shore, spent of moisture and broken into wispy strands. It’s magic; there is almost a constant rainbow from the South Shore looking towards the interior and it explains why, wherever you go on the island, you never see Mt. Waileale because of the persistent bundle of clouds surrounding it. This phenomenon also makes Mt. Waileale the wettest spot on earth with over 1000 centimetres of rain per year!

Now, back to the story. We arrived at Poipu and the massive Sheraton Village Resort with its array of hotels, restaurants, and gardens. The main hotel is on Poipu Beach, but in behind and across the street are Hawaiian gardens, rock enclosures, fish ponds, swimming pools, and food kiosks. I set out on an Indiana Jones journey along a garden trail in pursuit of a hot dog and finally found a cafeteria beside a jungle enclosed, waterfall fed, swimming pool. Despite the arduous trek, the hot dog was fairly ordinary: certainly not the Arc of the Covenant wiener I was expecting. I met Julia back at the beach; the sun was shining and it was hot. The main beach in front of the Sheraton was crowded so we moved onto a second beach in front of a high barbed wire fence. As we approached that beach, the purpose of the barbed wire became apparent; the enclosed resort, equal in size to the Sheraton, had been partially destroyed by Hurricane Iniki in 1992 and never rebuilt. It rarely rains on the South Shore, but when Iniki unleashed its furry on Kauai, no part of the island was spared.

The ocean facing walls were completely gone as was much of the roof. A steel and concrete skeleton as well as twisted pipes were fully exposed. The bottom floor, despite being 300 yards from the ocean, sustained the heaviest damage, likely from the storm surge, as waves battered the once luxurious rooms, carrying away their fixtures and furniture. In the overgrown courtyard was a rock structure, likely denoting the pool and gardens where tourists by the millions once flocked for relaxation. Nearer to the ocean was a hot tub, set out on a rock platform where people could sit and be caressed by the sound of the surf and gaze at the peaceful night sky. Now the tub was stained with dirt and garbage, the metal handrail twisted like spaghetti. This was the first time that we witnessed first hand the ghost of Iniki. In one day, paradise was lost and Kauai had to start rebuilding both its infrastructure and its tattered economy. Tourism is returning slowly, while the Sheraton, also destroyed, has been rebuild to even greater splendour; but the island, to this day, is still more famous for what destroyed it than for what has built it. Kauai continues to struggle.

We spent a couple hours on the main beach at Poipu where the snorkelling was unspectacular but the sun burned furiously. I made my first patented “sand chair” by digging the shape of a beach chair (complete with lumbar support) out of the sand and laying the mat inside.

“What are you doing?” Julia asked. “This is embarrassing; my grown husband is playing in the sand.”

“Ho, ho… you’ll see,” I responded, beaming with delight. “After seeing this, you’ll never go back to lying on the beach the same way again… ha, there, it’s done. Ah, yes, all the comfort of a beach chair without a beach chair.”

“You look ridiculous.”

“Maybe so, but I am com–for–ta–ble… oh yes, this is nice… okay, I’m bored, I am going to walk around a bit and maybe we should start thinking about supper soon, I’m getting hungry and you haven’t eaten for about, oh, six hours now.”

“Oi,” Julia said frustratedly. “You just had a hotdog. Sand chair or not, you just can’t sit still. Give me another half hour and we will go.”

I sprang up out of my sand chair and walked around the beach until I could no longer suck in my gut. I went back to Julia who was now lounging in MY sand chair and pleaded to move on. It was 3:30 pm and our goal was to get as far west as we could in order to see the sunset. We packed up our things and I left my sand chair to be reclaimed by the elements (they’re even biodegradable)! We headed further down the road, then arrived at a small, one street town called Hanapepe.

Hanapepe looked like a post card town from the old west. Built in the mid 1800s, it still retained all the original charm of the Alamo (like the Alamo was charming–good metaphor). The buildings had all grand wooden facades and housed many small shops and art galleries. Behind the buildings on the west side was their famous walking bridge, a wooden suspension bridge that rocked with the weight of each step. The original bridge was destroyed by Iniki, but following a massive community effort, it was rebuilt and looks virtually the same. Most of the shops in Hanapepe were specialized and some of the art boutiques were surprisingly high class for a town seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t shop in them but came across a small shop called Hawaiian Hut Delights which advertised “Kauai’s Finest Shaved Ice.” We went in and ordered the Tropical Delight: a dollop of ice cream, shaved ice with a blend of three fruit flavours, and her special ‘secret’ triple cream topping. She was very proud of her shaved ice and bragged that she had created all her own flavours and was THE shaved ice supplier for the annual PGA, World Series of Golf, tournament at Poipu Bay Golf Course every year. She asked us to sign her guest book announcing her’s to be the best shaved ice on the Island and to provide testimony for their annual shaved ice competition. We had to try it first and, unfortunately, we hadn’t tried any other shaved ice for comparison. We dug in and it was delicious, so good in fact that before leaving we went back inside and signed the book: “Unbelievably delicious, the best shaved ice on Kauai!”

We left Hanapepe by around 4:30 to drive on towards the old port town of Waimea: the first spot on the entire Hawaiian archipelago where a European set foot and forever change the history of Polynesia.

Oh my goodness, I missed one stop before Hanapepe and it was the lava blowhole called “Spouting Horn.” (Please keep blowhole comments to yourself, I have already heard them). We pulled into the parking lot and were greeted, as usual, by brown chickens, cock-a-doodle-dooing in the middle of the afternoon. Unlike every other Hawaiian island, the mongoose was never introduced into Kauai resulting in a thriving “wild” chicken population. (In case you are wondering about the connection, mongoose eat eggs of ground nesting birds). Unlike typical wild chickens, which are grouse, these are run-of-the-mill barnyard chickens that were brought to Kauai by Polynesians and eventually found their way into the wild. I suspect successive hurricanes kept blowing over coops and the chickens just made a break for it: “braaak, bruk, bruk, bruk, bruk, bruk, bruk…(whoosh)… RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!” On Kauai, chickens stalk your every move like feathery assassins. Well, actually, they scratch, cluck and perch on stoops to ‘announce the day’ almost constantly as if forgetting their morning rooster discipline. They also mark the highway as red splats begging the question: why do chickens cross the road? There are also white duck-like birds that congregate in great numbers by the shoulder mowers chomping at buzzing insects stirred by the flying blades. Unlike the chickens, these white, flightless birds with duck bills, seem to know pedestrian protocol and always look both ways before crossing the street.

Now, where did I leave off? Scroll up, oh yeah, Spouting Horn is a long lava outcrop where, at the break of a large wave, water shoots straight up in the air about 10 metres. Seconds later, the air in the lava tube blows out another hole making it sound like a giant whale living in the rocks–I believe the folklore is a giant lizard. Around Spouting Horn is a small row of local shops selling jewelry and other touristy mementos. There is no haggling in Hawaii, which makes it unlike many other vacation spots in the world. My one stipulation was that everything we bought in Hawaii had to be made in Hawaii. The jewelry that Julia bought was made locally but all the enticing bamboo wind chimes and all were made in Indonesia.

I started conversing with one of the shop tenants and asked why anyone would buy wind chimes in Kauai if they were made in Indonesia.

“Well, if you bought ‘Made in Hawaii’ wind chimes, they would cost too much and the tourists don’t want that,” She replied. “Besides, I don’t think we make them in Hawaii anymore.”

“If I am going to support the local economy, I want to support it all the way down the line,” I lectured. “‘Buy Kauai is my motto, or at least, buy Hawaii, even if it does cost more.”

“That’s the right attitude,” she conceded. “We used to have numerous craftsmen around here that made all kinds of things, but they could no longer make a living selling crafts. Whenever possible we try to buy locally, but our suppliers are pretty much in charge of that.”

As she spoke, a lady, carrying an armful of beaded bracelets and necklaces, approached the shop. I started walking away but I heard the shop owner say to the lady: “Hi, yes your last ones sold well, I will take another dozen.”

Chalk up one victory for a local artisan!

We meandered around Spouting Horn for about 20 minutes then moved on through Hanapepe where I pick up this story from before:

We continued along the main highway towards Waimea.

“Oooo.” Julia said enthusiastically, “I am reading Lenore and she raves about Salt Pond Beach. Can we turn off and go there? Just for a bit?”

“Well, I am getting pretty hungry and you know I get cranky when I’m hungry, but yeah, we’ll stop in.”

We turned off on a pristine little road that took us through a grove of coffee bushes. We pulled into Salt Pond Beach which was a small semi-circle crescent of white sand and, off to the side, a two foot high wall of lava rock protecting a small tide pool. The lagoon was protected by a reef and the water was calm making it perfect for swimming with small children. There was even a lifeguard and full washroom facilities. There were a few families swimming by the beach area, so we waded into the tide pool where I took Julia’s picture perched on the wall of lava rock. It was a beautiful spot, but as we were preparing to leave until a giant wave struck the back of the lava wall <BOOM!> and sent a torrent of water cascading over the front of the rocks and into the tide pool. The symphony of rushing water lasted about ten seconds before fading to a gentle trickle then finally a few drops.

“Wow… that was amazing!” Julia screeched.

“Yeah,” I responded, “Let’s stay here for a while and watch that again.”

We waited and watched then with mathematical certainty, about every twelfth wave the phenomenon recurred. We could have stayed there for longer, just watching this unexpected pageant of nature, but it was well on into the early evening and we still wanted to get right around to the West Shore to see the sunset: Polihale Beach, the furthest west point before colliding with the other side of the Na Pali coast. We would say we circumnavigated the entire drivable portion of the Island.

We headed back down the highway and about fifteen minutes later arrived at the old port town of Waimea. Standing in the middle of the main square (it’s actually a triangle), staid and righteous, with maps and sexton in hand, was a statue of Captain James Cook, near the spot where the first European foot was planted upon Hawaiian soil. Like all voyages of discovery, the initial greeting was tense but cordial, with the obligatory exchange of gifts and mutual self-respect of two cultures unfamiliar with the strength of the other. Any feelings of respect evaporated when Cook returned to the islands a year later and was murdered on the shore of the Big Island following a misunderstanding with a local chief. Cook’s crew sought retribution but the real devastation came years later when other Europeans followed in his footsteps.

Waimea was a nice little town which offered many modern conveniences. At Lenore’s suggestion, we decided to dine at Wranglers Steakhouse, which looked like a gigantic house. We sat out on the porch overlooking the main square and Captain Cook; I only hoped Wranglers had a slightly more competent cook (ba-dum tsss). We ate wonderful suppers, as usual, and asked the server if we could make it to Polihale Beach by sunset.

“Oh, I don’t know.” she replied. “It’s pretty far and you have about a half hour drive along a narrow gravel road that winds through farmland. Getting there shouldn’t be a problem, but I wouldn’t want to be driving that road after dark; you can never see what’s coming around the next bend and it would not be difficult to drive right off into the fields.”

We looked at each other and pondered the situation.

She continued: “Why don’t you go to Kekaha Beach? It’s just about ten minutes outside of town and you can see the sunset from there.”

Good advice, we thought, and continued west down the highway towards Kekaha Beach. She told us it ran right along the highway and could not be missed; it was several kilometres long. We found it, ten minutes later, and drove to where the road turned inland, then we doubled back and parked at a clearing on the highway. We gathered our mats and cameras and walked out to the beach, which literally started a few feet from the pavement. The water was still about 200 metres away and the beach continued to the horizon each way. We walked along the beach towards three pickup trucks parked on the sand. A group of young guys were drinking beer in the hopes of finding enough courage to surf in the treacherous waves. We continued walking for about ten minutes, then found a spot where only our footprints decorated the sand.

“This is perfect.” I announced.

We dropped our mats, flip-flops and other belongings on the level sand before the beach sloped at a 30 degree angle towards the roiling surf. The waves pounded the sand in long continuous curls about five or six feet high. Periodically, the return flow, upon meeting a new wave, sent a ten foot high tower of water and spray skyward with a loud crash.

We sat down and watched the waves as the sun sank lower on the horizon.

“Did you bring the panoramic camera?” I asked Julia.

“Yeah, I brought the one from the front seat and put it in the bag.”

“The one from the front?” I questioned tersely. “That one is full; you had to open up the new one in the box.”

I fumbled for the panoramic and sure enough the window was on ‘0’.

“Dang,” I said, “I will run back to the car. You wait here and take some pictures with the regular camera. I will go as fast as I can.”

I started running through the sand, focusing on the car well off in the distance. It was getting dark and, in case you have never done so, running through soft sand is a bit like running the opposite direction on a moving sidewalk: your legs churn furiously but the scenery only inches by. I finally got back to the car, grabbed the camera, and gave myself a minute to catch my breath. I started the arduous run back and eventually came upon Julia about ten yards further from the water.

“What… hah… hah… are you… hah… hah… doing over here?” I huffed.

“Well, as soon as you left, I laid everything out, dug in the mats and sat down. I was looking off to the sunset and listening to the waves when I heard a really loud crash. I turned towards the ocean and had just enough time to grab the cameras and stand up before water washed through my feet, and consumed our shoes and the mats. You will notice, the mats are now soaked, but it’s a good thing I grabbed the cameras just in time. You really picked a good spot; maybe that explains why there were no footprints in this area.”

We were confident that the new spot was secure from the water and sat down facing directly west, towards the sunset. A band of clouds passed near the horizon, rapidly diminishing our view, but being on the beach at dusk, with a roaring surf only a few metres away, was magical. We stayed there for about an hour and watched the few brave souls, now imbued alcohol confidence, fight the waves with Boogie Boards, only to be tossed like rag dolls into the white tipped curls of water. The low haze began to clear off to the southwest and we saw, like a floating giant, the silhouette of Niihau, a private Hawaiian island that, to this day, does not allow tourists. Finally, convinced the sunset was getting no more spectacular, we walked back to the car, leaving the two mile stretch of Kekaha Beach, where we shared the sunset with perhaps five others.