WAY BEYOND RYE: Mahalo, Kauai
After three years of house hunting, our search was finally complete. Due to close on a condo in Williamsburg in a matter of weeks, we decided to get a long vacation in before our new home consumed all of our time and energy.
By William Jovanovich
After three years of house hunting, our search was finally complete. Due to close on a condo in Williamsburg in a matter of weeks, we decided to get a long vacation in before our new home consumed all of our time and energy. My wife wanted a comfortable hotel with a nice warm beach attached to it, decent food, and pretty surroundings. I agreed with her, but I required large, warm waves to boogie board, along with beautiful scenery to explore. And we only had a small time window — late February or early March. It’s a big world, but it suddenly felt a lot smaller as whole swaths of the planet were ruled out by our inflexible criteria.
It turned out there was only one spot on Earth that would provide us with what we wanted: Hawaii. More specifically, Hanalei Bay on the North Shore of Kauai, just about the furthest western edge of the country.
We left JFK airport around 7 a.m., on a seemingly endless 11-hour flight to Honolulu. It was it worth it though. Stretching our legs, we stepped out of the terminal for a few minutes. The island of Oahu is something special to look at, even from an airport parking lot. The puddle jumper to Lihue airport took about 45 minutes. We picked up our small, non-descript sedan (Hawaii is not a land of gas guzzlers given fuel prices there) and drove to Hanalei Bay. Passing through a few towns on the way, we were alarmed by how full of tourists the streets were. We planned to vacation in a remote spot but so far it looked like Jones Beach on a Friday night in the middle of July. Our fears were allayed the further north we drove.
Of the populated Hawaiian islands, Kauai is the least developed. Its largest town has fewer residents than Rye. We arrived at the St. Regis Princeville Resort late that night, and had a quick meal of delicious Makana sushi rolls, the house specialty, before turning in for some overdue sleep.
We awoke at five o’clock the following morning, with enough time to grab some coffee and pastries, and watch the sunrise from one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Overlooking Hanalei Bay (referenced in the song “Puff the Magic Dragon”), our hotel room offered a perfect view of the Pacific Ocean and the majestic cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. We took dozens of photos of the coast throughout our stay, but never came close to capturing what we saw with our own eyes. The hotel exceeded our expectations with good food, helpful staff, and a terrific architectural design with nearly every window offering a beautiful view. If you want to get a good look at it before traveling 8,000 miles, watch the 2011 George Clooney film “The Descendants.” Clooney’s Matt King takes his children there during his quest to confront his wife’s lover.
The weather was warm enough in early March, but it might be more enjoyable and safer to visit later in the year. When we arrived, Kauai was on track for a record-setting number of water-related deaths. The waves were high and rip tide strong, but Hanalei Bay was a terrific spot for swimming and surfing. The timing of our vacation did have its benefits though as whole pods of humpback whales were only a few hundred yards off the coast.
We spent most of our ten days on the North Shore, except for one ill-advised car ride to the South Shore. Regardless of what the guidebooks say, don’t bother visiting Waimea Canyon. If you’ve been to the actual Grand Canyon, there’s no need to visit the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
Our best experiences were hiking up the Na Pali coast, whale watching by the old Kilauea lighthouse, and staring out across the bay, every chance we could.
Hawaii is worth flying to, but you might want to stay forever.