If you’ve ever watched Magnum PI, or Lost, or you’ve seen pretty much any movie about giant monsters made by Hollywood, you’ll be familiar with Hawaii and it’s lush rolling green mountains and big surf.
Some facts about this beautiful range of islands. It’s the most isolated population centre in the world. A third of the world’s exported pineapples come from here. The mountain ranges are the tops of the highest mountain range in the world - Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawai’i is the tallest mountain on the planet from base to summit. Hawaii has its own timezone. It’s the best place to stargaze, housing the world's biggest telescope and more scientific observatories in one place than anywhere else in the world.
One thing you notice about Hawaii, even in Oahu, is that it is gloriously litter free and there is very little construction. It's also home to some of the biggest surf in the world and some of the best beaches. They also grow coffee, have active volcanoes, tons of waterfalls, good hiking, turtles, dolphins, whales and mantas as well as balmy all year round weather. What's not to love??
I met my friend Electra in LA and we set off for a 3.5 week adventure, starting in Kauai.
Island of Kauai
We decided to start on the smaller island of Kauai which is furthest north in the chain and work our way south. Flying in is as breathtaking as you might imagine, nothing really prepares you for the raw natural beauty of the islands from the air. It's like if Wales, Scotland and New Zealand and Indonesia had a love-child, this is what it would look like.
We stayed in an apartment south of Lihue, which is the main capital. This is a good place to stay if you want to explore as there are no roads through the middle of the island, from the south you either drive north east or north west.
We stayed at Banyan Harbor Resort which was fantastic as we had a room each, a well-equipped kitchen and nice pool. It's situated about a mile from the airport in Lihue, at the bottom of the island - a good place to explore both sides.
One thing you have to be prepared for in Hawaii is the interchangeable weather. November is glorious in the day time but one of the reasons Hawaii is so green is because it has a lot of rainfall. Kind of like Wales but with seriously higher temps. This is usually limited to short showers but hiking trails can be wet and mucky. The rainbows here are to die for though, and they are in abundance: I will always think of Hawaii as the land of rainbows.
Our first day of sightseeing we decided to drive up to Waimea Canyon. It is situated on the west side of the island along a very wind-y road, with several scenic view points along the way that are clearly sign-posted, all with large carparks. The main Waimea lookout is breathtaking, the greens and reds of the cliffs standing out in stark contrast to each other. There are quite a few hikes that you can do in the Canyon, both along the ridges, to waterfalls and down in to the Canyon itself.
We opted to continue on to Ko-Kee National Park and do the Awaawapuhi trail. The signpost for the trail is on the right hand side and covered in vegetation so look out for it (I think it has a dolphin on it)– there is a small carpark on the left. The trail starts high, and descends slowly over about 3 miles – it’s one way in and the same way out - and is marked as ‘moderate’. It is known to be pretty mucky although we got lucky and it was fairly dry. Enroute there is little to see as you descend through forest, but the end result it worth it as you come out on to a rocky peninsula which juts out with gut-wrenching 2000 feet drops either side down to green valleys and the aqua ocean, with stunning view of the Napali Coast. If you have the stomach for it, you can scramble over some rocks on a narrow ledge to follow the trail to the absolute edge. I only got so far before vertigo well and truly kicked in but I did get a photo of my bravery! If it looks familiar it might be because the original Jurassic Park movie used Napali for the fictional isle where the dinosaurs roamed.
The best beaches in Kauai are on the north shore up to the West. We spent a day at Anini Beach which is also a good place to snorkel – take kit with you though as there is nowhere to rent it at the beach itself (true of many beaches in Hawaii – plan to go kitted up including snacks/water – many Hawaiian beaches do not have shops or restaurants). I swam with 5 beautiful turtles here and the water was warm, even for November.
Hanalei Town is really pretty and a good spot for lunch and dinner – in retrospect I would have liked to have spent a night or two staying here as it has a really chilled out vibe and the restaurants were reasonably priced.
The other hike we did was up to Hanakapi'ai Beach. You can stay on this trail and hike deeper in to the Napali Park but it would probably mean camping overnight. You start at Ke’e beach – follow the road north east of the island past Hanalei and Princeville until you can’t drive any further - and follow signs for the Kalalau Trail which takes you up onto a cliff top with incredible views along the Napali coastline. Follow this for an hour or so and you end up on Hanakapi’ai Beach which is a nice place to stop and swim before heading back. You have to wade or rock-hop across a stream or two and there were plenty of mozzies and mud on this trail so bring your jungle formula repellent and be prepared to get dirty. It’s a very popular trail and the carparks are busy. There is nowhere to buy water or food either – bring it all in with you.
One thing that is lacking is the wildlife - plenty in the ocean but very little on land apart from a few birds and the odd curious lizard. Tales of the Golden Monkey was filmed in Hawaii and it feels like the little critters would be at home somewhere like this.
Kauai was a tropical paradise, but after all that nature it’s onto somewhere more touristy and busy – Oahu!!