Hawaii is one of those places that even as a child I harboured dreams of visiting one day. I didn’t know much more about it than I’d read in my school encyclopedia – I’m not even sure that I realised it’s a US state, or that it consists of many islands, not just one – but I imagined it as a place where the sun was always shining, the beaches were lined with palm trees, and every drink came with a cocktail umbrella.
When a wedding invite landed in our mailbox last year – destination Kaua’i – we could not have been more thrilled. Kaua’i is Hawaii’s fourth largest island. It’s also the oldest and the most northern, and is often called the Garden Island because it’s so green. The striking landscapes have led to dozens of movies being filmed on the island, including Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean, King Kong and South Pacific.
Because we spend so many of our holidays visiting family and friends, it’s rare for us to travel somewhere new. But even DorkyDad had never been to the Aloha State: it was one of just two US states (the other being Alaska) that he’d never had reason to visit. We’ve spent the last six months feeling very excited about this trip.
Getting to Kaua’i was the longest day of my life. I don’t mean that metaphorically, I mean it quite literally. We got up in Hobart at 7am on a Monday. We flew that morning to Sydney, where we had a five-hour layover. Then we flew all night from Sydney before landing in Honolulu at… 7am on Monday morning.
Crossing the international date line can do very strange things to your brain.
Surprisingly, jetlag wasn’t really an issue. With a 21-hour time difference, it was the equivalent of having to adjust by only three hours. But we hadn’t slept very well on the plane, so it took a couple of strong coffees and an order of Burger King French Toast sticks (I know…) to get us ready for the connecting flight from Honolulu to Lihu’e.
We stood at the gate waiting to get on our Hawaiian Airlines plane, and down below saw our suitcases sitting on a cart, waiting to be loaded into the hold. It was reassuring to see they had kept up with us so far.
Twenty minutes later, as the plane taxied away from the gate and we looked out the window to see both the cart and our suitcases still sitting there on the tarmac, it wasn’t quite so reassuring.
Ah well. Island time. They did catch up with us on the next flight, and the wry smile and shrug of the guy in baggage services would suggest that it wasn’t a rare occurrence.
The one thing I’d read in every article about Kaua’i was that there are roosters everywhere. That really does mean everywhere. As DorkyDad sorted out our rental car in Lihu’e, DorkySon and I sat on a bench outside the airport and watched as literally dozens of them wandered among the Jeeps and the Chevrolets. Apparently, a couple of hurricanes in the 80s and 90s destroyed a lot of coops, and with no predators the population has blossomed.
If you don’t like a constant holiday soundtrack of cock-a-doodle-do-ing, sometimes from as early as 3am, Kaua’i is probably not the island for you. But if you can get past that… wow. This is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth.
We had booked to spend our first five nights on the north shore – it is a little quieter than the south of the island, perhaps because it tends to be wetter – and the drive was spectacular. On one side of the road, jagged mountains covered in lush green forest loomed out of the mist. On the other, there were countless surf beaches and open views of the ocean.
What should have been just an hour or so drive ended up taking closer to three, because heavy rains had brought trees and mud down onto the road. (Our second landslide in as many holidays!) DorkySon very wisely chose to nap. DorkyDad and I watched butterflies and egrets by the side of the road, and wished we’d brought some snacks. But we managed to stay chill enough that we didn’t even get too cranky about missing our turn-off to the resort.
Eventually, with great relief, we made it.
The family wedding – DorkyDad’s nephew and his beautiful bride – was taking place at Princeville Resort, a beachfront property where most of the other guests were also staying. Previous holidays have taught us that apartments work better for us than hotels, because we enjoy having a bit more space and the flexibility to eat as and when we like.
We chose instead to stay at Hanalei Bay Resort, which is tucked just behind Princeville Resort. We had two bedrooms, each with a balcony, a living area, two bathrooms, and a good kitchen. There was also a short path from HBR which led right down to the Princeville Resort beach, so we were just a few minutes’ walk away from everyone else.
It was so stunning. I’m going to run out of adjectives pretty quickly here, but honestly it was just spectacular. There was a collective intake of breath from all three Dorkys when we stepped out onto our balcony, or lanai, for the first time. We had an incredible view of the mountains behind Hanalei Bay, which has just been voted one of the world’s 50 most beautiful places. A few minutes later, we were joined on the lanai by a couple of red-crested cardinals.
The landscape of the resort was incredible, with curving paths lined by colourful plants and flowers; there were great pools of fish which DorkySon was excited about feeding every day; and there was one of the prettiest swimming pools I’ve ever seen, with waterfalls and rock formations a-plenty.
DorkySon was too exhausted on our first day to get in the pool – it was all we could do to stagger to the onsite Happy Talk Lounge and chow down a quick meal before heading to bed – but from Day 2 onwards, it was all about pool time.
DorkyDad had a game of golf arranged for his first morning on the island – a chance to catch up with his brother and nephew for the first time in several years. That left me and DorkySon to do a shopping trip and fill up the fridge.
We do so much walking at home that I decided rather than make my first attempt at driving on the wrong side of the road, we’d just walk to the Princeville Centre at the top of the road. Ha! Perhaps I should have given Google Maps more than a cursory glance, because it turned out to be almost an hour’s walk in each direction. Easy enough on the way there with empty shopping bags, a bit less fun on the way back when we were both hungry for lunch and weighed down with groceries. Thankfully it was nothing that couldn’t be fixed by a sandwich back at the condo.
By Day 2, DorkySon was also more than ready for some swimming. As well as the main pool, there was a smaller one elsewhere in the resort. Both pools were warm by Tasmanian standards, although a bit chilly by Hawaiian standards, which means we pretty much had them to ourselves. There was also a hot tub (with a sand bottom!) for warming up, and a swim-up ukulele bar for refreshments. It felt like it would be rude not to use it, really, so when DorkyDad returned from golf we made a start on the cocktail menu. Top marks for our first piña coladas of the holiday, and a pool that DorkySon declared his favourite ever.
Our third day on the island was a chance for some proper social time with the family members we were there to see – DorkyDad’s brother and his wife, along with their children and grandchildren. We joined them for the morning at the Princeville Resort pool, where a daily pass buys you access to the pool, towels, and loungers. This one was a heated saltwater pool, and DorkySon spent a full three hours swimming and splashing without a break. He declared it his new favourite pool ever.
We also made our first trip into Hanalei for dinner. Hanalei is a fantastic little surf town which feels a little like stepping back into the sixties. There’s a lively food truck scene, a big sweeping beach, lots of surf shops, and colourful shave ice stalls on every corner. We headed to Tahiti Nui, where they coped admirably with our large, loud group. DorkySon ordered sweet potato ravioli and was shocked by the bright purple filling, but proclaimed it delicious.
Thursday, our fourth day on the island, was wedding day. Ahh, it was a lovely one too. The ceremony took place outdoors under the shade of a tree which was hung with flower garlands, and there was a woven fan placed on every seat. We were right by the beach, and the wedding began with a traditional call on a conch shell (pu in Hawaiian), believed to summon all the elements – air, fire, water and earth – as witnesses to the ceremony.
It’s always very special to see two people so much in love, marking that with happy tears, lots of laughter, good food and dancing. After the ceremony we moved upstairs to an outdoor terrace for drinks and a view of the sunset, by far one of the prettiest backdrops to a wedding I’ve seen.
Because we are old and boring, we didn’t stay very late at the wedding – we were back in our own condo and in bed by about 10.30pm. That meant that on Friday, instead of sleeping off a hangover like most of the wedding party, we were able to get up early and head into Hanalei for breakfast. Strong Kona coffee and hashbrowns at the Wake Up Café provided the ‘proper’ American breakfast that DorkyDad had been longing for, and then we had a wander around the quirky little shops. DorkyDad got a tuner for his ukulele and DorkySon got a t-shirt with roosters on it – just the essentials, as a friend of mine commented on Instagram!
That afternoon, we said our goodbyes to family – slightly astonished that the week had flown by so quickly – and packed up our bags ready to make a move to the south of the island on Saturday.
Mahalo, Hanalei Bay Resort, for providing us with the best possible introduction to Kaua’i.
Up early with the roosters on Saturday morning, we then drove down to the south of the island. Although the south shore is still pretty quiet compared to the major centres on other Hawaiian Islands, in contrast to the north shore of Kaua’i it felt much more touristy to us. There was a lot of traffic on the roads (which were still potholed!), a couple of bigger shopping centres with chain stores like Subway and Starbucks that we hadn’t seen up north, and the beaches were very busy.
That said, the place we stayed – Koloa Landing Resort – was incredible. We had booked a two-bedroom villa with kitchen and living area, and this one was even more spacious than where we stayed at HBR. It was also a notch above in terms of how modern and clean it was (I’m a total clean freak when it comes to holiday accommodation, and this place got full marks), and it was the comfiest hotel bed I’ve ever slept in.
I loved everything about Koloa Landing. I loved the lei we were presented with on arrival; the tiny gecko we found in the kitchen; and the welcome pack, which included a frisbee and a box of chocolate covered macadamias. I loved the pineapple infused water in the lobby, the putting green where we got a little too competitive, the view of the ocean from the front lanai and the view of the mountains from the back lanai. I especially loved the enormous three-tiered pool with a poolside bar.
We stayed at Koloa Landing over the weekend, when there are fewer organised activities, but during the week you can take part in everything from yoga sessions to uke lessons, and in the evenings, there are s’mores campfires for the kids.
It is the kind of place where, pre DorkySon, I would never have imagined myself going. What I look for in a holiday has changed so much – I’m much less about sightseeing and exploring these days, and much more about finding a comfy, warm place to read my book while someone else makes dinner. His enthusiasm for swimming is infectious though, so even I was persuaded off my sun lounger a few times to whoosh down the waterslide.
For the third time in the space of a week – less than a few hours after we had arrived – DorkySon declared the Koloa Landing pool his new favourite ever.
On Sunday, we got out of the resort to explore the area a little. We drove along to Poipu Beach which, at first, DorkySon was deeply unimpressed with. There was much bigger surf and far more people than he is used to on Tasmanian beaches. But we sat and watched for a while and before long we saw sea turtles playing in the waves, which was a real highlight of the holiday.
We also popped into some of the nearby shops and food vendors, including the Hawaiian institution Puka Dog, made famous by Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations (who knew that mango relish would go so well with Polish sausage?!), and Tommy Bahama for an update to DorkyDad’s wardrobe. DorkySon was also a big fan of the Kaua’i Juice Company, and he has held onto the little wooden bottle deposit token that gets you 25c off your next juice, in hope of a future visit.
Our two nights at Koloa Landing were over far too soon, and on Monday it was time to catch a flight to Honolulu. That was a real shock to the system, back in a big city full of high-rise hotels, constant traffic noise, and big brand shops everywhere. Our hotel – the Laylow Waikiki – was absolute fine for an overnight stay to catch an early flight. Like everywhere else we visited in Hawaii it was full of incredibly friendly and helpful staff, and I scored a fantastic pair of free thongs from the welcome basket, but none of us have any desire to revisit Waikiki. Apart from anything else, after the 350,000 gallon pool at Koloa Landing, the Laylow’s pool felt like a puddle!
We loved Kaua’i much more than we expected to. It was a special trip for so many reasons – the most important of which was an opportunity to catch up with family members who we see so rarely. (DorkySon was three last time saw them!). We also truly relaxed as a family, and stayed well away from work emails for the week.
But we left knowing that we had barely scratched the surface. We spent so much time by the pool rather than on the beach. We didn’t hike Waimea Canyon or take a whale watching trip along the Na Pali coast.
We are torn now. Hawaii is so much closer for us than a trip to the East Coast of the US, so perhaps we should nominate it as a halfway point for meeting family and friends in future. But should we stick with Kaua’i, which we know we love? Should we explore other Hawaiian Islands? Should we visit a different Pacific archipelago entirely?
It is a nice problem to ponder, but for now there is holiday laundry to work through, long-neglected work emails to answer, and a ukulele that needs to be tuned.