I was fortunate to spend a month this winter in Hawaii visiting my favorite places on Maui (Makena and Hana) and exploring the island of Kauai for the first time. Despite Kauai’s awe-inspiring geography and rugged beauty, it took me some time to fall in love with the northernmost Hawaiian island. Perhaps it was the rain (more on that later), but eventually people’s kindness, the relaxed rhythm of daily life and a fabulous, first-time surfing lesson won me over.
My husband Ken and I stayed on the north shore in Hanalei for the entire trip, except for our final night in Lihue near the airport. We rented “The Love Shack” at the Hanalei Surfboard House, and it was, by far, the coolest accommodation on our vacation. Owner Simon Potts, pictured below with his cat Noodle, was a wonderful host who really did think of everything (a private patio, a new gas grill, free laundry, beach chairs, Kauai-made shampoo and soap in the bathroom and locally-roasted coffee beans). Surfboards line the fences around Simon’s property, orchids grow in every nook and cranny and best of all there’s a hot, outdoor shower.
Simon’s place is one block from Hanalei Bay where I took a private surfing lesson from pro surfer Evan Valiere. (Hanalei Bay is one of his favorite places to surf when the waves are big.) On the beach, as we watched the small, evenly-breaking surf, Evan helped me practice the steps to stand up before we paddled out to catch a wave. With his help, which included a big push so I would pick up speed, I caught the first one! I’m not sure how to articulate how truly joyful I felt that afternoon, but it’s an experience I will remember forever.
Other highlights in Hanalei included fresh fish and sushi at the Dolphin Restaurant, a boat tour of the Napali Coast with Napali Catamaran where we saw Hawaiian spinner dolphins and humpback whales and the Waipa Farmers Market where we sampled young, fresh coconut and locally-grown pineapple, papaya, bananas and longan.
There is only one road into and out of Hanalei, the Kuhio Highway, which ends a few miles up the road at Ke’e Beach. From here, access to the Napali coast is limited to those traveling by foot, boat or helicopter. During our visit, it rained 36 inches in three days in Hanalei. The rain came at a rate of 1-2 inches per hour and seemed never ending. Water poured down the mountains into town, the Hanalei River bridge flooded, the Kuhio Highway closed as culverts collapsed and landslides covered the road with mud and trees. Ken and I made a mad dash to the Big Save grocery store (the only store open in town) and waited in line outside in the rain to buy peanut butter, rice and beans. We were “stranded” in Hanalei and had to reschedule our flight twice. Luckily, the couple who had reserved the Love Shack after us couldn’t get into town, so we had a comfortable place to wait out the storm.
Eventually the rain subsided and the sun appeared, briefly. We quickly packed up our car and headed south on the now-open Kuhio Highway to reserve ourselves a room at the Marriott Resort near the airport. That night another storm swept over the island closing the Kuhio Highway near Hanalei once again. And as much as we had enjoyed our vacation, it was with sighs of relief that we caught our flight home to Minnesota.