Back Again (Already) for More Solo Travel to Kauai
These wanders have been like none other. This place has become sacred to me.
At the end of each visit, I am sure I have peaked. So, my only expectation for this return trip was to see a few new sights, hike to a waterfall, soak up some more island sun, and visit some of the friends I had made on previous visits.
But, yet again, Kauai went above and beyond. This week blew me away—with mystical experiences, kindred spirits and more breathtaking scenery.
I’m glad I didn’t let Delta set the tone for this trip!
Lost Luggage & Pau Hana Time
Shortly after landing at Lihue Airport, I stood in front of the baggage carousel wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt. It was hot and getting hotter as I waited way longer than usual for my bag.
The carousel stopped. Not good.
It’s also not good when you approach the baggage attendant and she knows your name.
Apparently, three hours was not enough time for Delta’s baggage handlers to transfer my suitcase from one airplane to another during my layover. The good news: my bag wasn’t lost. The bad news: it was scheduled to arrive on the next flight in 24 hours.
That’s 24 hours wearing long pants, long sleeves and tennis shoes—14% of my trip without a swimsuit or flip flops.
I took advantage of Delta’s offer of a $50 credit to buy what I needed to get by and stopped off at Hilo Hattie to pick up some bare necessities on my way “home.”
In 24 hours it would be pau hana time. Pau Hana = After Work = Happy Hour.
I had serious doubts that anybody at Speedy Delivery was going to be motivated to drive to the end of Kuhio Highway during traffic hours to deliver a single suitcase to a haole tourist.
I was right. My phone would never ring that next day and my bag would spend a second night at Lihue Airport.
Thank goodness for the one attentive Hawaiian Airlines employee who wondered about the lone bag propped up against his wall when he arrived at work that next morning.
When he called me, I begged him to keep it in his sight—and out of Speedy Delivery’s hands—until I could get there to pick it up myself.
My Favorite Wainiha Vacation Rental
Location: Jungle River Hideaway, Wainiha
Before I even arrived at my “Jungle River Hideaway” in Wainiha, the trees began speaking to me.
Let me be very clear—I am not into that sort of thing. In fact, as they continued to speak to me over the next week, I was pretty much freaking out. (More about that in my post-wander Travel Therapy session!)
Wainiha is in the Hanalei Valley just before the road dead ends at Ha’ena State Park and the Kalalau Trailhead. This 25 square mile community is home to the Wainiha and Lumaha’i Rivers, Lumahai Beach, and a mix of single family homes.
The “Hideaway” was a short drive down a road behind the Wainiha “Last Chance” General Store.
It was a tranquil (and affordable) studio just one lawn away from the Wainiha River’s edge and surrounded by rainforest.
When the owner, Cherill, gave me a welcome tour, I could barely contain myself—the giant lanai we walked across, which was fully equipped with a hammock, comfy couches and chairs, and pre-set dining table, and the private outdoor bathtub were entirely mine for the next week.
Inside was a bed ensconced in mosquito netting, a fully equipped mini-kitchen, a one-person bathroom, and one of the main reasons I had booked this place—an outside shower. (I had discovered the joy of an outside shower on my previous solo trip here.)
The grounds were lush, dripping, and packed with exotic flowers and plants—the background music was the chirping of at least a hundred birds and the gurgling river. Later, it would be the awesome sound of rain falling on a metal roof.
A fabulous place to stay if you’re doing solo travel to Kauai!
Hanalei Taro Fields & the Nene
Location: Just after Princeville and just before Hanalei off Highway 560
After delicious coffee and conversation with Susan, I set out for my regular visit to the taro fields on the edge of town.
There are two things that mark your arrival to what is, in my opinion, the real North Shore of Kauai—the historical one-lane Hanalei Bridge and the taro fields on the other side.
The Hanalei Bridge crosses the Hanalei River at the bottom of Route 560. The current bridge, which is a replica of the original from 1912, was built in 2003. It’s a welcome sight to locals and return tourists alike—when you cross it, your blood pressure drops and the corners of your mouth rise.
This is the busiest bridge by far, so it’s important to follow one-lane bridge etiquette—the unwritten rule is 5-7 cars at a time. If you’re Car #6 or higher, take a breather and let the other side go.
As long as there have been people living on Kauai, food has been grown in the Hanalei Valley.
Taro is a root vegetable that’s been one a staple crops here for more than 1,000 years. Similar to rice, it’s grown in flooded fields that are only drained when it’s time to harvest and replant the crop.
Once harvested, the portion of the stem that grows underground is cooked and mashed into poi, a starchy and bland paste that is deeply loved by Hawaiians.
There are nenes (nēnē) here too! The nene is the Hawaiian version of a goose and the official state bird, found exclusively in the wild on the islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauaʻi, Molokai, and the big island.
Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge & Lighthouse
Location: Take Kuhio Highway to the town of Kīlauea, turn right on Kolo Road, then left on Kīlauea Road, and drive two miles.
Thanks to Delta still being in possession of my bathing suit and shorts, I opted for a jean-friendly outing on my first day.
A friend had showed me the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and Lighthouse on a previous visit—I was excited to return alone with my camera and enough time to use it.
This place is a photographer’s dream! On this day, the sky was intensely blue sky and dotted with bright white clouds, so even a rookie like me could take stellar photos.
You can’t climb to the top of the lighthouse, and there’s only a teensy museum and a slightly larger gift shop here, but there is A LOT to see.
The setting is dramatic—waves crashing against steep and rocky cliffs that are home to a variety of seabirds. What looks like grassy slopes is really a dormant volcano.
According to the official Kauai website, this is one of the few locations where you can see “the ‘Ā (Red-footed booby), Mōlī (Laysan albatross), ‘Ua ‘u kani (Wedge-tailed shearwater).” You will definitely see lots of nenes!
Depending on the timing and luck of your visit, you may even sneak a peek at an endangered “Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua (Hawaiian monk seal), Honu (Green sea turtle), or Koholā (Humpback whale).”
Admission is $10.00 per person (16+ years) and the hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday (with the exception of federal holidays). If you have a federal land pass, it works here!
Hitchhikers in Kauai
On my way back to my jungle hideaway, I picked up James and his dog.
The North Shore is the only place where I’d pick up a stranger on the side of the road. On previous visits, I had learned from locals that many residents don’t own cars and rely on the kindness of those who do to get them where they need or want to be.
On my last visit, I picked up a weathered former pro surfer with his biggest (teenage) fan in tow and an eccentric woman who gave me a very thorough education on organic gardening.
James (and his dog) lived in the infamous Kalalau Valley hippie commune. According to James, the ones who have lived there the longest. For 10 minutes, I listened to stories of pig and goat hunts, growing vegetables, and a jungle library with real books.
They think I’m doing them a favor, but really they’re helping me.
Kauai’s Hindu Monastery
Location: 107 Kaholalele Road, Kapa’a | Reservations: (888) 735-1619
I read about Kauai’s Hindu Monastery in The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook a week before I arrived and made a reservation for a guided tour on the only day it was happening during my time here. It was extremely good karma that the only clothes I had (THANKS TO DELTA) met the Monastery’s dress code.
I couldn’t have come at a better time—it wasn’t raining and their new temple was under construction.
Although the grounds are open daily (from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.) for self-guided tours, a guide is the only way to get all the way in. And, trust me, you definitely want to get all the way in.
The drive to the temple is gorgeous. Beginning in Kapa’a, it winds up a mountain through a lush landscape. I was worried I might not find it, but GPS took me straight to the entrance.
The first thing you come to when you enter the Monastery grounds is a smoldering urn. A sign welcomes you to write something that’s weighing you down onto a slip of paper, light it on fire, and drop it into the urn.
It was strange—as I walked further into the Monastery, I really did feel lighter.
As I listened to our guide talk about Hinduism, I got a huge lump in my throat. It wasn’t sadness I felt, but an overwhelming sense of peace that I had never felt before. How lucky to live here!!!
After the intro, we walked along a path that meandered through lush vegetation, ponds, fountains, statues, and banyan trees and right next to a small temple.
Just past the temple was a view that imprinted itself in my brain—a vast valley of a hundred shades of green with the Wailua River flowing through it. It was not surprising that scenes from Jurassic Park were filmed here.
The next stop were botanical gardens filled with Hindu statues—like no garden I had ever seen before.
And, then the main attraction—the Iraivan Temple that was being carved out of granite by a crew of Indian artisans—all brought over from India.
There were lions with perfectly formed stone balls locked inside their jaws, a giant granite linked chain, and hundreds of intricately carved stone flowers. It was a scene from a time long ago when humans constructed ancient temples, churches and monuments.
A few of us wandered off to see the sapling tree born of the tree under where Buddha reached Nirvana.
Some important info for your visit…
This is a private place of worship, not a tourist attraction, so visiting hours are extremely limited and the property closes at noon.
Once a week, a two-hour guided tour is usually led beginning under the gazebo at the monastery entrance; there are no guided public tours in December, the first two weeks of April and August, or when it is raining heavily.
If you will be driving your car, a reservation is required (reservations are not required if you take a taxi who drops you off and leaves).
While the tour is free, the monks appreciate donations to help them with the upkeep of the property.
A self-guided tour is an option, but you will only have access to the front area of the Monastery.
If you’re Hindu, you are welcome to attend their worship ceremonies.
There is a gift shop filled with books and Hindu religious supplies.
The dress code is strict and must be respected—a challenge for most tourists who not have packed the right kind of clothes. Modest clothing is required—no shorts above the knees, no short dresses, no yoga pants, and no collarless t-shirts or tank tops. It’s suggested that you wear practical shoes as you’ll be walking on a lot of slippery and uneven ground. A rain jacket and/or umbrella is recommended as it rains often in this lush area of the island.
Be respectful with your camera (or phone) as well—video and photography of the inside of the temple is not permitted.
Best Sunset in Kauai
Location: The end of Kuhio Highway
That night I drove down the road to watch one of the most stunning shows on the island—the sun setting at Ha’ena State Park.
Bring a chair. Leave your money at home. You might have to walk a ways from your parking spot to the sand, but don’t fret—it’s totally worth it.
Yoga in Hanalei
Location: Yoga Hanalei
Being fairly new to yoga, I was more than a little nervous about taking the Hatha class at Yoga Hanalei. But, no more safe route, remember?
I’m happy to report that I made it through the almost two hour class without embarrassing myself. I did everything except standing on my head, which I have no plans to do anywhere anytime anyhow.
As we all did savasana at the end of the session, my mind came back to reality with a realization—the haunting Indian music sounded incredibly alive. I opened one eye and caught our teacher singing. Wow, that was a first!
SUP Lessons on the Hanalei River
This was the vacation that I would finally be brave enough to try stand up paddle boarding!
After yoga, I ran down the road to Titus Kinimaka’s Hawaiian School of Surfing. I followed my cutie teacher down to the river where he had me up on a board and steering in the right direction in just minutes.
The river was like glass and the whole experience was perfectly peaceful with a little bit of exercise thrown in for good measure. I’m hooked.
A Hike to Wailua Falls
Guide: Hike Kauai With Me
The highlight of this trip was the moment I looked up from the deep pool of water under Wailua Falls and saw a crowd standing far above next to a railing.
On my first experience with solo travel to Kauai, I promised myself to stop taking the safe route. As I floated there and felt the mist from a 100 foot waterfall on my face, I was proud to have stayed true to my word.
Hiking with Eric of Hike Kauai With Me has become a “mandatory” excursion on all of my solo travel to Kauai adventures. This was my third hike with him.
Here are my reviews of the first first two:
MAY 13, 2010 — OK, YELPERS…THIS IS IT!!! If you are coming to Kauai, get hold of Eric right now and book your own personal hike…
I found him on Google in a desperate search to find a guided hike without a bunch of gawking midwesterners or screaming kids. I do everything in my power to minimize my inner-haolie-ness. And, I was definitely able to do that with Eric. I am, in fact, the first solo woman to hike with him (autographs are free).
I loved every minute of my first hike. We started EARLY (I met him in Hanapepe at 6:45 am to beat the crowds and the fog…worth getting up at 4:30 am and driving 1-1/2 hrs from Ha’ena!) from the Kalalau Valley lookout. I felt like a rebel hopping the fence and leaving the rest of the tourists leaning against the concrete handrail. The views were stunning – and I huffed just enough on the 3-mile (round trip) hike. It’s your hike…he caters to you. No waiting for the couch potatoes to catch up…or feeling like one yourself lagging behind the studs (besides Eric, that is). Best of all, it feels like you’re hiking with a friend…which I now consider Eric. Go book…now.
My second hike is in 2 days…I put myself in Eric’s very capable hands and told him to surprise me. I’ll be updating this review in a few days with more rave reviews, I’m sure…
MAY 17, 2010 — Second hike…one mile up to the top of Kahili Mountain. Kauai showed it’s spirit and gifted us us some rain, wind, a white-out, and crystal clear skies…all in the course of an hour. This is yet another incredible memory that I will revisit over and over until I’m no longer coherent in my convalescent bed. Eric’s passion for hiking – and lychees – is contagious. I felt like such a good friend of his, I almost drove off without paying…without a word from him. Aloha & Mahalo, Eric…see you soon!
On this trip, I had only two requests for Eric—1) don’t exhaust me too much; and 2) show me a stunning waterfall. Bonus points if I can swim under it.
Eric didn’t disappoint.
Wailua Falls is near the Kalepa Mountain Forest Reserve, not too far from Lihue. It’s recommended that you see it in the morning when you might catch a glimpse of a rainbow as the sun shines through the mist.
The hike in was easy, wet and delicious. As we walked on the path through the trees, we gorged on strawberry and honey guavas. The path goes through a small section of the river, then pops out to a rocky beach next to a large pool under the falls.
As I said, you can see the falls from the side of the road, but I definitely don’t recommend taking that safe route!
Later that evening, Wailua Falls gave me one last gift.
After sharing my experience on Eric’s Facebook page, I got a friend request and a message from a woman who had been equally moved by the island. Toward the end of our chat, Susan and I realized we were both actually here. We made a date for coffee at Java Kai the next morning.
Hiking Hanalei Mountain on the Okolehao Trail
Location: On the Hanalei side of the Hanalei Bridge is Ohiki Road (between Hanalei River and the taro fields) that will take you to the trailhead. There is a parking area on the left near the end of Ohiki Road.
My friend Daniell’a who lives just up the road from my temporary home treated me to a hike up Hanalei Mountain.
The Okolehao Trail is a 2-1/2 mile trail that takes you 1,250 feet up the mountain. In addition to an excellent cardio workout, you’ll get one of the best views of Hanalei Bay, Hanalei Valley, and the Napali Coast.
Just as we set out on the trail, a super strange thing happened—when I turned on my camera, which had a fresh battery, nothing happened. After two more tries, nothing.
The “old” me would have pouted, but Kauai has been teaching me to let go. For reasons unknown to me, I wasn’t supposed to be behind the camera on this hike. I was supposed to be fully present.
Shortly after our hike began, I understood why.
There was SO much to soak up without the distraction of a camera lens—more juicy strawberry guavas, tiny edible purple flowers that tasted like sweet perfume, lots of weird and wonderful trees that seemed to convey messages through their appearance, and Daniella saying things I really needed to hear.
And, then it got weird. We came upon a tree with a giant appendage—that was NOT an arm or leg. As we stood there laughing, people would hike or run by and tap it. A little further up, I started feeling a voice inside my head beckoning me to come back here by myself—at one point, saying I should spend the night in the forest.
Uh, yeah, no thanks on the slumber party. 😳
At the very top was the Aloha bench with a sweeping view that left me speechless.
I did return the next day for a solo hike—with my camera. I took twice as long, stopping to photograph every detail and feel every sound (a definite perk of solo travel to Kauai).
When I reached the top, I plopped down on the Aloha bench and thought about meditation—until the Zen Buddhist meditation master showed up.
There was a rustling in the bushes to my left—oh god, man or animal??? I let my breath out when a man’s head popped up from the trail below.
While he apologized for bothering me, I patted the empty spot on the bench beside me.
Kio was a soft-spoken Japanese man who, like me, was also traveling solo without his spouse. He shared his passion for meditation and exploring the world, the sadness he felt that his wife didn’t share it, and the fear he had that they were growing apart as a result.
Our conversation continued down the mountain, then over a bowl of kalua pork at a picnic table back in town. (I love Kauai. This kinda thing never happens back home.)
My Favorite Kauai Beaches
Choosing a beach to go to in Kauai is as hard as choosing a single kind of food from a decadent Hawaiian luau buffet. There are not enough days for me to try them all, so I take this choice extremely seriously each time I come here.
On this trip, I laid next to a small, but mighty, tree growing out of a rock on Lumahai Beach, trekked down a long and sketchy path to the stunning Secret Beach (twice), paddle boarded with a new friend while the sun in Hanalei Bay, and nabbed the last parking space near Tunnels Beach so I could see some Windex water.
I was very satisfied with my choices.
Dinner at Hanalei Pizza
Location: Now closed
When I was here several months ago, I had grabbed a slice of pizza for lunch at Hanalei Pizza. Scott’s Pizza Tour in NYC had turned me into a pizza snob, so I left a lukewarm review on Yelp.
A few weeks later, I got a private message from the owner, Karlos—he requested an opportunity to change my opinion. We made a deal to meet on this trip.
I don’t think Karlos thought I was brave enough to show up, but I wanted to add more stars to his rating so I wasn’t about to miss out on the opportunity. My new friend, Susan, had bonded with him on her previous trip to the island so she joined me for the party.
As Karlos feverishly made pizzas, he outed me to the small hungry crowd. Over the next 45 minutes, my 3-star review jumped to a 5+-star and Karlos and I agreed that Kauai definitely was a land of kindred spirits.
Live Music at Tahiti Nui
Location: 5-5134 Kuhio Hwy, Hanalei
At least one trip to Tahiti Nui is a requirement for me when I stay on the North Shore—on time trip, I made several.
It was here that I met Norman Ka’awa Solomon, a native Hawaiian singer-composer slack-key guitar player. I was excited to tag along to Allan Thomas’ recording studio up the road to watch the two musicians work on a track for Ka’awa’s fourth album.
Nothing Is Perfect
Last days in Kauai are always torturous, but this one took torture to a whole new level.
After checking out of my jungle hideaway, I headed to Java Kai for my last island breakfast. Instead of sitting in my usual table on the wraparound porch, I took my tea and gooey cinnamon bun out to front lawn and sat down at the picnic table to call my husband.
Fast forward an hour and I was chatted with Susan down at the Hanalei Pier—and I just about lost it. She casually mentioned that she had seen me chatting on the phone on her way to grab a coffee at Java Kai. Then, she asked me a question…
“Did you see Robert Downey Jr.?” Uh, NO…WTF? “He was right in front of me when I got my coffee.”
I have ONE Hollywood crush. ONE. Robert. Downey. Jr. And, Kauai just used him to send me one final message.
Never forget that nothing is perfect.