Published Sep/Oct 2006

You’ll find plenty to love about Kaua’i, from zipline gliding and kayaking to its fantasy wedding destinations with unmatched scenery.
By Dennis R. Heinze

She said “yes,” but then again, when I popped the question to my wife before a surprise renewal of our vows on Kaua’i, arguably the most beautiful of the Hawaiian islands, how could she respond any other way?

We had been married for 13 years at the time of the trip, but the lush and seductive natural beauty of the island probably had as much to do with her answer as anything else. Romance lingers in the air like the scent of orchid blossoms and plumeria on this tropical paradise known as the Garden Island.

Indeed, Kaua’i (Ka-why-e) is the setting for hundreds of honeymoons, vow renewals and weddings each year. The celluloid ceremony for Elvis in the torchy melodrama “Blue Hawaii” is perhaps the island’s most famous nuptials. A wedding can be a simple ceremony on the beach or a big “destination wedding” where families and friends make the marriage the centerpiece of a grand vacation.

But even if romance isn’t on your agenda, Kaua’i offers plenty of diversions for couples or families. Along with our wedding vows, we vowed to return with our two children because there were so many spectacular sights and soft adventures they would enjoy.

Stunning setting

We departed for Kaua’i last fall as the leaves were just beginning to turn crimson and gold in the Midwest, but on Kaua’i we were greeted by a vibrant palate of greens, from emerald and olive to mossy hues so rich they were nearly black. We flew into Honolulu and then took a 25-minute jet flight to Kaua’i, landing at the island’s biggest city, Lihu’e (Lee-HU-ay), which is located on the southeastern shore.

From Lihu’e, we enjoyed breathtaking views as we explored the island via a two-lane highway that nearly encircles Kaua’i. Despite being only 33 miles wide and 25 miles long, the island features a diversity of micro-climates, from verdant river valleys to mist-shrouded mountaintops and coastal sand dunes.

Northernmost and the oldest of the Hawaiian archipelago, Kaua’i has only 3 percent of its land developed for commercial and residential use, leaving the rest divided between agriculture and conservation. Most of the island’s approximately 58,000 residents live and work in the coastal areas, leaving the mountainous interior of Kaua’i generally untouched and resplendent.

The scenery is so remarkable and pristine that Hollywood has used the island as a location for all of the “Jurassic Park” movies, as well as dozens of others, including “Six Days, Seven Nights,” “King Kong” and “South Pacific.” Lush landscapes run from the mountain ranges to the sea. Helping to preserve the inspiring views is the fact that no structure can be built more than four stories high, approximately the height of a mature coconut palm tree.

Northern delights

There are five major resort areas on the island, including Princeville on the North Shore where we started our adventure. Just a 45-minute drive from Lihu’e, the area features majestic mountains, wide-open pasture lands, quaint villages and the lovely Hanalei Valley and Hanalei Bay.

Among the choices for accommodations on the North Shore is the Princeville Resort (5520 Ka Haku Road), which is pricey (rates start at $500) but extremely luxurious. Nestled near the base of the famed Bali Hai mountain, it commands one of the most spectacular views in all of Hawaii.

On the North Shore, where there are other hotel and condominium choices, take time to explore Hanalei Town, a charming village with eclectic shops. At many meals during our trip we chose local seafood catches like mahi mahi, but in Hanalei we stopped for lunch at Bubba Burgers, a casual hamburger stand with burgers that hit the spot while we shopped for T-shirts and jewelry.

Also on the northern side of the island, we toured Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens (4101 Wailapa Road), which once was a private estate that was developed into 13 diverse and bounteous garden settings. Spanning 240 acres with tropical hardwoods and fruit trees, the site slopes down to the Pacific Ocean where a meadow is often used for weddings with the aquamarine surf in the background. As visitors wander through the gardens, they’ll find bamboo, red hibiscus, firecracker flowers, a freeform lagoon, waterfall, a Japanese tea house and 70 bronze sculptures set amid the exotic foliage.

Adventure awaits

During the rest of our trip, we used the southern portion of the island as our base for exploring, staying first at the Grand Hyatt Kaua’i Resort and Spa at Po’ipu Beach (1571 Poipu Road), another popular resort area where there is a host of lodging options. The southern side of the island is known as the sunnier side and features great snorkeling and watersports.

Because of its diverse and extraordinary natural environment, Kaua’i has become a destination for adventure seekers. Visitors can choose from horseback riding, great golf, biking, helicopter tours, hiking, surfing lessons, ATV tours, kayaking and more. One of the most popular activities are zipline tours where participants glide down mountainsides hanging to a guideline from a harness. They zip over streams and through the forest canopy at speeds up to 35 mph.

We chose a mountain tubing adventure in which we floated down the irrigation system of an old sugarcane plantation. On the three-hour tour, run by Kaua’i Backcountry Adventures, we drove into the island’s interior with a guide relating the history of the sugar industry on Kaua’i, which has all but vanished. We even sampled a piece of sugarcane. Then we plunked into the waterway, consisting of open ditches, tunnels and flumes, all of which were hand-dug in the 1870s. We wore headlamps to see as we lazily meandered through the tunnels.

An even more relaxing watery adventure was a catamaran voyage along the Napali Coast, a 15-mile stretch of rugged coastline on the northwest shore of Kaua’i. We boarded the vessel, operated by Capt. Andy’s Sailing Adventures, at Port Allen for a four-hour dinner cruise to see the sheer cliffs, which jut abruptly up more than 3,000 feet from the ocean floor. Along the way, we were escorted by spinner dolphins, so-called because of their high spinning leaps.

Dramatic vistas abound on the island, but none are more spectacular than Waimea Canyon on the western half of the island. The largest canyon in the Pacific, it measures 10 miles long, one mile wide and more than 3,500 feet deep. Thousands of years of erosion from rivers and floods have formed the wonder, which Mark Twain dubbed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. We followed Waimea Canyon Drive up 12 miles into the island’s interior, hugging the rim of the canyon.

In the staggering panorama, hues of orange and rust are splashed against tropical greens, with silvery slivers of waterfalls glinting in the distance. The lines of the canyon walls show different volcanic eruptions and lava flows from centuries past. With the splendor of the canyon and the rich history of the nearby town of Waimea as the landing place of English explorer Capt. James Cook in 1778, it’s no wonder that the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Waimea to its prestigious 2006 list of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations, an annual list of unique and lovingly preserved communities.

Wonderful weddings

With such remarkable scenery, Kaua’i offers fantasy settings for weddings and vow renewals, including gardens, 19th century churches, beaches and seaside chapels. Many resorts will help arrange ceremonies, and some even have wedding planners on staff.

Our final hotel, the Kaua’i Marriott Resort and Beach Club in Lihu’e (3610 Rice St.), was where the surprise vow renewal ceremony was held at the resort’s Chapel by the Sea, an exquisite octagonal chapel designed just for weddings. Located atop a 40-acre lagoon near the Pacific Ocean with a Hawaiian guitar player strumming melodies as the gentle tradewinds breezed through the building, it was picture perfect.

The Kaua’i Visitors Bureau offers details online (www.kauaidiscovery.com) about photographers, wedding planners, carriage rides and catering services.

Whether you go to Kaua’i to get married or simply to find some sunny adventures, you’ll fall in love with the beautiful island. It will become a lifelong love affair.

Dennis R. Heinze is regional editor of the AAA Midwest Traveler magazine

Above title: Canoes on the beach with the famed Bali Hai mountains in the distance. Dennis R. Heinze photo

Top: Adventures on Kaua’i include several different zipline tours. Kaua’i Visitors Bureau photo

Below: Waimea Canyon is arguably the island’s most spectacular sight among many. Kaua’i Visitors Bureau photo

Before You Go
For more information about Kaua’i, visit www.kauaidiscovery.com or call the Kaua’i Visitors Bureau at 1-800-262-1400.

To book your trip to Kaua’i, visit your nearest AAA Travel Agency.

Pleasant Holidays is offering its Hawaii Sand Dollars Special to Kaua’i, including six days at the Kaua’i Marriott Resort and Beach Club, roundtrip airfare, $75 food and beverage credit and more for $1,495. Rates are per person double occupancy for select travel through Dec. 7 with departures from Little Rock. Some restrictions apply. Contact your AAA Travel Agent.

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

Order free information through the Reader Service Card online. Click on Reader Resources.

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