My flight down was uneventful; left early, medium layover in Honolulu, and on to Lihue. Even that last leg was only 30 minutes in the air, but still rated a 5-seat Boeing jet; not that I'm complaining, mind you.
What were the first three things I got to do after being picked up at the airport? Shop at Costco, shop at K-Mart, and shop at Payless shoes. *sigh* After that thrilling adventure, we headed down to the hotel. Which was freaking amazing. Only half the lobby has a ceiling. It has parrots. It has a swan. It has waterfalls. It has a huge koi pond. It has three hottubs, several pools, and a private saltwater lagoon. Just wow. Spent a bit of time at the pool (which was carved out of volcanic rock, made into a freshwater lagoon, with two water slides!), got some food, and had an early night.
The next morning (Wed) was a very early start (5am) so we could go snorkeling off the Na Pali coast. It was a fun and beautiful cruise, taking about 2 hours out with some sightseeing along the way, then an hour for snorkeling and lunch, and then a bit over an hour back. By leaving early, you get better ocean conditions for traveling and swimming. We got to see a lot of very nice parts of the coast, including going into some caves, and many beaches where various films have been made. We also got to see some beautiful dolphins, through they were mostly sleeping. My sister had booked us with a smaller company, because they used a Zodiac boat, and that sounded more fun than some larger cruise ship. We had envisioned blasting along the water, holding on to the straps to keep from falling off, but no: this was the largest and most "consumer-friendly" Zodiac I'd ever seen. In the end, this was probably for the best, as it was still fun to sit on the bow, tuck your feet under the safety rope, get a loose grip on the upper ropes, and bounce along the waves, but after you got tired of that, you could head back under the shade and sit in peace on the benches. The snorkeling itself was fun, but actually took a lot of getting used to. I was not about to shave, so finding a mask that wouldn't leak around my facial hair was a challenge. Also, despite my many years of proficient swimming, it took some doing to convince my body that even though my nose and mouth were underwater I could still breathe. I took a break about 20 minutes in, had lunch, and went back in later. It was way more fun that second time, as I didn't have the fear associated with acclimatizing myself to the water. There were many, lovely, colorful fish to see, and you could easily see the bottom of the ocean about 20 feet down. The more adventurous swimmers actually would take a breath and go down to explore it close-up. The only downside (and those who are squeamish will want to skip to the next paragraph here), is that it turns out that fish poop. A lot. This was kind of a big turnoff, because given the swarms of fish around the boat (they release fish food so that us tourists are guaranteed a nice selection of fish to ogle), there's a good chance you'll get to see the pooping up close. There was much more... pleasant snorkeling to be had close to the coast, away from the boats. Fewer fish, yes, but no less colorful, and much more clear water.
This excursion also marked my one sunburn mishap: although most of my body was well protected, I apparently forgot my feet, so I had these nice squares of dark red where my sandals were. :(
After this, we went driving around Waimea Canyon ("The Grand Canyon of Hawaii"), and it was very, very pretty, but at this point the afternoon fog started to roll in, so our views were somewhat limited. It is at this point that I need to talk about the chickens. I had not been adequately prepared for just how pervasive wild chickens are on the island. They were freaking everywhere. Every parking lot we would stop at, there would unfailingly be 2-3 roosters, some chickens, and a brood of chicks following one around, the lot of them looking for handouts from visitors. Despite the temptation, I did not capture a rooster to make an impromptu Coq au Vin; after all, I'd left my cast iron pots at home.
For a late lunch, we stopped at Waimea Brewing Company, who bill themselves as the "World's Westernmost Brewery", a claim I do find plausible (anyone know of any breweries in the Aleutians?). The food was decent, and the beers ranged from awful to strange to fantastic. The light beers were overall a disappointment; the Wai'ale'ale Ale the best of the lot, being crisp and drinkable if not particularly compelling. The Lilikoi Ale is brewed with passion fruit, and was decent, but mostly bizarre. The darker beers were the winners here: though the Uli Brown was OK, the others were really good, with the Pakala Porter being possibly the best porter I've ever had. It had (as advertised) a smooth, rich flavor with chocolate and "roasted" notes, yet it was not too thick or heavy a beer. Five stars on that one! For desert, we stopped at Jojo's Shave Ice, for a Hawaiian treat. My associates' selections were OK (their banana flavor is *terrible*), but I had gotten the coconut ice with shaved coconut and coconut cream, all on top of Lappert's macadamia nut ice cream, and it was phenomenal. *Highly* recommended.
After heading back to the hotel for more resting and swimming, we headed up north on the next morning (Thu), up to Ke'e Beach. On the way, I took another one of seleniumdream's suggestions, and stopped at Hanalima Baking for some pastries. *Very* good choice; everything I had there was excellent. After a very long drive, we arrive at Ke'e. At the beach, there there is a coral reef just off shore, which makes the ocean very calm and full of fish, so this was another snorkeling opportunity. Well, it would have been, if I'd had a mask that didn't leak. Ah, well, it was still a very nice place to just take a leisurely swim in ocean, with some breaks to bob along the surface. Bliss.
From there, we drove back down south, with brief stops at Anini Beach, and the lighthouse, for some sightseeing. Another stop in Kapaa for some clothes shopping and more ice cream from Lappert's, and then down to the Koloa Rum Company. This place has just started up about 9 months ago, turning the local sugarcane into delicious beverages. For the tasting, the hostess warned us several times that this was young rum, and so would be very harsh and alcoholic. To my palate, she was exaggerating, because this rum was actually quite tasty and smooth for its (lack of) age. I thought the gold the best of the bunch; the dark had too much unrefined burnt wood and vanilla. Unfortunately, they are asking more than I was prepared to spend for the bottles. At $15, it would be a bargain; at $20 (or slightly more), a fair price. They wanted $32 for a 750ml of the golden rum, and it just wasn't worth it. They have started barreling it, though, so I will happily return in 2 years for the first bottling of the aged rum. Hopefully, that will be worth what they ask.
The next stop was Poipu Beach Park, just west of our hotel. While Ke'e Beach was nice and calm for swimming and snorkeling, with surprisingly non-tropical vegetation on the beach, and Polihale was perhaps the most picturesque beach on the island, Poipu Beach was the closest to paradise. Stunning palm trees, sand that was hot but not scorching, huge beach, modern amenities (benches, restrooms), great water with a variety of conditions (to keep both surfers and swimmers happy), and a very neat sandbar that you can walk out on during lower tides. Most importantly, it's easy to get to and has safe swimming (very much unlike Polihale). Just perfect; if I were designing a beach, this is what it would look like.
That night, we had dinner at the high-end restaurant, in a lovely semi-private table, on top of the koi pond, right next to a waterfall (is this paradise, or what?). The fish have learned that newly-seated patrons are likely to throw bread into the water, so they tend to gather right next your table as you sit down. If bread is thrown, it quickly becomes a feeding frenzy. Table-side entertainment, I tell you. Dinner was exquisite, with the surprise hit being the prime rib; the horseradish in particular was exactly the correct balance of spicy/hot and creamy. My fish (opah) was quite good, but it was outshone by the side of crab stuffed shrimp.
The next day (Fri), we had no particular need to go anywhere; indeed, the plan for my sister and her husband was precisely to do nothing. I spent the morning around the hotel and at the pools, enjoying myself and leering at the scenery. :) They wanted to spend some time at the spa together, leaving me to head off to another of Robert's suggestions: the Friday night artwalk in Hanapepe. This was a blast! I don't think I can capture this properly in words; even pictures do no justice. Let's see what I can do... there was a band ("Boarderline Cool"); quite decent, playing a sort of Hawaiian reggae. Or maybe reggae-inspired Hawaiian. Whatever, it was surprisingly good. They were playing under a wooden awning covered in Christmas lights, surrounded by families and a lot of young children. You could hear them all down the blocks. This was not a huge area, after all: the main drag only lasted maybe three short blocks, and it was packed tight with one or two story buildings, each one with a food stand or truck right in front of it. Thanks to Robert's suggestions, I knew to order the vinegar sausage from Mele's Kuisina (good, but *much* better the next morning), and some pie. From the pie vendor. Because they had a *pie vendor*. The mango+lilikoi pie was very good, but the "paradise pie" (macadamia nut+coconut+pineapple) stole the show. YUM. Unfortunately, most of the local artists were not to my taste. In fact, I think several were simply bad. There were a few gems, though most of what I loved was well out of my price range. One artist was this Israeli gentleman who I think is actually a Name in the art world (wish I could remember it). I liked what I saw, and he was clearly very talented, but nothing of his really called to me. One artist, though, had some stuff that I did quite like: Saim Caglayan. His studio had a nice selection of paintings that were really quite good, if, well, not exactly breaking new ground. One in particular really stood out to me, and his asking price was reasonable. I decided to look around the rest of the artwalk, and revisit it to see if I still loved it as much on a second viewing. I did indeed, so I took it home. Squee! This is far from the first time I've purchased art from the artist themselves, but somehow it is the most significant to me so far. Perhaps it is my love of palm trees, or beaches, or perhaps I am just a sucker for oil paint and impasto, but I am thrilled to have it in my home; now I just need to find the perfect spot to display it.
Saturday started out frustrating. After an early trip to drop off my sister and brother-in-law at the airport, I headed over to Hanalima Baking for a coconut turnover (a long story that I elided above was that I was cruelly denied the one I'd bought previously). Despite only opening 10 minutes prior, they were sold out. Someone came in and bought out the entire day's run. Curses! OK, head over to yet another of Robert's suggestions, the Kalapaki Beach Hut for some breakfast and, more importantly, taro fries. They were out of those too. Yeah, I was their first customer of they day, and they didn't have any. Turns out "the guy who brings them" didn't that day. Awesome. (I did end up being able to try these, as they were open the next day before my flight, and they were worth the trip!) Fine, well, I'm on my own at this point, so I'll just have breakfast at the hotel, and find a farmer's market. Oh, on Saturdays, there are two farmer's markets, except, whoops!, they are tiny, and at opposite ends of the island (I'm essentially in the middle at this point). Fantastic. Grumblegrumble. OK, fine, I'll drive all the way out to Kekaha. It turned out to be a better drive than I'd planned on, and even though the market itself was really only about 10 people selling produce out the back of their trucks, there was still a decent selection of produce. I grabbed a bunch, and headed back towards the hotel.
But first, I wanted to check out more of Kauai's beaches. The painting that I bought was done at Salt Pond Beach, just outside Hanapepe, so of course I had to stop. A very nice beach, though smaller than I'd imagined. As the artist had warned me, the shockingly red wooden lifeguard tower in the painting has been shamefully replaced by the modern white plastic variety. From there, it was back to Poipu Beach Park. I'd not spent *near* enough time there, I decided, and explored it a bit more, walking from end to end, taking many pictures, and just enjoying being there.
After my sunscreen ran out, it was a quick trip back to the hotel for a tropical fruit-based lunch. :) After all, I couldn't take anything back to the mainland, really (pulpy fruits are a no-no, to prevent cross-ecosystem insect contamination). The papaya I had were decent, but nothing special. The passion fruit (lilikoi) were mostly underripe (despite the assurances given); the one ripe one was very good, and the others tasted of lemon with a hint of pepper. I could probably turn them into a tasty sauce with the right equipment, but "sunshine in my mouth" they were not. The "mountain apples" were interesting; something like a bitter pear, but in elongated apple form. The longan fruit were good: 2/3 lychee, 1/3 honeydew. The lychee were some of the best I've had: nice, deeply red ripeness, and sweet. Lovely. The winner, though, for pure WTFness, was the eggfruit. Think of a small orange turnip, with the texture of an underripe avocado, that is only slightly sweet, and tastes like a cross between maple syrup and a sweet potato, only not. It was surprisingly good, and I don't even like sweet potatoes!
The rest of the day was spent at the hotel's spa, alternating between the (clothing-optional) steam room, sauna, hottub, and 12-headed and outdoor showers. A good chunk of time was also spent just catching up on my reading. All in all, a very relaxing way to while away my final day. From there, dinner, more hottubbing, and the natural end to any vacation: packing, and a desperately ambivalent departure.
I'm already planning a return.