By Eric Ladd Explorebigsky.com Publisher
Photos by Aaron Feinberg
alo: sharing, in the present
oha: joyous affection, joy
ha: life energy, life, breath
The true meaning of this famous Hawaiian term is “in the presence of life.”
When you visit Kauai, you feel the ‘Aloha’ spirit in many ways.
Located on the northern end of the Hawaiian chain, Kauai is 562 square miles and geologically the oldest island. Often referred to as the “garden isle,” it’s blessed with ample fresh water and is truly an island getaway.
With diverse natural resources, Kauai is known for its spiritual nature, lush jungles, the stunning Na Pali coastline and nearby Kalalau Valley overlook. Ancient Taro plant fields dot the landscape, and romantic Hanalei Bay Beach is one of the world’s most beautiful.
Accommodations range from well-organized campgrounds to pampered spa resorts overlooking the ocean. The island’s various adventures are also suited for a range of interests, from families exploring the ocean with dolphins, to adrenalin junkies surfing Kauai’s legendary North Shore breaks.
Three ways to explore Kauai
Backpacking the Na Pali Coast
Spanning 15 miles and protecting 6,175 acres of isolated, roadless wilderness, the Na Pali coastline is a treasured stop for any visitor to Kauai. As you explore the narrow, winding roads of the North Shore, you’ll end up at Ke’e Beach, which is where the Kalalau Trail begins. Known as one of the most arduous and scenic hikes in the world, the 11-mile trail is a backpacker’s dream.
Farmers and fishermen first settled this region in 1200 A.D. The dramatic setting is home to the largest valley on the North Shore, Kalalau Valley. While many choose to see the Na Pali Coast via helicopter or boat tour, hiking the Kalalau Trail is a journal-worthy adventure.
A solid day, or a civilized two-day journey, this challenging hike is filled with stream crossings; narrow, slick trails; sheer drop-offs and scenic ocean views. The trip takes most hikers an average of five to eight hours each way. While regulated, the trail has become popular – be prepared for a mini-Woodstock style campground at Kalalau Beach, fronted by a mile-long strip of pearl white sand.
If you have more time, worthy side activities include hikes to hidden waterfalls and lush jungle pools, bartering with local Kalalau dwellers, and cribbage on the beach.
Pack light, bring plenty of water, be prepared to guard yourself from the sun and rain, and take extra time to stop and cherish this journey. Treat all drinking water, bring a deck of cards and get ready to see the best sunset of your life.
After mile two, the crowds subside and you’ll have the trail to yourself. Rumor has it you can pay locals to shuttle your gear to the beach via boat.
Must-bring gear: Sarong and hiking poles
Pampered at the St. Regis Princeville
Blessed daily with the last sunset in the United States, the St. Regis overlooking Hanalei Bay is arguably one of the finest luxury resorts in the world.
With a 93 percent return ratio for employees, and guests arriving from around the globe, this is a special place. Its motto: “Anticipating your expectations.”
The St. Regis Princeville boasts 51 suites with butler service and a cleaning station for hiking boots in the lobby entrance. Sophisticated, yet at home with the laid-back North Shore vibe, its amenities include poolside service, a private, quiet beach and a valet team that helps make the stay at St. Regis both refined and memorable.
You’ll plan to go back.
Tip: Get a taro butter couples massage in 10,000 sq/ft St. Regis Spa
St. Regis Spa … A deep breath
(A female guest’s account)
Upon arrival, I toured the spa, which included a steam room, sauna, five-point shower and relaxation rooms, all while sipping coconut cream tea. Later that day, we had a couple’s massage. The masseuses were thorough, asking detailed questions about our health and massage preferences. Aromas filled the room, and hot stones were placed in all the right locations. Sixty minutes later, my breathing had slowed, and my mind was clear and focused. Sushi and a martini from the St. Regis lounge was a lovely ending to an incredible experience.
Exploring the South Shore from Koa Kea
Along the bustling South Shore near the town of Poipu lies a tranquil oasis, Koa Kea. Recently rebuilt after being leveled in the 1992 hurricane Iniki, this small resort has a swank, yet minimalistic style, many of its 121 rooms with intimate oceanfront decks. A quiet pool courtyard in the heart of the resort offers guests an exquisite private setting.
Highlights include in-room Nespresso machines, clean, modern décor, quiet, clamshell shaped beaches, calm swimming waters and direct access to some of the best beginner surf. The resort is ideally located near trails, golf, parks and other attractions.
Translated, Koa Kea means “white coral” – a perfect match for the style, look and location of the luxury oceanfront resort.
Tip: Visit the gift shop for jars of Hawaiian-made red salt as a gift to bring home.
Where to eat
North Shore – The Dolphin
The Dolphin in Hanalei is a fish market, restaurant and sushi lounge. Couple a teriyaki-glazed tuna steak with a Coconut Porter from the Maui Brewing Company. hanaleidolphin.com
South Shore – Red Salt
Red Salt, a quaint restaurant in Koa Kea Resort, serves up massive six-ounce martinis, sushi and mushroom bisque. koakea.com/dining-at-red-salt
Fish tacos – Island Taco
Island Taco in Waimea is a must-stop locals’ favorite. Grab a drink from the smoothie stand across the street and pair it with a Seared Wasabi Ahi Taco for mid-day meal perfection.
Hip – Tortilla Republic
With locations in Poipu, Kauai and Hollywood, California, this fast-moving establishment features guacamole made fresh at your table, an extensive margarita list and live house music. tortillarepublic.com
Good for the soul
North Shore: Yoga Hanalei
Multiple classes are offered daily; the smell of fresh-roasted coffee surrounds the studio. yogahanalei.com
South Shore: Kalaheo Yoga
Look for a class led by Paul Reynolds in this well-appointed studio. kalaheoyoga.com
Aaron Feinberg Photography
“I try to connect the viewer to what I see,” says the self-taught artist. He captures this in the ephemeral drama of a breaking wave, in Kauai’s beaches and starry nights, and in his fine art nudes.
Since moving to the island for a restaurant job in 2007 after three winters ski bumming in Alta, Utah, and taking on photography full time in 2009, Feinberg has won accolades from National Geographic and American Photo Magazine, among others.
A Long Island, New York-native, he loves the rural nature of Kauai.
“On the North Shore, where I live, the bar closes at 10 p.m. and the closest movie theater is 45 minutes away. But open up my front door, and you have one of the craziest views in the world.” – E.S.
See more of Feinberg’s work at expandingvisualreality.com, or at his galleries in Hanalei, Poipu and Princeville, Kauai.
This story was first published in the summer 2013 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.