Taro is a traditional form of food sustenance and nutrition in ancient Hawaiian culture. It is a root vegetable grown in large flooded fields. The edible tuber is cooked and mashed into a smooth starchy food called Poi. I’ve never eaten any but reports are it looks like sticky purple pudding and seems a little like eating paste. I gather its an acquired taste. My interest in it was limited to photographing the fields where they grow.
The first time we headed up to the North Shore the large taro fields before Hanalei immediately caught my eye. I quickly made plans to drop my wife at the nearest shopping opportunity so I could head back out with my camera.
Its possible to get down low and close to the Taro and get shots of the field extending out with the mountains as a backdrop.
Throw in a few clouds and you have the potential for some dramatic shots. Here a farmer walks among his crop.
I spent some time watching that same farmer use a tractor to prepare a field for planting. It almost looked like the tractor was magically floating on the water.
One of the best views of the Taro fields can be seen at the Hanalei Valley overlook just off the highway on the way to Hanalei Bay. While I was truly captivated by this view and spent more than a few minutes photographing it other visitors were not so taken. I watched a car pull off into the overlook, drive slowly past as a woman held a video camera high out the window and then speed off down the highway. Seriously folks, slow down and smell the Taro. This ain’t the mainland!
While the overlook is a great place to take it all in, its also a great place to push in and photograph the details. The well defined grid of fields makes for some great shots based on patterns.
While the North Shore is filled to bursting with spectacular scenery, don’t forget to spend a little time to check out the Taro Fields. Its worth the effort.
Kauai’s Waimea Canyon has often been called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and having stood on its rim overlooking its beauty I can certainly see why. But how does it actually compare to the real Grand Canyon in Arizona? Well, I visited Kauai in 2010 and recently returned from a trip to the Grand Canyon so I thought I would have a go at comparing them.
Waimea Canyon (WC) is 10 miles /16km long while the Grand Canyon (GC) is 277 miles/433 km long.
WC is 3000 feet / 900 m deep compared to 5200 feet / 1600 m for GC.
WC is 1 mile / 1.6 km wide while GC is 18 miles / 28 km at its widest.
Okay, clearly GC is longer, deeper and wider but how do they compare visually? How about I show you some photos of both canyons and let you judge?
Which one is more spectacular? I’ll leave that up to you. However, I do know that both are so big and so beautiful that its very tough to make images that do them justice. Even when I was standing beside them gazing out they somehow didn’t seem ‘real’.
In most of my blog posts I’ve picked a location and tried to paint a picture of that place in your mind with words and images. This post is different. Kauai is the most colorful place I have ever been to. Here is a taste of those colors in images from all over the island both above and below the water.
Only when the world runs out of color will I start shooting Black and White.
I heard those words from my wife standing beside me as we first walked out on Kauai’s westernmost point, Polihale Beach.
We had talked about coming out a few days before and to tell you the truth I wasn’t sure I wanted to come. I had heard stories about people getting stuck on the road. I had heard it was hot. I had heard there was no shade. I had heard there were no trees. Suddenly all that didn’t matter and I was plenty glad we did come.
Yes the road had a few sketchy sections. Yes its was hot. No there were no trees or shade. But oh what a glorious beach!
Polihale is one of Hawaii’s longest stretch of Beach. Its a remote, wild beach characterized by rough waves, rapid drops and rip currents. There is no reef barrier to protect the beach from waves. The only safe spot for a swim is at Queen’s Pond located about midway along the shoreline. We happened to visit on a very calm day and there were some people swimming but from what I’ve read it can be pretty dangerous.
The northern end of the beach lies at the start of the Na Pali Coast with its world famous cliffs. Although we didn’t stay that long from what I’ve seen of other photos this is a great place to take sunset photos especially when the last golden light of the day plays on the cliffs.
Because of its remoteness, its often not crowded. It makes a great place to wander the beach and get lost in its beauty.
Even the local dogs like watching the waves roll in.
Or if you’re more energetic there is plenty of room to run.
When we were there a group of locals had rolled out onto the beach and set up their shade tents. I stopped and talked with them for a little while. They were pretty friendly.
Despite the great beauty of this beach, I found it a bit tough to come away with a photo I was really happy with. This was one of my favorites and gives weight to the adage that sometimes simpler is better.
Despite some of the difficulties in getting there, Polihale is well worth the effort.
The small island of Ni’ihau lies 18 miles southwest of Kauai across the Kaulakahi Channel. Nicknamed ‘The Forbidden Isle’ due to it being generally off-limits to all except for the owners and their relatives, Ni’ihau is the seventh largest inhabited Hawaiian Island.
Ni’ihau was purchased from the Kingdom of Hawaii by Elizabeth Sinclair in 1864 for $10,000 in gold and private ownership of the island has passed down to her descendants, the Robertson family.
About 130 people live on Ni’ihau, nearly all native Hawaiians. This is the only island where Hawaiian is spoken as the primary language. The only power on the island is solar and water comes from rainwater catchment. There is no telephone service and no automobiles. Horses and bicycles are the main form of transportation.
Ni’ihau played a small role in the attack on Pearl Harbor when a Japanese fighter pilot crashed on the island and terrorized its residents for a week. In another claim to fame, some scenes for Jurassic Park were filmed on the island in 1992.
Ni’ihau is also home to some of the best diving in all the Hawaiian Islands which is how I heard about it. In researching scuba diving locations before our trip to Kauai, I read numerous accounts of the great diving here. However, I was disappointed to learn that the dive companies generally stop their trips out to Ni’ihau before we were to arrive in October due to how rough the waters in the channel get in the winter.
I had resigned myself to missing this opportunity and did some local diving off the south shore with Seasport Divers. I got to the know the skipper a bit on the dives and was both surprised and delighted to be invited on a quick charter they were going to squeeze in to Ni’ihau because the weather was unexpectedly calm. Needless to say I jumped at the chance. My wife later asked how much it cost and I had to admit that I never even asked! Oh well, its bad karma to worry about price on bucket list events.
I was up early on dive day for a 6am meet at the dive shop. I was so excited I set no less then 3 alarm clocks to make sure I didn’t miss it. We boarded the dive boat at Kukuiula Harbor and were treated to a nice sunrise to start the big day.
The crossing to Ni’ihau took about 2 hours. It was a pretty nice crossing as the waves were very calm. As we approached the island we could see the cliffs on the northern end of the island dropping steeply to a flat sandy area.
We had planned 3 dives mostly on the northern end of the island between Ni’ihau and the small Lehua Rock just to the north. These were advanced dives with a special gas mixture called Nitrox which extends the time you can stay underwater without getting into decompression requirements.
Lehua Rock itself is an interesting piece of geology with its dramatic layers of lava sediment from eons past clearly visible.
With the boat anchored between Ni’ihau and Lehua Rock, we entered the water for the first dive. You’ll have to excuse the quality of the dive photos since I don’t have an underwater housing for my main camera and was forced to use my Point and Shoot camera in a small housing.
A terrific feature of diving here are the vertical walls. I think this one was taken on a dive called Vertical Awareness (hmmm, wonder why?).
Another great feature is the abundance of underwater life. I was taking some video of the sheer number of small tropical fish and got surprised when a Giant Trevally came lumbering by. Its not everyday you get to see a fish of this size up close underwater.
Here is another short clip of that Trevally. I think he liked me (either that or I looked like a nice snack!). Keep in mind that this fella was about 3 feet long.
When Giant Trevally’s aren’t swimming by there is plenty to look at on the bottom. These are likely some sort of Hawaiian Polyclad Flatworms.
I think this is a Crown of Thorns sea star which is not necessarily welcome on the reef as they can have devastating consequences to the coral.
This is one of my personal favorite (aside from Humuhumunukunukuapua’a), the Hawaiian Lionfish.
On our second dive we swam through some cool caves (although technically these would be known as caverns since you can see an entrance at all times).
Here’s a short video of swimming through one.
One of the caves had some Black Coral growing down from the ceiling,
…and a Spiny Lobster hiding out inside.
When you dive multiple times in a day you have to spend some time on the surface in between dives to give your body a chance to get rid of the nitrogen which builds up in your body during a dive. These ‘surface intervals’ are really enjoyable since they generally involve sitting in the sun, eating and swapping dive stories with other people. During one surface interval we had a visit by the local Monk Seal. I’m not sure what the square patch on his back is. Maybe he was tagged with a radio transmitter at one time.
During another one of our surface intervals the snorkel tour boat in the photo below called our captain. It seems that a newly married guy on their boat had lost his $10,000 wedding ring when he jumped in the water and they wanted to know if our skipper could dive down and look for it. Our boat pulled over and our fearless captain went in. I didn’t have high hopes for finding a small ring in a big ocean but he came back up a few minutes later with the ring. And not only that ring but he had found another one as well! I gather this is not uncommon since one of the dive masters related a similar story of being hired to find a wedding ring at Kipu Falls (he found it).
One of the creatures I get a kick out of meeting underwater is the sea turtle. They’re so calm and graceful underwater and generally have a ‘who cares’ attitude about divers. Here’s a short video of one such encounter.
The highlight of the diving was our encounter with a number of Spotted Eagle Rays. This is the first time I’ve seen these graceful underwater fliers and it was a pleasure. We encountered groups of them a number of times but this was about the best video I got of them.
After finishing our final dive we headed home across the channel. As often happens, the wind had kicked up in the afternoon making the 3 hour crossing a bit of a punishing wave slamming adventure. Luckily, the crew was used to this and had laid out mats on the dry covered portion of the deck for us weary divers to sleep on. Everyone was pretty tired but very happy when hit the dock back on Kauai at 8pm. Having started at 6am it made for a long but incredibly satisfying day.
And what comes after a perfect day of diving? A perfect Kauai sunset of course!
Author’s note: after writing this post I got curious about Ni’ihau. I found a couple of posts on youtube that, although a little dry, give a pretty fascinating tour on the island with some interesting historical tidbits.
While we were on Kauai we settled into a daily rhythm of sightseeing during the day and then about 2 or 3 pm we would look for a beach to have a little downtime on. We’re beach people and we love settling in on the warm sand and listening to waves lapping on shore. Without even being aware it became our unwritten mission to try and hit a different beach every day (I’m happy to report that we failed in that mission even after 2 weeks!).
On one day we chose Baby Beach. Even with guidebook in hand it took us a little while to find the entrance. After visiting the Spouting Horn (for the third time, seems my wife couldn’t get enough of those $15 pearl strings!) we turned off of Lawai Road on to Hoona Road just fine, but it took us a little while to find the tiny entrance to the beach. However, once we parked and walked down we discovered how cute this little beach was.
It’s not big and the snorkeling isn’t any good but for an out of the way place without the crowds to tuck in and let the clouds drift by it was ideal.
The water is shallow and protected by a reef just offshore making its waters popular for swimming with small children.
One glance at the homes tucked away at the end of the beach left me daydreaming of owning one.
The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail on Kauai’s South Shore is a striking coastal hike that takes you from the end of Shipwreck Beach along sand-dune cliffs, Kiawe trees, limestone formations and rocky bluffs and inlets to Mahaulepu Beach and beyond. It is the last stretch of accessible coastline on the south shore that remains undeveloped.
Mahaulepu’s name (MA-HA OO-LAY-POO) comes from a legendary battle that took place in the 1300’s when Kalaunuio Hua, a Big Island ruler, tried to conquer all the islands. Legend has it that Kukona, the 7th Alii Aimoku (King or Chief) of Kauai at that time, met the invaders on Mahaulepu Beach, led them on a merry chase inland and then conquered them when they were all tuckered out. This gave Kauai the historical distinction as an island that was never conquered.
Hiking on the trail is fairly easy with no great elevation gains or losses and you can walk for as little or as long as you want before turning back. The scenery is stunning. Some of my favorite photos from the whole island were taken on this hike.
There is no shortage of interesting things to look at and photograph on this trail. We stopped to watch a local getting into the water (spearfishing?) at a location that I wouldn’t have thought possible. I was quite sure he was going to get pounded into the rocks by the large waves but evidently he was experienced at it. You can see him at the base of the cliffs in the photo below.
Towards the end of the first section of bluffs on the trail there are interesting pillar formations.
We found some carvings on some of pillars but somehow I don’t think its from the ancient Hawaiians.
As you continue along the cliffs you begin to get views of the emerald green mountains which lie along the coast between Poipu and Lihue. At the base of the mountain you can see a little bit of the Poipu Bay Golf Course.
The trail continues past the golf course to Mahaulepu Beach. We were getting hot and thirsty so we decided to head back to Shipwreck beach and go up to the Hyatt for cold drinks (highly recommended by the way, a cold beer never tasted quite so good!).
A few days later we had the opportunity to visit some of the farther sections of the trail. My wife had booked a horseback ride at CJM Stables (highly recommended, she had a great time) which is just beyond the golf course. I’ve long since learned that back problems and horses don’t mix well so while she was on the ride I took my camera for a hike on the trail and beach. It worked out well since the path taken by the trail riders comes down onto the beach so I got some shots of them there.
If you drive past the Hyatt you pass a gate and enter a dirt road. This road takes you CJM Stables (turn off to right) and also allows you to drive down and park very close to Mahaulepu Beach. This is a very good access point for the farther sections of trail but the road is a little rough. There is a lot to explore in this area including Gillin’s Beach, limestone cave, the lovely Mahaulepu Beach itself and the striking area of trail beyond the beach. Make sure you get back out past the gate before 6pm, however, since they seem to close it for the night.
The beach area is very scenic with views of sand, water and mountains broken up by very colorful green plants which seem to thrive on the sand. Not a lot of people seem to go there and at one point we had the beach all to ourselves.
I spent some time watching a local spearfisherman getting ready to go out.
Continuing past Mahaulepu Beach, there is another area of rugged coast and gorgeous views.
I didn’t have time to fully explore this area when we were there. I’m definitely going to spend more time here the next time we visit. If you love hiking and gorgeous coastal scenery I highly recommend this hike.
Shipwreck Beach is a small beach located in front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel on the South Shore of Kauai. It has plenty of sand for relaxing in the sun and lots of great scenery to keep your eyes occupied.
The cliffs at far end of the beach are a focal point for visitors. They are famed for the Harrison Ford and Anne Heche plunge from the cliff in ‘6 days and 7 Nights’. Clearly some of the locals watched that movie.
The cliffs are also popular spots for weddings and photo sessions.
The steep shore break on Shipwreck Beach make it a local favorite for body surfing but result in challenging conditions for swimming. Fair warning given that the waves can slam you around pretty good on this beach if you aren’t a strong swimmer or know how to time your entrance and exit.
I watched this lady after she jumped off the cliff and then swam around to get out on the beach. I was actually a little concerned (the former lifeguard in me) when she got caught between some rocks on shore and a large incoming wave but she got out okay. I latter zoomed in on the photo and got quite a chuckle out of the look on her face as she watched that big incoming wave starting to pile up.
During one visit to Shipwreck Beach, my wife and I went swimming to cool off after sitting in the sun. We were looking behind us at incoming waves to time our exit and to my delight (and my wife’s great concern) we could see the image of a green sea turtle riding the wave in. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen my wife get out of the water so fast. We had a good laugh later about it. That image was so cool it will remain in my mind forever.
The frequency of waves on this beach make it a good location if you are interested in shooting some longer exposure wave photos. You will need a tripod, polarizing filter and at least a 3 stop ND filter to cut down the light enough to shoot at 1/4 to 1/2 second shutter speed required to give the waves the impression of motion. Shoot at the lowest ISO your camera offers.
Public access to the beach is between Poipu Bay Resort Golf Course & the Hyatt. Also, the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail starts here and is a great hike to explore the otherwise inaccessible coastline. This is a spectacular trail and will be the subject of my next post.
The South Shore of Kauai is known for its abundant sun and generally drier weather than other areas of the island to the north and east. Poipu is the main resort area in the south. Poipu beach is Kauai’s most popular beach and a highlight of the South Shore. It was once named Amercia’s Best Beach by the Travel Channel. Its not hard to see why.
The beach area has large sections of soft sand to park yourself and gaze into the warm inviting waters.
The swimming areas are split by a ‘tombolo’ (known as Nukumoi Point). A tombolo is a narrow piece of land extending from short to an island.
The tombolo is popular with beach visitors and provides endless entertainment.
The beach has a protected swimming area for kids and lifeguard services.
One of the special things about this beach is its attraction to the Hawaiian Monk Seal. They are often found basking in the sun on the beach after an active night of feeding.
The Hawaiian Monk Seal is one of the most critically endangered marine mammals on earth and is subject to federal protection. In a very refreshing twist to the usual situation, its the wildlife that decides where it wants to go and the people move aside. When a Monk Seal decides what area of the beach is his (or hers) its your responsibility to move and keep clear. On more than one occasion we witnessed a team of volunteers setting up barriers around the seal to ensure their privacy. See the Kauai Monk Seal Watch Program for more information.
The area to the right of the tombolo has the best snorkeling. Large honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles) frequent the area. They are very special to see while snorkeling. There are also a large variety of different kinds of colorful tropical fish including my personal favorite the state fish of Hawaii, the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa (and yes my daughter and I spent time learning how to say the name).
For as popular a beach as Poipu is, it never seemed overcrowded to us. We enjoyed the opportunity to people watch and let the gentle waves wash the stress away.
In the late afternoon the crowds thin out even further as people head home for dinner.
As the sun begins to set those with a photographic eye will see many opportunities for unique and beautiful photos.
The beach is a great spot to watch the sunset. We would sometimes stroll down there from our condo with a drink and take in the beauty.
Here are a few photos taken on our last night on Kauai.
Even after the sun goes down Poipu Beach is still a gorgeous place.
America’s best beach? You won’t get any argument from me!
The Kalalau Trail is a stunning 11 mile trail winding its way along the rugged Na Pali coast of Kauai. National Geographic called this the ‘finest coastal hike in the world‘ and I’m certainly not going to argue with that.
Most people (like us) only hike the first 2 miles into Hanakapiai Beach. Some folks venture a further 2 miles up to Hanakapia Falls while others continue on to hike the whole trail.
The trail starts at Ke’e Beach which is as far as you can drive on the North Shore. The area past Ke’e Beach south west to Polihale Beach is so rugged and deeply cut by valleys and knife edged pali (cliffs) that building a road is impossible. Arrive early if you want to park close to the trail head.
The trail is very well marked and well travelled. From the trail head you steadily climb along a trail mostly in the trees.
About half a mile in you come to the highest point between the trail head and Hanakapiai Beach, about 500 feel above sea level. This is the first real lookout and you get a nice view down onto Ke’e Beach.
The trail winds its way along the coast sometimes traversing hillsides on switchbacks.
The views back up the valleys are stunning.
As you make your way farther along the trail the views of the Na Pali coast and its azure blue waters begin to tantalize you.
As you approach Hanakapiai Beach you begin to get a taste of what’s in store.
Rounding the corner and heading down to the beach you get some spectacular views of the beach and the Na Pali coast beyond.
Descending down to the beach there is a sign warning of the dangers of swimming here. The currents are far too dangerous to go in the water and more than a few people have died (check out the hash marks at the bottom of the sign – I counted 82).
To get onto the beach you need to cross a stream. When we were there it had been pretty dry and so crossing was easy but apparently it can get more challenging after its been raining.
Most people were crossing right where the trail met the stream and had to get their feet wet. We went downstream a little ways and were able to hop from rock to rock.
Hanakapiai Beach has a wide sandy bar capturing a small pond where you splash around if you like.
For a bit of added interest check out the caves just around the corner to the left.
If you have a thirst for adventure you can continue on the trail another 9 miles, traversing 5 valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach. I hate heights and exposure so there was no way I was continuing on past Hanakapia Beach. Check out this youtube video for a view of some of the ‘sketchy’ sections you encounter at about mile 7 (and no that’s not me in the video):
On your way back to Ke’e Beach make sure you take in the views walking the other way. They are just as spectacular!
Its safe to say that the Kalalau Trail was one of the highlights of our trip. To fully enjoy it make sure you bring the proper gear and are aware of the risks:
Bring lots of water. The trail is mostly open to the sun and it gets hot. There is no where to get water on the trail and you don’t want to run out.
Bring food. You will be on the trail for several hours so bring something to eat.
Wear appropriate footwear. Although we did see people in flip flops I don’t think that’s a very good idea. Runners or light trail shoes will do the trick. Be warned though, the mud on the trail is very red and will badly stain any shoes. I brought an old pair of light trail shoes that were ready for the garbage anyway. Also beware that after rain the trail can get very slippery.
Bring a hat. This trail is mostly open to the sun and gets very hot.
Don’t go swimming at the beach. Many have tried and some have paid for it with their lives.
One final tip: Ke’e Beach makes a wonderful place to go for a swim and cool off after your hike!