Live, Laugh, Adventure

……and take lots of photos along the way!

The Taro Fields of Kauai

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 vs Arizona’s Grand Canyon

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?

Waimea Canyon

Grand Canyon

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’.

The Colors of Kauai

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.

 

 

Kauai: The Forbidden Isle of Ni’ihau

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.

http://youtu.be/lA0fB-9odwk (part 1)

http://youtu.be/1kHqZ-KrhnQ (part 2)

Kauai: Shipwreck Beach

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.

Kauai: Poipu Beach

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!

Kauai: The Kalalau Trail

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!

More trail information:  http://www.kalalautrail.com/ or http://www.hawaii-guide.com/kauai/spot/kalalau-trail

My Favorite Travel Sites

As I’ve started travelling more over the past few years I’ve found a variety of internet sites/tools which I find useful so I thought I would share them.  These aren’t the only sites for travel information on the internet (or even the best ones), they are just the ones that I have come to rely on.

  1. Tripadvisor.com forums:   This is my single most used site.  The travel forums (e.g. the Kauai forum) are an incredibly rich source of information about a destination.  The information on the forums is provided by travellers themselves so you don’t get all the glossy brochure hype.  The search function is a great way to find the information you are looking for.  Unless your question is very unique, it’s probably already been asked and answered on the forums.  The forums provide information on things to do, places to stay, where to eat, costs, weather etc.  In many cases a forum will be moderated by an expert who either lives in the destination or travels there frequently.
  2. Tripadvisor.com Reviews:  If you are looking to see what others think of specific hotels, vacation rentals, timeshares, restaurants or attractions, the reviews are a very good source of information.  The reviews are written by people who have actually been there so the information is, for the most part, free of the glossy hyperbole you get in brochures and travel magazines.  A word of caution: People’s travel tastes are as individual as they are.  To get a reasonable overall impression you need to read quite a few reviews and be prepared to critically examine travellers comments through the lens of your own likes, dislikes and desires.  For example, one gentleman was slagging an all-inclusive resort in Mexico because their selection of ‘fine French wines’ was very limited. Seriously?  I find that as you read through the reviews an overall impression and pattern forms in your mind.  If 4 out 5 reviewers complain of bad food then I’d be thinking of passing on that resort.  Another good source of information is to look at the travellers photos (as opposed to the “professional” photos).  I’ve researched all our trips using the Tripadvisor forums and reviews and without exception have generally got what we thought we were going to get.
  3. Tripadvisor.com Flights (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Flights):  There is no shortage of travel booking sites on the internet but this is the one I keep coming back to.  They have a research tool to search for and pick your flights (even if you book somewhere else).  It searches many different airlines and returns all the possibilities in a very useful interface.  You can use the sliders on the left side of the screen to refine your search using things like number of stops, takeoff and arrival times, airline etc.  This saves a lot of time so you don’t have to slog your way through hundreds of different variations.  Another cool feature of the site is ability to click on the ‘details’ of a flight and see kind of aircraft will be used.  Look for a link to ‘SeatGuru Review’ and you will be able to see the aircraft seating arrangements (which seats are good vs bad e.g. which are the emergency exit seats with more legroom) as well as other features like in-seat video monitors and AC plugs.
  4. Yapta (http://www.yapta.com).  This free site allows you to track flight prices for trips you set up.  While it can’t predict if flight prices will go up or down, it will track the current price for you to give you some information to go on when to buy.  In some cases its even useful for tracking the price of a flight after you have bought since certain airlines (e.g. Alaska Air) will refund the difference to you if the price goes down before you fly (but only if you catch it!).
  5. Hotwire (http://www.hotwire.com):  With hotwire you search for a hotel, car or flight but while you can see the price before you guy, you aren’t told which hotel/car rental/airline it’s with until after you book and pay for it (and no refunds!).  I’m afraid I’m too picky a traveller to be comfortable doing this with flights and hotels but I do use it for rental cars and have saved a lot of money doing it.  Since you are guaranteed a car from a major rental company like Budget or Enterprise and I don’t really care which company I rent a car from (as long as it’s a reputable, major one), it’s worked out well for me.  I’ve booked cars and then when I found which company it’s with checked their website to find out their regular posted rates are 2x what I paid.  Another good way to save money is to delay booking your car until a few weeks before you go.  Often the rates go way down.  Of course this only works for destination that don’t have a shortage of rentals (check the tripadvisor forums for information like this).
  6. Google Earth (http://www.google.com/earth/index.html): Not many people would call Google Earth a ‘travel site’ but I sometimes find it useful when choosing a place to stay.  I’ll locate potential hotels or resorts on GE and zoom in to see what kind of beach the resort is on (we’re beach people) or how far it is from the beach.  I also use it to get an idea of the topography of a place that we are thinking of going to (I don’t like flat places) and to look at local photos that other travelers have posted (GE has photos embedded in it that you can click and view).
  7. Google Maps (http://maps.google.com): Although Google maps is a useful way to see a map of a destination, its killer feature for travel planning is Street View.  By dragging the Street View Icon (a small orange man) onto the map, you enter an interactive world of 360 degree photos that give you a spectacularly detailed view of your destination.  Wondering what the area around your hotel looks like?  Now you can see it before you book.  More information on Street View here: http://maps.google.com/help/maps/streetview.  Google Maps also has the ability to calculate a route from a start and end point.  This is useful to print out maps of the route from the airport to your hotel (although I usually just use my GPS for that).

I hope you find these useful in some small way.  If you’ve found other good sites let me know about them.