It’s sometimes said that Kauai is the last remaining vestige of “the old Hawaii” or “the real Hawaii” – the last bastion of island life as it was before much of it was taken over by hotel chains and tourism. Kauai isn’t without its share of commercialism, but it’s true that it’s almost entirely free of high-rise hotels, and that natural wonders abound.
At the same time, some of your old-school stereotypes about Hawaii just aren’t going to come true. Visitors are no longer greeted on the tarmac with a flower lei around the neck, you aren’t going to hear ukulele concerts or witness spontaneous hula dances on every corner, and luaus are no longer organic affairs where people sit around on the beach sipping Mai Tais and picking meat off a pit-grilled pig, scooping three-finger poi with bare hands.
To be fair, your visions of stereotypical Hawaiian nature are still real, while the stereotypes you may hold of Hawaiian culture are probably not.
Kauai is encircled – for the most part – by a single road running through a dozen or so major towns. You can drive around the entire island in a couple of hours (note that “driving through” does not equal “exploring,” and that driving the outer rim will only get you to the beach towns, not to the juicy jungles that comprise Kauai’s interior). I say “for the most part” because the insane terrain of the Napali coast has proven impenetrable to road builders – it’s simply not possible to build a drivable road through the mountains of the northwest coast.
You won’t find the “real” Kauai by hanging around in the downtown areas. But if you make an effort to get even a little off the beaten path, you will find yourself surrounded by nature at its most powerful. Kauai is a volcanic wonderland of dense jungle, incredible ocean life, succulent wild fruit, and loose chickens.
Throw yourself into the environment, and you won’t be able to avoid swimming in impossibly blue/green waters, inhaling the cleanest air your nostrils have ever encountered (remember you’re surrounded on all sides by thousands of miles of wild Pacific). You will find that the Aloha spirit is omnipresent and real. You will find yourself slowing down, being reminded why you’re walking this earth, and what nature at its most raw can do for your soul.
In June/July 2010, we spent two weeks in Kauai, staying in two different houses with two different families, in two very different environments. In the end, I shot more than a thousand photos. Thought I’d turn all my vacation notes and photos into a quick blog entry on return; the process ended up taking a couple of days — which was OK since I needed that time just to transition back to “real” life and get the hang of cold weather and the absence of snorkeling grounds outside my back door. Editing the photos down to a “mere” 470 and filling in the details from my notes turned out to be the perfect obsessive/compulsive transitional gig.
Note: I lost my camera on the very last day — turned out I left it under the seat in the rental car — so the set isn’t quite complete. Fortunately I had been backing up the camera’s contents to iPhoto throughout the trip, so had an almost complete set. Super-lucky news is that Budget Rent-a-Car in Lihue found the camera and is returning it to me; I’ll add the final images when it arrives. Thanks Budget!
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