These past two months at work have been a bit grueling for a variety of reasons I won't go into here. Basically, ever since we got back from Jamaica things have been go-go-go and my weekends were filled with a lot of work so I wasn't getting much downtime. Thankfully though, we had a 6 night trip to Kauai booked by cashing in our Citibank ThankYou Network reward points and a condo reserved through our timeshare for a longer than usual Memorial Day weekend. Prior to leaving though I was offsite at a client for a two day intensive brainstorm session so my brain was fried - this trip couldn't have come at a better time!
As longtime readers may recall, the first time we went to Kauai it was a disaster. We exchanged our timeshare through RCI and ended up in a crappy place, in a crappy location (next to a BMX dirt bike track) with crappy weather. I decided that I hated Kauai. Still, it seems like that island is everyone's favorite and perhaps we just had a string of bad luck. So in August 2008, we made our way back (free flights again!), staying at another timeshare a few miles away from the first one that is owned by our actual timeshare company and had a fabulous time. At that point Kauai became one of my favorite vacation destinations, so I was excited to go back again this year and stay up in Princeville, an entirely different part of the island known for its lush, verdant landscapes, beautiful, wild beaches and Hanalei Bay, a surfer's paradise when the waves are up.
We left on Wednesday morning as President Obama was beginning his trip to San Francisco. From the American Airlines terminal we could see Air Force one and watch the marine helicopters flying overhead. We didn't actually see Obama but there was an air of excitement in the terminal with people snapping photos out the window of the President's plane. Because our flight was free we didn't go direct; rather, we had a short layover in Honolulu and then made our way to Lihue via a 25 minute flight on Go!/Mokelele's tiny little jet.
Several weeks before our trip I looked online for car rentals and even the subcompacts were coming up at ridiculous rates so I was a bit frustrated; alas, I checked Hotwire and was able to get a convertible Mustang via Hertz at the same rate other sites were charging for a Nissan Versa so I was thrilled and am happy to report that renting cars through Hotwire can be a successful endeavor. In fact, the car we got was fully loaded with nice leather seats and an iPod integration, something we haven't seen before with any of our other rental cars in the islands. So big thumbs up to both Hotwire and Hertz for the rental.
The drive up to Princeville from the airport only takes about 45 minutes so we arrived at the condo before 4 p.m. I was a bit worried about The Cliffs because the Tripadvisor reviews are all over the place. In the end our room location wasn't great, but the condo itself was very nice and well maintained. I would have loved to have a unit in one of the buildings overlooking the ocean - or at the very least the nice manicured lawns - but beggars can't be choosers. In the end we had a view of some trees on one side of the unit and the street into the complex on the other. Rather than going out, we made our way to the Foodland grocery store at the entrance to Princeville and loaded up on quick & easy dinner items like kimchee, sushi, oshinko and sake and then settled in to watch Lee DeWyze win American Idol (which I predicted).
The next morning I woke up around 4:15 a.m. (NOT COOL!) and read a bit until Alan woke up around 7:30 a.m. before making breakfast. When in Hawaii we have a tradition that we always do for breakfast - bagels with cream cheese & green onions and POG mimosas. This time we went wild and crazy by adding a ripe, juicy tomato on top and it was definitely the breakfast of champions. I don't know why, but this is one of my favorite vacation breakfasts of all time. It also doesn't hurt that I'm getting nice and liquored up before lunch time.
After breakfast we got showered and changed and headed out for a hike to Queen's Bath in Princeville. This is a place we'd been wanting to go to since our first trip here all those years ago but just never worked out. I have to admit to being a little apprehensive about the trek ever since I utterly failed on our Dunn's River Falls journey in Jamaica. Some of the side effects of my thyroid condition is muscle weakness, tremors and overall fatigue when I exert myself and the authors of the Kauai Revealed guidebook have been known to describe things as "leisurely" that we have found very difficult in the past so I didn't know if I was up for a grueling hike akin to what we did with the volcano last year or something like Dunn's River that I just couldn't do. In the end it was difficult and I did feel the weakness in my legs, but it was all worth it because Queen's Bath is utterly breathtaking once you reach it.
Queen's Bath is one of the most unique and refreshing swimming areas on the island. The "pool" is carved into a lava shelf and is the size of several large swimming pools. The government has recently closed this site during the winter months due to law suits from tourist who have been hurt from natural conditions. When the surf is cooperating, usually in the summer months, the water is calm and crystal clear. However, if the surf is pounding you can't even find the pool. A small, freshwater stream flows nearby and is the perfect place to rinse off after sunning and swimming in the Bath. Views of the ocean and the rocky shoreline here are fantastic. Even when the surf is fairly calm, waves crash on the rocks shooting spray high into the air. Small fish and tiny sealife also call Queen's Bath home.
After swimming for awhile, cutting my hand on the lava rock when I was climbing out of the pool, and watching a lady destroy her shin by falling on the rocks and subsequently bleeding all over the place, we decided to hike back up, get lunch and head to Tunnels Beach. Because I kept my water shoes on I had an easier time on the hike up, but it wasn't without its challenges. At one point we saw two skinny ladies in bikinis - one of which was carrying a small child in a sling around the front of her - just skipping along down the trail as if it was nothing. I felt ridiculous and lame and broken and sorry for myself until Alan reminded me that the people hiking that trail probably hadn't consumed a bottle of champagne immediate before doing so. Oh right, we're awesome then. *wink*
Hanalei is one of my favorite little surf towns in all of the islands - one day I'm hoping we're loaded enough to be able to rent a cottage or beach front house right in town on Hanalei Bay. In the meantime, we just make the 5 to 10 minute drive into town everyday before heading to our next beach destination. The one thing about Hanalei though - and Kauai in general, I've found - is that they don't seem to embrace the mix plate concept, something I love eating in the other islands. Polynesia Cafe in Hanalei served the only lunch special that came close to being mix plate, kalua pig on rice & cabbage with a side of lomi lomi.
Finding Tunnels Beach is a bit of a challenge as it's not really marked from the road, with the exception of a small sign that says "this is not the way to Tunnels." There are a few pulloffs you can park at but they only accommodate 4-6 cars each. After driving around a bit we managed to park in one of 'em and make the short walk down to the beach. Unfortunately during this time some black rain clouds were also making themselves comfortable over the area. Tunnels is generally considered one of - if not THE - best snorkeling places in all of Kauai. I don't know if we went at an off time or what, but I found the quantity and quality of marine life moderate at best. We had much better snorkeling at Ke'e Beach in 2008. Visibility was okay and there just weren't that many fish - much less a large variety - to be seen. Still, the beach itself is beautiful and it has a stunning backdrop.
Given the rain we decided to go back to the condo, but not before stopping for some shave ice. If we don't eat shave ice at least once a day in the islands, we'll wither and die. This time we decided to try a shave ice truck we'd driven past before but hadn't stopped at. I'll say this, the flavors at Wishing Well were incredible - so much better than other places - but the lady who runs the joint is INSANE. She yells at her customers if you don't order right and if she doesn't like the look - or sound - of you, she'll tell you she's not serving you. No kidding - she turned away a family that we had met at Queen's Bath earlier in the day because she kept getting the mom's order confused and when the mom tried to correct her she was having none of it. But man oh man, that li hing mui is the best.
Rather than go out to dinner, we bought some fish at the Hanalei Fish Market and grilled out at the condo, overlooking the ocean. Unfortunately, we bought walu - or escolar - not knowing that some people have terrible reactions to it. It tasted marvelous, covered in ginger & garlic, but one of us was very unlucky while the other went completely unscathed. The sad thing is we also ate a small bag full of lychee while at the pool before dinner and not knowing it was the fish that made Alan sick stayed far, far away from lychee - a fruit we loved! - for the remainder of the trip. If only we'd known. Alas. For the rest of you, consider yourselves warned.
Unfortunately, while sitting out on the cliffs watching the sun set and drinking our bottle of wine, I was nearly eaten to death by several little skeeters. By the time we got back inside the condo around 9 p.m. my right leg was a mess of raised bites and welts and my left leg didn't look much better. This is a common occurrence for me in the tropics so at least we came prepared with itch sticks but man was I mauled. I couldn't spend much time worrying about it though because I passed out before 9:30 p.m., something that would become a trend for the remainder of the trip.