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Adventures on Kauai
Seeking thrills on Kauai, Hawaii's 'Garden Isle'
We rode the little puddle-hopper from Hawaii like a bucking bronco, down through the mist and then jolting down onto the runway on Kauai. It was the heart of the night in late September, and when we got off the plane, the humidity pooled around our feet like a wave pulling back out to the ocean. The heat was thick enough that I could have worn it like a poncho. The mountains sprung straight up from the edge of the tarmac and winked at us with a dozen crimson safety lights. When we got into the rental car, we had to wipe down the inside and the outside of the windshield. The condensation was thick, almost more of a nectar than a dew. The rag we used to clean the window smelled like Plumeria when we pulled it away. This was our first night in Kauai.
The torches that lined that road leaving the airport kept fading in and out of the steamy fog while we looked for the sign to our beachside hotel. “You can see why they filmed Jurassic Park here,” Tawny said. It was hard to tell if they had even struck the set when they left. Most of the Garden Island still looked like it was set up to keep a T-Rex off the road. This was the last stop for our honeymoon and it was the island we had chosen for adventure.
The first day out did nothing to get the Jurassic Park theme song off loop in my head. Tawny and I had booked a day trip with Princeville Ranch, an outfitter that specializes in both horseback riding excursions and zip line tours. Their famous “zip and dip” is what originally caught our eye. In essence, you fly down a zip line, blazing across the emerald downs of Kauai, until you literally touch down at the base of a waterfall. Yes, you end your zip trip with a dip in the pool. We ended up shelving that idea when we caught sight of the horseback journey through the jungle.
Viewfinder Tip: Rent a car for your time on Kauai. The island is small enough to explore easily and the main road has dozens of exciting stops.
Both Tawny and I have spent time on horses, and it’s always frustrating when we go on a horse trip where the horses are just tied nose to butt and you have to unceremoniously plod along the trail. This was not that. Our guide was an expert at figuring out one’s riding level and finding a horse to match. With our moderat-to-high riding abilities, we got paired with horses named Sizzler and Montana. The only trail we followed was our own. At a cantor or a gallop or a trot we made our way down across the plains of Kauai and into the lush jungle valley.
Once the guava vines got too thick, we dismounted and slowly climbed down the slick face of the mountain, using the roar of a distant waterfall to guide us. In the cradle of the valley, we were rewarded with a dip in the pool at the base of a curtain of warm water. The sun heats the shallow streams at the top of the cascading wall of water and makes it as warm as a shower when it rolls over the cliff above. All of this and a picnic. It was perfect.
The next day we tried to top it with a zipline journey through the Koloa region of the island. Not only is it home to our favorite rum in all the world but the Koloa area is a geographic novel of the history of the island. You have to speed-read it though as you fly over the outlines of plantations on a mile-long zip cord. The only thing louder than the local surf on the cliffs is your own heart. This is an excellent way to not only take to the skies and feel like a massive bird of prey, but to also survey the land. However, if you need a little more adrenaline then you’ll need to hit up one of the many helicopter tours of the island. Some even keep the windows open by your feet, once you’re strapped in, so that you can feel the richly scented air pour in through the vent.
Kauai gave Tawny and me more thrills than we ever expected. The one thing we wish we had done while there was see the “Forbidden Island,” Niihau. One of the smallest members of the Hawaiian archipelago, it perches like a wallflower in the shadow of Kauai. Today it is populated with only native Hawaiians–so native that they still hunt with fiber ropes and knives. Today access it restricted to all but a select few, and the only thing that leaves the shores of the Forbidden Isle is rumors. You can, however, book a snorkel adventure if you want to chance it; the waters around Kauai are some of the most dangerous in the world. The snorkel tour gives you a chance to dive around the coral reefs on the edge of Niihau and possibly catch a glimpse of the native inhabitants. The only guarantee is that you’ll regret it if you don’t book one.
As we flew away from Kauai, with a sack full of memories, that forbidden island caught my eye and ensnared my imagination. Today I’m counting down the days until I can escape to that adventurer’s paradise once more.
How would you spend an adventure on the Garden Isle?
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Chris and Tawny have had articles and videos published on USA TODAY TRAVEL, BBC Travel, Matador Network, as well as appeared as guest stars on TLC Asia's Fun Taiwan television series. When not on the road, you can find Chris and Tawny nestled in their home in Tacoma, Washington fueling up on coffee and cat cuddles while planning their future adventures. You can follow their travels on their blog, Instagram, and YouTube