There are really just no words to describe how beautiful Hawaii is. It's so stunning and so unexpected. I mean, I knew it would be beautiful, but wow, just WOW.
I have not yet been to the other islands to compare, but I can't recommend the island of Kaua'i enough. It's called the "Garden Island" for a reason. It's really stunning in all its variety.
East, South, North, West
The island is fairly small and yet has so much variety on it. In the middle is Mount Wai'ale'ale, reputed to be one of the wettest spots in the world, getting more than 400 inches of rain per year. Just a few miles south is the Poipu area, which I read somewhere has only about 30 inches of rain per year. Difference much? And in only a few miles!
The terrain varies from huge mountains in one area, a spectacular canyon in another area, and mostly flat stretches of farming in yet another area, all on an island only 550 square miles wide. And of course, surrounding them all are some of the most spectacular beaches around.
The terrain is mostly flat in the south, and while there is a strong tourism industry, development has been strictly limited in order to preserve much of this flat land for farming or ranching. Thus the area has lovely amenities without feeling overly developed or too touristy.
Also not to be missed is the Kiluea Lighthouse Park (left). It was an important guide in the shipping trade from the Far East, and the views are spectacular. We saw some whales there too.
Helicopter tours are not cheap, around $200 per person for a 1-hour flight, but it's really the only decent way to see the Na Pali coast in a way that truly does justice to the vistas. If you have the chance to take a flight, you should do so.
Waimea Canyon is called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific for a reason. (This picture doesn't begin to do it justice.) You can drive up into the canyon, and the trip is well worth taking. There is also a beautiful park at the end of the road, Koke'e State Park, with lots of hiking trails and beautiful views.
The beauty of Kaua'i is so remarkable that a number of movies and TV shows have been filmed here, including parts of South Pacific, Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Donovan's Reef, Six Days Seven Nights, and the remake of King Kong. The island was also the setting for the animated film and TV series, Lilo and Stitch.
One of the strangest things about Kaua'i is the huge population of feral chickens. Originally brought over as a food source by the Polynesians who settled the islands, they have multiplied into a significant wild population and can be seen everywhere on the island.
One of the more puzzling things to me about Kaua'i was the lack of vegetable gardens. This is an island with gorgeous weather, around 80 degrees (give or take) year-round; it should be perfect for raising your own veggies. Not to mention the fact that the cost of living is very high here, and shipping food is very expensive.
So you'd think I'd have seen tons of veggie gardens there, right? Not so. I saw a few, yes, especially with citrus trees, and plenty of gardens with exotic plants and blooms, but very few actual vegetable gardens. I don't know why. (If anyone does know why, I'd be interested in hearing the reasons.) It just seemed strange that when we went shopping in the supermarkets of this tropical paradise, most of the veggies and fruits were imported from California, Mexico, and Chile.
We were lucky we took our vacation when we did. We got home shortly before the big earthquake off of Chile caused a tsunami alert. I checked the Kaua'i newspaper and it looks like the warning sirens went off at 6 a.m. and our resort was evacuated by 9:30 a.m. to higher land in the interior. Thankfully, the tsunami turned out to be much ado about nothing, but it would have been a bummer to lose a day of vacation like that. Still, it's good to know the local businesses are prepared for such things and the alerts are working, and I'm certainly greatly relieved that no one was hurt or lost their livelihood/home.
Slower and Less Tourist-y
Kaua'i has been purposely preserved as a semi-rural island. There were sugar plantations here until a few years ago, and there are still large plantations that raise cattle and other products. Zoning for tourist development and residential areas is very strict in order to keep the semi-rural nature of the island intact.
This means that while there are tourist areas, they have not taken over the entire island. There is still plenty of touristy stuff, mind, and there is no shortage of shops --- but reportedly the tourist stuff is not nearly as overwhelming as it is in other parts of Hawaii.
Should you consider Kaua'i? Well, if you love the night life and want to spend lots of time partying and shopping, Kaua'i is probably not for you. The night life and high-end shopping choices were definitely limited. Or if you like to get totally away from it all, don't want any touristy stuff, and want to rough it for all of your stay, Kaua'i may not be for you either. Its amenities fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
On the other hand:
- If you like nice accommodations but without feeling overwhelmed by touristy stuff, Kaua'i may be more up your alley. It's reputed to be much more laid back than many of the other islands.
- If you are the adventurous nature type and want to do lots of hiking, kayaking, surfing, canoeing, etc., there is a whole cottage industry devoted to the tourist-adventurer on Kaua'i. There are some amazing opportunities for this type of traveler, especially those who like to come home to a little pampering afterwards in their hotel.
- If you are the type that likes to lay back in the sand or by the pool and just soak up the sun, there are many choices for accommodations to let you do just that.
- Hotels, time-shares, and rental condos and houses are available in all parts of the island except the west. http://www.vrbo.com/ is a good place to search for rentals, but book well ahead, since many of the best choices get snapped up far in advance.
- If you are the type that wants to be pampered in true luxury, there are a few beautiful resorts of that quality available. The Grand Hyatt Resort near Poipu and the St. Regis Princeville Resort in the north are luxury personified, and have reputations as two of the finest resorts in the world.
Overall, I found my trip to Hawaii to be pretty size-friendly.
I flew the day after Keven Smith got kicked off of Southwest Airlines for being "too fat," so I went into the flight with some anxiety, even though I was flying Hawaiian Airlines instead of Southworst. Of course, I always fly with seatbelt extenders, just in case they might be needed, but I didn't have to use them once on the whole trip. And no one threw me off the flight, glared at me, or tried to make me buy two seats. That was refreshing.
The car we rented was a little small. I was trying to save money; next time I'd upgrade a bit. This one was okay but it was very low to the ground and with my knee injury from that stupid car accident a while ago, it was hard to get in and out of easily. There was no problem with fit or anything, it was just a little low to get into and cramped for leg room, which was a bad combo with a cranky knee.
Everything at the hotel was great. We got a huge cost-saving deal because of the economy and so decided to splurge on staying in one of the luxury resorts.....because you only have your 25th wedding anniversary once, right? So while we could have found a cheaper option, we decided to splurge at the Grand Hyatt Resort in Poipu, and it was fantastic.
At first glance, I was dismayed that there were a lot of stairs coming in and out of the main building. Now, although going up stairs hurts, it's going down that is so much harder. So when I saw all those stairs I was more than a little dismayed. However, on closer examination, there is a way around all those stairs; it's just not obvious at first look. I almost always I took the stairs anyhow---figured I should use it or lose it---but I was glad that the option of elevators was there for those who needed it.
I also noticed that most of the paths to the pools were on ramps rather than stairs, which was definitely welcome. And they had an easily accessible saltwater pool lagoon down at the bottom of the pool complex that was amazing. I didn't go there till my last day, but it was warmer and nicer than all the other pools so I regret having left it till the last day. It was awesome.
One thing we didn't do was take a helicopter tour. I really regret that now. One company would have had us pay an extra fare ($600 instead of $400) for a third seat on the smaller helicopter. We really debated it but decided that kind of money for about an hour's worth of time just wasn't worth it, and I was not pleased to have to pay an extra two hundred dollars because of our size. On the other hand, I now feel like we really missed out on something special. I think we should have tried harder to find a company that would accommodate us without that much extra charge. Perhaps if we'd researched all the companies, we would have found one.
Buying clothing souveneirs in extended sizes was an issue. Most stores do not carry very large sizes, and what sizes they have tend to run small. If you are mid-sized person, you can probably find souveneir t-shirts fairly easily. A lot of stores have XL or 2X shirts. But those who wear 3x or above have to really search for resources.
I prefer to buy roomy rather than snug, especially with the old rack'o'doom, so I generally buy 3x or 4x. For a while there I thought I was going to have to leave my beautiful vacation without any wearable souveneirs of it. That would have been a total bummer. But eventually, I did find a few stores that carried t-shirts in my size.
The Waimea Canyon General Store in Kekaha (right at the turnoff to Waimea Canyon) had clothing to 3x-4x. They had a few men's shirts in 4x that fit me just fine. They did have a few other things for women in 4x-6x, but frankly the choices were limited and the sizing ran small. They had some great Hawaiian shirts for men up to 6x; why do stores always have more choices for men of size than women of size? Grrrr. Still, at least they had some t-shirts in my size that I could use, even if I had to buy a man's cut to get it.
http://www.dirtshirt.com/ is another shop that carries t-shirts in larger sizes. Some of them are processed with lava rocks to create a washed-out look; others are dyed with the iron-rich red dirt of Hawaii for a unique red-brown look. I got some 4x shirts here that fit me. Again, sizes seemed to run small in general.
My best shopping was at the Bodacious Plus Size Apparel shop in the Coconut Marketplace in Kapa'a. They carried sizes up to 6x in most things, and I was able to get some absolutely gorgeous sundresses, skirts, and nice shirts there. (Ironically, though everything else fit, their t-shirts were too small.) The owner is a plus-sized woman herself who got tired of having to go to the other islands to find clothing in her size, so be sure to support her business. We want to make sure clothing in larger sizes stays on the island.
Overall I found Hawaii a pretty size-friendly place to be. This is logical since many of the native Hawaiians are larger people. The vibe in the tourist areas definitely tends towards the skinny, but I didn't feel stared at or put-down in my bathing suit, and generally found facilities fairly accommodating.
Our last night in Hawaii, we went down to Shipwreck Beach and watched the sunset. As the sun disappeared, a small school of whales passed by, including a young one who was cavorting and having a heck of a lot of fun. What a lovely way to end our trip!!!
Overall, I found Kaua'i just absolutely wonderful. I can't say enough about it. If you get a chance to go, you should definitely go check it out. (And right now is a great time to travel, with lots of bargain prices available.) It's definitely on my "must return someday" list!!!!!!
*Source of these pictures: Wikimedia Commons. And trust me, the pictures do NOT do justice to the scenery at all. You have to see it yourself to believe it.