Hang Loose in Hanalei, Kauai

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Not only is Kauai the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, it’s also the Garden Island, and a great vacation destination to relax, sightsee and get a taste of authentic Hawaiian cuisine. There are multiple destinations to visit on the island, however Hanalei is one of the most idyllic towns to experience the true beauty of old Hawaii.

First fly into Lihue airport, rent a car and drive over to the North Shore Princeville area. For luxury accommodations, the St. Regis Princeville is next to Hanalei Beach. For more affordable lodging, the Hanalei Dolphin offers accommodations right along the Hanalei River. It’s located in town and convenient to walk to dining, shopping and rental venues.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Another option is The Hanalei Inn with rooms under $159 a night. It’s located in town on Kuhio Highway and within a block to Hanalei Beach, with expansive sand and calm water for swimming, floating and walking along the edge of the shoreline.

Hanalei Beach has a dirt parking lot near the pier. Plus there are other parking lots along Weke Road at designated parks. Take a walk out to the end of the pier for stunning views. This is the area where the award-winning movie, The Descendants with George Clooney was flimed.

(The home films in The Descendants with George Clooney - Photo: Jill Weinlein)
(The home films in The Descendants with George Clooney – Photo: Jill Weinlein)

After a swim, pack a lunch and get back into your car and drive North to the Kalalua Trail to hike along the Na Pali coastline. Parking can be tricky, since this is a popular spot for locals and visitors. The hiking trail maneuvers up and down on red dirt and rocks. I recommend bringing or finding a walking stick for balance. There are half mile markers along the way to let you know the distance you have walked. If you are adventurous, walk two miles to Hanakapi Beach. The views from this trail are breathtaking through streams, lush tropical forest and stunning coastline vistas.

Hike to the beach - Photo: Jill Weinlein
Hike to the beach – Photo: Jill Weinlein

After the hike, the Ke’e beach at the start of the trail, offers shallow water next to a coral reef teeming with fish. Be sure to bring your snorkel and fins. If you have any left over bread, break a few pieces off in the water to experience tropical fish surround you.

Driving back on Kuhio Highway, you will notice a wet cave across from a lifeguard beach. The water in this cave is from a spring underground, but it’s not safe for wading or drinking. Down the way is a dry cave across the street from Haena Beach Park. It’s large opening is easy for exploring. This cave was a safe haven for locals during the hurricane Iniki in 1992. Use the flashlight feature on your smart phone to walk to the back of the cave.

(Inside a Dry Cave. Photo by: Jill Weinlein)
(Inside a Dry Cave. Photo by: Jill Weinlein)

The Haena Beach is also a great snorkeling and swimming beach. There is plenty of parking, a food truck for snacks and bathrooms.

A must when in Kauai is to buy shaved ice for a refreshing afternoon treat. In the town of Hanalei is the Wishing Well Shave Ice truck. Shaved ice is not a snow cone, it’s powdery ice shaved from an ice block. The organic flavors include starfruit, papaya, coconut, mango and guava. They also put fresh fruit on top of the ice for a healthy snack.

(Wishing Well Shaved Ice in Hanalei - Photo: Jill Weinlein)
(Wishing Well Shaved Ice in Hanalei – Photo: Jill Weinlein)

After a nap, rent a paddle board and explore the Hanalei River to see how the locals live. You will notice a lot of chickens with vibrant plumage throughout the island. Other than a few dogs and cats, there are no natural predators on the island. The locals are used to the crowing and like that the chickens eat the poisonous centipede. During Hurricane Iniki in 1992, many chicken coops and enclosures were destroyed and the chickens ran wild to escape the storm.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Dinner options include small plates at Bar Acuda for outstanding tapas, wine, mai tais and beer. Sit out on the veranda and enjoy plates of fresh fish, lamb chops, braised pork belly and a variety of salads and vegetable dishes prepared by chef/owner Jim Moffat and his staff. Moffat was a James Beard Foundation semi-finalist. He left his successful restaurants in San Francisco to come work and play in Hanalei.

Another great dining spot is Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant next to Hanalei River. This is a popular sushi, fresh fish, meat and calamari destination. Seating is inside and out on the veranda and lawn.

(Photo of writer on Paddle Board)
(Photo of writer on Paddle Board)

For casual fare Puka Dog offers hot dogs Hawaiian-style with a sweet bread bun and a variety of Hawaiian-style relishes. They have coconut relish, papaya, mango, starfruit and pineapple relish. They also make homemade fresh squeezed lemonade made right before your eyes. Diners can choose a grilled regular and juicy hot dog, Polish sausage or veggie dog. Be sure to have it topped with Aunty Lilikoi’s Hawaiian tangy mustard.

It’s easy to kick-back and hang-loose in one of the most beautiful towns in Kauai. Call your travel agent to learn more about the Hawaiian Islands.

This article is featured in the March 2016 issue of Not Born Yesterday.

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