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Kauai, the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, is a treasure overlooked by many travelers to Hawaii. It trails Oahu, Maui and the big island as the first choice for most tourists, but it’s a worthy paradise in its own right.

I chose Kauai as my first Hawaiian island to visit because of the lush, jungle-like environment that had captivated me for years in photographs. As more of a hiker than a beach enthusiast, I viewed “the garden island” as a dream destination for solitary hikes into verdant, wild landscapes.

Kauai’s primary attraction for hikers is the Kalalau Trail through the Na Pali State Park, along cliffs that rise starkly above the azure blue waters of the northwest coast. The hike snakes along the Na Pali cliffs for 11 miles. I chose to cover just the first four-mile stretch of the trail through philodendron and other lush vegetation, taking a rest at the nearly deserted Hanakapiai Beach two miles in.

The recent rains had left the trail a bit muddy with the famous red dirt that locals boast does not come off (they sell red mud “dirt shirts” advertising this). It’s better to step into a pool of mud, however, than risk injury by trying to avoid them. I gladly sacrificed my worn shorts and sneakers for the impressive views afforded by this hike.

I took several other hikes into the interior of the island. These were less spectacular than the Kalalau Trail, but each revealed in its own way the diversity of Kauai’s natural wonders.

It’s also worthwhile to visit the interior of Kauai to check out the spectacular Waimea Canyon, dubbed “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific” by Mark Twain. Further east, Mount Wai’ale is the highest point on the island. The eastern side of the mountain receives 460 inches of rain a year – the wettest place on earth. Each day in Kauai provided a kaleidoscope of weather patterns, shifting from sun to cooling tropical rain.

Capping off my journey was a helicopter ride over the island. This can be a bit pricy, but it was my first ride in a copter and I couldn’t conceive of a better place for the indulgence. The ride was smooth, and any nervousness I had was quickly erased by the breathtaking views over rain forests, waterfalls and seaside cliffs.

Airborne over Kauai, one readily sees why it’s been dubbed the garden island. The greenery and lushness are overwhelming. It’s apparent why Hollywood has chosen Kauai as the location for a multitude of movies, from South Pacific to Jurassic Park.

What I experienced in Kauai left me yearning to discover more about this mysterious island, particularly its more isolated areas.

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