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The Garden Island: Kauai

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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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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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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