I sense that the brown glow I acquired while laying in the warm Kauai sun for two weeks is beginning to fade. My fair white skin that I tried to leave at home now gradually returns to me. Memories of this recent trip to Kauai are fading too. Soon the busy life I live in California will sponge away my impressions of the garden island and I will have completely forgotten about the two weeks in the middle of the sea. My two daughters moved to Hanalei, on the north shore of Kauai, this past year, and have no immediate intentions of returning to the mainland, so I felt compelled to come visit them for a couple of weeks. The several trips I have made to this island in recent years have not satiated my appetite for warm water and the joy of sitting under waving palm fronds. I don’t believe it is possible to get too much of this kind of life. I noticed people of all ages huddled together in small groups on the beaches, doing nothing more together than getting a suntan. The practice seems to have a universal acceptance. My sister once remarked that if everyone could just go spend some time on a Hawaiian beach perhaps our society would no longer need modern psychiatry. I love the way this fair weather seems to make all island visitors feel happy and together. All the favorable words one hears spoken, those concerning, beauty, kindness, harmony, and bliss, all seem to be active here in the hearts and minds of Kauai beach goers.
The population of Kauai is about 65,000 people, plus a continuous flow of tourists. Most of the population is centered around Lihue, the county seat and principle town of the island where people come to do their shopping in a few of the big box stores, such as Costco, WalMart, and K-Mart. I spent the first couple of hours on the island in these stores, stacking away supplies for the next couple of weeks, so that the three of us would not have to return to the land of serious shopping, but could enjoy the luxury of some of the world famous beaches of Kauai. Food is mainly what we purchased, but also some outdoor sporting gear and a pop-up tent for blocking a portion of the intense Hawaiian sun.
The Hawaiian language remains somewhat alive in the place names. Very few places have names that can be simply pronounced in English, such that the visitor must become engaged in using the language just to be able to say where he is or where he wants to go. If you want to go to the beach, Kauai has about fifty of them, with names like Mahalepu, Poipu, Moloa’a, Ke’e, or Kilihiwai. I wanted to go to Moloa’a, so I had to learn how to say it. About the second day I was able to sit on that beach, snorkel for tiny, pretty fish on the reef, and lay back under the palm trees and soak up more golden sunshine. Moloa’a is a semicircular bay about a half mile in diameter, rimmed with sand, and steep volcanic bluffs stand enshrouded in pine and palm trees around the bay. A few gorgeous and expensive homes are stacked side-by-side in the corner of the bay furthest from the open sea, while a few more homes lie tucked away in the trees. My daughter informs me that this beach is receiving more of the debris from the great Japanese earthquake than any other beach in the islands, and that Surfrider Foundation members come regularly to clean up and haul away what washes ashore here.
For me the beauty of Moloa’a is that not many tourists bother to visit here because it’s a little off the beaten path and also requires that you park in a residential area and walk between a few beach homes to get to the sand. Maybe five or six beaches on the whole island are most popular among the tourists, while the others are almost unknown to any but the locals. So when I sit on the beach at Moloa’a I feel like I am kamaaina–like I belong here. Much Hawaiian beauty has nothing to do with how long I may have live here, but is about enjoying the rich color of the water and sky. The Moloa’a sky was mostly overcast with rays of sun piercing through holes in the clouds and lighting pockets of intense aquamarine blue-green around the periphery of the coral reefs. Watching the continuous interplay of light while slumped into a beach chair under a rustling palm is perhaps the best of my Hawaiian experience. I would continue doing more of this for several days on different beaches.
The daughters have joined the Hanalei Canoe Club, so I was invited to one of their work-out sessions where I sat third-man deep in a five-man outrigger canoe as we paddled madly up the Hanalei River. There was a lot of heave and ho rhythm among the five of us as my daughter sat in the lead seat and we paced along with her, ten strokes on one side for three people, then switch for ten strokes on the other side with three people. With such careful finesse in finding and maintaining our common rhythm we were able to move the large canoe quite gracefully up the river. For a spell I imagined myself being on the crew of one of the ancient boats that had paddled to here from Tahiti some hundreds of years before. The people who migrated to Hawaii must have felt a great sense of togetherness among themselves, knowing that their paddling journey would be long, far, and perhaps would have no return to the mother island. I would think some of the immigrants may have been outcasts who looked for an adventure that would remove them from the society in which they had grown. I sensed some of that myself while paddling up the river, under the canopy of the palm and banyan trees.
Several evenings we would go down to Black Pot beach, near the Hanalei pier, to watch the sunset. This may be the most predictable place in the world to view the most wildly colorful and unpredictable sunset. The trade winds can quickly pile up towering thunderheads directly into a line of sight with the sun only moments before the light is gone for the evening. A light drizzle might get added to that recipe, causing the drizzle to ignite in a sheen of gold, while waterfalls may trickle from the Napali mountains close by as they also pick up some of the golden tint. I had to watch carefully, turning my neck about in different directions, to be able to take in all the spectacle of a Hanalei sunset. The view here has been the inspiration for many song writers who have been deeply stirred by the dramatic setting.
We hired a boat to take us down the Napali coast about ten or fifteen miles with camping gear and food, to Kalalau Beach, which is not accessible by automobile. The trail into the Kalalau wilderness is also challenging because it is rocky and often hugs the edge of steep cliffs, making the view down to the rocks below a sight that most hikers find dizzying. Hiring the boat was the best way for me to go. The boat could not land on the beach because of surf, so we had bagged our gear in advance with tough, rip-proof garbage bags. We tossed them overboard and swam them to shore, as the four to six foot waves pushed on to the sand. During the boat ride down the coast we passed a guy paddling a kayak, with two others swimming along behind him. We later were to learn that one of the swimmers was a girl well known in the surfing world for having one of her arms ripped off of her by a great white shark. Hollywood had made a movie about her life, called “Soul Surfer”. We were amazed to learn that she still frequents waters such as this, and that she was actually doing a three-day swim down this dramatic stretch of coast.
Once we got our camping gear hauled out of the surf, we set up camp under a large tree growing on the back of the beach, so that we would have some protection from the sun and any passing shower splashes. The splashes can come quick and may last only a few minutes, but I slept out under the stars at night and was fortunate to not be awakened by the rain. We cooked and hiked the beach and watched another of the powerful sunsets, and on the next day conducted an all-day hike into the Kalalau Valley, by following river trails into this exotic tropical wilderness. The Kalalau has some lore about it, a place where people have been taking refuge from civilization for many years. We met several of these folks camping out in their little wilderness camps. Over the years visitors have brought in fruit trees of nearly every variety that will grow here, such as mango, guava, papaya, and avocado. The smell of flowers and fruits dominated my senses as I hiked up to what is called “the big pool” at the back end of the valley.
At the big pool, which is somewhat circular and about forty feet in diameter, other hikers rested and laid out on rocks around the edge of the pool. We were witness to a bitter argument between one of the day hikers and one of the native dwellers who had come to swim naked in the big pool. Somehow the issue got resolved by another hiker intervening, but it left me and my two daughters a little unnerved being so far from civilization and infrastructure while wondering if the bitterness between the two would erupt into an act of violence. I told one of my daughters that territorial disputes and differences in customs and attitudes has managed to keep the world at war since the most ancient of days, but that we don’t normally see an example exhibited up so close and so vividly.
The hike out from the big pool was a little long and arduous for me. Getting in there had used up perhaps more than fifty percent of my energy, so coming out proved exhausting, but am proud to report that I made it without tripping and falling over myself too badly, and nobody had to carry me.
Another cook-out on the beach, then a bonfire, and a long look at the vast darkness of these remote skies. As the sun set we watched wild mountain goats bleating and running along the edges of the steep volcanic ridges above us. Hawaii is the most distant place in the world. There is nothing close to it. Night skies do not get lit up by man-made light. I could see more of the Milky Way galaxy here than I have ever seen before, a whole extra arm of it twirling out beyond the one I can see in California. I slept better on the sand than I did the first night, probably because of the all-day hike into the valley and pool.
We awoke to large surf at dawn and knew we would have an interesting morning. Our boat would be coming down the coast early to pick us up and give us a ride back to Hanalei. We repacked our camp gear into our slightly torn trash bags and dragged the bags down to the edge of the water. We looked, but there was no easy place to swim the bags out. We knew the waves were too big to push large floating bags through them. When the boat arrived we waited for a lull in the surf, but as we began swimming out to sea a sneaker set popped up, broke on top of us, and we were forced to let go of the bags and let them wash back up on the beach. Otherwise, if we had hung on tighter the bags would have ripped wide open and we would have lost all our gear. The daughters swam straight for the boat, terrified by the size and strength of the waves breaking onshore. Soon came another lull that lasted much longer. A camper on the beach and the boat captain’s helper worked with me to help get the bags on board ship and get moving home.
As we putted up the coast in the twenty foot Boston Whaler we passed through several schools of spinner dolphins. We were able to slow down in their midst and take photos of them, then move on. For about forty-five minutes we followed the rugged and dramatic cliffs of the Napali coast, wind in our faces as we stood overlooking the boat cabin and watching the large ground swells charging toward shore. Then back to land and within the safety of the pretty sanctuary that is the Hanalei River.
Another day or two lounging about on sensational beaches and I realized that my two allotted weeks of Hawaiian bliss had come to an end. The daughters brought me to the Lihue airport in the early afternoon and by 10pm I stepped on the tarmac in San Jose, so close and yet so far from Moloa’a, Kalalau, and Hanalei, and yet these Hawaiian names still tumble off my tongue as if they were part of some tropical waterfall that continues yet to flow inside of me.