After working in New York City for three long winter months, it was time for a break. I wanted to go somewhere warm, where I could relax, unwind, and de-stress. That particular winter in New York was brutal with blistering winds and freezing temperatures. I almost longed for the heat and humidity of Gulf Coast summers … almost.
I had a few free days between Christmas and New Year’s and decided a short vacation was in order. After a quick Google search, I found that Hawaii was quite mild in December with highs in the low 80s and lows in the upper 60s. With my trip booked and vacation brain in full swing, I grabbed my camera, packed light, and quickly slipped away from the bone-chilling cold.
I spent the first two nights in Oahu and stayed at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. The views from the upper levels of the hotel were extraordinary. Everything was conveniently located with Waikiki Beach immediately outside the front door. The Honolulu Zoo and several restaurants were within walking distance. The coast around Waikiki is flat, so I rented a bike for a few hours to check out the sites. There were so many different bike tours available, including a Hawaiian Foodie Tour by Bike, a Historical Honolulu Bike Tour, the North Shore Biking Adventure, and many more. Cycling was a fantastic way to experience the coast.
Waikiki is a local evening hotspot. Although I was suffering from jetlag, I took some time to check out the different establishments. Rum Fire was a bit posh and full of locals. Duke’s Waikiki had a tiki-bar atmosphere and was quite a lively experience. The Blue Note was a swanky jazz bar, and Bar 35 was definitely for a younger crowd. I enjoyed Duke’s the most because it was so casual.
The second night I opted for the Sunset Luau, which was absolutely first-rate and aptly named for its breathtaking sunsets. A tour bus picked us up from the hotel and provided safe and reliable transportation to and from the luau. The show was exceptional, and the service was phenomenal. It was everything you would expect from a luau – hula dancers, fire batons, and flaming knives. You will never know if I danced or not. The traditional pit-roasted pork was absolutely delicious. The Luau was the perfect way to end my stay on the island.
Next stop, Kauai. There are three things you need to know about Kauai (The Garden Isle): The helicopter tours, The Na Pali Coast, and Waimea Canyon.
The helicopter tours are the only way to get to the Na Pali Coast and experience the best views of Waimea Canyon. I walked straight to the helicopter tour area as soon as the plane landed. It is a few blocks from the main terminal, and at least five different helicopter tour companies are flying the same routes. This is where you can be price conscious and shop for tour specials and deals. I left my luggage behind the counter at the main terminal and boarded the helo. This was the most fantastic site seeing trip ever. The canyons and cliffs along the coast are truly spectacular with 70 percent of the island inaccessible by foot. The giant waterfall in the movie Jurassic Park is in Waimea Canyon. I hope my photos do this island justice. It really is amazing. Fun fact – more than 70 films and TV shows were filmed, or at least partly filmed, on Kauai.
While on Kauai, I stayed on Coconut Beach in Wailua. Talk about a great spot to take sunrise photos. On the second morning of my stay on Kauai, I grabbed a few friends and took off in a rented Jeep for a sunrise champagne toast. After visiting a few beaches, we were hungry. The food truck Nixtamal in Kapaa, famous for their tamales, was lunch. It was delicious and quite spicy with the habanero sauce.
That afternoon we took the Jeep on a very scenic drive up to Waimea Canyon. The views, colors, and grand scale of the canyon are what earn Waimea Canyon its nickname, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” The canyon has a very distinct feel when you are on the ground. Although the helicopter tour is a must, you could feel the wind, smell the flowers, and just sit back and take in the scenery in the Jeep. The views of the Waipoo waterfall are spectacular, and the views of the Na Pali coast will never get old.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at Waimea Beach Park, a black sand beach, for sunset photos. There were wild chickens everywhere. They even sell t-shirts that say “Stoopid Chicken.” I bought one.
Sunday was my last day on the island, so I decided to ride up to the North side of the island. I made it as far as Hanalei, and that was far enough. There were food trucks, local markets, and all kinds of souvenir shops along the route. Rumor has it that Hanalei is where Puff the Magic Dragon, the subject of Peter, Paul, and Mary’s hit song, frolicked by the sea. The famous St. Regis Resort, usually found on the list of best beaches in the world, is on the hill overlooking Hanalei Bay. As I made my way back to the airport, I passed the famous Kilauea Lighthouse, with the world’s largest clamshell lens used to warn ships of impending danger.
Kauai may be small by most standards with 100 miles of shoreline and only 70,000 residents, but it is as big as it gets with respect to sheer enjoyment. There is no limit to the amount of time you can spend exploring Kauai.