(Vancouver Sun, Feb 2016) Most tourists arriving at Linhue airport could be divided into two camps. In the first are intrepid travelers with oversized backpacks stuffed with raingear and hiking boots. And in the second camp, couples and families already in flip flops, picking up suitcases filled with beachwear. Backpackers are likely heading “Mauka,” inland toward the mountains. For the rest of us our destination is “Makai,” or seaward. We have the GPS in our rental car (essential here) set to the resort area of Poipu, on the island’s sunny southern shore.
My idea of a perfect vacation is all about great food and spa treatments peppered with a few “soft” activities (surfing is beyond my comfort zone), so we checked into the Grand Hyatt. Wandering the grounds amongst pools and palms were more chickens than chaise lounges. Story goes that, along with thousands of domestic chickens, fighting roosters who were brought by the Asians to Kauai for illegal cock fighting escaped from their cages during Hurricane Iniki in 1992 and they’ve ruled the roost ever since. Wild pigs also run free. Thankfully they aren’t so easy to spot.
A short drive from the Hyatt takes you to Poipu Beach Park, a safe place to swim. Little kids likely get on their first surfboard here. And nearby, not to be missed is Spouting Horn, a blowhole that supposedly houses a sad and lonely dragon who moans and spouts water high into the sky–go at high tide.
Kaua’i is known as Hawaii’s Garden Island and with recent culinary developments, Poipu could bill itself as the island’s “Garden of Eating”. Just about everywhere serves up the freshest local fish, mainly ono (wahoo); onaga (red snapper); ahi tuna; and mahi mahi (dorado). And you must try poke, a Hawaiian sashimi. Of course there is more to life than fish. Restaurant and hotel chefs have caught on to the farm-to-table cuisine, easy to do in Kauai where so much land is farmed.
I chose opa, catch of the day at The Hyatt’s Tidepools restaurant while fat Koi fish (kids get to feed them) wiggled about the tide pools below. My moonfish was perfectly cooked– no wonder the room was packed with locals. In fact every meal we had (and there are many restaurants to choose from) was satisfying. But my favourite was the Beach House restaurant, so popular that you should make reservations before leaving home. And be sure to get there for cocktails just before sunset, the ocean view is stellar.
A close second is the recently opened Eating House 1849 at the Shops at Kukuiula. Roy Yamaguchi, arguably Hawaii’s most famous chef, has embraced the farm-to-table philosophy. Start with the sizzling rib-eye tataki and Kampachi sashimi. Equally as good is Merriman’s Fish House, which serves at least 90 percent locally grown or sustainable-caught products. And if it’s Wednesday, the Kauai Culinary Market showcases local farmers’ produce, live music and more in the pau hana (after work) way. Save room for shave (not shaved) ice at Uncle’s.
Speaking of farms, even a few resorts have become part of the local food scene. The Grand Hyatt’s recent renovation transformed a tennis court into a hydroponic garden that produces 100 lbs of lettuce per week.
At the new and incredibly peaceful Kukui’ula villas, you can rent a plantation-inspired cottage and have full access to their working farm. DIY anytime: pick fruit and flowers, vegetables and herbs and cook in your state-of-the-art cottage kitchen. Or the resident chef can prepare farm-to-table dinners.
The open air Kauai Spa at the Kukui’ula has got to be one of the best in the world. You can easily wile away the day plunging into hot then cold pools followed by a healing treatment. Follow with a cocktail on the restaurant’s lanai while gazing over its 1,000 acres of green, gentle hills and golf course.
Daily rates at Kukuiula start at around $1,000 but mere mortals can stay in Poipu and still pay the mortgage. My condo, booked through Great Vacation Retreats was homey yet tastefully furnished with a well-equipped kitchen. Judging from the shoppers at the Wednesday Kauai Culinary Market, condo rentals are popular.
After a few days of R&R it was time to get off the chaise and go mauka, by way of activity. The Hidden Valley Falls Kayak trip with Outfitters Kauai was more than a meander down the Huleia river. Elvis, our excellent guide, has a wealth of local knowledge, from fauna and flora to customs and culture. And that other Elvis was here for “Blue Hawaii”. We took a short hike/ botany lesson through lush forest. (Did you know that the wide leaves of the ti plant are the Hawaiians’ aluminum foil?) The trail ended in a lovely clearing with a waterfall where we lunched, as did the chickens.
A helicopter tour counts as an activity, and not to be missed if you really want to see Kauai, particularly because over 80 percent of the island is inaccessible by car. From the air you can see why so many films were shot here. We skimmed the dramatic Na Pali coastline and our pilot Joffrey dipped near the beach, where in the movie “South Pacific” Mitzi Gaynor washed that man right out of her hair. More recently Johnny Depp was transported to an inaccessible beach for “Pirates of the Caribbean-On Stranger Tide”. We turned inland to the Wailua Falls and emerald canyons were like massive Hollywood special effects. Obviously, “King Kong” and “Jurassic Park” were also filmed here.
A gentle mist was falling on Poipu the day we left. But as the locals say, you can’t have rainbows without rain. And do mix mauka with makai.
If you go:
Westjet flies direct to Kauai from Vancouver.
Where to stay:
The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, Poipu (kauai.hyatt.com)
Regency at Poipu Kai, with Great Vacation Retreats (www.alohagvr.com)
Kukui’ula Kauai Cottage and Villa Rentals (kukuiula.com)
The writer was a guest of the Poipu Beach Resort Association, which neither reviewed nor approved this article before publication.