Kaua’i – The Island of Discovery
Kaua’i – The Island of Discovery
By Terry Tremaine
Photos by Connie Ekelund
(See slideshow at bottom of page)
Kaua’i is a remarkably laid back island. To us, it felt like Maui must have a decade or so ago. The inhabitants are so easy going. This volcanic island is the oldest geographically, and the fourth largest in the chain but the population base is less than 70,000. Most are involved in tourism making the atmosphere for visitors most welcoming.
The modest population is scattered all over the island so everywhere has the feel of a very small town. Further the community has restricted the height of any structure to be less than four stories which is the height of a mature coconut palm tree. There is just one principal road which winds its way around the coastline. If you visit Kaua’i expect to relax. The island is lush and green. There are lots of sandy beaches. Time spent here will be stress free. Plus the natural beauty that is the island makes you want to sit and just look around you. Everywhere you look is a treat for the eye.
The drive from the Lihu’e Airport to our first destination, the Ko‘a Kea Hotel & Resort, near the small community of Po’ipu, was a modest thirty minutes and took us through the Tunnel of Trees. For the first mile of Highway 520 a canopy of Eucalyptus trees creates a beautiful natural gateway to the south shore. It’s truly a unique experience and entirely complementary to the natural beauty inherent in the greenery of the native foliage found everywhere.
The resort, a 121 room property, sitting on oceanfront at Po’ipu Beach, offers all the amenities one would expect of a luxury resort. The views are fabulous and the staff most accommodating. We particularly enjoyed their feature dining room the Red Salt. The upscale menu focuses on fresh seafood and Hawaiian produce. The atmosphere is most relaxed. For those wanting to simply getaway to sunshine, natural beauty and ocean views from a lovely sandy beach while being catered to in a small luxury hideaway, this could be the spot.
Holo-Holo Charters, in Port Allen, on the west side of the south shore offers spectacular boat tours of the Napali Coast. We enjoyed their sunset cruise which leaves mid-afternoon and journeys along the spectacular coastline, even entering into gigantic caves, while returning after sunset. Along the way the crew provides tales of the ancient Hawaiian’s who first settled the islands. Plus of course they also give insight into how the island was formed from a major volcanic eruption and the resulting geography. Surprisingly we learned, at the centre of the island, the Wai’ale’ale Valley, is thought to be the wettest spot on the planet.
At the right time of year passengers can view whales plus of course all the other local wildlife, seabirds being in abundance. The buffet gourmet dinner is commendable and the crew friendly, accommodating and remarkably knowledgeable. The tours provided allow one to gain a good perspective on the formation of the island and the development of its inhabitants while at the same time the opportunity to simply sit and view spectacular scenery is well worth the price of admission.
Our next stop was the truly amazing Kukui’ula. Kukui’ula is the first and only private club community on Kaua’i. It is situated near Po’ipu Beach just outside the plantation town of Koloa, a community of just a couple thousand. When the recent financial downturn began, the developers of this 1,010 acre residential community had to make a decision as to whether to shelve the development, until the economy improved, or to press-on confident in that what they were doing would be marketable. They pressed-on with the development without incurring debt and in our opinion they have done a tremendous job.
Currently, Kukui’ula is a collection of custom ocean view home sites and Hawaiian plantation-style cottages and luxury residences. The centrepiece of the community is the $100 million clubhouse. The clubhouse naturally has a host of amenities. The centre-piece being a superb restaurant, with the cuisine endearing named the Red Earth Epicure. Adjacent to the clubhouse is a collection of swimming pools featuring a man-made beach and sand-pit volley-ball court.
On the other side of the clubhouse is the Spa. Generally, the spa at Sandy Lane in Barbados is considered to be the finest spa anywhere. Having now experienced both I would suggest there is a new contender for the title. The facility is truly second to none and the treatments offered go beyond the norm. The facility was a wonder with a major emphasis on open air.
Then of course there is the golf course itself. The Tom Weiskopf designed course winds over 216 acres providing golfers of all skills with a great experience as a result of the superb natural setting which has been utilized to the utmost.
We were lucky enough to be one of the first visitors able to take advantage of the Club Cottages at Kukui’ula. These are the first residential offering in the Club’s Lodge Hospitality Program. Guests enjoy all the amenities and services available in the community. The Cottages are a collection of 15 single-family cottages clustered near the clubhouse. Each is approximately 2,200 square feet and luxuriously appointed. The purchase price starts at $2.8 million. Custom home sites start at $1 million.
Within the property acreage has been set aside for a community farm where the clubhouse chefs can access fresh fruit and vegetables plus herbs and tropical flowers. Residents are welcome of course. Plus the farm overlooks a 20 acre catch and release lake for fishing and canoeing.
Near the entrance to the community are the Shops at Kukui’ula. This retail centre is home to some 35 shops and eateries offering everything from apparel to jewelry and fine art through to fine cuisine. We particularly enjoyed the seafood at Merriman’s Fish House. Weekly the centre features a farmers’ market with local produce offered by area farmers. Plus there are cooking demonstrations for those interested in making the most of the natural ingredients.
We truly enjoyed our stay in this community. Being able to access everything this community has to offer the owners was truly a delight. We took the opportunity to chat with the owners while enjoying the same amenities’ and it became apparent the owners were as delighted with the property as the guests. Should you decide to visit Kaua’i make sure to set some time aside for a stay at Kukui’ula. You’ll most likely be very satisfied with your stay and be truly sorry to leave.
Kaua’i has a unique topography which became most apparent during a helicopter tour provided by Jack Harter Helicopters. Jack has been operating on the island since 1962. He and his pilots take pride in not only showcasing the island but also providing background on its distant past and current development.
The island is basically circular and formed as a result of a volcano erupting with the highest point being roughly a mile high. As mentioned earlier the Wai’ale’ale Valley, near the centre, is one of the wettest spots on the planet with deep valleys having been created through the ongoing erosion resulting from the heavy rainfall. From the air can be seen endless green vegetation in steep canyons which are home to many waterfalls. The valley is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The similarity in look between the two is certainly only the depth with the Grand Canyon being much broader and not nearly as lush.
An air tour of the island takes about an hour and brings perspective. The centre is principally covered in numerous ridges and valleys leaving primarily the coastline for easy development. For the most part the island is green without large denuded areas as a result of lava flows common to many volcanic islands. There is little doubt the island is truly one of the beautiful spots on the planet.
From Kukui’ula we headed along the east coast to the north of the island and the community of Princeville. As with most of the communities we visited on the island the population base was also quite modest, being less than a couple thousand. Here can be found The St. Regis Princeville Resort. A resort that easily lives up to the high standards expected of a property with the St. Regis brand name.
The resort sits on a high point overlooking the ocean. While the entrance to the hotel is at ground level, on the high point, the floors containing guest rooms actually almost cascade down the slope to the beach below. Views from all floors are necessarily gorgeous and the perspective one receives as a result of heading down rather than up provides a unique flavour.
It’s interesting to note that one evening during our stay there was a tsunami warning as a result of an earthquake in the north Pacific. As a precaution local residents were encouraged to come and stay in the property, it being the highest point. Rather than remain in their homes along the waterfront.
After leaving the property through the ground floor guests find themselves at the resorts signature feature the unique 5,000 square foot infinity designed swimming pool situated on the ocean overlooking beautiful Hanalei Bay. Plus of course, it is also just steps away from a wonderful sandy beach. The surroundings and service are such that finding the motivation to leave the pleasure of the pool area can be difficult.
However, the resort also features the Maki Golf Club designed by Robert Trent Jones Junior and just redesigned and reopened in 2010. We found the course a pleasure to play particularly because of the surrounding natural beauty of this island which many call the Garden Isle.
Naturally the 10,000 square foot spa offers the level of service and treatments one would expect. Plus of course there is an emphasis on incorporating uniquely Hawaiian elements into the treatments. Definitely take advantage when there.
The feature dining room, Kauai Grill, offers such a high quality culinary experience that those who’ve enjoyed it could easily suggest it to be the principal reason for returning to the island. Chef Garrison Price does a truly commendable job of combing French and Asian influence while utilizing the best ingredients the island has to offer. The end result is such that likely when you’re talking with friends about your trip this experience will be one of the first things mentioned.
Driving back from Princeville to the airport for our return flight home it was very apparent to us how much we had truly enjoyed our visit to Kaua’i. The island must be one of the last places where it is possible to visit and just wind down in a tropical setting of gorgeous beauty without having to forsake any creature comforts.
For those interested in hiking through protected park settings, snorkeling off beautiful beaches or diving with an abundance of marine life this natural environment provides it all and more. Plus there are great golf courses and fine restaurants in truly luxurious resorts. What it doesn’t have is bustle. This is truly a place from which you’ll return relaxed. You have to unwind there is no other choice.
Connoisseur’s Choice in Kaua‘i
Where To Stay
Where To Eat
What To Do