Kauai – Beyond the Beach

Genie Davis February 17, 2011 No Comments

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We love every Hawaiian island, Maui, Oahu, the Big Island of Hawaii, Lanai, and Kauai. We’ll be visiting Molokai soon, and I’m sure we’ll love that, too. The Kauai we experienced was wet to the north and dry to the south, had a lot of wild chickens the kids enjoyed chasing in parking lots and small towns, and of course, had gorgeous beaches and unique ways of seeing the most isolated parts of the island – by helicopter or boat for the Na’Pali coast.

Kauai inland view

Kauai inland view

But for those of you who already know which perfect sand crescent you’ll lie on, which ocean expedition you’ll take, which resort or bed and breakfast you’ll stay in, here are some ideas that go beyond the beach, which the whole family will enjoy. So when the rain comes to Kauai – and it does, how else would those lush jungle flowers of this Garden Isle bloom? – or if you’ve had just a little too much sun – here are some activities you’ll enjoy without hitting the sand.

Kauai’s wonderful, laid-back vibe means there’s plenty of low key, child-friendly activities all across the island, with some unique activities that will make Kauai even more memorable.

One of our favorite non-beach traditions in Kauai are the slack key guitar concerts in Hanalei town. If you don’t already know, the relaxing slack key sound was created by Hawaiian cowboys years back by making guitar strings loose and supple. The result is an enchanting, relaxing, only- in-Hawaii sound and there’s no better place to hear it than at the Hanalei Community Center twice a week. With discounts for seniors and kids, this is a mellow scene for a mellow sound. Our kids got up and danced and not only did no one care, they were applauded.

Your kids will also love the Island Soap and Candle works in Kilauea. This is a factory store, and there are delicious soap and candle products to sniff and sample, but best of all, you can experience how the products are locally sourced and made. We also enjoyed sampling the fresh made granola at Kauai Granola in Waimea town. A particular favorite featured bits of dried guava in with the crunchy, sweet cereal. Another great factory shop  is found in the small art town of Hanapepe in the south western part of the island. Here among galleries and used book shops you’ll find the Kauai Kookie Factory Outlet store with free samples of chocolate chip and macadamia cookies as well as sweet bread cinnamon toast. Best of all is the scent of fresh baked cookies in the air.

If you haven’t filled up on cookies, it’s time for a trip to the local farmer’s market. We’re great fans of farmer’s markets – not only because we tend to make a lot of our own food when traveling and enjoy fresh, local products – but because sampling and browsing local food stalls is always fun and inexpensive entertainment for the kids. On Kauai, every day except Sunday you’ll find a farmer’s market somewhere on the island, but our favorite is the Wednesday afternoon display in Kapaa, on the east side of the island not far from the airport and about an hour from either Princeville to the north or Poipu to the south. Here you’ll find fresh pineapple and coconut, shave ice and Tropical Dreams ice cream treats. Not to mention mango salsa, fresh fish, baby bananas, hand made macaroons, teriyaki chicken sticks, and much, much more. There are tables set up so that you can sit down and snack.

Take your treats and head slightly south to Lihue for a fabulous hula demonstration also held on Wednesday afternoons at the Harbor Mall. Conducted by “Auntie Bev” Muraoka and accompanied by ukuleles, this is an authentic and beautiful performance that really draws you in to the tradition of hula as an expression and art form.

There’s more free culture to experience at the West Kauai Tech and Visitor’s Center in Waimea. We like Waimea as a town, with its off-the-beaten-track feel and historic buildings. Free walking tours of those historic spots are offered every Monday morning; the kids really enjoyed learning about the area’s residents on the leisurely two hour stroll. On Friday afternoons, the center hosts an event called Aloha Fridays, and the kids were able to try their hands at making the taro root into poi. They also got to taste it, and unlike the granola and cookies sampled on other days, the poi itself was not a big hit. Poi is, after all, an acquired taste even for adults. We were also able to
play some traditional Hawaiian games and get temporary Polynesian style tattoos – all free. Best of all was a story time, conducted by an elderly Hawaiian man – surf legends, tall tales involving those wandering Kauai chickens – these kept the kids enthralled, and made us feel as if we’d truly been accepted into the Hawaiian ohana, or family, culture.

There’s more water in Kauai than ocean waves…

There’s more water in Kauai than ocean waves…

Not far from Waimea is Polihale State Park at the end of Kauai’s western shore. Just driving the dirt road to the sand is an adventure, and the beach is virtually deserted at the end of the journey. It’s a great place for an evening picnic, perhaps making use of your farmer’s market bounty. If it’s been a rainy day elsewhere on the island, this part of Kauai is often dry and warm. Sunset watching is perfect here, too. Another excellent picnic choice is the McBryde Garden in the resort town of Poipu. Administered by the National Tropical Botanical Garden you can follow a beautiful stream through a valley ringed by tall, lush, green hills and sharp cliffs. We loved taking the tram tour, a good way to stay off our feet, and still see some spectacular scenery. And somehow trams, like trains, are always a big hit with the little ones.

It’ll be back to the beach in the morning, but you’ll have had a look at some of the arts, crafts, and businesses that make Kauai just as special as its lovely golden sand.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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