Thursday, July 12, 2007

12-July 07

We savored our last breakfast in Kauai (I went all out at the made-to-order omelette station, and Sawyer helped himself to the French toast bar, where he garnished generously with chocolate chips, chocolate sauce, and powdered sugar--as if the grandparents hadn't dispensed enough sugary candy, cookies, and soda in the past 10 days). Afterward, we soaked up the hotel grounds and views one final time before making our way to Lihue Airport for our trip home.

Sawyer mourned the loss of his beloved minivan before boarding our uneventful flight (barring the absolutely beautiful sunset we caught as we neared the California coast). The kids were dreamy travelers once again (one fellow passenger spent the entire trip pacing his quiet but antsy 7-month-old up and down the aisles--every time he passed, he commented on how insanely jealous he was of our contented babe!), and the time passed quickly and painlessly. (Sadie slept for about two hours; right upon waking, her cheek still imprinted with the texture of the booster seat, she announced, "I can't believe I've stayed up this whole time!") The little ones were tucked into their own comfy beds at home just before midnight.

As we drift off, we want to send a hearty mahalo to Kauai (and all the warm and friendly people of Kauai) for the unforgettable stay! You've won a permanent place in our hearts.

What we'll most remember about Kauai: wild roosters and hens (and their chirping chicks), cats roaming around hotels and restaurants, and geckos (especially the wee babies)...the saturated colors...the scent of plumeria...the come-as-you-are, idyllic, escapist lure of the island...rusted vehicles holding up surfboards...tiki torches...joyful music and graceful dance...the smiles...

What we'll take away from this trip: the relaxed pace and the balance and harmony of the island...the shaka sign (perhaps you've noticed how readily Sawyer adopted the extended-thumb-and-pinky hand gesture? It means aloha, hello, howzit, have a good day, have a good time, hang loose, right on, cool, peace, thank you, until next time, take get the idea...all goodness and light)...the 'ohana (family) focus...the gracious and welcoming aloha spirit...

Our hope for Kauai: We hope that the blessed island will retain its funky, homegrown, family-run charm in the face of the many big-box stores (Costco, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Home Depot) and chains (Borders, McDonald's, Starbucks, Jamba Juice) that have already found their way there, as well as the coming of the controversial inter-island Hawaii Superferry. We dream of visiting with our children's children as Susie and Noby have done with theirs--and finding it much the same.

If you're going to Kauai, feel free to check out some of our favorite resources for planning and getting into the aloha spirit...

Websites: (their real-person traveler reviews and their forums, in particular, are unparalleled!) (The Garden Island, Kauai's newspaper)

Kauai Underground Guide / Lenore and Mirah Horowitz (especially good for families; tons of practical beach information, reliable restaurant reviews, etc.; and it comes with a nice music CD!)
The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed / Andrew Doughty (known as the "blue bible" and carried by every other tourist on the island; while we didn't always agree with the reviews and advice, we always appreciated the great maps, detailed driving guides and area descriptions, and more)
Kauai Trailblazer: Where to Hike, Snorkel, Bike, Paddle, Surf / Jerry and Janine Sprout (highlights some of the less touristed, more obscure places on the island; we look forward to exploring more of these on future trips when the kids are older)

Naturalist guides:
Hawaii's Fishes: A Guide for Snorkelers, Divers, and Aquarists / John P. Hoover
Hawaii Birds: An Introduction to Familiar Species / James Kavanagh (Illustrated by Raymond Leung)

Island map:
Franko's Dive Map of Kauai, The Garden Isle / Frank Nielsen (two-sided, water-proof, and tear-resistant; includes dive and snorkel recommendations and even fish identification; it's not a driving map--you don't really need one of those if you pick up the aforementioned guidebooks--but it orients you to the island beautifully!)

Kids' books:
The Sleeping Giant: A Tale from Kauai / Edna Cabcabin Moran
Surf's Up for Kimo / Kerry Germain (Illustrated by Keoni Montes)
S Went Surfing: An ABC Book for Keiki / Illustrated by Ruth Moen Cabanting
Hula Lullaby / Erin Eitter Kono
Aloha Is... / Tammt Paikai (Illustrated by Rosalie Prussing)
How to Draw Sea Creatures / Kidsbooks

• I've put together a "Hawaiian Holiday" iTunes playlist (the perfect accompaniment to an evening cocktail back home--if you close your eyes, you can almost feel the island breeze and hear the swaying palms!)'s available as an iMix through iTunes, or you are welcome to email me for details.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

11-July 07

Our grand finale (the blasted itinerary says we're scheduled to leave this beautiful isle tomorrow--whose idea was that?) was the 3,600-foot deep, 10-mile long Grand Canyon of the Pacific: Waimea Canyon.

Along the way, we stopped at the sleepy town of Hanapepe for a visit to Kauai Kookie Kompany (I'd bought a too-small package of their chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies earlier in the week and needed more). After that fruitful trip, we detoured to the town's main drag (all of about one block before it turns to a virtual ghost town with abandoned storefronts all around; Hanapepe has a rich and varied past, including a sugar plantation labor uprising-turned-massacre in 1924, marked by a memorial in the park). We peeked into some shops and galleries (the town hosts "Art Night in Hanapepe" every Friday evening from 6 PM to 9 PM) and then walked across the Hanapepe Swinging Bridge (though not nearly as nerve-wracking as New Zealand swinging bridges with no barriers to prevent one from falling through, it definitely gave the kids the jitters when the wind picked up!). Sawyer and Sadie took pleasure in recognizing Hanapepe as the "home" of Disney's animated film, Lilo and Stitch (along with Hanalei and a few other Kauaian inspirations).

Then we slowly made our way up the ridiculously scenic Waimea Canyon Drive, aka Hwy 550. Now, I haven't seen the Grand Canyon in comparison, but I was more than impressed! The colors were so vivid--from the famous red dirt (our now-stained clothes may have to count as Kauai souvenirs; in fact, they permanently dye t-shirts with the dirt here...though I haven't come across a skin tone yet that would be flattered by those rather hideous "Red Dirt Shirts" sold at nearly every corner!) to the lush green vegetation, the crisp white waterfalls to the golden, brown, and gray rocks. We lucked out with the weather, too--while I hear that clouds and mist can creep up later in the day, our afternoon was crystal clear with bright blue skies and perfect visibility.

(Sadie is none too pleased with the slippery red dirt.)

I'd counted on eating at the Lodge at Koke'e, but we were too late, even for late lunch (they'd closed the restaurant about a half-hour before we arrived). So we had an even later lunch back down the hill at Shrimp Station Restaurant in Waimea. The coconut shrimp was over-the-top coconutty, but the beer-battered shrimp was outstanding, as were the fries. I regret not trying the sweet chili garlic shrimp, but in my lazy, hungry state, I was irrationally overwhelmed at the thought of mucking up my hands to painstakingly peel them.

Stuffed with shrimp but incapable of passing up shave ice, Susie this time explored the "ono'licious extras" on the Jo-Jo's Anuenue menu and upgraded her rainbow shave ice over mac-nut ice cream (never said "macadamia nut" ice cream, mind you) to include azuki beans. She was mighty pleased (and is threatening to make us return before the airport tomorrow!). I tried root beer shave ice over vanilla ice cream--better than the fake fruit flavors for sure, but I'm still not feelin' the love like the rest of the Ikedas. (It's just one of many ways I stand out--including the fact that the others have all been repeatedly mistaken for Hawaiians on, not so much, even with my bottle tan!)

Filled to the gills, we enjoyed the late afternoon (and a tremendous sunset) at Salt Pond Beach Park. The snorkeling wasn't any good, but Granddad loved skipping rocks and the kids loved wearing Papa out ("my turn, my turn!"..."again, again!"..."just one more time...pleeeeeeeease?!").

It was late and getting dark, and we were still rather full, so dinner was take-out sushi and instant miso soup with tofu from Big Save, along with Noby's last few bottles of Kona Golden Amber Ale (a local told him it was akin to one of his all-time favorites--Sierra Nevada Pale Ale--only better). We dined on the lanai while watching the luau wrap up below (tonight's audience was treated to more fire-dancing than we got on Monday--I guess the rain cut ours a wee bit short) and braced ourselves to tackle the dreaded packing job for tomorrow's flight home.

Signs of the day:

"No vehicles beyond this point." (But gee, it looks like such prime parking.)

"No off-road biking." (Now, I know mountain bikers can be hard core, but seriously?!)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

10-July 07

We slept in and spent a leisurely morning before heading to Kauai's Hindu Monastery for a tour (they offer them at 9 AM and 11 AM on Tuesdays only). Located in Kapa'a on a quiet residential street, it's a 458-acre sanctuary that serves as a theological seminary; home to swamis (under lifetime vows, in orange robes), yogis (in the latter half of the lengthy swami training, in yellow robes), and sadhakas (who take vows two years at a time, in white robes); a temple; and a destination for Hindus who come on pilgrimage from around the world.

These aren't your ordinary monks. They maintain an extremely informative, up-to-the-minute website, online academy, and prolific publishing center (where they produce books and the magazine, "Hinduism Today")--in fact, they have been credited with creating the world’s first publishing network, earning Apple Computer’s MacConnection User of the Year Award in 1987! They tend native and exotic plants in their gardens ("we do have someone mow the lawns," the monk told us, "and last week we hired someone to weed, but he never came back!"), they sew their own clothes, they cultivate and prepare their own food, they perform community service, and they build.

And I do mean build. As in construction. Of an Iraivan Temple. It's an in-progress, pure white granite open-air pavilion carved in India entirely by hand and now being erected ten thousand miles away on this Garden Island by Indian master stone masons (it's scheduled to be complete in 2012). Using nothing but hammers and chisels (which we got to feel and also see and hear in action), they fit each and every one of the 3,000 blocks of stone together (like Legos, he told us) to form a monument of sacred art and ancient architecture that is designed to stand for ten centuries and more. The obvious dedication and attention to detail are astounding.

(There's a free-rolling ball of granite within the lion's mouth.)

The Wailua River runs through the monastery, and the land is considered sacred to native Hawaiians. It's an extraordinarily beautiful, harmonious, and peaceful place with its temple (at least one monk is always praying there so that worship goes uninterrupted around the clock), fish and lotus ponds, gardens, groves, statuary, and more. There was an uplifting energy all around.

Mike stayed with the kids in the car while Noby, Susie, and I took the actual tour, but afterward they visited and took advantage of the opportunity to write down and then burn away their burdens, challenges, and confessions into a smoldering cauldron.

We headed to the Koloa Fish Market to pick up an inexpensive but fresh and generous lunch (including shrimp cocktail, sushi, pork lau lau, seared ahi--to die for!--noodles, nori salad, and more) to bring to Brennecke's Beach to watch the boogie boarders. After eating, Mike spied a bunch of sea turtles just off the shore. (Man, are those buggers hard to capture on camera!) While it is on my wishlist to swim with them, I was without a suit at the time (you are asked to dress modestly at the monastery, including long pants and no t-shirts). So for now I have to settle for "could have swam with sea turtles had I been an exhibitionist." Nonetheless, it was great fun to observe the little fellas body surfing.

After freshening up back at the hotel, we made our way to the Grand Hyatt Kauai (a beautiful place if a bit stuffy) for cocktails and pupus in the Seaview Terrace lounge (our server was affected, distracted, and put out by everything and everyone, but we didn't let her dampen our spirits!). We enjoyed the lovely, bird-filled atrium, live music by Leilani Rivera Bond (outstanding voice, but the mics were up so high on the guitars that she was drowned out--shame!), a dramatic torch-lighting ceremony, and an adorable keiki hula show (girls from age four to twelve performing hula, New Zealand poi ball dance, and Tahitian dance).

During the keiki show, the young dancers selected a few good men from the audience (by placing a plumeria behind their ears)--Mike included--to perform hula on stage. He's not quite as natural as his mother and his daughter, but he was a sport! Then we walked down to dinner at Tidepools restaurant (also at the Hyatt), which felt very private and had great atmosphere with its various thatched roofs, koi ponds, and delicious, elegantly presented food. Our waiter was none other than the super-friendly Mike, the crew member from Liko Kauai Cruises who caught the yellowfin tuna yesterday! He recognized us immediately, he loved showing Noby's digital camera shot of his catch to a fellow server, and he earned himself a hefty tip for being an all-around great guy.

Sign of the day:

Only in Hawaii:

(Sawyer's been waxing poetic about the Woody Expedition--we haven't seen it in several days.)

Monday, July 9, 2007

9-July 07

Today we took in the island by sea. After another great buffet breakfast at the Sheraton's open-aired, sparrow-filled Shells restaurant (it's included with our room; they change it up each morning, and it's always a delight--we're getting hooked on morning miso soup!), we headed to the town of Waimea to check in for our Na Pali Coast tour with Liko Kauai Cruises.

I'd worried about the kids getting sea sick--turns out it was wasted energy, as all three were more than fine (Sadie looks to be a natural in and around the water--after a nice doze on the boat, she was up and more animated and excited than I've seen her in a long time. At one point, she exclaimed, "I wish we never had to get off this boat!"). The narration was relaxed, informative, and entertaining (you felt like a much-loved guest on a friends' boat--it was nothing like an impersonal tour!), and the views were stunning (by law, no building can be taller than a coconut tree on Kauai, and it really does ensure that the natural beauty is up front and center where it belongs).

We passed by unspoiled sandy beaches (the Navy owns a good chunk of the west shore beaches), lush valleys, and countless waterfalls as we made our way to the Na Pali Coast (na pali means "the cliffs"). A pod of spinner dolphins played around our boat (the captain shut the engine off to savor the moment), and shortly after that we ran into a bunch of sea turtles and mother-and-baby monk seals (the narrator had seen the baby be born the week before!). We got a glimpse of the privately owned "Forbidden Island" of Ni'ihau, 18 miles off of Kauai, where about 250 traditional, land-loving, family-oriented residents speak only Hawaiian, live devoid of plumbing and electricity (I believe I was told they run a generator once a month), and are virtually, and intentionally, protected from outside, modern influences. Then we continued on for a fantastic look at the Na Pali Coast. We even tucked into a few sea caves, which was a thrill! (Mike and I are itching to sea kayak into those caves one day.) We went as far as Ke'e Beach ("The End of the Road," where we'd snorkeled just days ago) before turning back.

On the return ride, we stopped for snorkeling and a hearty lunch at Makola, which is a beautiful, glassy-watered area bursting with colorful fish (and just about where we'd seen the turtles on the way out, though none were in sight when we were in the water). Sawyer and Sadie both braved it off the boat to swim, and we had a terrific time snorkeling together. In addition to finding that American dollars are waterproof (Mike swam with his wallet in his pocket), we found whitebar and goldrim surgeonfishes, redlip parrotfishes, an orangespine unicornfish (way cool-looking!), and many others we don't readily recognize in Hoover's Hawaii's Fishes book.

After feeding the fishes some leftover bread, we motored back while enjoying gigantic homemade chocolate chip cookies and watching the crew catch a big yellowfin tuna.

All day we were complimented on our kids' behavior, which really made us proud. I think everyone was astounded by how easy-going and smiley (and pudgy!) Scarlett is (I'm sure we scared them all when we boarded the boat with her), and they seemed to get a genuine kick out of chatty Sawyer and brave, sweet Sadie.

In fact, our little ones have made a splash everywhere we've gone on the island. All the Hawaiians comment on how beautiful they are, their skin tones, etc. They seem to really love Hapa children on Kauai!

On the way back to the hotel, we hit Jo-Jo's Anuenue (run by the original owner of Jo-Jo's on the main drag) for shave ice. I know this is sacrilege here, but I'm just not that into the stuff--while the texture is fluffy, and it's nice over ice cream, the fruity flavorings are just too artificial for me. But Susie liked it so much she had a second round! We then spent a little time at the dark-sand beach by Waimea Pier.

Tonight was the Sheraton's Surf to Sunset Luau. I'd wanted to do the Smith's Luau, as I'd heard it was the most "authentic" (as tourist luaus go, anyway), but with the drive and the later start-time and longer program, that would have made for a much more draining evening. We weren't disappointed! The setting (it's the only beachside luau on Kauai) was perfect, the open bar was free-flowing all evening, and the buffet was beautiful and exceptionally tasty (Sawyer went back for fifths!). The poi I could have done without--I was the only one brave enough to try it--and the poki had such potential but was far too spicy. The show was a bit over-glitzed (and with a pretty hokey MC) but plenty enjoyable and entertaining all the same. Even with a spot of tropical rain, the luau was a festive and fun way to cap our day.

(Mike met wood carver Leo and purchased a tiki that Leo kindly personalized for him.)

The Hawaiian alphabet has only 12 letters: 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and 7 consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p, w). We're mixing up street and town names constantly!

Signs of the day:

(We've seen a bunch of wahine/kane bathroom signs on Kauai but somehow haven't managed to photograph any of these are respectfully stolen from the weird and wonderful world wide web.)

(One showing of one movie five days a week--hardly seems worth the rent!)

Sunday, July 8, 2007

8-July 07

In all my research on Kauai, it became evident that the thing to do here is take a helicopter ride. Much of the island is rugged, impassable wilderness, and some of the interior receives as much as 480 or more inches of rain annually. Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian islands, and with so little of it developed and so much of its landscape untouched and virtually untouchable, it's no wonder the island is best seen by air.

I chose Air Kauai, as I'd heard great things about their level of professionalism, I was told their helicopters had the biggest and best windows (even skylights and "foot" windows!), and I was comforted by their (knock wood) perfect safety record in 18+ years of operation. We scheduled back-to-back "baby-swap" tours for the grown-ups (when Noby and Susie went up, we watched the kids, and vice versa--our rental van came equipped with a DVD player, so Sawyer and Sadie were easily entertained by Lilo and Stitch, which was "set" on Kauai).

We were in the capable hands of Hawaii native and Vietnam veteran combat helicopter pilot Jody, who is retired but simply loves flying and showing off the beauty of the island he calls home. (He also happens to be one of the paddlers we saw training on the river yesterday!) Through Bose noise-reducing headphones, we listened to his informative tour narration as well as an apt soundtrack (nothing too cheeseball, but some nice musical swells during the most breathtaking views, some classic Hawaiian ballads, etc.). We also had microphones to ask questions and talk amongst ourselves during the hour-long flight.

Susie and Noby caught a rainbow on their flight (rainbows are shaped like a complete circle from the air--neat!), but Mike and I weren't as lucky. We did, however, score the two front seats (these helicopters seat six passengers--four in the backseat--and the pilot determines the arrangement by the safest, most balanced weight distribution [they don't take your word for it; you're discreetly weighed at check-in]). Jody's ride is ultra-smooth (the smoothest Noby has ever experienced, in fact, and he has ridden in quite a few helicopters during his career with the National Park Service) and covers nearly the entire island (including rivers, Mount Kawaikini, Mount Waialeale--the "wettest spot on earth"--hundreds of waterfalls, Waimea Canyon, taro fields, cities, the coastline, and so much more). Both flights were outstanding. Jody hovers so close to the beauty that you feel you could reach out and touch the earth--and yet he is ever mindful to avoid hiking spots (in his words, "the last thing you need after hiking for 14 hours is a helicopter buzzing you"). I was positively overcome when he maneuvered us into one area along the Na Pali coast that formed a natural cathedral.

I don't mind sharing that Jody called me a "goddess"--he said that in island legend, redheads are revered as goddesses. (And why the heck not?)

In the air, Jody pointed out some production tents for the filming of Tropic Thunder (we'd seen a "Tropic Thunder Crew" sign when we were driving earlier this week as well). It's a movie starring Ben Stiller (I understand he has a home in the Kilauea area; he co-wrote the screenplay to this film and is producing it as well), Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr., Jay Baruchel, Steve Coogan, Bill Hader, Nick Nolte, Matthew McConaughey, and Tom Cruise (some of those in cameo roles, no doubt). Set to release in the summer of '08, it's a DreamWorks Pictures and Red Hour Films comedy/parody about a group of actors who are set to shoot a big-budget war movie only to find themselves living it for real.

The pre-filming cast and exec party is in Kapa'a a couple of days after we leave the island, and filming begins a week from tomorrow (and ends in November). I hear they may still be casting for a Vietnamese toddler boy, athletic folks for stunts, and women who can dance, so if you fit the bill and want a gig in the Garden Island....

Or there's always "Kauai Idol"--we have come across the poster-board call for auditions a few times now.

We followed our flights with brunch at Gaylord's, a beautiful and relaxed courtyard restaurant on the historic, 35-acre Kilohana Plantation Estate, where Mike enjoyed not one but two "Cajun Ahi Benedict" plates in addition to the many buffet offerings. The plantation is lovely (both the home and gardens) but it's rather commercialized with all its shops, galleries, and tours.

On the way back to the Sheraton, we detoured to Lawa'i to find Susie's manju. The selection was minimal (it's a small stand inside the nondescript Menehune Food Mart), but she was pleased with her haul nonetheless (I don't care for manju, but I'd say the offerings at the market next to Duane's Ono Char-Burger in Anahola were superior). While there, I picked up some anti-itch cream for some relentless bug bites. It's not helping.

(I do believe there's Spam in those rolls on the bottom...yep, that's right, there's such a thing as Spam sushi. And as I recall, several extended Ikedas like it. A lot. We're apparently in the Land of Spam: more of the gelatinous pink pork product, aka "Hawaii's soul food," is consumed here than in any other state in the U.S. We're talking nearly six million cans a year, or almost six cans apiece for every man, woman, and child. Musubi is the ready-to-eat, no-need-to-refrigerate Spam snack that resembles an over-sized piece of nigiri sushi. If you so desire--I don't--you can buy your very own musubi at nearly any convenience or grocery store in Hawaii for about $1.50. Or, for free, you can check out Howard Yoon's recent NPR ode to Spam--complete with recipes!)

Back at the hotel, Sawyer and Sadie got Mike and Noby to take them swimming, and the rest of the girls spent a lazy afternoon watching skim boarders, boogie boarders, and sun worshippers from the lanai before we all enjoyed a low-key room-service dinner (great burgers; skip the chocolate souffle).

It seems they aren't "Hawaiian shirts" when you're actually in Hawaii--they're "aloha shirts!"

Saturday, July 7, 2007

7-July 07

In the tropics at 22 degrees latitude, Kauai receives direct sunlight twice a year: 3 weeks before and 3 weeks after summer solstice--you know, right about now. I suppose it's no wonder a few of the Ikedas are nursing minor sunburns from yesterday's snorkeling despite sunscreen vigilance. But no one has it very badly, so we're counting our blessings and continuing to lather it up thick and often.

Early this morning, we bid goodbye to Bali Hai (and promised to return one day) and made our way to Nawiliwili for our next adventure. Since arriving in Kauai, we'd been listening to "Island Radio" (KITH 98.9 FM; they call it "contemporary island music" and "today's Hawaiian hits," but I call it a poor substitute for good reggae), so I decided it was time to plug in the iPod and enjoy my "Hawaiian Holiday" playlist instead. It was the perfect soundtrack for the scenic drive, where bright blue skies and extra-puffy clouds punctuated the lush green vegetation (and this is a dry year, they keep telling us?!).

We arrived at the Nawiliwili Small Boat Harbor and met Anna (she is super funny and energetic and great with the kids--reminded me a bit of our very own Auntie Kimbo) and Ben (laid back, friendly, and informative), our tour guides for kayaking and hiking to Hidden Valley Falls with Outfitters Kauai. Scarlett right away let it be known that she wasn't at all pleased with her life vest, but she soon reverted to her usual trooper self (if only she'd do the same in her carseat; in the last few days, she's decided she's not a fan). We teamed up into tandem kayaks--Granddad and Sawyer, Grandma and Sadie (with guide Anna), and Mike, me, and Scarlett (she got me out of paddling!)--and made our way up the scenic Hule'ia River (where they filmed "Raiders of the Lost Ark"--remember the scene where Indiana Jones is chased by the natives and jumps into the river to board the sea plane that whisks him away?). We saw competitive canoe teams in training (whoa--what power!) and even maneuvered ourselves through mangroves (you gotta limbo!).

(Sadie and Grandma don't mind letting Anna pick up their slack.)

Then we left the kayaks behind and took a rainforest nature walk, where we were invited to rope swing into a swimming hole (Mike was game, as was Sawyer after some coaxing and cajoling) before reaching the waterfalls (pretty but not terribly impressive--okay, so maybe it is a dry year!). Then we hiked back to the river and enjoyed a return trip via powered canoe, where we were given drinks (I'm officially hooked on guava juice) and serenaded by a cool guy on ukulele. Sawyer proved to be a hit with all the pretty girls.

Anna steered us right when she recommended Sushi Bushido in Kalapaki for lunch. The maguro and hamachi rivaled the best we've ever had (in Vancouver, BC, nearly a decade ago--and yes, we're still talking about it). We also loved the house favorite Golden Roll (fresh salmon, tuna, crab, and avocado in panko and served on avocado unagi aioli). Our waiter apparently took a liking to the Ikedas (what's not to like?)--we got nori salad and edamame, sakis for Granddad and Grandma, and green tea ice cream for the kids all on the house!

We arrived at the Sheraton in Poipu late this afternoon. They greeted us with orchid leis for the girls (even Scarlett, who took great pleasure in littering the lobby floor with individually drooled upon purple petals) and kukui nut leis for the boys. Our room overlooks the pool (with waterslide taunting the kiddos already) and beach (just a stones throw from the pool) and offers up gorgeous views. It's incredibly peaceful...that is, until you open the sliding glass door and hear the roaring ocean and shrieks of wet, sandy glee below!

Dinner was at Brick Oven Pizza in Kalaheo, which came highly recommended by several folks. It was delicious (we love the garlic-brushed, twist-edged crust), though Sadie and Scarlett were so overtired that we rushed through the meal to get them "home" to bed. (Perhaps I'm wearing the family out with all this fun in the sun!)

(For the historians among us: last spring in Kalaheo, archeologists unearthed remnants of what is believed to be the Kalaheo Blockade, a lost World War II Japanese-American internment camp. Further information can be found in this article from Kauai's newspaper, The Garden Island.)

Friday, July 6, 2007

6-July 07

Today was our last full day on the North Shore. We breakfasted at the condo before heading further north. It was a beautiful drive (the one-way bridges reminded us of New Zealand's South Island) and made me want to move here, reside in one of those lovely, lazy green homes built on stilts and capped with a red tin roof, tend my cane-fenced tropical garden, and park my surf-board-laden truck in the carport underneath. (We passed Hanalei Colony Resort, with a motto that says it all: "Unspoiled, Unplugged, Unforgettable.")

Thank goodness for mile markers and blessedly specific guidebooks, as very few beaches and attractions on Kauai are announced by sign. (Incidentally, no matter how full one of the haphazard dirt parking lots might be, there's always more than enough room on the sand and in the water--it never feels even remotely crowded here, and this is peak season! Perhaps it's due to the sheer volume of beach material: Kauai's 90 miles' worth of shoreline boasts more beaches than any other Hawaiian island.) But we had no trouble finding Ke'e Beach, which is literally located at "The End of the Road" (the farthest you can go by car), for a long afternoon of sand-castle-making, water play, and snorkeling. The beach was more picturesque than I imagined with its black rocks, lush cliffs, palm trees, sparkly clear waters, visible reef, fine-grained sand, and, of course, clucky hens and their chirpy chicks.

It was the first time for everyone but Mike and I, and Ke'e was definitely an ideal spot for an inaugural snorkel: plop your face in (or don't even bother) a foot from shore and say hello to countless fishes! The kids had some trouble keeping their masks free of water, but both managed plenty of good swimming and fish-viewing all the same. Snorkeling is satisfying anywhere--it's incredibly peaceful to put your head under water and hear nothing but the rhythmic sound of your own breathing as you tool around in search of new finned friends--but it was exceptionally rewarding here.

We had the privilege of swimming with spotted boxfishes, gray chubs, goatfishes, crocodile needlefishes, Hawaiian flagtails, yellowfin and orangeband surgeonfishes, convict tangs, reef triggerfishes (including the unofficial Hawaiian state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua'a, otherwise known as the Hawaiian triggerfish), and plenty more we couldn't identify. (We didn't, however, swim with sea turtles. We're told that hundreds of them hang out just outside the reef at Ke'e, but we weren't taking any chances with the current--the waves looked forceful enough to keep us well inside the reef opening. But a guy a few rocks down the beach from us tortured me with his glee at seeing one himself!)

Note to anyone headed this way (or anywhere else there's a reef): please don't walk on the coral like so many ignorant and/or boorish folks did today!

We peeked in at the wet caves on our way back to Hanalei for our last visit (this trip, anyway). Tropical Taco and Wishing Well Shave Ice were closed (boo!), so we walked around town (where Granddad was recognized as "that outstanding rock-skipper guy" by someone who'd seen him at the beach yesterday morning) and decided on dinner at Bubba Burgers (try the corndog!) followed by dessert at the Princeville Lappert's (macadamia flavor, of course--my, are they ever generous with the nuts!). Tonight, we're popping corn and watching South Pacific for our Bali Hai grand finale.

Sign of the day:

(Why add even an ounce of health?)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

5-July 07

An early breakfast at Hanalei Wake-Up Cafe (their enormous macadamia-nut cinnamon roll is a bargain at $3.50, and the guava juice is to-die-for) was great--super casual, surfer paraphernalia everywhere, and tropical breezes (we sure love how all the restaurants are open-air here). Even Scarlett was appropriately outfitted for the surfer mood.

"Let's go surfin' now; Everybody's learning how; Come on and safari with me!" sang Noby on our way to surfing lessons for Mike, me, and Sawyer (the others chickened out). Our Hawaiian Surfing Adventures instructor, Chris, was a professional surfer, and he was incredibly fun and knowledgeable (he definitely put me at ease--when we first began, I was nervous and wishing I'd never signed up!). After just 15 minutes of dry-land lessons (he called us "quick studies"), he had us in the water surfing (he said the waves were strong and as good as they get in Hanalei Bay--we were lucky). We ate a lot of salt water during our twenty-or-so runs (the lessons lasted more than two hours), but we all stood and loved riding the waves! Mike and I are especially enamored with the sport (both of us picked it up right away, and, if you insist, I'll reveal what Chris told me: that I "look like a natural" up there and "have real finesse" on the board!) and can't wait to try it again.

Sufficiently salty-haired and board-slapped (my knee got a surf rash--Chris said that happens at around two hours of surfing, and that's the cue to come on in for a bit), we drove to lunch at Kilauea Bakery/Pau Hana Pizza, where we had soup, sandwiches, and pizza. The bakery is in the nicely manicured Kong Lung Center with a resident cockatoo and fun gift shops (the Kong Lung Co. is the perfect place for unique and beautiful items like Japanese ceramics, luscious coffee-table books, and cool kid toys). We visited the overlook to the Kilauea Lighthouse before leaving town.

We stopped in at the Guava Kai plantation for a browse through their gift shop, a guava-product tasting, and an unexpectedly interesting and pretty nature walk where we saw all sorts of tropical flowers and fruit trees.

(jak fruit)

Banana Joe's was open on our way back, so we couldn't resist a stop despite our full bellies (it was on Granddad's Kauai wishlist, after all). There weren't a lot of choices--just one smoothie (overpowered by banana) and one frosty option (the frosty was nothing but frozen pineapple blended up--the consistency was like ice cream!). We gotta say, we weren't terribly impressed; nearby Mango Mamas, with its huge smoothie selection (with names rivaling the very best cocktails around--including the Sweet Dream, Lip Smacker, and Koko Pina), along with a build-your-own alternative, beats Banana Joe's any day of the week.

Back home, I mourned the extent of the sunburn on the back of my legs from surfing (I had sunscreened them multiple times, but apparently not enough!) before cleaning up and heading out to sunset drinks and dinner at the open-air Happy Talk Lounge here at Hanalei Bay Resort, where the atmosphere was superb, the view spectacular, the weather ideal, and musician Norman "Kaawa" Soloman's super-smooth voice perfect for Hawaiian ballads.

(Round Two: A Day at the Beach, Kauai Mudslide, and Hanalei Sunset)

Only in Hawaii:

Signs of the day:

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

4-July 07

Only when he tipped it toward his mouth to drink did Mike notice the gecko in his glass first thing this morning!

We started the day with a fresh fruit tasting, some POG (passion-orange-guava juice--more sugar than juice but quite good all the same, and probably very tasty in a cocktail), and a batch of "Hula Girl" Kona coffee-flavored chocolate-chip pancakes (twelve thumbs up) before Granddad and Sawyer headed off to a ukulele ("uke") lesson with John, a great musician and very cool guy whose mannerisms and style made us think of a Hawaiian Grampa Gary. Noby and Sawyer learned to tune, strum, and play "Hele on to Kauai" (which made me happy because it's one I had put on my "Hawaiian Holiday" iTunes playlist--it's a lovely song).

Next up was a lei-making class for Sawyer and the Ikeda ladies (Princess Scarlett supervised from a nearby lounge chair). We made three leis (Sadie and I teamed up) out of sweet-smelling plumeria using lei needles (they sell them at Ben Franklin in Lihue--I wonder whether they're as available on the mainland?) and dental floss. Very simple and really quite beautiful!

We then walked to the beach shared with the neighboring Princeville Hotel (though all beaches are public on Kauai). It's a rather steep hike down (and seems all the steeper coming back up afterward), and guests are welcome to call a bellhop to transport them by golf cart either direction, but we figured the exercise meant we could enjoy more Kona chips and Mai Tais. (A rather disturbing oddity along the way: countless flattened frogs--presumably made so by the aforementioned golf carts.) The Princeville Hotel is undeniably elegant, but the whole place felt overly opulent and Italianate for my liking--except for its location and the occasional palm-tree mural, the hotel doesn't feel like Kauai at all.

For sustenance, we hit the road and made our way toward Kilauea for smoothies at the very pink, very gaudy Mango Mama's (Banana Joe's was closed, perhaps for the holiday). We were pleased with our fruity sensations all around. We chased our smoothies with late-afternoon burgers at Duane's Ono Char-Burger, where we ate on the patio with a motley crew of cats, a duck, roosters, hens, and chicks underfoot. (Stick with the teriyaki bestseller--the others are good, but it's great!) Incidentally, Duane's recycles its cooking oil to fuel Na Pali Eco Adventures power catamaran tours.

(Hibiscus the size of Sadie's face!)

(If Mike's drinking-glass gecko had been this color, perhaps he'd have seen it sooner!)

We were told that the only Independence Day fireworks show in Kauai would be at the stadium in Lihue, and we preferred to stay closer to home base. Most folks recommended we just set off our own mini-display at Hanalei Bay with the locals (a treat all the same since fireworks are outlawed back home). Instead, I suggested we take our explosives (the boys went a little beyond your basic sparklers--what is it with the Y chromosome and fire, anyway?) to what looked to be a quieter, more family-focused beach--and that's where we lucked into one of Kauai's best-kept secrets: Kalihiwai Beach on the Fourth of July. Not only did we get a huge chunk of a most picturesque beach all to ourselves, but we got to celebrate the holiday with local families armed with as many or more fireworks as we were. By sunset, the entire beach was sparkly and festive. But even better than that was when a completely unexpected and very professional firework display lit up the cove just after 8:00 PM and went on for longer than any we've ever seen before! It was a Fourth we'll never forget.

Only in Hawaii:

(What can I get ya? Towels? Snorkeling gear? Chew toy?)

(We are unwittingly stalking the Woody Expedition--we've come upon it in 5 locations!)

How to speak Hawaiian:
--ono = delicious, tasty, good to eat
--pupus = appetizers

Sign of the day:

(There will be no family fun tonight, ya hear?!)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

3-July 07

Scarlett was up 45 minutes before the roosters. The roosters were up at 4:45 AM. Yawn. To her credit, she did follow Grandma's explicit bedtime directions: kids aren't to wake up any grown-ups until after 7:00 AM. Scarlett just hadn't yet set her watch to Hawaii time. We'll aim to correct that before tomorrow.

We opened our drapes to a rainbow over Bali Hai. Yeah, this is paradise, alright! Just outside our sliding glass doors, mother hens paraded their chicks while roosters crowed and shooed other birds away.

We enjoyed a relaxing morning (the kids and Granddad watched Bridge to Terabithia) before having brunch at The Hanalei Gourmet, a bright, cheery little cafe in the Old School Building at Hanalei Center. We highly recommend the Fresh Island Fish Sandwich (today the fish was a meaty and delicious Tombo) and the Waioli Salad with grilled vegetables (the artichoke hearts and baby corn were excellent), goat cheese, and a not-too-sweet, not-too-tangy mango vinaigrette.

After a little shopping and a stop at Shave Ice Paradise for our first shave ice (we're going to reserve judgment until we order a more appealing flavor combination than Sawyer's fruity rainbow of ice over chocolate ice cream--oy!), we continued our way up the coast (most locals live in extremely modest homes, but their waterfall, mountain, and coastal views are priceless) to Lumahai Beach (where they filmed South Pacific and, specifically, where Mitzi Gaynor washed that man right out of her hair). I fed Scarlett on the sand shaded by a massive yellow hibiscus tree.

On our way back, we hit Waipa Farmer's Market, where we tasted icy cold coconut milk--clear, thin, and subtle in flavor, it's nothing like the sickeningly sweet, condensed stuff you find in cans on the shelves of the supermarket. For $5 or $6 (depending on size), the vendor hacks the coconut open with a machete, yanks out a small section, and drops in a straw and paper umbrella. After you drink it down while browsing the market, you return, and he gladly slices it open and carves the flesh for you. (Good thing we bought ours when we did--about five minutes after opening--as they sold out of coconuts not long after! The market doesn't go on for hours as ours does at home--there were hardly any cars in the field when we left after 45 minutes or so.)

(They grow 'em big--and small--in Kauai!)

At the market, we picked up some obligatory pineapple as well as mangoes, bananas, passion fruit, lychees, and a few new-to-us fruits: mountain apples, kaimitos, and strawberry papayas. We even got some sugar cane (Granddad showed us how to carve it and work the sweetness out of the fibers--it was $1.00 well spent!).

We stopped at the Hanalei Lookout to get a postcard view of the taro fields. Our photos don't do the area justice, as you can't see the beauty of the various patches of green swaying in the breeze and glistening in the sun.

Sadie and Grandma took a poolside hula lesson this afternoon. They learned a graceful dance to "Hanalei Moon." We think they're naturals.

After a refreshing afternoon swim, we showered up and headed back to Hanalei for dinner at Sushi Blues. It's an open-air balcony restaurant--industrial chic meets tropical flair (and yet somehow it works). We were hoping for live music by local musicians, but we had to settle for piped-in reggae music. We shared a bunch of specialty rolls, including the tempura-battered Las Vegas Roll, the Waimea roll (garlic sashimi with tobiko--a little too intense for our liking), and, our favorite, the Grasshopper Roll (with unagi and macadamia nuts). Noby upgraded to the 22-oz Stella Artois beer, and I savored my first island Mai Tai (the server promised it was the drink of the house--"a Mai Tai that doesn't really taste like a Mai Tai ")...but it was Sadie who was knocked out by evening's end!

Sign of the day:

(We thought the lettering and art was so cool!)

Monday, July 2, 2007

2-July 07

Eat, sleep, smile, coo. Repeat. That was apparently Scarlett's mantra during the 5-hour plane ride from San Francisco to Lihue, Kauai. (It's confirmed: she's perfect.) At SFO, we learned that a stroller gets you to the front of the security line. It does not, however, get the rest of your party to the front of the security line. (Uh, it's not exactly convenient to be split up when there are hoards of bustling travelers all around!) Lucky for us, Sawyer's animated voice is hard to miss, so we didn't have too much trouble meeting up again inside the terminal.


The kids loved their first flight and proved to be easy-going travelers. United Airlines conducts a "Halfway to Hawaii" contest, where all the passengers on the Boeing 767 are invited to venture a guess as to what exact time (in Hawaii--three hours behind Pacific Time) the plane will cross the halfway point between SFO and LIH. Mike jotted down some figures and made a few computations about speed, distance, and headwind to come to his engineering-minded conclusion. I ventured a quick but nonetheless educated guess, as did the kids. The actual time was 9:13:24. I had entered 9:13:12. Yes, folks, I was off by a mere 12 seconds! (And yes, I took great pleasure in beating the brainiac.) My name and seat number were announced over the loudspeaker, and I am the proud recipient of a lovely gift box of Hawaiian macadamia nuts.

We were greeted with high humidity and fresh orchid leis as we retrieved our checked baggage, and then we headed to the car rental counter. Sawyer and Sadie are incredibly enamored with our minivan for the next 10 days--a white Dodge Caravan equipped with power doors and a DVD player.

First stop: Wal-Mart. You know, it's important to soak up the flavor of the island from the get-go. (Actually we were there to pick up inexpensive island essentials like snorkeling gear, beach mats, water, diapers, and fireworks for the Fourth of July--but we did manage to get a feel for Kauai even at Wal-Mart, where they offer an extensive Hawaiiana selection and have wild chickens running around the parking lot!)

Then we hit Hamura's Siamin for siamin (we got the "special"--the hardboiled egg and wontons were exceptionally yummy) and the much-lauded lilikoi pie (somewhat like a lemon-meringue pie, but lighter and "spongier" and made from passionfruit--we liked!). The place was teeny, run down, hot, set way back from the main drag, and jam-packed with locals and just a few in-the-know tourists (there were about twenty people waiting for stools when we vacated our spots at the counter).

(Four thumbs up for Hamura's!)

The pace is definitely laid back on the island, and Scarlett has internalized it already.

The drive from Lihue to Princeville was colorful and stunning--fleeting rainbows over the deep-blue ocean with crisp white swells, trees bursting with yellow-accented plumeria, red-dirt hills, and lush green rainforests. It was gratifying to pass by all the mountains, fruit stands, beaches, restaurants, and surf shops I've been obsessively researching (everything is smaller and closer than I anticipated!).

We arrived at our privately-owned condo at Hanalei Bay Resort just in time for a breathtaking sunset. Even on the ground floor, our view is positively gorgeous. The condo is spacious and decorated in Hawaiian kitsch (love it!), and we have roosters and hens of all sizes and colors running about on our lanai. We were just settling in when the kids begged to hit the pool. Into our suits and flip-flops we went, and we were off for a night swim! The pool is complete with waterfalls and a hot tub, sand areas, tiki torches, bouganvillea, and live Hawaiian music wafting from the terrace above. (The pool is saltwater--so soft on the skin! It's the perfect temperature, as is the air outside--you don't catch a chill, even exiting the hot tub, and yet you are never too warm.) We walked back home under a canopy of stars and a slight drizzle. It was the perfect way to end the day and begin our stay in paradise.

Only in Hawaii:
Woody Expedition

How to speak Hawaiian:
--lanai = porch or balcony

Sign of the day:

("Please do not stick gum under counter. Thank you.")

Sunday, July 1, 2007

1-July 07

The Ikedas get set to take Kauai...with wishlists in hand!

Taste a Banana Joe's smoothie
Relax, relax, and relax some more

Find manju
Savor the sights

Learn to surf
Attend a luau
Eat lots of super-fresh sashimi

Swim with turtles
Drink beautiful cocktails in beautiful places

Learn to surf
Learn to play the ukulele
Drink coconut milk from an actual coconut

Learn to hula
Make a lei

Avoid sunburn
Eat, sleep, poop