A Family Visit to the Garden Island of Kaua'i
In 1988, I vacationed with my daughters Tracy and Robyn in Kaua'i, Hawaii. At the time, they were thirteen and ten years old. Airfares were inexpensive and my father, Dr. Loron McGillis arranged for us to stay at a friend’s Poipu Shores condominium, on the south side of the island. We had a week on the island and planned to make the most of our time and available funds.
On the morning of our first full day, we drove west, stopping first at the famous “Spouting Horn”. Near the shore, on a lava bed, was a blowhole. There the surf would fill a void in the lava rock and spew seawater up and out like a humpback whale, spouting in the sea. My guess is that as the hot lava flowed, the surf crashed in, creating the void before the lava could cool. Now, tens of thousands of years later, the surf still surges and the water and wind make a whooshing sound like no other.
After passing through Waimea Town, we drove toward the southwestern end of the island. We were heading to Barking Sands Beach at Polihale State Park. While the North Shore of Kaua'i is often cool and wet, this windward beach was hot and dry. With a deserted seascape before us; the wind blew onshore. As we walked, friction between the porous grains of sand amplified the sound, creating the barking sound that we expected full well. To me it sounded more like crunchy cereal, but my faded memory of that moment is now twenty-seven years old.
The next morning, we set out for the north side of Poipu to ride horses at CJM Country Stables. After saddling up, we rode in a line toward Māhāʻulepū Beach. There, we enjoyed unspoiled vistas and crashing surf. Several years later, developers built the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort on that beach. As we crested the hill in 1988, the old Gillin Beach House was the only structure in sight.
In 1992, Hurricane Iniki hit Poipu, causing lasting destruction to homes and businesses. Beach-side amenities at the Grand Hyatt disappeared under a huge, wet sand dune. Had Apukohai, the Shark God of Kaua'i taken revenge against the destruction of such a beautiful natural area? While on our return trip to the stables, we rode through cane fields and could smell the pungent odor of a nearby sugarcane mill. Twenty-one years later, in 2009, the last sugarcane mill on the island closed for good.
The following day, we headed north, to Princeville. There we boarded a large motor yacht and set out for the Na Pali Coast. As our boat cruised at high speed, we stood at the bow and tried to warn the captain whenever we saw a sea turtle sunning itself in our path. With spinner dolphins riding our bow wave, the time clicked by. Soon, we arrived at the entrance of a large sea cave, cut into the wall of a cliff. There we spotted intrepid tourists, riding on the side-tubes of inflatable boats. Overloaded for the conditions, they were rocking in the surf. I was happy we had opted for the larger boat.
After waiting our turn, our boat entered the sea cave, known as “The Bright Eye”. After a dark entry, we soon discovered that the interior of the cave was open to the sky. By this time, we had rocked and rolled in the surging ocean for quite some time. After eating lunch, Robyn said that she was not feeling well. As happens on so many coastal voyages, her lunch did not stay down. After alerting the crew, they entered into a familiar drill, cleaning everything up in less than two minutes. I had a feeling that they had done this before. The moral to the story is to take a Bonine tablet in the morning, before your voyage. As Robyn had learned, it is “better to be safe than sorry”.
Undaunted, but chastened, on the next day we headed for the benign surf at Salt Pond Beach Park, just west of the Port Allen Airport. The red clay there, inland from the surf line comprises acres of salt flats. Over millennia, the surf sometimes flows inland on a storm tide. Trapped there, the salt water evaporates, leaving a salt bed. To this day, natives of the island stake out an area on the salt flats, using small trenches and pits to harvest the rich, natural sea salt from Salt Pond Park. Like a community garden, each harvester respects his or her neighbors. As always on this Earth, abundance creates cooperation.
After seeing the beauty of the unspoiled Māhāʻulepū Beach while on horseback, we decided to hike over the hill from our condominium and enjoy another day at that beach. When we arrived, the trade winds blew and the ocean looked impossibly blue. Even in June, the shallow water near shore was cool to cold. Since the tide was out, we decided to build a sand fort that could withstand any wave… or so we thought. Once again, with the entire beach to ourselves, we built higher and higher, until the tide turned and swamped our fortress. That is the way of all sand forts. You build, you enjoy and then the Shark God takes them away.
Our next day, we were off to Waimea Canyon, west of Poipu. From sea level, we took a road that climbed straight up a ridge, then turned into switchbacks and then again up another ridge. This went on for quite a time, until we crested yet another ridge and saw the Grand Canyon off to our right. The Grand Canyon… what was it doing here on Kaua'i? Last time I visited, it was in Arizona. Then I discovered that the Menehune had dug this version of the Grand Canyon. I have to give them credit. It is a good copy of the original.
No trip to Kaua'i is complete without a visit to Brennecke’s Beach at Poipu. Although there is always a crowd, the beach itself never seems overcrowded. The water is warm, the waves are gentle and the place is family friendly. After swimming, you can use the freshwater shower and head for Brennecke’s Beach Broiler, right across the road. In 1992, Hurricane Iniki partially destroyed the restaurant, but it was rebuilt and lives again in Kauai history. There, you can sit upstairs and look out over the beach park and enjoy lunch or Champagne at sunset.
Although it costs a lot more now, in 1988, a helicopter ride for the three of us was only a few hundred dollars. In an hour or so, we saw all of the places we had visited earlier that week, including the cane fields, Waimea Canyon, Barking Sands Beach, the Na Pali Coast and even the extinct volcano that is Mt. Wai'ale'ale, also known as the second wettest place on Earth. Since half of the volcano had blown away in the distant past, we were able to fly “inside the mountain”, even having a waterfall drop a stream of water on to our helicopter. As with our boat trip to the Na Pali Coast, remember to take your Bonine well before departure or risk feeling squeamish as you fly.
After a week on Kaua'i, my money was running low and it was time to return to Los Angeles. While sitting on a bench at Brennecke’s Beach on our final afternoon, we met a man who had sold everything he owned, moved to Kaua'i and bought a hulk of a boat. He told me that he planned to refurbish the boat and create a sport fishing enterprise. Running low on money himself, had not yet started the refurbishment. As his two small children played, sunburned at the beach, he and asked if I would like to partner with him on the venture.
Back home, I had a career, many obligations and a sense of duty to my children and other family members. Something inside me wanted to stay in Kaua'i forever, but my rationality returned and I gently refused his offer. My guess is that the shell of that boat still sits in a yard somewhere on Kaua'i, waiting for the next dreamer to buy it and try to start a new fishing business.
They say that you cannot go home again, but you can always go to Kaua'i and enjoy the time of your life. Since 1988, I have returned to the Garden Island many times. Although there is some new development and other amenities, most of what you see here remains as it was, many decades ago.
In the past decade, I have purchased Kauaijim.com, Kauaihike.com, Kauaijeep.com, Kauaimist.com, Kauaipage.com, Kauaipeak.com, Kauaisea.com and Kauaiview.com. Please join me as I write about each Kaua'i subject listed above.