Travel Category

Our Adventure in Kauai: Day 7 & Final Aloha

Nine, count them nine, zip lines were ridden with much hootin’ and hollerin’ by yours truly! One of the zip lines was 1200 feet long! Princeville Ranch Adventures did a nice job introducing us to zip lining, and we even got to jump off a lil’ cliff into the natural swimming hole where the tour ended.

For lunch, we got an interesting tip. Apparently, one of the best cheeseburgers this side of Kauai was at a Chevron gas station in Princeville. Sounded good to us! The North Shore General Store had tasty and fresh burgers made from locally raised, grass-fed Kauai cattle. Their fries were extra good too. For dessert, I indulged with a fat scoop of Kauai Pie – Kona coffee ice cream, macadamia nuts, toasted coconut, and chocolate fudge – from Lapperts. And Jordan had a lillikoi-watermelon-lychee shave ice from Kauai’s Best Shave Ice which proved true to its name, believe it or not.

The rest of the day we relaxed poolside and then had a beautiful and intimate dinner at Red Salt at Koa Kea. Unfortunately, I sacrificed decent pictures for romantic lighting, but Red Salt provided a more inspired culinary experience for me than some of the other dinners we’d had on the island.

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Naturally, as Jordan I sat quietly on our patio back at the hotel, we were a bit morose given our departure the next day. But as we reminisced on our 10 year anniversary visit, we realized how many first-time experiences we had in Kauai. And I knew, we could leave knowing there would be many more first-times in the years to come.

And wouldn’t you know it, but as we were driving toward the airport the next day, we decided to have one more first-time experience before we left. So we stopped at the Koloa Fish Market in Koloa. There was absolutely no way in Hawaii, I was going to leave without having an authentic “plate lunch”.

Koloa Fish Market is a small storefront that screams “local,” outside and in. I ordered two Hawaiian plates, and while I waited, I witnessed a raucous exchange between a local dude who walked in for a pick-up, and the guys running the place. The conversation was bursting with good, loud humor, and Hawaiian slang.

When I was handed our two styrofoam containers, each weighing what seemed 5 pounds each, I knew we had come to the right place. We parked at a local baseball field near the store, turned off the engine, and had our very own Hawaiian picnic in the car while watching a Little League game.

No fooling, this was a seriously delicious meal. Our plates included chicken long rice, lomi salmon, lau lau, and shredded Kalua pig. You will crave the succulent and sweet lau lau pork, its herbaceous flavor and scent imparted by the taro leaf wrapping.

How could we possibly be depressed leaving Kauai if our bellies are full of this all the way home?

Mahalo, Kauai. ­čÖé

Our Adventure in Kauai: Day 6

We were on the road to Hanakapiai Trail from Ke’e Beach by 5:30am the next morning. The drive takes one to two hours depending on when you leave. It only took us an hour, but we knew that the hike to Hanakapiai Falls would require at least four hours, and an early start meant less people.

The hike begins at the northern entrance to the famous Kalalau trail which is known for its incredible views and the dangers involved in getting to those views. On my helicopter ride, I literally got a birds eye view of this trail. I kid you not, the “trail” is barely that. By the looks of two hikers braving the trail at the time – their stomachs and faces pressed tightly against the red dirt mountain side – it truly seemed the foothold couldn’t have been that much wider than a size 7 foot. Add in a perpetual mist off the teeming ocean directly below, and constant wind erosion, and it’s no wonder hikers die every year from attempting to trek the entire 11 mile trail.

Although it’s possible to hike the Kalalau in a day, it’s highly recommended that hikers take two days. But a nice alternative for those of us not quite ready to fall to our deaths (at least not yet) is to hike to Hanakapiai Falls which is about 8 miles and doesn’t require a meeting with your life insurance agent. The hike starts at Ke’e Beach and goes along the coast, veers inland into a lush canyon, then ends up at one of the most beautiful waterfalls on the island. And this hike is no cake walk either, especially if rains have made the trail very slick and extremely muddy, like we experienced.

But it is one of the shorter hikes you can do with incredible scenery along the way, and a major payoff at the end. Take a look.

When we arrived, we spotted a natural rock alcove overlooking the falls, and climbed up to have a simple but perfectly satisfying lunch of cold rosemary roast chicken, apples, trail mix, and more homemade ahi jerky from Living Foods . I also had some excellent lilikoi-lychee Kauai Kombucha. This was one of the most memorable lunches I’ve had in my life.

We made it back to Ke’e Beach just when the trail was getting crowded.

We were filthy and glowing.

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On the drive back, we hit up Joe’s Banana Stand and each had an incredible pineapple “frosty” which transforms frozen pieces of the ripest, sweetest pineapple and banana into a creamy delight (no dairy included). Also for the first time, we got to sample some rare poha berries and Sugar Loaf white pineapple.

Poha berries are tropical fruits that originated in South America and were brought to the Islands by early settlers. The berries come from the tomato family, and like tomatillos, have a papery husk. The fruits are a beautiful orangish yellow, and are softly tart and sweetly floral. Sugar Loaf white pineapple is exactly as delectable as it sounds. I love pineapple as it is, but imagine it with a core as tender and sweet as the flesh around it. Sugar Loaf is indeed a beautiful cream-white color, as well.

I felt like I had stopped at the edible candy cottage in Hansel and Gretel, except in place of a witch, there was a charming older hippie couple running the place.

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Our next stop was Kilauea where we had a few comforting slices of pizza at the charming Kilauea Bakery and Pau Hana Pizza.

And we made it just in time for the Kilauea Sunshine Farmer’s Market. It was small, but no trip is complete for me without perusing an open air market. This one happened to have a vendor offering young coconut to drink and eat (with coconut shell “spoon”) too. Bonus!

Funny enough, we also spotted our crazy hiking guide Steve on a bike on his way to the market with who must have been his girlfriend from Tasmania (he had mentioned her several times to us on our hike).

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Last stop was a joint that screamed out at us to stop and sample: Chicken in a Barrel. Crazy smoky chicken that’s slow cooked in oil drums on the side of the road, the chicken was rich, hearty and plenty smoky. And one serving could easily feed two.

We also sampled a side of the pulled Hawaiian pork with Hawaiian BBQ sauce, as well. The pork was tasty (I mean, it’s smoked pork!), but if you visit Chicken in a Barrel, you should go there for the chicken. Don’t forget to try the potato salad and condiments they’ve got lined up at the counter too. You’ll definitely get the local vibe eating this chicken while sitting at one of their picnic tables on the side of the road, smoking oil drums going nonstop right next to you.

Our Adventure in Kauai: Day 5

When visiting Kauai, surprises can happen anywhere and at any time, and they usually take the form of something wild.

It was a glorious morning at the beach in Poipu and while Jordan was off body surfing, I opted for some quiet reading time on an adjacent beach. It was there whilst lazing in the shallows, that I felt a forceful bump behind my legs. Thinking it was some errant child pushed over to me by a wave, I turned my head around – eyes sleepy with sunshine – and found myself level with a young sea turtle.

Of course I was startled at first, but elation quickly took over. When things like this happen, it makes one feel as if reality isn’t all that it seems to be, and that there is much more right under our noses. And sometimes, like a sea turtle’s head breaking through the surface of a mossy ocean, that other reality breaches our own, if only for a few moments.

As a smallish crowd began to surround the two of us, I worried the sea turtle would abruptly leave. But it visited for about thirty minutes before heading back out to deeper waters. I felt so special.

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Still in a contemplative mood, I decided on a simple, casual lunch. Puka Dog would be the perfect place to go in our damp beach clothes. This Hawaiian original is a homemade toasted hot dog bun that is stuffed with a uniquely crafted polish sausage, and your choice of crazy sauces: Garlic Lemon, Sweet Maui Onion Relish, Spicy Hawaiian Pickle, Spicy Garlic Pepper Cheese, and seven other tropical condiments. Puka, by the way, means “hole” in Hawaiian.

We decided on one with hot garlic sauce, mango relish, and Hawaiian (lilikoi) mustard, and one with the same except with pineapple not mango relish. We also got some sweet Maui onion chips too, and washed it all down with their homemade lemonade. Althoudgh Puka Dog doesn’t hold a candle to the dogs in Chicago, in my opinion, it was definitely a great example of local tastes and was worth a try.

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Dinner was at another highly rated restaurant called Merriman’s. To be completely honest, it was a solid dining experience in a romantic setting, and it’s definitely a plus that they work with local fisherman for the day’s freshest catch. But I would have been just a fine getting some poke and homemade focaccia to-go and spending the rest of the night gazing up at the stars (which I ended up doing later).

Our Adventure in Kauai: Day 4

Needless to say the soreness of my joints welcomed a jacuzzi, sauna, and steam in the morning; all the more because I was about to head out for my first open-door helicopter ride. The forecast showed heavy clouds, strong winds, and rain, but there was no turning back now. I was off to Inter-Island Helicopters for a private 60 minute tour of the island in their peacock blue Robinson R-44.

Inter-Island provided exceptional service despite the shoddy weather and it did make for an exciting ride. I actually enjoyed the pitching and weaving of the helicopter, as well as, the occasional sea and rain sprays across my face accompanying each turn. It made for the kind of ride I was hoping to experience! The Napali Coast looked mysterious and even more dangerous with the misty tumultuous weather. I don’t think I could ever tire of the views.

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After my flight of boisterous fancy, I had a roaring appetite. Jordan and I decided to let our bellies lead us through the day. We got in our midnight blue Camaro convertible, and headed toward Hanapepe and Lihue where we could stop at a local sporting goods store and hopefully, enjoy some local comfort food.

On the way to Hanapepe, we spotted Paco’s Tacos food truck parked in an empty parking lot. We figured, meh, probably nothing anyway. Let’s keep moving.

Pfft! Yeah, right!

These tacos were some of the most memorable morsels from our whole trip. Super fresh, grilled mahi-mahi tacos with shredded cabbage, lime, pico de gallo and cilantro sauce. And equally good carnitas and carne asada tacos. Hit da spot.

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After admiring some especially kitschy refrigerator magnets at a local store, we drove to Lihue to hit up Haimura Saimin. Saimin is a Hawaiian original that mixes Japanese ramen, Chinese mein, and Filipino flavors, into a big bowl of steaming savory broth. It’s Hawaiian comfort in a bowl, and the joint speaks for itself. It’s the epitome of a tropical island diner complete with a menu just as small and quaint as the place itself.

I highly recommend ordering a bunch of chicken skewers and putting the chicken pieces right into your bowl of saimin, along with generous amounts of hot mustard, hot sauce, chili vinegar, and a little soy sauce. Own your saimin!

We ordered the lilikoi chiffon pie for a little sweetness. Imagine if you scooped a chunk of bubbles from the top of a bubble bath, sprayed it through with tangy sweet passion fruit, and topped it with fluffy whipped cream. It was an ultra-airy end to a heavy, savory lunch.

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Last spot on our food tour was Fish Express which is a full-on local “deli” that offers a wide variety of fresh Hawaiian fare including local fish, poke, fish jerky, and raw seafood. And if you’re lucky enough to get there for lunch (which we weren’t unfortunately), they also offer Hawaiian-style sandwiches and gourmet lunch entrees like fish “blackened with guava basil” or “macadamia nut crusted [fish] with lilikoi.”

We decided on a bunch of funky pokes and ahi peppered jerky to go. And we also were pleasantly surprised to find boiled peanuts – one of Jordan’s all-time favorite snacks from the South! Who would have thought we’d be eating boiled peanuts and kimchee octopus poke in a parking lot of a Kauai-ian deli in the middle of the Pacific?

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Ok, I lied. We still had some room left for another sweet. After a little mobile research, we pulled into a strip mall parking lot and walked into Tropical Dreams which offers super-premium gourmet ice cream. Started by husband and wife team John and Nancy Edney who source more than 50% of their ingredients locally and are dedicated to using environmentally-friendly and sustainable means of production for their ice cream, this was the best ice cream I’d ever had. I mean, EVER.

The proprietor of the place – a “expat” from NYC named Daniel – was feeling extra chatty (queue teenage son’s eye roll), so we got foodie star treatment! While giving us taste after taste of the incredibly delicious ice cream, Daniel proceeded to illuminate us on his strong opinions on fiber optics, entrepreneurial ventures, Kauai, and why Tropical Dreams covers their ice cream bins with lids despite snotty tourists turning their noses up because they can’t see all the flavors on display.

After I literally tasted every flavor, I landed on chocolate coconut almond to which Daniel insisted he add a generous dollop of peanut butter. This was seriously flavorful ice cream. If you’re ever on the Hawaiian Islands, definitely try to find a Tropical Dreams shop!

Sigh, wish I could have gotten a better picture. This definitely doesn’t do the real thing justice.

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After a much needed nap back at the ranch, we couldn’t believe it but before we knew it, we were getting in the car again to go to dinner at Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill.

I know.

But it’s OK. We were on vacation. Isn’t gluttony a virtue when you’re on vacation?

It might have been the full belly talking, but I wasn’t too hyped on going to Josselin’s despite all the positive recommendations. Although I’d been eating very well, I wasn’t so sure that fine dining restaurants on Kauai were doing anything that interesting beyond dishes that could satisfy the greatest common denominator of flavor palates visiting the island day after day.

Thankfully, I was proven wrong by some dishes at Josselin’s! It started with the “muffin” assortment which included miniature biscuit-like rolls flavored with ginger, Thai curry, and cilantro. I know I’ve got a bread “thing” but these really perked up my taste buds.

The watermelon salad was disappointing, but the naan with spicy merguez, roasted eggplant, and mint was a huge win.

What was truly the pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance, though, was the 36-hour braised pork belly with apple kimchee and Lehua honey – an unbelievable, locally sourced honey from bees that feed exclusively on the Lehua flower which only grows on the ohi’a tree.

The honey glaze created a sweet candied shell keeping the wonderful juices inside every chunk of pork you pulled off with your fork. No knife necessary. The kimchee splashed spicy and tart refreshment at the back of the throat, whilst the salty sweetness of the meat meandered over the tongue. Chestnut, vanilla and basil also remarkably came through each bite.

The experience was kind of astounding. In fact, it was so exceptional that we finished off most of it, despite our stomachs being full to bursting.

Needless to say we did not order any dessert! And this time I’m not lying!