Sunday, January 9, 2011


In December, Ashley and I made our triumphant return to Hawaii.  This time we focused our visit on the island of Kauai.  We'll have to hit the Big Island on our next trip to round out all of the major Hawaiian Islands.  We had heard a lot of great things about Kauai from friends that have been there, so we were really excited about this trip.

Our base of operations was the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club in Lihue, which was in an excellent location for exploring the rest of the island.  While the rooms were somewhat dated, they were comfortable and more than sufficient for a relaxing week in paradise.  The Marriott is on Kalapaki Beach in a cove that is protected from the ocean.  This keeps the water fairly calm and makes it an excellent place for stand-up paddle surfing, which we tried for the first time.  If I lived in Hawaii, I would go stand-up paddle surfing everyday as it's a lot of fun.  The beach is also really nice for relaxing and enjoying the sun, and we did quite a bit of both.  One kind of weird/unique thing about Kauai is that there are chickens running loose everywhere.  We saw them pretty much everywhere we went.  Apparently, they were freed by a hurricane in the early 1990's.

Kalapaki Beach
Stand-up Paddle Surfing
Rooster on the loose!
For this trip, we rented a car for the whole time, something that I would highly recommend in Hawaii.  There is so much to see and having a car gets you access to all of that.  Plus, taxis are insanely expensive in Hawaii.  It's much more cost effective to rent a car.

A big first for both of us on this trip was going on a helicopter tour.  Neither of us had been on a helicopter before, but we had heard this was the best way to see the island as a good portion of it is not accessible by car.  We did a tour with Blue Hawaiian, and it was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.  The beauty of Kauai is hard to describe from the Jurassic Park waterfall to Waimea Canyon to the Na Pali Coast to Mount Waialeale (the wettest spot on earth).  It was definitely amazing to see it all from a helicopter.  Our pilot Dean gave us an awesome tour, and we ended up getting the DVD they offered as our pictures didn't quite do the tour justice.
Helicopter we flew on
View of North Shore from Helicopter
Two of our favorite things in Kauai were shave ice and poke (pronounced po kay).  For some reason, we didn't try shave ice on our last trip to Hawaii a couple of years ago, but we definitely made up for that this time.  If you've never heard of it, shave ice is finely shaved ice with flavored syrup poured on it (it's best to get it with a scoop of macadamia nut ice cream in the bottom).  It is kind of like a snow cone but far better than any snow cone I've ever had.  There are several shave ice stands around the island with different flavors and combinations.  I've listed the ones we went to and our thoughts on them below.  As for poke, it's typically a salad of cubed raw ahi tuna with some onion and seaweed and flavored with soy sauce and sesame oil.  There are several variations of poke, though, from spicy tuna poke to shrimp poke to octopus poke.  There are several local markets around Kauai that serve freshly made poke daily.  We typically got a few containers of different kinds of poke and shared them for lunch on the beach.  So tasty!!!
Shave ice!!!

Here are some other highlights from our trip:


  • North Shore beaches - This is pretty much a must do if you come to Kauai.  We drove all the way to the end of the road to Ke'e Beach and worked our way back.  The drive itself is amazing, though the last few miles are a bit dicey with several one lane bridges.  Ke'e Beach is one of the most amazing beaches I've ever been on.  This beach is undeveloped so it almost feels like you're on a deserted tropical island (at least until you see all the other people who found the spot).  This beach has an amazing view down the Na Pali coast.  Early in the trip we purchased a couple of cheap beach chairs at K-Mart.  We brought these with us so that we could relax on the beach for a while.  We also stopped at Hanalei Dolphin Fish Market on the way up and got some poke and a sushi roll to snack on hanging out at the beach.  After leaving Ke'e Beach, we stopped at Ha'ena Beach and snapped a few pics.  After getting some shave ice in Hanalei, we ended our day on the beach at Hanalei Bay by the pier.  Hanalei Bay is in one of the most amazing settings you can imagine.  It's got a long curved beach backed by mountains.  Words can't do it justice.  One of the neat things about our visit to Hanalei Bay was seeing all the local families hanging out and enjoying the day.
Ke'e Beach
Hanalei Bay
  • Waimea Canyon - Waimea Canyon is called the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific."  It's certainly an amazing site and does look similar to the Grand Canyon.  If you're staying in Lihue, I would recommend leaving first thing in the morning for this trip.  It takes a couple of hours including stops for pictures to get to the end of the Waimea Canyon road, but there are some amazing views along this drive.  We hit the Shrimp Station in Waimea on the way back, and that is a place that's not to be missed (more on that below).
Waimea Canyon
  • Po'ipu Beach - After driving up to Waimea Canyon, we stopped at Po'ipu Beach on our way back and spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach.  We had heard that this was one of the best beaches in Hawaii, so we were excited to check it out.  While it is a great and picturesque beach, it's not as spacious as other beaches we visited in Kauai.  We enjoyed our time here, but it didn't live up to what we thought it was going to be.
Po'ipu Beach
  • Spouting Horn - This is a blowhole near Po'ipu Beach that is really cool.  There is a hole in some volcanic rock at the shore here.  When a wave comes, the water shoots up through the hole like a geyser.
Spouting Horn
  • Kapa'a Bike Path - We rented bikes in Kapa'a from Eastside Coasters ($10 for 2 bikes all day long), and rode down the oceanside bike bath in Kapa'a (also known as the Ke Ala Hele Makalae).  This was a really fun activity as the views along the path are spectacular.
Kapa'a Bike Path
  • Kilauea Lighthouse - This lighthouse is right on the edge of a cliff on the North Shore.  We didn't actually go up to the lighthouse (there's a charge to do that), but we did snap some pictures from the viewpoint by the parking lot.  It was a very scenic spot along the rocky coast.
Kilauea Lighthouse
  • Wailua Falls - Wailua Falls is a short ride inland from Lihue and is an awesome site.  Apparently, these falls were featured in the intro of the Fantasy Island television series.
Wailua Falls
  • Yoga House - Ashley went to this place for yoga a few times and had a great experience.  They offer a great one week unlimited deal that includes mat and towel.

  • Hukilau Lanai - This restaurant in the Kauai Coast Resort in Kapa'a ended up surprisingly being one of my favorite meals of the trip.  Each of our meals was excellent.  I had the mixed grill which included spear fish and walu as well as a sugar cane skewered shrimp over creamy orzo and a Thai chili coconut sauce.  Ashley had almond crusted opah with spicy sambal cream, jasmine rice and yacon slaw.  It was a very tasty meal with excellent service.
  • Kauai Grill - This restaurant is in the St. Regis hotel in Princeville on the North Shore.  We went early to have a drink at the St. Regis bar at sunset.  The bar has a spectacular view of Hanalei Bay and is an awesome place for a drink.  The hotel is gorgeous as well.  At Kauai Grill for dinner, we each got the tasting menu, which was excellent.  Highlights were Japanese Hamachi (with sugarloaf pineapple, meyer lemon and wasabi), Seared Kauai Shrimp (with fried baby artichokes, lemon fennel emulsion and paprika oil), slowly cooked Hapuupuu (with tomato lemongrass broth) and soy glazed Short Ribs (with green papaya-jalapeno puree).
View from St. Regis bar
  • Shrimp Station - Just a shack on the side of the road in Waimea with some picnic tables outside of it, but the food is amazing.  The menu consists of shrimp dishes with different flavors.  I had the Thai Shrimp which consisted of shrimp in the shell cooked in a Thai spiced broth.  So gooodddd!!!  Ashley had their famous Coconut Shrimp which are battered with coconut and fried.  Holy cow!!!!  It's kind of crazy that some of the best food we had on the trip was from a roadside shack.  I highly recommend this place for anyone that goes to Kauai.  We ended up getting some t-shirts because we loved the place so much.
Shrimp Station
  • Duke's - This is part of a chain of restaurants throughout Hawaii with a couple of locations in LA.  With the visit to the Kauai location, I've been to all of the Duke's restaurants, one of my great accomplishments. :)  Anyway, this Duke's was conveniently located right beside the Marriott.  We went here on our first night and had a great meal.  As a starter, they have an awesome salad bar with all kinds of goodies.  For dinner, I had the seared seven spice ahi tuna and Ashley had the sauteed opaka paka with lemon buerre blanc.  Both dishes were excellent.  Ashley also enjoyed a pina colada in a hollowed out pineapple to celebrate the start of our vacation.  Duke's also had a downstairs "barefoot bar" with more of a casual menu.  We did this after our long day of going out to Waimea and then Poipu.  I got the cheddar burger, and Ashley had the fish tacos.  Both were quality dishes.
View from Duke's
  • Hamura Saimin Stand - Saimin is a Hawaiian dish that is a result of the blend of cultures that have settled there.  It's a scalding hot bowl of noodles with goodies like fish ball, pork, green onion, hard-boiled egg and spam (yes, spam) in it.  Hamura Saimin Stand is a local place in Lihue that is one of the more famous Saimin spots in Hawaii.  After reading about it and checking out some reviews, we decided to go one night.  It was a great local experience.  Hamura Saimin is in a small non-descript building with a low bar that snakes through it.  You wait in line, and when it's your turn you grab the next seats at the bar that open up.  You place your order (we both got the special saimin as well as two barbecue chicken skewers) and take in the scenery while you wait for your saimin.  You can see into the kitchen where there is a lady who looks like she's been doing this for years preparing all the bowls of saimin herself.  It was interesting to see her go through the process.  The saimin was very tasty.  We also got a slice of their famous lilikoi (passionfruit) pie for dessert, which was so good that we were fighting over it.
  • Kalapaki Beach Hut - This was a burger shack just a short walk from the Marriott.  We hit this up a few times.  On my first visit I had the egg, cheese & Portuguese sausage breakfast sandwich (Mmmmmm.....).  We also tried the ono fish sandwich and the burger for lunch.  Excellent!  One of the cool things they had for lunch were taro fries.  Taro is a root vegetable similar to a potato that is popular in Hawaii, and it's purple.  It was kind of neat eating the purple taro fries.  They were very tasty.
  • Pono Market - This was an awesome little food market in Kapa'a that we got poke from twice for lunch.  The first time we got shoyu ahi poke, spicy ahi poke, onion ahi poke and tako (octopus) poke.  The second time we had the same except the onion ahi poke, but we also got a container of their kalua pork (slow-cooked pulled pork similar to NC bbq).  The poke and pork were excellent!  I wish we had a Pono Market in NC!
  • Hanalei Dolphin Fish Market - This fish market is in the back of the Hanalei Dolphin Restauarant.  We stopped here to get some takeout lunch on our way up to the North Shore beaches.  We got the ahi tuna poke, sesame ahi tuna poke, ocean salad (seaweed salad) and spicy ahi roll.  So good!!!!  The poke here was the same high quality poke that we had from Pono Market, and the sushi roll was awesome.  If only I could bring this place back to NC with me...
  • Shave Ice:
    • Ono Ono Shave Ice - Our first shave ice experience was at Ono Ono Shave Ice.  The lady there was so nice and took the time to explain the whole process.  This place ended up being our favorite of the trip.  On our first visit we had coconut, pineapple, vanilla and cake batter flavorings with macadamia nut ice cream in the middle and coconut cream sprinkled on top.  Heaven!  On our second visit, we got berrylicious (combination of berry flavors), and it was just as good as the first time.
    • Jo Jo's Shave Ice - We went here after lunch at the Shrimp Station in Waimea.  Apparently, the service here can be spotty, but we had a great experience.  They had smaller sizes here so we each got one.  I had the Berry Berry combo and Ashley had the Colada Special.  Each one was prepared with care, and this place was second only to Ono Ono Shave Ice.
    • Shaka Shave Ice - This place was part of Kalapaki Beach Hut.  Ashley got a Hawaiian Style flavored shave ice from here one day while I was dozing on the beach.  I got to try a few bites of what was left, and I thought it was really good.
    • Paradise Shave Ice - This place was in Hanalei, and we both thought it was good.  We shared a Blue Hawaiian shave ice here.
    • Wishing Well Shave Ice - This place was also in Hanalei, and we had read that it was supposed to be one of the better shave ice locations on the island.  We got a rainbow flavored shave ice, but I don't think the ice was freshly shaved.  As a result, it came in last of all the shave ice places we tried.
Hours for Jo Jo's Shave Ice
  • Mermaid's Cafe - This was an awesome little place in Kapa'a.  It's just a little shack with a few outdoor tables.  There are two guys inside that were turning out some awesome food.  We went for lunch one day.  Ashley had the ahi nori wrap, and I had the chicken satay plate.  Both were excellent!  For drink, I had the hibiscus lemonade (a mix of hibiscus tea and lemonade) which was a unique but tasty drink.  Ashley tried the Thai tea with coconut milk which was good but a little rich.
  • Oasis on the Beach -  I had read some great eviews of this place, so I was really excited about it.  However, we didn't have a stellar experience.  This was mostly due to a mixup with us getting the wrong food brought out to us, and the waiter getting flustered as a result.  The food was good, but the overall experience wasn't great.  However, I would give this place another shot if I'm ever back in Kauai.  The Okinawan sweet potato chips they brought as a snack were really good.  For appetizers, we had the shrimp cakes (awesome!) and caprese with local tomatoes and chevre (different take on caprese but tasty).  For entrees, Ashley had uku (gray snapper) with miso glaze, and I had local grass fed beef tenderloin.  Ashley's fish was the winner of those two.  The apple banana spring roll with caramel gelato for desert was the best part of the meal.  So good!
  • Monico's Taqueria - We stopped at this Mexican place on our way back from our long day on the North Shore.  It was very busy, and we took the first available table which ended up being outside.  The only issue was that for some reason you can't drink alcohol outside.  So, no cerveza with dinner.  Ashley had the seafood taco taco (ahi, scallop and shrimp tacos) and I had the ahi fish tacos.  The food was good, but it took forever to get it.  We didn't have the best experience, but maybe we just caught them on a bad night.
  • Toro-tei Sushi - This is a sushi bar near the pool bar at the Marriott.  We went here on our last night.  We had the spicy ahi roll, crispy anuenue roll (salmon, ahi, hamachi and fish roll rolled in panko and fried), ahi sashimi and salmon sashimi.  The sushi was good, but the service was not very personable.