David and I traveled to Hawaii over New Years. We spent six full days on the island of Kauai on the south shore, at the Ko’a Kea at Poipu Beach.

This was my first time in Hawaii and, having wished to visit for a long time, it was quite a dream. Our trip was full of beaches, coffee, stock-image worthy sunsets and incredible scenery.

Day One  /  12.28.16
So much travel. 
This was not a fun day. In fact, had I known what I was actually in for (David had warned me it was a long flight), I might have chosen a different destination. Leaving New York at 11:30am Eastern time, we arrived at our resort in Kauai — after snagging our luggage and rental car — at 10:30pm Hawaiian time. (Hint: Hawaii is five hours behind New York). A wild rooster cock-a-doodle-do’s outside our window at 3am.

Day Two  /  12.29.16
Polihale State Park Beach
After sixteen hours of travel (eleven of them in the air) we were ready to explore. We rented the perfect little Jeep Wrangler Sport, grabbed coffee (quickly learning how tasty Hawaiian coffee is) and headed east from our resort, which was located on the southernmost end of the island, near Poipu Beach.

We didn’t have a destination — just hoping to get a lay of the land. We drove through the tiny, lively town of Waimea and curved around to the west coast of the island. Without a map, we relied on the coast as a guide and hoped to find a beach to crash at for a moment, or vegetation for me to photograph (a favorite pastime). Taking a chance on a roadside sign announcing POLIHALE STATE PARK, we turned down a dirt road riddled with more potholes and adventurous, rueful Ford Mustangs than I could have comically written. Our Jeep did us well. At the end of the road, but not before passing several false alarm picnic spots, we came to the reward of our potholed journey: A quiet, rolling sandy beach brushed against the southernmost cliffs of the Napali Coast.


On the ride back from Polihale we stopped in Waimea for a meal and wander. Rainbows popped up during the drive.

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Day Three  /  12.30.16
North End
With most of the south/west shores out of the way, we drove long the east side, then up toward the north end. I was surprised to see how the landscape during this route differed from the surroundings of the previous day. As we curved further north, there were more than a handful of beautiful beaches, lush vegetation, and increasingly elevated terrain as we neared the Napali Coast.

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Nearing our destination of Hanalei, we crossed several one-lane bridges that are thoroughfares to the small village. Hanalei, full of tourists, small shops and churches, was quietly situated at the base of some of the Nepali cliffs.


“Hanalei is a real place?” David had mentioned earlier. “That’s where Puff the Magic Dragon lives.”

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist
in a land called Honnah Lee
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist
in a land called Honnah Lee

Well, almost.

Around Hanalei, we explored the Manini-holo dry cave, sat on Haena Beach and watched surfers attempt very large waves. We stopped for a pint at Tahiti Nui, where a photograph of George Clooney sitting on a bar stool two seats down from ours, was displayed — The Descendants was filmed here.


On our return we stopped in Princeville, to visit the Instagrammable Queens Bath — though, we learned, there were hoops to jump through (read: a very muddy trail) to reach this secluded shore. And to my disappointment, the surf was terribly strong (read: Hawaiian winter) allowing for no dips. The scenery was stunning regardless, and giant winter waves crashing over the blackened cool lava rocks, with the Napali Coast tucked hazy in the distance. I spent many minutes drinking the scene.


Day Four  /  12.31.16
David Reasonably Halts Movement, Then: Fireworks & Hot Tubs
This started as a pool day. We also snorkeled, which was unfortunately not as fruitful as the waters off the Bahamas that I’d previously trolled.


We hadn’t made New Years Eve plans and liked it that way. A day at the pool was quiet, slow and welcomed. Around dark we walked to a promised fireworks display at the nearby Poipu Beach Park, and when they delayed, sat in a hot tub for too long until they did indeed explode overhead — beauty. And having lowered heart rates from the warm water blanket, 2016 ended for us at 9:30pm. No regrets.


Day Five  /  01.01.17
Kalalau Trail
I had hoped to start the new year this way, and bless David, seriously. He woke up early with me, drove us up to Ke’e Beach, an hour and half away on the north end of the island. We hiked two miles along the coast, striking views all the way, to our turnaround point at Hanakāpīʻai Beach, which, we learned is one of the deadliest — if not the deadliest beach in the world. A sign on the trail indicated that at last count, some 80+ people had died in the waters at the beach due to strong currents. Needless to say, we did not swim, but instead ate lunch on the shore.


After two miles back down, our shoes were caked in layers of mud from the dirt-ridden, slippery path. We waded in the clear waters of Ke’e to clean and cool down. My Nikes logged the muck in their mesh.


Kalalau did not disappoint; a must for any Kauai visitor, if you ask me. David might disagree.

Then, more scenery on the ride home and laying out until the sun went down.



Day Six  /  01.02.17
David’s Lazy Birthday Wish
A pool day by the ocean to celebrate (relax) on David’s birthday, under the sun drinking mai tais until dark. We ate dinner at the local Eating House 1849.

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Day Seven  /  01.03.17
Waimea Canyon 
We’d heard a lot about this place during our stay, and after we missed it (bypassed, actually, when we drove through Waimea) on the map during our spontaneous Polihale drive on Day Two, I definitely wanted to give it a proper visit.

Travelers noted to get there early, as the day nears noon and the clouds descend on the Canyon, obstructing the money shot. “Still beautiful,” they’d say, regardless of the cloud cover, but I wanted the whole scope.

We got up early and were on the road at eight. We planned a breakfast stop in Waimea, and circling the main street found little open but a tiny grocery store. Our time in the store, I realized, was a familiar slice of small town America; a group of workers gathered at a corner booth on a meal break, hot trays simmering under lights, Top 40 music. The end caps stocked with the monotonous cans wrapped in generic labels, but instead of the coconut variety. A case of pastries that could have been from Billings, or Boston, or Phoenix. They always look the same. Locals filled their baskets and using food stamps to pay. It is hard to believe that for these people it is not vacation, but another Tuesday in their America.

We climbed the steep roads winding up. David pulled over a dozen or more times for me to photograph. When we reached what looked like the end, we decided there might be more.


Then continuing to drive — maybe ten minutes more, we reached an overlook. It was crowded with tourists and buses and chickens, but above all — really, above all — we looked over the rust colored tiers of Waimea Canyon, spotted with greens and the stroke of a waterfall.

We drove more. In the best moment we stood at the edge of the Canyon looking out, nearly alone. There were fresh ashes scattered in front of us. A very nice place to rest forever. A picture could not take it in, and I tried.


On the ride down the southern ocean spanned in front of us. It was blue, and then blue-gray, blue-white. It disappeared into some air, somewhere. Sometimes we’d see rain in the distance and know that a place out there existed, but still we wondered in the sun.


Carsick from the winding ride downhill, we stopped for lunch in the “biggest small town” of Hanapepe. At Bobbie’s we had a Hawaiian lunch that included the local favorite, saimin.


That evening after a final sunset, we had our final island dinner at Merriman’s on the south shore, eating fresh tuna in a round booth.


Day Eight  /  01.04.17
Action Adventure Blastoff
This day.

A day I was not looking forward to, and at once: the most exciting day of them all.

We drove the 20 minutes to Port Allen before dawn, stopping at a local coffee spot for a sweet roll. At the Port we received our boat assignment and took motion sickness pills.

And at 8:30am we were on the water.


There were dolphins swimming along side, still asleep, we were told. Further out we stopped to snorkel in waters deeper than I’d explored. As the boat shifted west and curled north around the shore, we anticipated the big coast. Spray from whales spouted into the sky from time to time. The wake became rockier, but no less beautiful.

We sailed past Salt Pond Beach, Waimea, Polihale — places we’d seen from land. The landscape changed from ocean to dream as the Napali coast drew closer and eventually glowed in front of us. The magic of the morning light, filtered through the fog that powdered the cliffs; the silence broken only by wake scraping rocks, as it had for millions of years.


On the journey back to land we saw many whales breaching and heard them sing — and reminded, how humbling, how lucky to witness such large creatures.

Our boat docked at 1:30pm. We had a pint at Kauai Island Brewing, then made a quick stop at the coffee fields of Kauai Coffee to grab iced coffees and stock up on beans.

It was raining by 4:30. From under a tent in a field on airport grounds, we looked out to several concrete pads with helicopters rested on them. One of them would be ours for an hour.


A friendly bearded pilot approached and introduced himself as Guy. We strapped in and lifted headsets over our ears. Soon we floated up, doors off and a blast of wind. Sweeping views of the smooth, jagged green valley shifted closer and closer and drew on to the horizon. Weaving in and out of valleys and canyons, volcanic forms in perfect patterned waves surrounded and made us feel incredibly small. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.


Hovering over the waters of the Na’Pali coast, a double rainbow formed through the rain and framed the cliffs. So thankful for this vacation.

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