Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Even Better the Second Time - Our Trip to Hawaii with Mike and Mary

Ever since our first trip to Hawaii two years ago, I have been dreaming, plotting and planning a way to return. We were somehow able to miraculously amass enough FF miles to add up to first class tickets from Detroit to Honolulu. We were further blessed by the company of our best friends of 24 years. She was attending the APA conference in Honolulu, thus our first week was on Oahu.

We had made arrangements for a rental house on Sunset Beach, called Sunset Hale. We had a near disaster with the Kahana Kai Estate in the Kahana Bay area which had held our deposit since last August. In February a Fodors reader informed me that the estate seemed to be no longer available; phone numbers and website were inoperative. A day’s worth of long distance telephone sleuthing paid off and I was able to track down the owner. Her husband had died and she was living with her daughter. Eventually, we were able to get our deposit back from her. (She claimed she had tried to mail it, but it “came back”.) At such a late date, I was lucky to obtain the above-mentioned rental, Sunset Hale.

Flying first class was a dream. It was so great to be greeted at your seat with a Mai Tai! Being able to recline the seat all the way and put your feet up made the 8 ½ hour ride so much more bearable. The food was better than coach, although still not gourmet quality, by any means. But the service was excellent. I may use my FF miles exclusively to upgrade in the future.

The house exceeded all our expectations. The furnishings, location, and view were all better than depicted on the website. There was a 35” TV, VCR, CD player and state of the art kitchen appliances, matching dishes and silverware, good knives and quality linens. They had even had a billards table in the great room. The large sheltered front porch with wicker furniture and a brand new gas grill directly overlooked the ocean and we spent many a happy hour there. There were two bikes for our use. (There is a bike/walking path right behind the house that goes on for miles along the beaches.)

Sunset Beach was calmer than in the winter and it was possible to swim there. Sunsets were spectacular! We spent quite a bit of time at Sharks Cove for snorkeling. It had been my wish to see a turtle, but I am a wuss when it comes to water, so I floated around in the shallow part while everybody else blithely swam around in the deep end. Imagine my surprise when a huge turtle swam right by me three times in the shallows. Laniakia Beach was also a great spot to see turtles sunning themselves in the sand. My delight was tinged with sadness because despite the Do not touch the turtles sign kids and people were crowding around them, touching them and poking them with sticks. I felt like the turtle police, telling them to back off.

We didn’t eat out much, preferring to grill on our porch. Foodland, a few miles away, carried everything we needed to make romantic candlelit dinners. We had to try the original Giovanni’s Shrimp everyone is always raving about. I don’t think I’ve every had so much garlic in my life. The shrimp are swimming in butter and garlic. They are greasy, salty and yes, they are really good. I got a kick out of all the graffiti on the truck. There’s not an inch of spare space to write your name on. We had a very good pizza from the joint across the street from our rental. And we went early to snag a chocolate haupia pie from Ted’s Bakery.

Our beach house was so nice, it was hard to drag ourselves away, but I had purchased tickets to the Polynesian Cultural Center, luau and evening show. We spent another blissful day wandering around Waimea Falls Park and swimming in the refreshing pool by the waterfall. Waimea Bay is so picturesque, my heart leapt each time we rounded the curve and caught sight of it. Haleiwa was fun too, but really crowded and congested with cars, especially around Matsumotos shave ice. I got a kick out of the stretch limos that were always parked out front. A circle tour of the island convinced us that we had dodged a bullet when our first rental didn’t work out. The Kahana Bay house looked rundown and the water on that part of the windward side was very choppy and not as inviting as our beach on the north shore.

While our friends spent a few nights in Honolulu for the conference my husband and I amused ourselves by visiting some of the resorts for comparison purposes. At Ko Olina we valet parked (by a very snooty valet who reminded us that if we were using the beach, we needed to have our ticket validated at the restaurant and we had to be back in two hours.) We got our expensive, watered down Mai Tais and headed down to the lagoon to swim. The water was not inviting, warmish and murky. We didn’t stay long enough to violate the two hour rule. Later I checked out the Turtle Bay resort as well. At least there they provide accessible public parking close to the beach, but again I found the water less appealing than in front of our own house. Back in the Honolulu area, we enjoyed several drinks at the La Mariana Sailing Club and I chatted with the owner, a charming elderly woman with a fascinating story.

Our last night at Sunset Hale we were treated to a specially nice sunset as we polished off the last of the red wine we didn’t want to transport to Kauai the next day.

My husband and I fell in love with Kauai the first time around, two years ago. My friend Mary felt it the moment we began our drive from Lihue to the north shore. A feeling just washes over you that is tangible. The lushness and fragrance of the terrain holds promise that does not disappoint later. Anini Beach House was about a hour’s drive on the secluded part of Anini Beach that is past the public park and polo field almost to the end of the road. In his youth, Marlon Brando honeymooned at the house two doors down. Once again, we were astonished that the house exceeded all the photos on the website. The upscale furnishings, artwork and thoughtful touches were wonderful, but the kicker was the huge wrap-around deck with floor to ceiling windows that made you feel as if you were living outside.

The turquoise water of Anini Beach was calm as glass, the calmest beach I had seen on our entire trip. It was great for snorkeling or just for floating on an air mattress with a Mai Tai and a good book. On the last day, the beach offered up a gift to my friend Mary: a huge, unbroken, perfect shell sitting in the shallow water right in front of our house. We found the best snorkeling to be at Ke’e Beach. Our husbands stayed on the beach while we hiked the first part of the Kalalau Trail. Two hours later, our appetites were only whetted to come back and do more. What an unforgettable experience! The cool and clear water at Ke’e was so inviting after the hot and dusty hike. Once again I found myself angry with the cluelessness of scores of people blithely walking all over the reef! There were so many doing that, it would have been futile to try to prevent it. We made a short visit to Tunnels Beach which was choppy and both my husband, my friend and her husband were injured when the waves pushed them up onto the coral. Lumihai Beach was so beautiful, but certainly not for going in the water. Not too long ago a couple were washed off the rocks to their deaths, while their 11 year old son was left on shore. As we left the beach area, we noticed a memorial in the sand made of rocks, sticks and shells, that read “Mom” and “Dad”. We made the hike to Hideaways Beach and were awed by the fearsome power of the water.

Later that week the four of us were celebrating important wedding anniversaries and we had reservations at Bali Hai Restaurant at Hanalei Bay Resort. Our front table faced the famous view and we were treated to the most spectacular sunset of our lives. Waiting for it was a little difficult, because it was hot and the sun shone directly in our eyes for over an hour beforehand. But the end result was worth every drop of sweat. Due to a tropical storm, Kauai, and all the islands in general, had experienced an unusual amount of sporadic rain, but the weather for our special evening was picture perfect. The food was very good and beautifully presently and we were very satisfied with our choice for the evening.

The husbands took the Movie Tour van and had a lot of fun, while my friend did some horseback riding at CJM Stables. I played chauffeur and found myself with a couple hours on my hands. As I drove, I happened upon my favorite Kauai radio station, KKCR and just happened to catch Auntie Maria’s show Loved her mix of authentic Hawaiian music. Following my nose, I ended up on a nearly secluded beach with a small knot of people looking at something through binoculars. There was a mother monk seal with her four day old pup just a few hundred feet away. Reveling in the unexpected pleasure I wiled away much of the time observing the antics of the active pup as it circled around it’s mum.

We lunched at Brennecke’s Beach Broiler, enjoying the warm breeze through the open deck view of the water. Another place we can highly recommend was Coconuts. Loved the d├ęcor, the food (took Kal’s suggestion of lobster ravioli pupus) and the dessert (coconut flan) was to die for. The artwork by Kim McDonald is colorful and whimsical. I had seen her stuff in Hanalei earlier in the week. (I especially love her depiction of queen-sized nude women dancing with abandon on the beach. Ah, the magic of Kauai. It makes everyone feel beautiful.) Speaking of queen-sized, Lappert’s Ice Cream in Princeville has great ice cream (my favorite is Kauai Pie). Coconut/Guava sherbet is great too. Lappert’s is probably the most expensive ice cream you will ever eat, but IMO, oh so worth it.

One of our most memorable evenings was at Tahiti Nui on a rainy Friday evening. Like everywhere else in Hawaii, the shutters were wide open and the balmy rainy made it feel cozy to be inside. The small bar/restaurant was filled with a welcoming local crowd and the musical entertainment was remarkable. It was sort of a Hawaiian Cheers …where everybody knows your name…kind of place. We met an interesting older couple who had moved to Hanalei 30 years ago and were active in the polo club and the Hanalei historical society. We heard all sorts of stories from them about Tahiti Nui and the people of Hanalei and Kauai. With reluctance, we tore ourselves away. If we lived there we would surely be there at least one night a week.

Our last day was spent lounging around our house and beach, trying to cram all our purchases into already full suitcases. We bought lots of coconut syrup, kukui nut lotions and chocolate covered macadamias, so we could share some of the aloha with our loved ones back home. Alas, real life has returned with a vengeance, but the gift of our two weeks in Hawaii will be with us always.