"Travel With Me"!!!
Aloha Kauai TA forum! My trip reports are from 5 weeks ago to the day. We arrived on Kauai on Monday, July 29th. TR for July 30th was for the North Shore. Now on our 2nd full day on the island, we decided to go for BIG adventure!!!
TR Day #2: Wed, July 31, 2013
Photo link (over 100 tasty photos!):
My plan orginally was to go to the Waimea Canyon on day #2. Why? Because we had been to the North Shore yesterday, and I wanted to "bracket" the island, to understand the distances and basic layout of the roads. I thought this would also give us a second chance at the Canyon, if the weather did not cooperate, or it was clouded in, or we wanted a second day there because it was so amazing! My last reason to go early in the week was that I thought it would be nice to drive less later in the trip.
Weather looked good. I was first up at 7:30 and I opened up the blinds to that beautiful view! Our condo windows faced north at WBR. I saw a similar view that would repeat almost daily: bright and sunny to the east off the beach, and dark and cloudy to the west over the Sleeping Giant. That just seemed to be the typical morning set up for the sky over Kapaa. I had a theory that was probably incorrect that Flossie had cleared the island yesterday, and hopefully taken all the clouds with it, leaving beautiful clear skies over they canyon! We might as well find out....
We left the condo around 9:30 (again we didn't follow conventional advice to leave really early, but we had a long day ahead, so I hoped that sleeping until 8:00 would keep everyone energized! As we rounded the south of the island for the first time, traffic was fine and before we knew it, we were at the tree tunnel turn off to Poipu. We kept going on 50 through Kalaheo (saw brick oven pizza but never made it there) and on to Waimea. On the trip, we took two small detours/stops. One was to stop at Ele'ele, just to find Captain Andy's for our cruise on Friday (easy to find - just a minute or two off of 50) and the second was the canyon lookout from route 50 before you turn up 550. This canyon lookout was great, but nothing to compare to the views at the top! (see photos for the first lookout at the bottom). We found 550 easily, and started heading up! I would say it took roughly 1 hour to get to Waimea, and about 1/2 hour to get up to the lookout areas. Rule of thumb - just double the miles to get your minutes on the main road around the island - you will average 30 - 40 MPH, with some 50 MPH, but other slow areas/lights, etc.
What a road up the canyon! Every mile was more exciting to me (the driver) and less exciting to my family (the passengers). Actually, everyone did OK except my son who was a little quesy by the first lookout. I missed this totally! If you have anyone in the group that is prone to car sickness, take a non-drowsy motion sick pill before you leave! I had even planned this ahead of time, and forgotten. Ugh. It's the twisty roads up there that got him. Luckily, after walking around the overlooks, he got much better. Overlook #1 is around mile 10 on 550. OMG x infinity, or that place is "the bomb.com"!!! What an amazing view. Most people know this from being there, or from research. I would not go to Kauai and NOT go here! Even if you only have 3 days, at least drive up here!!! The overlook here is a photographer's dream, and we took a lot. There are amazing cliffs and birds flying around thousands of feet down below you. The other thing that I will remember about that overlook was the wind! An amazing, constant breeze up there. Weather was still very clear and gorgeous, with some clouds. I would say the temperature dropped, but not significantly from the lower elevations. (maybe 5-8 degrees?). We took a bathroom break here, and kept on going up the road. (It was around 11:15am). The next overlook was also amazing, less crowded, but still with great views down. The trees in the canyon here always look like flowing water to me in the photos (very dynamic movement). I LOVE the green on red effect you get up there with the trees against the red dirt areas.
We spent about 20 min at each overlook, then continued right up to the end of the road. All the way past Kokee Lodge right up to the Pu'u a Kila lookout. I'm glad we did, because I thought that lookout was the best for the Kalalau Valley. Whoa! What a view. You can't even really take in this valley for what it is. You just stare in dis-belief. It's almost too big and deep to comprehend. We still had great clear skies, so photos came out great. What a contrast too to the canyon views just minutes before. Now you are looking out to the beautiful ocean, with the lush green valley, cliffs, and boats so far away you can't believe the distances. For us, the Pihea Trail was not to be ignored. You HAD to go down it, at least for awhile. We probably went 1/3 of a mile or so, and took some more awesome photos. After that, we drove back down to the Kalalau lookout, and got some more shots, although these weren't quite as good due to the angle. I loved to see a couple of people just camped out up there with a lawn chair and a book! Now that's a great way to spend the morning! There were a couple of chickens up there, but not too many.
By this time, it was about 12:30 - time for lunch. We went back down to Kokee Lodge. We checked out the small museum which had a nice model of the park. For lunch we got burgers, turkey sandwich and pork bar-b-que sandwich. All were good, and we took another pit stop there.
So now the big decision had to be made - what hike to take? My top choice was Awaawapuhi, but I didn't know if the family would be up for it. The weather was still hot (although it did cool a little in Kokee, it was still in the mid to upper 70's). My backup hike was canyon trail to Waipo'o Falls. Everyone was up for Awaawapuhi (AAP). I didn't try to undersell how hard it would be - we knew the total length and elevation drop going into it.
We proceeded up the road again - only a few minutes to the AAP parking area. There is parking there for maybe 12 - 14 vehicles. When we got there, there were 5 cars. We got our sneakers on, and water, and grabbed a walking stick (left by others by the sign - that was typical on our hikes!) There was a perfect one there for my wife. Before we left, I was obsessed with this hike - the view just looked so good and I wondered how long it would take. Most of this hike is a fairly constant downhill walk. In some places there are steeper sections and switchbacks, but mostly it is smooth and all down! It was also ALL dry that day, which made hiking easier. The plants were cool along the way (see pics). There are mile markeers, although they aren't all there or we missed some, but it's nice to see your progress. The nice thing too about this hike is that there is plenty of shade, and it's easy to follow and wide. There was little chance of taking a wrong turn. It was sunny all day and most of our hike was in shade. I had an app on my phone that tracked our progress on the trail, too - even though there was no service up there - magic! Slow but sure we headed down, and as we did, groups passed us headed back up. So here is the distance and time - it's 3.25 miles to the overlook. We averaged about 1/2 hour per mile. We left at 2:00. We were at the overlook around 3:30. The Nu'alolo Cliff trail was closed due to conditions, and we didn't even try going down it. At the end of the AAP trail there is a railing and warning signs.
If you count two overlooks at the canyon, and two overlooks at Kalalau Valley, this was the fifth amazing view of the day!!! It is way different than the Kalalau Valley overlook. To the left is the Nu'alolo Valley, which is rugged and steep and there is awesome definition to the Pali's. You are at the top of all those amazing photos of the Napali coast that everyone comes to see! In front of the railing is the even more amazing (to me) view down into the AAP valley. This one blew me away, due to how thin the valley floor was, and how quick the cliffs came back up on each side. Amazing scale, proportion, colors and textures.
There was one other couple there and so it worked out great that we could take each other's pictures - perfect! We stayed out there for about 45 minutes, admiring the views, taking a drink, and dreading the trip back up! Around 4:15, we decided to start back up. It's just a long, constant uphill hike. It only took us about 5-10 minutes more coming out. Every 1/2 mile or so we took a drink break, and on the way back, the couple passed us (!) and we passed a girl going down. I don't know how that math works. I wanted to be back no later than 6:00 to have a cushion of an hour to an hour and a half to darkness. I think she passed us (by herself) going down around 4:45. Maybe she was going to camp out somewhere. Anyway, we got back around 5:50, and now it was just our car plus one.
What a hike! I am so glad we did it, and now we have the amazing pictures. I was satisfied totally with our trip to the canyon and Kokee, and now we had flexibility in our schedule. (we could either come back here if we wanted to later in the week, or not and have a day to do something else.) We changed back at the car into sandles/flip flops, cranked up the A/C and started down the road. On the way down to Waimea, we made two stops: The first was at the 10 mile mark Waimea Canyon lookout, around 6:10. I cannot recommend enough trying to stop here in the afternoon. No one was there, and the colors were OUT of this world in the afternoon. The whole canyon just popped and the clouds, shadows, colors and light were PERFECT! After that, we stopped at this small waterfall in the red dirt (on the west side of the road - we saw it coming up and wanted to stop on the way back down.) Great photo ops there.
On the way down, I contemplated going to see the sunset at Polihale, but the group was a bit spent and voted to go back. That was OK with me, but I will have to come back to the island to go there as we never made it back.
In Waimea, everyone wanted Shave Ice after the long hike and I thought we could hit JoJo's. Maybe I was in the wrong spot, but it was closed and there was a JoJo's Anuenue up the road on the north side in a plaza, but we decided at that point to just head back to the condo. On the way east on 50 near mile 20, we got a quick rainstorm and FULL rainbow. We all commented how we had rarely seen a full rainbow all the way from end to end. I'm sure it's commonplace here! We were also driving right through it (see pics). At sunset, we pulled off down to the marina at Ele'ele and watched a nice sunset go down.
After that, it was 45 min or so back to the condo, driving in the dark (but an easy drive with light rain). The weather had held out perfectly for us up in the canyon/Kokee, so we didn't mind a bit! Hunger was setting in around Lawa'i, and we were in a pizza mood - we called ahead to Bobby V's and the pizza was ready right when we got there! 2 minutes later we were back at WBR. Dinner and a shower were the ticket, and after that we looked at all of our beautiful pictures of the day.
Day #2 final thoughts - If you want about a 4 hour, semi-strenuous hike in Kokee, do the Awaawapuhi trail! You will not be disappointed! I would not do this hike in the rain, as that would really be tough. We are not hikers, but we love to hike and are in average shape I would say. It was perfect for us. What an amazing day. As I look back on our 2 week trip now (after being home about a month), this was one of the best, if not the best day. Truly we were fortunate with the weather, and the timing just worked out perfect.
Time for a "chill out" day tomorrow on WED, August 1st - hope you can join us! Aloha!!!