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Staycation With A Few Old Friends

The clouds momentarily part to reveal Kalalau Valley | Daniel Lane photo

I spent several days on Kaua’i during a recent “staycation,” and in many ways it was like connecting with old friends after many years apart.

That analogy comes to mind because the vacation happened to include lunch at Ryan’s in Honolulu with Denny Umphreys, who was making his first trip back to Hawaii since moving away about 24 years ago. The former promoter-producer is now working as a graphic artist in Novato, Calif. We’ve kept in touch via phone and email, and it was great to see him after all these years.

The same is true of seeing Waimea Canyon and the Kalalau Lookout again – my first trek up there since about 1982. Since then, my many Kaua’i trips have had a golf-dining focus, and since 2010 it’s been all work because of MidWeek Kaua’i, which I also edit, an entirely different publication from MidWeek Oahu, as well as working with The Garden Island daily paper, which our company bought in February.

The “work” this time included lunch with the talented husband-wife team of Marta and Dan Lane (she writes about dining and farms on the Garden Isle for MWK, he shoots photos). We dined at Daniel Luciu and Antonio Aguilar’s Little Greek Town, a food truck in old Kapaa town with covered picnic tables beside the sea. Terrific Greek fare in a fantastic setting.

By the way, if you’re planning a Kaua’i visit, by all means check out Marta’s website TastingKaua’i.com, the ultimate “foodie” site with restaurant and farmers market information, as well on the farm-to-table tours she leads. Marta’s new book Tasting Kaua’i Restaurants (Amazon) offers helpful thumbnail reviews, and Dan’s pics will make you hungry even if you just ate. That’s his photo of Kalalau Lookout on the next page, and you can see more of his work at ponophoto.com.

Lodging, not at all incidentally, was at the Marriott at Kalapaki Beach. Of all Chris Hemmeter’s masterpiece hotels in Hawaii, this is my favorite. And poolside/beachside Kukui’s happens to be one of my favorite bars in the world, largely because of the eclectic mix of friendly patrons from around the world, and also because it serves my favorite prime rib.

But back to Waimea Canyon (3,400 feet elevation) and Kalalau Lookout (4,000 feet). I had forgotten how spectacular each is.

Waimea Canyon has been dubbed “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” and while that description is accurate to a point, it also sells Kaua’i’s canyon short. I love the Grand Canyon in Arizona, have visited four times, most recently in 2007, and Waimea is just as breathtaking with its countless side valleys and canyons and ravines, the reds and grays and blacks of different strata of lava flows over the millenia, and the endless green hues of vegetation.

Further up the road, fog was just lifting at Kalalau Lookout, revealing the lush jungle valley and white sandy beach far below, and several shades of blue sea beyond. Two waterfalls poured from lava tubes high up the cliff face. Majestic and serene all at once, it is a place to linger and breathe deep the cool air.

The roads up from (and down to) Kekaha and/or Waimea are not for the faint-of-heart, with more switchbacks than the road to Hana and a lot more elevation. But if you enjoy serious, focused driving, this is a fun one.

This trip also included something new. Having visited Kaua’i countless times since 1980, I’d never before taken a Smith family cruise up the Wailua River. Hawaii’s only navigable river meanders along, and I found the passing greenery peaceful and calming. Docking a couple of miles upriver, passengers walk a short path to the famed Fern Grotto – what a special place.

The “new” also included a visit to the Kaua’i Hindu Temple near the Wailua River, including participating in a worship service, from which I emerged with a red dot on my forehead. I’m struck by the similarities in Buddhist and Hindu teaching, including the concept of karma. A basic Hindu precept is that all religions are to be equally respected, as each reveals a different aspect of God, so apparently I’ve been at least part-Hindu for years without knowing it. The temple is remarkable for the 108 golden figures of the supreme god Shiva, each in a different dance/yoga position.

Back on Oahu, not yet done playing tourist, I visited another old friend,

Waimea Falls Park. It had been at least 25 years since I was last there, and again I’d forgotten what a lush and beautiful a place it is. Kudos to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for great management and keeping the valley so Hawaiian.

From there it was a quick snorkel-swim at Turtle Bay, followed by a fantastic lunch at the beach-side Ola, a favorite I get to visit too seldom. The Kahuku Tomato Gazpacho is as good as it gets, and was perfect on a warm summer day with a glass of chilled vino.

As much as I love to travel and see new things, there’s also nothing like visiting with old friends.