Kauai Island is also known as the Garden Isle of Hawaii. It is one of the oldest island on the Hawaiian island chain.
The roads on Kauai only go along the shores from the north, around the east side of the island and to the south shore. The northwest shore is Na Pali (the cliff, inaccessible by roads). The center of the island is a grand canyon and a high altitude swamp, and the top of a dead volcano that is covered by clouds 300 days a year. The top of the mountain gets an average of 1.5 inches of rain everyday, it is the wettest place on earth. Almost the entire island is lush green wilderness, perfect for hikers and campers. The hiking trails on the cliff are very steep, they are not for beginners. There are streams and rivers at the bottom of the grand canyon, kayaking is very popular too.
Other way to see the scenery is an one hour helicopter trip. It takes off from Lihue airport and flies over the shorelines, the valleys where the ancient Hawaiians used to live, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, the swamp at 2000 feet elevation. The waterfall where the visitors to Juarrasic Park landed was shot in Kauai. Some helicopters fly into the shaft of an old volcano. Half of the crater had fallen off due to erosion. The remaining half forms a semi-cylindrical opening. When the helicopter is in the opening, the passengers are surrounded by a vertical wall 270° around. The cliff walls are covered with plants and numerous threads of tiny waterfalls. The old Hawaiian called it the wall of tears. The ceiling of the shaft is always covered by clouds. On the rare occasion when the mountain clouds clear up, the helicopter can fly up the shaft vertically, one feels like looking up from the bottom of a well. Some pilots could only see the sky from the shaft only few times in a 25 years career.
Another fun thing to do is to take a 5 hours raft expedition. The trip left the north shore on a motorized raft. The raft holds 14 passengers and a crew of 2. They go along the west shore to see the cliffs. When the lava flowed from the volcano to the sea, the lava cooled to form the rocks and the hot lava continued to flow in underground tunnels formed by cooled lava. When the flowing lava stopped, the tunnels becomes sea caves along the shore. The raft can dash into the sea caves, some of the caves are covered by waterfalls. It was a lot of fun when the raft speeded into the waterfall and into the pitch darkness behind, made a turn and came out from the other branch of the tunnel. It was nice to get wet after baking two hours under the sun in the open sea. The raft trip usually landed on a beach for a lunch break, followed by two hours snorkeling in the coral reef. The colorful coral fishes swim to the divers begging for food. The fishes arebeautiful and friendly.
After snorkeling, the raft returns to the north shore. On the way back the raft is going against the wind and ocean waves. The ride is extremely bumpy. The ride is not for the faint hearted or anyone with motion sickness. Pregnant women should not even consider the trip. The waves would send the raft airborne from time to time and everyone has to hold on to the rope and sit tight. And the ride lasted non-stop for an hour or so.
Another way to see the island is driving around. One can basically drive the entire stretch of the highways on the island in a few hours. At one end is the viewpoint at Waimei Valley and Kokee to see part of the sea cliffs and lush green valleys and the desert-like Grand Canyon of the Pacific. At the other end is a dry lava cave that you can walk inside for couple hundred feet until it is too dark to go any further. There are wet caves too, but no one wants to wad in puddle of slimy green water. Along the ways are numerous resorts and white sand beaches.
There is a place called Spouting Horn on the south shore near Poipu where the ceiling of an undersea lava tunnel is cracked, the sea waves push water into the tunnel and water spout shoots 30 feet into the air. There is a famous coral reef on the north shore, one can stop by any rental store to get the snorkeling gears for $1.99 per day (in 1996's US dollar value). Drive to a place called Tunnel Beach, it is the largest reef on Kauai. Park the car on the roadside and just walk into the water. There is no road sign to Tunnel Beach, one has to look it up in the map and guess the way there. The map actually shows many coral reefs around the entire shore line, but Tunnel Beach is the best at around May when the ocean waves are pounding on the south shore, the north shore is perfect for snorkeling.
There is a tourist attraction called Smith's Tropical Paradise, one can take a river boat ride into the Fern Grotto. After the river trip, tourist can take the Luau (kind of Hawaiian banquet.) They cook a pig in the imu (the ground oven) and serve the shredded pork with poi (mashed taro root) in the buffet dinner. After the dinner, they have a show of different polynesian dances for the tourists.
Hiking, kayaking, camping or the helicopter ride ($130) and the raft expedition ($115) are the only ways one can see the true beauty of the island. If one doesn't hike hazardous trails or does not have the budget to take the helicoptor or raft expedition, one won't be able to see much on Kauai, because the roads only reach about 5% of the island. On the other hand, Kauai can be a paradise for nature lovers.
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