If I could choose anywhere on this planet to make a permanent residence, Kauai would probably be it. It is my idea of paradise on every level, the only exception being that it is incredibly far from the mainland should you like a little variety. But in such a perfect place, why would you need anything else?
Alas, we were not settling down, we had places to see, adventures to have. We also lacked American citizenship, and were finding that life in Hawaii was quickly eating through our funds. Luckily, we had booked our tickets for Australia before leaving Canada, giving us a sure exit strategy lest we become too lulled into complacency by the perfection of the garden isle. At only $200 per person (one way), it was too good of a deal to pass up, and although Australia didn’t necessarily rank high on our list of foreign places to visit, (being not so foreign to us culturally speaking,) it was, at least, on the other side of the world, a sort of gateway to truly foreign lands. Our options seemed wide open for where to go after Oz. New Zealand, Bali, Thailand, and India all ranked high on our list of places to visit. We had decided to at least give Australia a try, and hopefully give us some time to pick our next destination.
With only a week left on Kauai, we were feeling some pressure to make the most of the time we had left. How many beaches could we cram into any given day? We had often stuck to the ones we knew best, and decided to visit at least a few more before we left for good. The end of the road is as good a place as any to start, and we made our way one day to Ke’e beach, which is as far as you can drive heading west along the north shore of the island. Ke’e is a small beach, and usually not to crowded, as it serves as more of a starting point for those truly brave souls who are venturing out on the Kalalau trail.
The Kalalau trail is ranked as one of the most challenging trails on the planet, running for 11 miles along a series of knife edged cliffs and spines the make up the Na Pali Coast. Sections of the trail traverse steep cliffs with sheer drops to the ocean below, and there are several dangerous river crossings that become impassable after the sudden heavy rains that can unexpectedly strike. The Na Pali Coast makes up nearly 1/5th of the coast of Kauai, on the north-west side, and is mostly accessible only by boat, with the exception of the trail. Most people make the trek in two days, stopping to camp at one of the beaches that the trail connects with on its harrowing journey up and down the dramatic cliff-like faces. The end of the trail rewards you with the spectacular Kalalau valley, which is a national park, and home to the notorious “Kalalau Outlaws”. Their outlaw status has more to do with the fact that they choose to live in the valley without the national park permits that are required to camp there than any actual criminal activity. Getting caught by the ranger will result in you being forcibly removed via helicopter, and like any helicopter ride on Kauai, you must pay dearly for it, although hopefully not with your life.
Although we had no plans on making the dangerous journey with our children in tow, we did hike up to the Heiau just above the trail head, which here consisted of a flat grassy area contained by rocks, with a built up alter like area. The Heiau are sacred temple sites used by the ancient Hawai’ians, and we had previously visited the one on the other end of the Na Pali coast at Polihale.
We happened upon a hula class happening that day, and were mesmerized by the beauty of their movement in such a sacred place. The grace of hula is something that makes sense when seen in the right context, the flow of the dance reminiscent of the wind and waves, and the feeling of Aloha; the peace and love that fill the air like something out of a hippy storybook. Kids being kids, they were quickly ready to move onto something else, which in this case was snorkeling on the reef at Ke’e. Content to soak up the sun and watch, Theresa and I discussed our plans and reminisced about how thus far, the trip felt like the honeymoon we never had, despite having been married for over five years.
The next stop on our ‘end of the road’ tour, as we headed back to civilization, was Ha’ena beach, which boasts big waves too dangerous to play in, but has an amazing dry cave carved out of a sheer cliff face, always a sure hit with the kiddies. The excitement soon wore off, however, and we made our way back to Hanalei, indulging in the perfect curved bay one last time.
Ah, Hanalei, if ever there were a vision of paradise, that is surely it. I had spent New Year’s Eve of the dawn of the millennium in Hanalei, at an all-night beach party with my girlfriend at the time. Finding the party to be too rowdy for our liking, we wandered down the beach in search of a more peaceful place to welcome in the new century. Coming upon a party that had far kinder vibes, we started mingling with the friendly guests on the beach, and eventually made our way onto the lawn from which the party had spilled. Noticing that the guests seemed at bit more upscale that we, I enquired about the hosts of the gathering. It turned out that it was a joint party of two neighboring mansions, one belonging to musician Stephen Stills, and the other to author Michael Crichton. No wonder the vibes were so good!
As the countdown to midnight began, culminating in the triumphant celebration at the stroke of twelve, a hush fell over the crowd, and we all stood gazing out at the moon and stars over the bay, mesmerized by the beauty of the world. It felt like the beginning of something, more than just a new year, but the dawn of a new humanity, full of hope, and potential. There had been an underlying tension, caused by the empty y2k threat, but at that moment, computer glitches and the apocalypse meant nothing. If civilization were to end, so be it. We were in the best place on earth to be if the rest of it all went belly up. And after all, humanity was alright, full of dreams, and grace, beauty and love. Holding onto that vision is what drives us forward. It was a night to remember.
I always came back to that when I returned to Hanalei. It felt like a place where I could remember who we are, and what we are capable of. To share in that vibe, that true spirit of Aloha, felt like truly connecting to what Hawaii is all about. Strip away the roads, the government, the taxes, the veil of civilization, and what remains is a feeling of joy, of bliss, of love. We may just be talking monkeys on an organic spaceship, but we are all connected by our human experience.