Kauai Trip Report, Part 1

I struggled with a few ways to start this post:

  • Kauai is ahhhh-mazing!
  • Kauai is paradise.
  • Go to Kauai! Stop reading now and go to Kauai!

None of them seemed to capture the awesomeness of the trip, so I hope the extended report does it better justice.

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Image via Lonely Planet

One thing you may notice about the above map is that there are not many roads in Kauai. Specifically, there are two slow moving highways (50 and 56, respectively) with speed limits ranging between 25 and 50 MPH that circle most – but not all – of the island.

That “most but not all” part became quite relevant on our second day, but I’ll get to that. If you think of Kauai as a clock, the roads basically go from 11 PM to 9 PM and do not connect in between. 

We arrived Monday night at Lihue airport, which is about five o’clock on the map. We picked up our rental (Jeep Wrangler with soft top, which is an extremely popular rental choice in Kauai; we liked it because we currently have two Wranglers and are comfortable driving them and getting the top off) and headed to Princeville, which is at twelve.

As I mentioned above, the speed limit changed a lot – mostly from slow to slower – and the ~35 mile drive took nearly an hour. When we arrived at the St. Regis Princeville, the place was nearly deserted. A lone agent greeted us and checked us in. We went to our room and started unpacking. I tried to look outside but it was so dark that I couldn’t see anything. I was wiped out from the long travel day and decided to go to bed (it was 10:30 PM Kauai time but four hours later for us due to the time change). Spouse decided to get a drink and snack at the bar. Five minutes later, he was back: the bar was closed. 

Let me stop here and make a key observation: the first two weeks of December are possibly the best travel weeks of the year, IMHO. For the past four years I’ve taken a trip this week, and each time I’ve always found low, low crowds. If partying and crowds are your thing, then you may not enjoy the off-off-off season of early December, but I love the sweet spot between Thanksgiving and the Christmas rush and hope to Get Out of Dodge during this time every year, if possible. We later found out that the reason the bar was closed was because these two weeks were traditionally the slowest of the year at the hotel. This played out over and over for the rest of the week.

On Tuesday morning we woke early due to the time difference. I knew this would happen from prior trips to Hawaii. I opened the windows and was greeted to this pre-sunrise view:

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It later became this:

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The rooms at the St. Regis Princeville are designed so that you can open the windows all the way (screens, too). The pleasantness of having the windows open directly to see the mountains and hear the ocean cannot be overstated. I was totally awed and spent hours watching the waves during our stay.

If you are curious about the room, I took some photos. The first shows how the windows open to the water:

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There was a sitting area to the right and a desk to the left:

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There was a king bed that was extremely comfortable:

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Reviews on TripAdvisor had mentioned the green marble bathrooms, so I was prepared:
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The St. Regis Princeville gets mixed reviews on TripAdvisor. I know because I read many ahead of time, although nothing would have convinced me NOT to stay there since I was cashing in Starwood points and basically stayed for free.

Some reviewers complain that the hotel is old and dated, and in some aspects, they’re correct. The woodwork in our room, for example, had seen better days. The green marble bathroom had to be seen to be believed. Other guests – and I will firmly put myself in this category – are huge fans of the hotel, mostly based on the unimaginably gorgeous setting on Hanalei Bay and top-notch service.

Since we were up early we decided to go running, a pattern that would repeat every single day. Running while on vacation is absolutely one of my favorite things to do, so this was a huge part of the trip for me. We ran 3-4 miles every day. It was perfect.

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Breakfast was outdoors and I decided that this view should go with a mimosa.

The sun was out at this point and we decided to take the top off the Jeep and head back towards the airport and see the Wailua Falls, which are featured in the opening credits of “Fantasy Island.”

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Spouse and I were both raised on 80s TV, so this was something we were both into seeing. Here they are:

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This. Was. Awesome!

Even with just an iPhone, Spouse captured the falls and the rainbow. No filter needed.

We kept driving on the lone highway and ended up in Poipu, which is at the southern end of the island and is more populated with hotels. We shopped a bit and had lunch, then decided to keep going to Waimea Canyon, which is at the end of the road.

Unfortunately, the weather started to turn rainy as we winded our way up the road to the canyon. There are switchbacks and the driving is not for the faint of heart. The view wasn’t terrific once we got there, so we only stayed at the lookout about five minutes.

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We next began the arduous trip back to Princeville. If you’re keeping track, we’d traveled from midnight to nine o’clock – right up to where the roads stopped – and had to reverse our course. This was about an 85 mile trek, but with slow traffic it took nearly two hours. Another tip: we discovered that Kauai radio is spotty at best, and the stations weren’t all that good, anyway. Our rental did not have satellite radio so for during our long day of driving around the island, we were basically stuck with radio static or no music at all. Later in the week we bought an adapter and cord to connect our phones to the radio and play music, and this significantly improved our time in the car. I will remember this in the future and strongly recommend this strategy to anyone else traveling to the island.

We finally arrived back at the hotel around 6:30 PM and found a nearly deserted bar and closed restaurant. We ordered a drink and two sushi rolls and chatted with the bartender, then went to sleep around 9 PM. Not exactly wild and crazy, but in all honesty, I was wiped out and happy to snooze in my soft bed with the sounds of the ocean.

Next up: I fulfill a very surprising dream.