Princeville: Not for Landlubbers

It’s been 17 years since I’ve been to Kauai. It’s hard to imagine that I used to say I went often. I used to think we lived there. I was about 13 years old on my last visit.

I got a second set of ear piercings, a Hanalei hat, learned to write Hiragana and listened to Michelle Branch’s first CD on repeat as we drove around Princeville back in those good ol’ days. That visit brought a beautiful yet longing nostalgia of when my dad and I would collect shells on the beach and flee from the waves as they crept up the shore.

I wish I had a photo of that time. I hadn’t been back since.

Fast forward to 2017 — a weekend trip with some out-of-towners.

My boyfriend’s cousin is as “local” as a Hawaii guy can be without ever having been to Hawaii before: obsessed with spam, loves the beach, needs a wood-carved fish hook hanging around his neck or, better yet, a shark’s tooth.

He, his wife and their 3-year-old came for a weekend visit from California, and we were determined to show them all Kauai had to offer. Unfortunately, they’re not really the outdoorsy type—which is terribly inconvenient for a destination that has nothing to do besides outdoor activities, i.e. hiking, paddling.

So, just quickly, my personal highlights:

1. This hammock + this view

Reading On Writing by Stephen King in this hammock

We stayed at “The Cliffs” in Princeville. I could have sworn that, based on this amazing view that is minimized by the limitation of pixels (this is an expanse of Pacific Ocean that reaches to the end of the visible horizon), my parents and I used to live very close by. I could walk out of our old apartment and get this exact view, with less forest blocking my view. Swaying in the breeze in this hammock and reading a book was the best part of my trip, hands down.

2. The Sunset

The sunset from The Cliffs — just missed it!

I apologize that this is not the fiery blaze of varying color that you’re used to from Hawaiian sunset photos. I can assure you it was gorgeous as we were rushing in to park and head to the lookout point, but just missed it. Still, I loved how casual this view from outside our little hacienda was. Understated beauty. How lucky for the folks staying in that building to simply step out and watch the sun go down.

3. Not Fern Grotto

A walkway leading from Fern Grotto back to the ferry

You can tell I’m pretty desperate to make highlights out of this trip. We visited the widely acclaimed Fern Grotto and the tour was basically themed “what Fern Grotto used to be.” The Fern Grotto itself (see below) is just a shell of its former self, devastated by Hurricane Iniki, never to have recovered, and forever unreachable thanks to government-sanctioned boundaries. More on that below.

4. Fern Grotto

That itty bitty opening is the entrance, with enough room inside for hundreds of people.

Apparently, the Fern Grotto used to be a lush paradisical dreamscape, like a live action cutscene from The Jungle Book. Not anymore! Hurricane Iniki hit and the state deemed the area unsafe to visit. “In the olden days,” people used to actually get married inside this thing, with a full reception inside! Now the whole tour is “let us tell you what this tour used to be like, and sing the wedding song that folks used to have played within, that will never happen again.” How depressing!! Here’s the Fern Grotto in 1978:

Courtesy: A View to Hugh

Note the GREENERY… Right? Why even take people here today? Why? How sad!

>> The BEST part of this trip, that made it almost worth it, was cruising down the river, leaving some heavy waves in our wake, and consequently tipping over an inexperienced stand-up paddler. Poor fella!

But my favorite highlight of all, besides leaving, was feeding bagels to the nene geese and aiming to do nothing at all.

Endangered nene geese gobbled down bagels like they’d go extinct without them

Look, Kauai is meant for water activity. Or hell, even land activity. If you’re looking for tours, lounging, and good food — you’re on the wrong island. That is all.

That being said, we did do some snorkeling, which was nice. The sand was finer than any beach on Oahu, and the water clear as day. Also, this place called Fish Express had exceptional poke bowls, with a topping bar of edamame, seaweed salad and some other treats. I also collected some beautiful puka shells that I left behind in the rental car. That was a sad realization going through airport security.

Next time, when we travel as a party of two, we’ll do some stand-up paddling, beach lazing and hopefully some bodyboarding, if we can find a good beach for it.

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