Kauai - The Garden Isle
By Bruce Burnett
Obviously the pilot had anticipated our jokes about scenes from Apocalypse Now. As soon as we donned our earphones aboard the tour helicopter we heard the stirring strains of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries.
So with cameras poised like M?16s through the window of our Bell Jet Ranger we proceeded to fire benign bullets of light upon the verdant Valhalla of Kauai.
In our bionic butterfly we soared over the town of Lihue, center for business and government in the County of Kauai and over the lush Hanapepe Valley, with its vegetable farms, sugar cane fields and taro plantations. The starchy taro corms are cooked and mashed into the traditional Hawaiian food called poi.
Off to our right lay the beautiful Lumahi Beach, featured as "Nurses' Beach" in South Pacific. The stunning Mt. Makana (Bali Hai) formed the backdrop.
We reached the magnificent Waimea Canyon as the midday sun began smoking the soft blues and greens of morning into the estival hues of orange and copper. The canyon walls contain bauxite and there is iron-laden silt in the Waimea River, giving the canyon an eerie afternoon incandescence. In the Hawaiian language the word Waimea means "reddish water."
Sixteen kilometers (10 miles) long and 800 meters (2,600ft) deep, the Waimea Canyon has been dubbed "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific." This is not just hyperbole, for the canyon's mere 48 centimeters (19 inches) of annual rainfall makes it desert-like in this tropical climate. In contrast, only 32 kilometers (20 miles) away, the Waialeale Crater is reputed to be the wettest spot on earth with an annual rainfall of 1245 centimeters (486 inches).
The Waialeale (meaning "rippling or overflowing water") Crater is formed by the eastern rim of the volcano that built Kauai. This moss-walled, waterfall-washed, dormant dehiscence of Mother Earth is so awesome it defies description and the only way to see it is from a helicopter.
At the western end of the Waimea Canyon we reach the Na Pali (meaning "the cliffs") coastline. Here you'll see 32 kilometers (20 miles) of the most ruggedly beautiful coastline in the world. Misty rainbowed waterfalls tumble down 1,130-meter (3,700ft) cliffs. The surf pounds towers of long solidified lava and intermittent cuticles of sandy beaches.
The 18-kilometer (11 miles) Kalalau Trail begins where the road ends in Haena and winds up the beautiful Kalalau Beach at the mouth of the Kalalau Valley. This lovely isolated spot once served as a hideout for a band of fugitive lepers described by Jack London in his tragic tale, Koolau the Leper.
Just past Kalalau we could see Honopu, The Valley of the Lost Tribes, clearly recognizable by the twin coves connected by an archway carved from rock. The valley is rich in history and archaeological sites and was reputedly once populated by a tribe of little people known as the Mu.
The Honopu Valley is accessible from the beach by a steep cliff climb and contains heiaus (pre-Christian places of worship).
Flying inland we look down upon the Alakai Swamp, 52 square kilometers (20 square miles) of misty rainforest and inaccessible bog. The area receives continuous moisture from passing clouds and provides refuge for several nearly extinct species of native Hawaiian birds.
Soaring over to the south?east side of the island we passed the dramatic Opaekaa Falls. Opaekaa means "rolling shrimp," swarms of which used to be seen at the base of the falls.
Kauai is the only Hawaiian island that is geologically old enough for a river system to have evolved. Our next sight was the largest of these rivers, the Wailua.
At the Wailua Marina near the river's mouth, visitors can board a ferry that takes them through the Wailua River State Park, a beautiful natural preserve rich in Hawaiian lore. Five kilometers (three miles) upstream they disembark at the Fern Grotto, a deep cavern overgrown with cascading tropical ferns.
Further upstream the river is energized by the magnificent Wailua Falls, used in the opening scenes of the television series Fantasy Island.
Adjacent to the river is the Kamokila Hawaiian Village. This is not a reproduction, but an authentic ancient village that a Hawaiian family has taken upon themselves to preserve. Here you can witness traditional poi pounding, quilt making, salt making, lei making, coconut weaving, fishnet weaving and hula dancing.
Also worth a visit close by is the Coco Palms Resort Hotel, with its old?fashioned elegance. The palm-peppered grounds were the scene of Elvis Presley's marriage in Blue Hawaii.
Lush Kauai, the Garden Isle, is the most northerly of the Hawaiian Islands and the fourth largest with 145 kilometers (90 miles) of coastline.
Bruce Burnett, has won four Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Gold awards for travel journalism.
Read more of Bruce Burnett's travel writing on his websites: http://www.globalramble.com/ and http://www.bruceburnett.ca/travel.html
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