Thursday, March 13, 2014

Kaua'i: The Garden Isle of the South Pacific

A short morning flight on a 'puddle jumper' from Oahu and it's possible to explore many of the Hawaiian archipelago of islands for the day, from Maui, Molokai, Lanai or Kauai, which is where we were headed to spend the day with my brother and his new girlfriend, who happened to be staying on the islands the same time as we were — an opportunity not to be missed. The oldest, most fertile and arguably most beautiful island in Hawaii, Kauai is nicknamed the 'Garden Isle' for good reason. Aged by time and watered regularly by abundant rainfall where centuries of growth have formed tropical rainforests, forking rivers and cascading waterfalls, Kauai is draped in emerald valleys, sharp mountain spires and jagged cliffs. The oldest of the islands, it's been changed the most by the forces of erosion, resulting in spectacular natural wonders such as the unbelievable fluted cliffs of the Na Pali Coast and the tremendous ragged gash of Waimea Canyon. With more miles of sandy coastline than any of the other Hawaiian islands, Kauai is a mecca for hikers, kayakers, and has been the darling of honeymooners ever since Elvis tied the knot here in 'Blue Hawaii'. 

Waimea Canyon on Kauai has been compared to the splendour of Arizona's Grand Canyon

A spectacular waterfall plummets from a cliff face into the canyon below

In many ways, Kauai is different from the rest of the Hawaiian islands — it's almost as if you've stepped into a separate kingdom, and for many years Kauai was just that in relation to Hawaii. Kamehameha I was able to conquer all the islands by force, except Kauai. Two separate campaigns to take the island ended in failure. In the end, it took diplomacy, a royal kidnapping, and an arranged marriage to bring Kauai into the kingdom of Hawaii. Also, British explorer Captain James Cook landed in Kauai’s Waimea Bay for the first time in 1778, which he called the 'Sandwich Isles,' named after the Earl of Sandwich, and thus introduced Hawaii to the rest of the world. 

Puu Hinahina Lookout

Kalaloau Lookout over Kauai's north coast

A lei perched in a koa tree at Kalaloau

Wild roosters can be found all over Kauai, the result of a tropical storm years ago that destroyed the enclosures that kept them reigned in

Kilauea Point Lighthouse and wildlife refuge

The Kilauea Point Lighthouse 

The Hawaiian Nene, an indigenous bird to the islands

They too have multiplied!

Island mist began rolling in — a clear sign it was time to go for lunch 

On the south shore of Kauai is the sunny village of Waimea, home to some of the island's best beaches, luxury resorts and also the best fish tacos at Island Taco of Waimea. A humble but delicious roadside taco stand, Island Taco is always busy, serving the best fresh tacos, burritos and enchiladas in Kauai, filled to the brim with local ahi tuna, shrimp, mahimahi and smokey Kalua pulled pork. Stuffed with seasoned rice, shredded cabbage, cheese and bowls of homemade salsa and sour cream served with mounds of fried wonton crisps, this is casual fare with big aloha spirit.

Island Taco of Waimea, a humble but delicious ramshackle surf town taco stand 
on the south shore of Kauai

A large chalkboard highlights the culinary offerings

A basket of complimentary cinnamon dusted fried tortilla chips keep the hunger pangs at bay

Wasabi Ahi Tuna Taco, a flour tortilla filled with seasoned rice, shredded cabbage and cheese 
with sides of salsa and sour cream

The Seared Hawaiian Wasabi Ahi Tuna Taco with homemade salsa

Grilled Cajun Shrimp Taco

Smoked Kalua Pulled Pork Taco with spinach

On Kauai's peaceful north shore is the timeless beauty of Hanalei, which means 'crescent bay' in Hawaiian. Made famous by the Peter Paul & Mary song of my youth 'Puff, the Magic Dragon,' and as the backdrop of the 1958 film 'South Pacific', Hanalei is also the culinary destination for some of the best sushi on the island at The Dolphin Restaurant Sushi Lounge & Fish Market. The Fish Market offers the freshest local Hawaiian fish caught by the top fishermen of Kaua‘i, along with choice cut steaks and other specialty items such as organic local greens, gourmet cheeses and accoutrements. In the Sushi Lounge, the chefs create one-of- a-kind over-the-top sushi, handpicking the best cuts of fish daily from their own Fish Market. For the true Kauai sushi experience, you can order an Omakase — "entrust in someone" — and leave the selection to the chef Jeff, which is exactly what we did! But not before cocktails at the the glamorous St. Regis Princeville Resort, crowned at Kauai's northern tip. Terraced down the face of a bluff, and overlooking Hanalei Bay, where 'South Pacific' was filmed, and Mount Makana, the fabled peak of 'Bali Hai,' it's also where we would enjoy our cocktails "by the sea, frolicking in the island mist..."

View of Hanalei Bay from the St Regis in Princeville, with Mount Makana - 'Bali Hai', in the distance

The St Regis

St Regis Kauai bar menu

St Regis 'Tai Chi', a spiced version of the original Mai Tai but with 
Malibu coconut rum served on the rocks

The Dolphin Restaurant, Fish Market & Sushi Lounge poster, by island artist Doug Britt

Acclaimed Kauai artist, Doug Britt

The Dolphin Restaurant & Sushi Bar in Hanalei Kauai

The playful Dolphin Sushi sign in the shape of the aforementioned porpoise

The Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant menu, Kauai

A bowl of warm edamame seasoned with hawaiian sea salt 
arrives at the table to whet our appetites

Our server brings a bottle of Livon Pinot Grigio 2012 from Fruili

Perched on the wooden balustrade with my husbands new panama hat from Waikiki

'Omakase' Sushi hand roll with spicy tuna and shrimp tempura 
topped with hamachi in an uni butter

'Sunset with a Twist' with marlin, avocado and cucumber topped with seared ahi tuna, 
tombo (albacore) and ponzu sauce

' Next Best'  with shrimp tempura, onions, avocado and asparagus topped with ahi tuna in a 
chill miso sake sauce 

Nigiri sashimi with salmon, hamachi and ono with organic island greens in a ponzu sauce

Dolphin Sushi chef Jeff

A misty morning view over Hanalei Bay from the St Regis Hotel in Princeville, 
where we unexpectedly had to stay overnight due to the highway being closed to the airport

Ah well, a quick cappuccino and croissant at Lihue Airport and we were ready 
for our early morning flight from Kauai back to Oahu