For our sixth anniversary this year, my parents treated my wife and I to a real live Hawaiian vacation! Hurray! Our flight was scheduled to depart pretty early, so we drove down to my parents' place the night before. This was nice, though, as we got to go out to dinner and catch up, and then stop by my aunt's house so I could fix her router to work with their new cable modem. Anyway, our flight was scheduled to depart at 7:50am, meaning we had to be at the airport by about 5:50am, leave the house at about 5:00am, and thus wake up at about 4:30am. Holy crap! So I was kind of zoned out during most of that process.
We arrived at the airport with no problems, and went that whole stupid security check. And yes, I do mean stupid. I know it's supposed to be for our safety, but what good does it really do when it's just so inconsistent? Some security checkpoints let you pass through fine, while another checkpoint down the line will take and trash items which caused no alarm in previously. And you can't even bring a bottle of water with you! LAME! Okay, enough ranting about that.
Basically, this whole first day was spent traveling. Once we arrived at Honolulu, we had to catch another flight to Kauai. This flight was real quick, like a half-hour. Then we took a shuttle bus to the rent-a-car place where we got our compact car, which probably wasn't the best of ideas. We were just barely able to get us AND all our luggage in; the trunk was absolutely stuffed and the rest we had to pile on our laps. Then, when we got to the hotel, we found that the trunk wouldn't open! Turns out, they had disabled the trunk release inside the car AND gave us the valet key which is made specifically to NOT open the trunk.
The hotel rooms were nice enough. There was free wi-fi, but unfortunately not directly from rooms. You actually had to go down to the hotel bar area for that. And there was no cable or satellite television. They got maybe 10-12 channels that came in clearly enough to watch. I know you don't go on vacation to watch TV, but it sure is nice to have it after a long day of activities. It kinda sucks to turn it on and have to choose between news, drama, weather, MTV, Nickelodeon, and the TV-Guide channel (showing you everything that you won't be able to watch). Actually, isn't MTV and Nickelodeon on cable? I guess maybe they did have cable, but since when did cable give you only a handful of channels?
Anyway, that night we ate at Coconuts on Highway 56 in Kapa'a. It was an expensive restaurant that took a long time to get us our food, and then it wasn't even that tasty. Truly a disappointment, especially after a long day of traveling.
The second day of our trip is what I consider to be the real start of our vacation, because the act of actually traveling sure as heck doesn't feel like a vacation to me. Anyway, so this morning we attended a little presentation in the hotel lobby from Expedia which told us a bit about things to do while on the island. Also, there was a complementary continental breakfast, so that's where we got our morning grub. After it was over we signed up for one or two events or excursions or whatever you want to call them. Treese was thought the helicopter flight would be exciting, but decided against it once she found out how much it cost. Plus, they don't even get you that close to the waterfall anymore. Apparently they used to, but stopped doing it for safety reasons or something.
With no excursions planned for the day other than a luau later that evening, we decided to take the car and just do sightseeing ourselves. The first place we wound up at was an outlook where you could get a good view of Opaekaa Falls. We would actually visit this same spot later on in the vacation during our movie tour excursion. On one side of the road was a beautiful dual waterfall, while from the other side of the round held a great photo-op of a river passing through hills and flatland all covered in green.
After that, we continued on until we reached this one place which had a traditional Hawaiian village set up where you walk around and see how the natives used to live oh-so-long ago. Apparently the movie Outbreak filmed there, using the village setup to stand in for an African village that gets decimated by a plague. There were peacocks and other birds just loitering around, and of course that's in addition to all the chickens. I forgot to mention that, Kauai is loaded with chickens and roosters. They're everywhere! Apparently because, unlike the other islands, no natural predators were ever released here.
After that, we headed over to an area that supposedly contained an old Russian fort. There was a little hike to get to it, and the sun was really beating down, so Mom and Treese stayed in the A/C cooled car while Dad and I trekked to the fort... which is now basically just a pile of rocks. That was probably the most disappointing of everything we visited. There was pretty much nothing around but red dirt and rocks, both of which seemed to swat the heat of the burning sun back at us. Mom and Treese definitely had the right idea.
Following that, we went to a coffee plantation, where they had various flavors of coffee set out for free sampling. I'm not a coffee drinker, but by this point I was pretty thirsty, as all we had in the car was some warm water (bleck!). Still, I just wasn't quite thirsty enough to actually down a cup. Dad and Treese sampled some, while Mom and I walked a path they had outside which led you around and told had little signs to tell you about the place. It was a nice looking area, and they had some pretty flowers placed around. I also saw a pineapples plant, which was weird because I always thought pineapples grew from trees, not from plants. Who knew!
It felt good to finally get back to the hotel, but the day wasn't quite over yet. We still had luau to go to! But before that, Dad and I walked down to the beach behind our hotel to check it out. They had an area rocked off so that swimming and snorkeling could be enjoyed without worrying about being swept away into the open ocean. The people out there seemed to be having a good time, and the water definitely looked inviting. But no time for that now, as we had a luau to get to!
The luau we went to was located at some other hotel. Before the actual luau, everyone just hung out on the beach behind the hotel where free drinks were provided and some Hawaiian traditions were displayed, such as hula dancing and twirling poi balls. When it was almost time to head for the real luau, two muscular Hawaiian guys came out carrying the meat that we were apparently going to be eating. I don't remember what the point of it was, just tradition I guess. Anyway, then they had us all line up and we headed to the luau area.
I have to say, it's not quite what I was expecting, though I really don't know what I was expecting. The area was a bunch of picnic bench tables all lined up under a gigantic tent, and with a small stage at the end. The food was served buffet style, and since we were all lined up already, it was basically just enter tent, put food on plate, and sit down at picnic bench to eat. The food was alright I guess, not terrible but I didn't go for seconds. Actually, I don't recall seeing anyone go for seconds. There was no show or anything yet, just eating.
After a little while, when most people seemed to be done eating, the lights were dimmed and the show began. Some pretty female dancers came on stage and did a hula, and then I believe it was some muscular young men who came on and did whatever their dance was called. And this continued throughout, which was basically the whole luau. Not that the dancing was bad or anything, but it just wasn't captivating. I was kind of expecting this to feel like a party, but it just felt more like a picnic. I think Treese liked it more than I did, though.
Breakfast for this morning was had at a little place called Eggberts. One guess as what they specialized in. We all had some kind of egg dish, and they weren't bad.
The first stop for today, besides breakfast, was a place called glass beach. We had a brochure or travel book or something that had a photo of the beach, close-up, which showed what looked to be a beach full of translucent rocks of various colors. "How cool!", we all thought. Apparently the beach used to be a dump a long time ago, and over time the ocean had smoothed out all of the broken glass so that now they feel more like rocks and sand. Unfortunately, the beach failed to live up to the beauty of the picture, as it looked pretty much like a regular beach, just with some tiny dull multicolored rocks scattered about. I tried taking my own pictures, and found that it really only looks cool when photographed close to the ground. Oh yeah, and it didn't smell very pleasant either.
Next up on the agenda was the spectacular Waimea Canyon. Or, more accurately, the lookout points for the canyon. We stopped at two, the Waimea Canyon Lookout and Puu Hinahina Lookout. Both gave really amazing views of the canyon, which is humongous! The sheer enormity and awe of it all is quite difficult to convey in words. It's just one of those things you have to see, and when you do, you'll likely find words like "woah" or "wow" inadvertently escaping your lips. We went in the late afternoon, so we not only got a good view but we got to see it as the sun started going down as well. Oh yeah, and bring a coat or sweater, 'cause it can get a bit nippy up there!
Breakfast today consisted of little sandwiches or something bought at this little store next to a gas station. We only went there because it was advertised as a restaurant, which was a total farce. We ate on a table out in the plaza. Then we got our adventure started for the day.
This was to be our snorkeling day. We had several beaches that we wanted to check out, so we were going to try and hit all of them. First, we headed over to Tunnels Beach, a beach with was directly across the street from a cave. The beach was absolutely beautiful with bright blue water and golden sand. We walked along it for a little while, and then headed across the street to check out the cave. This was really just like a large spot hollowed out in a rock, not like a series of tunnels and caverns that you experience when taking cave tours. So needless to say we didn't spend very long there.
So we headed back across the street. Mom and Treese decided to wait at a bench area while Dad and I walked down the beach a ways to do some snorkeling. The sun was out, and it reflected off the sand, so the walk down the beach got me all hot and tired. We tried one area, but it was really rocky and the waves kept pushing into them so I spent all the time just trying to avoid getting killed. Thus, that spot didn't last very long and we continued on down the beach. Finally we found a better spot. We were able to walk out pretty far before it dropped off into an area deep enough to swim. Unfortunately, this didn't work to well for me, as water kept getting in my mask. And for those who don't know, salt water burns eyes!
Soon it was time to move on, and thus we had to make the long hot walk back. I'm pretty sure this is where I got a bit of sunburn on my shoulder. I actually did really well on this trip of avoiding sunburn. I put sunscreen as often as I could remember, and tried to keep covered when in direct sunlight. But this one time my sunscreen must have worn off, and I didn't have anything to cover with as I walked back, so I ended up getting a little red and sensitive.
For the next beach we went to, I let Mom, Dad, and Treese go snorkeling first, as I had done enough for the moment. So they all went in and had a good time, while I sat on the beach and snapped a lot of pictures. I did go in for a little bit after a while. My mask still let water in, though not nearly as quick as it had at the other beach. I tried a couple others masks, too, but they all seemd to do the same.
After we were done there, we headed to yet another beach. This next one wasn't nearly as populated, though only Dad went snorkeling here. The rest of us were pretty much done with it by this point. The words tired and hungry come to mind. So after a quick stop at this beach, we moved on, deciding to check out the Kilauea Lighthouse since it was nearby. When we got there, we found that you had to pay to actually drive down to see the lighthouse up close. We were all unanimous in our "no thanks" attitude, so we just snapped a few pictures of it from where we were and moved on.
This evening I believe we bought our dinner at the shopping plaza near our hotel. Dad and I got pizza from Aloha Kauai Pizza at Coconut Marketplace, while Treese and Mom got food from some fish place. We took it all back to our hotel and ate there.
Today I actually saw a gecko! It was on the wall of the hotel not far outside our room, and it scurried up onto the ceiling. It was very cool looking. I'm used to seeing bugs crawl on walls and ceilings, but it's quite a sight to see a lizard doing it. Apparently they like to eat cockroaches, which is good because we saw a couple of those around too (thankfully, none were in our room). For breakfast we just had leftovers from the night before. There was no microwave in the room so it was cold, but for that was fine since I had pizza.
On the agenda for today was the movie tours excursion. We got picked up at the hotel in a van, and after picking up a couple more people, we were taken back to headquarters where we had to sign waivers or something. The van seemed like a typical van, with a television monitor stuck up front to show video clips. Getting in and out wasn't the most pleasant experience, as it was an old-style van where the designers evidently expected everyone in back seats to be children. Kids would have little problem squeezing through a small space to reach the sliding side door, but for adults this is not so easy.
The tour itself was enjoyable. Along the ride to various stopping points, the guide played video clips of movies and shows that were filmed on the island, and talked us about each of them. It was exactly like what a tour should be. At each stop we would all squeeze out of the van and our guide would tell us about what was filmed here and give us various trivia. He always gave everyone plenty of time to look around and take photos. We never felt rushed, and drinks were freely available for anyone who wanted them.
First we saw a pier where a couple of movies were filmed, then we went to Wailua Falls, a famous waterfall where many things were filmed, including a recent Coke commercial. I mention that specifically because apparently, according to our guide, shortly after the commercial started airing some teens felt that it would be cool to duplicate it and jump off the falls. Now, one look at how far down it is (173 feet) would indicate to most non-stupid people that simply surviving that kind of fall would be unlikely. And as luck would have it, one of the two teens who jumped actually did survive, although now he's paralyzed.
Next we headed to the famous Coco Palms Hotel, which is currently closed, laying in a state of ruin after the 1992 hurricane Iniki devastated the island and trashed the hotel. It used to be the most popular hotel on the island, where stars like Elvis Presley would come to stay. But then it started going downhill after it was sold to some new owners, and after the hurricane wrecked it the new owners apparently tried to scam the insurance company which got the whole thing tied up in court. Anyway, it was really cool to get to go in and see the hotel still in the post-hurricane condition, with keys still in the keyboxes and such.
The next stop was at the park right near our hotel for a lunch break. Lunch was provided, which consisted of a sandwich, a bag of chips, and a small candy treat. And boy was it delicious! After eating we had a little time to just hang out and relax before having to pile back into the van. Our guide picked up a small bird and was feeding him, which was cute to watch. Our next stop was at the Opaekaa falls lookout, which we had already seen earlier in our trip.
After that was the Jurassic Park gates, where the big doors open and the jeeps enter into the park. Of course, the actual gates weren't there, as they were built for the movie, filmed, and then taken down. But we saw the spot where the gates were put. We hiked up that dirt road a little ways, and then went off to the left in a particularly muddy area surrounded by greenery. When we finally found our way to a little clearing, we could see a huge crater, which part of Mount Waialeale. It looked like the mountain had been blown out on one side. And that's apparently what happened, it was a volcano that erupted sideways.
For dinner that night we ended up at a place called Pho Vy, a little Vietnamese restaurant at Kauai Village Shopping Center. And man, that was the most delicious meal I've ever tasted! The soup didn't look to have very much in it at all, and yet it the flavor was so vibrant. The beef also looked fairly plain, but was absolutely scrumptious. If you are ever in the area you must check this place out!
Kountry Style Kitchen in Kapaa was our breakfast plan for this morning. I think I had gotten some egg dish again. I don't remember anything special about this place, except that I think it was pretty crowded and we had to wait a few minutes before we could sit. The food alright, not bad but nothing special.
Spouting horn was our first non-nourishmental stop of this day. This is where the ocean slams against what appears to be a giant horizontal slab of rock that has a hole in it, so when the water hits, some is forced up through the whole like a blowhole. It was kinda cool looking, though the water didn't spurt as high as it did in the pictures we saw. There are a bunch of little tourist shops in that area, so most of the time was actually spent looking over all the little crappy trinkets.
For lunch we ate at a place called Oki diner, which was supposed to have a buffet but didn't. Their menus had poor quality pictures shown next to each meal, and lots of words that we didn't understand. I don't remember what I got, but I remember that it wasn't bad.
We also did a lot of driving this day, but I don't remember actually getting out and seeing to much. I know we drove down this really, extremely bumpy road in an attempt to see something, but after a couple miles, with no idea on how much further it was, we decided that we just couldn't take it anymore so we turned around. We also went to some gardens, but we didn't pay to actually go through and look at everything. What we saw on the walk from the parking lot to the main building was good enough for us.
For dinner, we went to Jin's Korean restaurant. I really don't remember anything about this place.
Today it was the Wailua Family Restaurant for breakfast. This was a little restaurant just a short drive from the hotel. We had tried to eat there on Tuesday, but it was closed. This place was probably the worst that we had on this trip. The food started out luke warm and quickly got cold, plus service was pretty bad.
Today we decided to go check out Fern Grotto. We arrived to where the tour boats depart, but were told that the next tour was already so full that they were using two boats, so we decided to wait for the next one, which was only like 30 minutes later or something. There was a gift shop nearby, so we used that to pass the time. I found a pair of cheap sunglasses that actually fit (the lenses on my current sunglasses had been scratched up for some time), Treese bought keychains or postcards or something like that to give to people, and I think Mom did something similar to that. Anyway, soon it was time to board the long, flat boat that would be taking us to see some ferns.
Our guide was an older native Hawaiian who was apparently retired, and was just filling in because they were short on people. He was a good guide, giving information mixed with pleasant conversation. It started to rain on the way there, but luckily the boat was covered. Of course, those of us sitting along the outer benches chose to move to the inner benches, as we all know rain doesn't come straight down. As with pretty much the rest of the island, there was greenery all around. Once we made it safely to land, the rain had stopped.
From here, we had to hike a (handicap accessible) trail up to where nice deck had been built. This provided a lovely view of rock cliffs with ferns growing out of them. And then the rain returned, so almost everyone tried to huddle under the two big umbrellas while the tour people played a traditional Hawaiian wedding song. Then the rain let up again, allowing us to all return to the boat without being soaked. On the ride back, a group of girls from a hoola class who happened to be taking the tour were coaxed up into doing a hoola dance, so that was a little something most tours don't get to see.
Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel for some snorkeling out at Lyngate Beach, the beach behind our hotel that is enclosed from the ocean by big rocks to drastically reduce the current and stop you from being pulled out to sea. This was really cool, and my mask never filled with water, so I was able to actually enjoy it. It rarely got deeper than about 5 - 5 1/2 feet, and the bottom was mostly sand, so it was soft to walk on without having to wear water shoes. Plus, there were fish all over of all different sizes. When Dad found some food for them, they started going crazy!
Dinner for the night took place at the Pacific Rim Restaurant. Unfortunately, I don't have any recollection of this place.
The most important meal of the day took place at Dani's, which is located on Rice St. in Lihue. It had the narrow parking and Formica tables. I don't remember what the food was like.
Here we are on the last day of our Hawaiian vacation for which we could actually do an activity, since the following day would be all traveling. But we were stumped, and didn't know what to do. So we looked over all the activity brochures a few times, and finally Treese said lets do ATVs, so we did. We were the first of the scheduled ATV tour group to show up, so after we signed their waivers we hung out outside, talking with the guide and playing fetch with his dog.
Once everyone else had showed up, we all got handed helmets and went over to the ATVs where the guide gave driving instruction. These were 2-person ATVs, which looked like souped-up 4-wheeling golf carts. After the quick how-to, every two-person team picked an ATV and strapped in, and we all started our test drive around the makeshift track. Even just from this little test drive, we could tell this was gonna be COOL! Once everyone was comfortable operating the machinery, our guide got in his vehicle and led us out the gate to begin our tour.
Our first stop was at an area were there were some pigs and peacocks. Our guide fed the animals while telling us about the area and whatnot. Then we continued on, and there were a few more stops though I don't recall what they were all for. Besides, actually driving to the spots is what it's all about, and that was a blast! Just about everywhere we stopped had some good photo ops. One of the more memorable ones is where they filmed the vine-swing sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He showed us where Harrison Ford jumped to the vine from the initial angle, and then how he had to switch to a different vine for the angle where he actually swings over the river.
Afterwards, we all hot, hungry, and very dusty, and yet we all concurred that this was the best excursion of the vacation. Treese now even wants to find a way to do it at home. And I'd think it be cool, too, though it'll have to wait until we have a bit petty cash. Until then, we'll have to make do with the speed bumps in the parking lots. We headed back to the hotel to wash up before dinner, 'cause we definitely needed it. That evening we had mexican at a place called Monico's Tacqueria. The food was delicious, and I'd say it was the second best meal of the trip.
And so we come to the last day of our 2007 Hawaiian Vacation. Like the first day, this one was spent doing pretty much nothing but travelling. Thankfully, we ran into no real problems. The airport security checkpoints were a big hassle as usually, but I already rambled about that. It was kind of late when we finally got to the house, and we realized that we had no way to get INSIDE the house. So we had to go to my aunt's house and get the spare key from her. To help ensure that such a problem wouldn't happen again, the next day I programmed one of the three buttons in my wife's SUV so that it would open the garage door.
Well, that's pretty much our vacation. We stayed at my parents house the next day, and then finally returned home to Redding the day after that. It felt really great to get back home to our own house, with our own bed and our own TiVo.