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Two Days in Kauai

Day 1--North Shore

One of the most beautiful drives I've ever experienced is along Kuwai's North Shore once you get past Hanalei: stunning views of both ocean and mountain that I found an order of magnitude more beautiful than, say, Big Sur. Drive until the road ends (the second time you cross into Ha'ena State Park) and then hike the Na Pali Coast Trail from there along the clearly marked trail for even more stunnery. The trail is 11 miles long and a round trip requires two days. But the rewards are great even to the half-mile marker, which was as far as we got. The trail emerges from the palm and deciduous forest there, on a stone mini-peak. To your right, surf pounds a beautiful beach with its azure-and-white waters, while to the left, a range of mountains right along the coastline glows mystic as it reflects sunlight through ocean and fog. An hour or two would be plenty of time to go there and back, and you can fill your water bottle first at the trailside parking lot (which also has a bathroom).

On your way there, stop at Kilauea to see the lighthouse with its many exotic birds--it would be anticlimactic on the way back--and to get some provisions for a picnic. We got a loaf of fresh bread from the bakery and some excellent hummous at the grocery, both of which share the shopping plaza at the top of the hill with several nice boutiques and galleries.

Stop again in Hanalei. For crafts of exquisite quality from Hawaii, the rest of Polynesia, and Indonesia, the hard-to-find Havaiki, in the back of the large brown shopping plaza on your left as you're driving outbound, is worth a stop. Improbably, the owner's name is Dylan Thomas.

A few miles farther, explore the Dry Cave on your left, and then cross the road to visit gorgeous Ke'e Beach. Finally, just before the road ends, if you happen to catch Limahuli Gardens during its very limited opening hours (we didn't), we heard it's worth visiting. Certainly the mountain peaks that rise up into the fog at the entrance are quite spectacular.

Day 2--Waimea Canyon/Koke'e State Park

Waimea calls itself "the Grand Canyon of Hawaii," and there is SOME resemblance: particularly the red striated rocks. But Hawaii's is much smaller; at 1904 square miles, the Arizona Grand Canyon is several times larger than the entire island of Kuwai (562.3 square miles)--and orders of magnitude larger than the 10-square-mile Waimea. Waimea also much greener. The canyon rim is more grass than desert, and forested areas come pretty close to the rim in several directions. From the lookouts, gaze toward the canyon mouth to get a sweeping vista of agricultural plains and then the blue Pacific--something you certainly won't find in Arizona.

I advise driving past the canyon into Koke'e, and then turning right and going all the way to the end of the road (about 20 miles from the turnoff from Route 50), stopping at every lookout. The first two give similar but somewhat different views of the canyon, and the next two show off the ocean and mountains. Allow enough time to walk for 40 minutes or more from Pihea Lookout at the end; the trail vistas are every bit as spectacular as the North Shore hike we did the previous day, and for the first half-mile, quite a bit easier. The trail gets tough after that, but the best views are in that first half-mile. We went as far as Pihea Vista, about an hour's walk.

On the way to Waimea, we'd stayed on Highway 50, which is very fast, but doesn't hug the coast. So on the way back, we detoured south to the coast to see the geyser-like Spouting Horn, considered one of the Garden Island's must-see attractions. Unfortunately, the whole south coast spur road network, centered around Po'ipu, is a manicured, resorty contrast to the exuberance of nature in the rest of the island. It felt fake. And the Spouting Horn was less impressive on the day we saw it than many water features we've seen in places like Saint Anne in Quebec or Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming--or, for that matter, the lovely waterfalls we'd seen in Oahu just days earlier. To be fair, it obviously has good days and bad days; the videos that were playing in the airport on our arrival were quite a bit more dramatic.

On the way back to Route 50, you do get to drive in the "tree tunnel," a lovely canopy of interlocking treetops above the small road.

Shel Horowitz is the Editor of Global Travel Review. His latest book is Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green.

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