Kauai by Land, Air and Sea

by Matthew Wexler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday October 2, 2019

With age comes beauty. Kauai, the geologically oldest island of the Hawaiian archipelago, offers a dramatic reminder of the majesty and fragility of Mother Earth. For those debating which islands to explore on their visit to the U.S.'s 50th state, Kauai delivers a jaw-dropping array of natural wonders and a myriad of ways to experience them.

Kauai By Land
There are plenty of land activities on Kauai, from hiking and beach walks to high-adrenaline activities such as zip-lining or off-road ATV adventures. Kokee State Park and Waimea Canyon are filled with trails and Instagram-worthy spots to preserve memories.

Cultural attractions also offer insight into Kauai's past. Kilohana Plantation, a 105-acre parcel first used for cattle farming that eventually became the island's premier sugar plantation, dates back to the late 1800s and is now a multi-faceted tourist attraction. The Kilohana Plantation Railway is a family-friendly way to explore the grounds, before or after a meal at Gaylord's (named after the plantation's longtime owner).

More than a dozen shops at the plantation display a taste of what Kauai has to offer, including Koloa Rum Company, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Sugarcane had been a robust part of Kauai's economic history, dating back to its first local harvest in 1837. The industry was a driving force for the immigration of Chinese, Japanese and Filipino laborers, but over time, the mills closed due to rising productions costs and advancements in mechanization. Koloa is the first licensed distillery on the island, preserving the legacy of the land and its cultural impact through a range of rum products, including the collectible 12-barrel select (a limited-edition bottling).

An innovative repurposing of the sugarcane industry has inspired Kauai Backcountry Adventures to create a one-of-a-kind Kauai tubing adventure. In 1870, Lihue Plantation tapped the pristine mountain water to irrigate its sugarcane fields by creating the innovative Hanama'ulu Ditch, a hand-built four-mile water system. Chinese laborers worked on the system for two years, using spikes, picks and sledgehammers. The plantation closed in 2000, but eco-tourism entrepreneurs David Carswell and Kelley Carswell-Haneberg saw potential in the historic site.

The siblings launched Kauai Backcountry Adventures (which also offers a Kauai zip-lining course) and are the only ones with access to the channels. The brisk mountain water carries participants along the flumes and tunnels. The spirited crew livens up the three-hour tour, which includes a leisurely drive to the launch point, photo opportunities, and a casual picnic lunch.

Kauai by Air
Of all the islands, Kauai warrants a more dramatic exploration than a typical coastal scenic drive. Much of the topography can be best appreciated from a distance, and that means heading upward.

For more than 30 years, Safari Helicopter Tours has been an industry leader in "flight-seeing." Preston Myers founded the company as a small family business, flying a six-passenger AS350 Series helicopter, which offered open cockpit viewing, forward seating and air conditioning. This aircraft has become an industry standard, but Myers was the first. Over the years, the company has expanded to Oahu, as well as providing helicopter services for the U.S. Navy. All pilots are FAA-certified, and meticulous inspections ensure safety measures are always the priority.

"In this business, we don't cut any corners - and this is apparent in the specification and maintenance of our A-Star helicopters," says Myers. "I've never even considered buying less than the best."

The Deluxe Waterfall Safari tour spans more than 100 miles of Kauai's spectacular land, with highlights including Na Pali, Waimea Canyon and Waialeale. Movie buffs of all ages may recognize the coveted locations, from 1958's "South Pacific" to the "Jurassic Park" films. The expert pilots are not only qualified to maneuver the helicopter through the soaring peaks and valleys, but also offer in-depth knowledge of the island's history.

Of all the sights, Manawaiopuna Falls (now known to most as Jurassic Falls) is an absolute must-see. The rushing mountain water cascades over a 400-foot cliff into the Hanapepe Valley. It's doubtful that a T. rex will make an appearance, but even without the presence of million-year-old dinosaurs, the site is breathtaking.

Those looking for a more immersive experience can book the Refuge Eco Tour, which includes a land stop at the Kauai Wildlife Refuge overlooking Olokele Canyon.

Kauai by Sea
Just as a helicopter offers a unique way to experience Kauai, the coastal waters are equally as impressive. Kauai water activities are available for all levels, whether you're a high-octane adventure seeker or would prefer to kick back and take in the scenery.

Holo Holo Charters dates back to 1997 and is an industry leader in responsible tourism. Certified as Dolphin SMART by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Holo Holo promotes the responsible viewing of marine life and recognizes the importance of maintaining the region's delicate ecosystem. It's also the only Kauai boat company certified by Kauai-Made, which supports local businesses. Owner Kevin Millett custom-designed each of the four vessels to expertly navigate what can sometimes be challenging waters.

Holo Holo offers seven different Kauai boat tours, each with a unique itinerary. The Napali Snorkel Adventure offers participants a half-day snorkel adventure aboard a speedy, rigid-hull inflatable raft. Depending on the conditions, you're likely to see dolphins, sea turtles and a rainbow of tropical fish.

You don't have to get wet to appreciate the majesty of Kauai's coastline. Holo Holo's Napali sunset cruise offers picturesque views of the landscape at the coveted "golden hour" just as the sun descends into the horizon. Depending on the time of year (typically December through April), you may also catch of migrating Humpback whales.

The three-and-a-half-hour tour departs from Port Allen and circumvents the western side of the island. Expect occasionally choppy waters, depending on the ever-changing weather systems (consider Dramamine or other motion sickness medication if you're sensitive), but your captain's expert navigation will keep you safe.

The sunset cruise also offers a flowing bar, including Mai Tais and sunset champagne toast, as well as a bountiful buffet of local favorites such a cold noodle Somen salad, Kalua-style pork, poi (an acquired taste made from taro root) and pineapple cake topped with Haupia (made from coconut milk).

The 65-foot catamaran features twin diesel engines to power through various weather conditions, and though built for 65 guests, caps its passengers at 49 to ensure everyone has room to enjoy the ride.

Where to Stay
Koloa Landing Resort offers luxurious accommodations and on-site amenities after a full day's adventure. Consider spending a day on the property to relax at the 350,000-gallon main pool, with its Jacuzzis, infinity edge, and invigorating water slides. Or stroll up to the on-site restaurant HoloHolo Grill, featuring selections by one of Hawaii's most celebrated chefs, Sam Choy.

Choose from a deluxe studio, luxury villa or penthouse suite, depending on the size of your party, and stock your pantry with snacks, beverages, or groceries to make your own Hawaiian feast. Kauai vacation packages include daily resort credits, rental car, Na Pali Coast tours, zip-lining and more.

Koloa Landing Resort is part of Marriott's Autograph Collection, the brand's curated collection of properties that embrace the unique qualities of a destination through design, food, experiences and local culture. Marriott has long been a supporter of LGBTQ travel and once again received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's corporate equality index, which supports non-discrimination policies across business entities; equitable benefits for LGBTQ workers and their families; and an inclusive culture and corporate social responsibility.

This year, Kauai held its first Kauai PRIDE Parade & Festival, and has confirmed Saturday, June 27, 2020, for its next major event.

Matthew Wexler is EDGE's National Senior Editor of Travel, Lifestyle, Health & Branded Content. More of his writing can be found at www.wexlerwrites.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.

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