Continuing in chronological order, my first travel post will be centered on our Hawaiian honeymoon. After my family visited Maui when I was sixteen, I knew that I wanted to come back to Hawaii as soon as possible. Truly, is there anywhere on earth more beautiful? I recently told Jeremy that when I die, if I’m lucky enough to go to Heaven, it will look like Hawaii. Sure, maybe I want to visit other landscapes and places (I would miss bustling American cities and quaint European villages), but Hawaii really is heaven on earth. The weather is always beautiful, and the scenery is just so lush.
When we began planning our honeymoon, we knew a couple of things – first, Hawaii isn’t cheap. Second, we didn’t want to spend a lot of money. We got married right out of college, and while we had some savings to put toward the trip, it certainly wasn’t going to be a deeply luxurious affair. We planned carefully and explored many options, and in the end, we put together a quick but fabulous trip. We didn’t skimp, but we didn’t splurge too much either. We planned a wide variety of activities that kept us busy, but we made time to read and sip a couple of poolside cocktails, too. All in all, it was an ideal honeymoon. A year and a half (wow!) later, here’s my recap:
Our goal: For this trip, our goal was pretty clear: we wanted to have a romantic and memorable honeymoon, but we also wanted to share an adventure. We aren’t the stay-in-your-room-for-the-entire-trip sort of people (yes, even on our honeymoon) and we were eager to plan a trip that catered to many of our interests. We wanted to relax together, but we also wanted to be active and enjoy Hawaii in its most beautiful, most natural state, and that premise for the trip helped us narrow down our island selection. Since I’d already been to Maui (pristine, luxurious, well-groomed), I wanted to try another island. While Oahu is probably the cheapest, we didn’t want our honeymoon to feel like we were in Miami – we wanted to avoid the congestion of a big city like Honolulu. We toyed with the idea of the Big Island, but ultimately, we settled on Kauai – perhaps the opposite of Maui. For all of Maui’s landscaped golf courses and quiet beaches, Kauai is Hawaii at its most natural – rugged terrain, wild landscaping, and moody shorelines. All of our research told us that Kauai was the perfect marriage of relaxation and adventure, so we decided to spend our time there.
Where We Stayed: This decision involved a lot of waffling – did we want to splurge on a luxury resort, or try to save since we wouldn’t spend a lot of time in the hotel itself? Ultimately, we ended up somewhere in the middle of the spectrum – after reading many fantastic reviews, we booked the Kauai Beach Resort.
What a great choice this hotel was! It was really, really affordable, but we still felt like we were staying at a beautiful beachfront hotel (because we were doing exactly that!). Since we were trying to save money, we didn’t book an ocean view room, but they upgraded us to one anyway when they heard we were on our honeymoon. The room was clean and comfortable, with a cushy bed, nice bathroom, and a patio that overlooked the resort pools, the beach, and the ocean. We left our patio doors open and let the world-famous Hawaiian breeze blow through our room, and it was perfect.
The hotel had a formal restaurant, where we dined our first night and indulged with a bottle of champagne – also on the house for us honeymooners. There was also a casual eatery where we ate a couple of dinners (with the most delicious veggie wrap I’ve ever had in my life). One of my coworkers recommended that we try the classic Hawaiian tropical treat – the “lava flow” – while we were on the island; this spin on a strawberry daiquiri was delicious, and we enjoyed a few of them around the hotel bonfire as we listened to the ocean roaring off in the dark. For quick breakfasts, we often grabbed muffins and yogurt parfaits from the hotel coffee shop. The pools were clean and beautifully landscaped, including both a traditional freshwater pool with plenty of waterfalls and a saltwater zero-depth pool with a sandy bottom – like being on the beach.
The staff was friendly and helpful, and the location of the resort was really ideal. Since we were only on the island for seven days, we spent all seven at the Kauai Beach Resort. Its location on the east shore was perfect in the end – the north shore was about a 45 minute drive away, and the south shore was accessible in half hour, making it easy to choose activities for the day based on where the weather was best (Hawaii is famous for its pop-up rainstorms!). If we’d committed to either the north or south shore for lodging, it would have limited our ability to be so flexible, which was a perk that we hadn’t even really anticipated before the trip.
Our Itinerary: we crammed a lot into our short trip, including:
- quiet afternoons relaxing on several beaches, including Poipu Beach and Maha’ulepu Beach on the south shore and Anini Beach and Hanalei Bay Beach on the north shore
- a day hike in Waimea Canyon on the west short
- a classic luau dinner at Smith’s Island Paradise
- a day of ziplining in the jungle with Princeville Ranch Adventures
- a day of guided kayaking the Wailua River with Wailua Kayak, ending with a hike to a waterfall for swimming and picnicking
- exploring the towns of Hanalei, Princeville, Kapa’a, Wailua, and Lihu’e
- some time splashing around in the resort pool
- fantastic dining – some formal and fancy meals, some off the beaten path
For Guidance: for Jeremy’s birthday, I bought him The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook by Andrew Doughty, a local who offers great advice for popular tourist spots and lesser-known gems. We depended on his advice for many of our activities, but I’d say his book was particularly helpful when it came to dining – otherwise, would we have known to try the little local Korean BBQ place in Kapa’a? Probably not, but it was one of the most delicious meals of the journey. He also had great tips for visiting safe beaches (not all of the shoreline is fair game in Kauai – mother nature is certainly queen on the island) and extensive tips about hiking Waimea Canyon.
If I Could Do It Over: There are always details that escape you when you’re planning the trip. So here you go, mysterious reader of mine (if there’s anyone out there reading this for real advice), what I didn’t know about Kauai:
- The beaches can be wild. Dangerous. Deadly, even. So you have to stick to the safe ones. This wasn’t something we fully realized as we were planning. Compared to my time in Maui, I felt more limited by the number of beaches we could visit for a true “beach day” complete with swimming. Of course, the limited number of perfectly swimmable beaches were beautiful, so it’s hard to complain.
- Seven days is not enough. We were limited because we’d both started new jobs, and as a high school (and first-year) teacher, I didn’t want to miss more than a week of school. We left Kansas City on a Friday and returned on a Saturday (into Sunday), so we got one day more than a week, but I left wishing I had a few more days to relax on the beach and explore a few more trails.
- The snorkeling on Kauai? Not so great. Some of my best memories of my trip to Maui were snorkeling the coral reefs with my family, and I couldn’t wait to share this experience with Jeremy. I was disappointed, though – the waters surrounding Kauai are much choppier, resulting in poor visibility and limited access to safe and interesting snorkeling spots. Plus, Jeremy was afraid of it in the end (sorry, honey, to call you out like this). I tried a few solo trips, but I couldn’t see much, and snorkeling alone leads to thoughts of sharks and – worse – eels, so I ended up leaving my snorkel gear in the truck of our rental car more often than not.
Top Seven Highlights of the Trip:
Since this post would be pages and pages if I went through every detail of our trip, I’ll try to narrow it down to a list of highlights. I planned for a list of my Top Five, but since I’m terrible with favorites, how about a Top Seven?
1. Our last day on the island – A Perfect Day in Hanalei Bay
Not sure how we almost managed to miss this beach – we finally managed to get to it on our last day, and it was a top hit for both of us. Maybe we were just feeling sentimental because we were about the voyage back to the main land, but there’s something magical about this beach. We managed to find it on a calm day, so the swimming was perfect. The beach is wide and long, wrapping all the way around the bay, so there’s plenty of room to get away from other people (just being honest – after all, who likes a crowded beach?). The mountains around the bay make it feel like a crescent moon of paradise. The beach is so long, you can walk and walk and walk if beach-combing is your thing. You can go out on the iconic dock (is it a dock? I want to call it a bridge, but it’s not a bridge to anywhere) and snap a few memorable shots like we did.The town of Hanalei is a gem, too – there are some great little shops and restaurants if you need a break from the sun. If I ever make it back to Kauai, I will make a bee-line for the Hanalei Bay Beach. Truly, it’s not to be missed.
2. Exploring south shore beaches – Poi’pu Beach and Maha’ulepu Beach
The great thing about the south shore is that it’s almost always sunny – while daily storms are common all over the island, the south seems to avoid a lot of this rain, which makes it a safe bet for planning beach days in advance. We loved the contrast of Poi’pu Beach, which is one of the safest, most popular beaches on the island, and Maha’ulepu Beach, which we only found because of the sound advice in our guidebook. We had to off-road it on red dirt with our rented Altima, slowly plunging our way through pothole after pothole (don’t tell the rental people), but it was worth it. After a short hike, we made it to Maha’ulepu, which was almost entirely secluded. Lucky for us, a couple of women came strolling by just when we wanted to take a photo, so here you go:
This beach really felt like Kauai – the rugged cliffs, the black rocks, and the splashing, temperamental waves. We probably could have walked for miles without encountering anyone other than the women who took this photo – what a treat! Nothing like a little peace and quiet at the edge of the ocean.
For safe swimming and even some snorkeling and sea turtle-spotting, we’d recommend Poi’pu. Nestled among ritzy resorts and condos, Poi’pu is always crowded and isn’t as big as Hanalei, but it’s the best bet for nervous swimmers (JEREMY). Getting up close and personal with a wild sea turtle is pretty spectacular, too. We loved strolling this beach, and it’s particularly unique because the double-crescents of the beach create a strange peninsula away from the shoreline. If you don’t mind splashing through a few inches of water, you can venture out to big black rocks and watch the waves crash up-close, without really leaving the safety of the beach. We spent a few afternoons at Poi’pu, and we loved it every time.
3. Hiking Waimea Canyon
This hike was a completely un-Hawaiian experience in many ways. As we wound our way through narrow streets of the west shore, I felt like I was in Australia. The red rock and desert-like terrain were a nice change from the beaches and palm trees we’d seen. We chose a few-hour hike that led us into the heart of the canyon, and we enjoyed clambering over red boulders, especially when we got to the edge of the canyon itself. There were a couple of steep slopes that made my heart pound a little, but that’s just because I’m afraid of heights. The hike was safe but strenuous, and we felt like we got to see a totally different side of Hawaii. And after hours of hiking in the hot sun? That beautiful hotel pool was waiting for us, and so were a couple of pool-side mai-tais.
4. Anna’s Favorite Adventure: Zipling
We were so happy with our experience at Princeville Ranch Adventures. Our guides were friendly and fun to chat with, but more importantly, they knew what they were doing and helped us be safe while having a great time. I’d ziplined before, but Jeremy hadn’t – and he was more nervous than he was initially willing to admit. At first I teased him, but when we went side-by-side down the final run, my heart was in my throat – we had to jump off a platform that was easily 50 feet in the air, and zoom down a track that was so long we could barely see the finish line – what a rush! Because it was our honeymoon, we bought the flash drive of zipline-cam photos, and I’m glad we did. What a fun way to see the beautiful forest (jungle? rainforest?) of Kauai!
5. Jeremy’s Favorite: Kayaking the Wailua River
We literally booked this reservation from our layover in LA, so we didn’t exactly plan for the kayak trip in advance. I enjoyed this day, but Jeremy loved it, so I had to include it in the Top Seven just for him! Our guide led us (with a small group) on a kayak up the Wailua River, which is actually incredibly deep, since it is eternally powered by the endless rain at the top of the highest point in Kauai (did you know that Mount Wai’ale’ale is the rainiest place on earth?!). It may be deeper than you’d like to fathom while you’re kayaking on it, but the river is also very gentle. Jeremy and I kayaked together in what our guide lovingly referred to as a “divorce boat,” since the paddling requires continued communication and patience between the passengers. We only argued a couple of times. 🙂
The kayaking was fun, and once the river got really narrow, we docked our kayaks and trekked along a muddy path to the waterfall – I don’t know the name of the waterfall itself. Once we arrived, we had a picnic lunch (Jeremy and I brought an Italian-inspired assortment of salamis and cheeses, along with fruit and bread) and had a chance to swim in the falls. The water was chilly, and I wasn’t brave enough to stand under the falls themselves. Jeremy said that it was a bucket-list moment for him, and I managed to wade out into the water with my camera to snap a quick photo.
Please don’t notice how grubby we are in this photo. We’d been kayaking, sweating, and climbing through mud all day. A great honeymoon experience, right?
6. A Smaller Moment: Sunrise over the East Shore
Now I’ll scale down for one of my favorite moments – thanks to our terrible jet lag, we got to watch the sun rise on our first full morning in Hawaii. Our internal clocks had us up and running at 5am, so we grabbed coffee and breakfast from the hotel coffee shop and wandered to the Kauai Beach Resort beach (it’s beautiful, but it’s not swimmable).
There’s something about standing in front of a Hawaiian sunrise/sunset (I’ve done both) and breathing in that mildly salty, warm and fresh tropical air and thinking to yourself, this is paradise. It just can’t be beat. It makes me want to cry. I’m pretty sentimental, in case I haven’t told you that yet. But really – something about the sun over the water and the peace in the air – it’s hard to believe that you’re on a planet where anything bad ever happens in moments like those.
So there you go – one of my top moments – sipping my coffee and watching the sun rise over the Pacific beside my newly-minted husband. Not many moments can top that one.
7. On a related note: Time Together in Paradise
I know, it’s cheesy, but I can’t end a post about my honeymoon without acknowledging how beautiful and romantic it was. It was everything I hoped it would be, if only a little too fleeting. I wish we could have stayed longer. I wish we could have stayed for months. But there isn’t much better than exploring the Hawaiian islands, if you ask me, and in Jeremy, I have the perfect travel companion. (Even if he isn’t terribly fond of snorkeling.) Mahalo to my husband for sharing this (literal and metaphorical) journey with me.