If Kauai is the island for nature lovers (shoutout to Ishihara Market, my favorite poke) and Oahu is the island for those seeking city and surf (shout out to Hanauma Bay, my favorite beach), then Maui is the family-friendly island. A little something for everyone, which makes sense because that’s where we went with Nishan’s family this winter. Whether you’re two, thirty-five, or seventy, Maui has something to offer. Here’s how we spent our week:
First things first: coconut ice cream at Lappert’s.
What is a trip to Hawaii without the best poke of your life? The tuna was like butter at Eskimo Candy Seafood Market.
If it’s finer dining you’re after but want to do native Hawaiian food justice, go to Lineage. The poi mochi was the standout here.
Crab cake salad at Nalu’s South Shore Grill. Super chill, super fresh.
The requisite shave ice. Five-year-old me was very happy.
The otherworldly Haleakala National Park. My favorite place in Maui — photos don’t do it justice. If you go, be prepared for a hair-raising drive, though.
All that hiking at Haleakala deserves another poke, this time at South Maui Fish Co.
Thank you for sharing your bounty, Hawaii. And the poke. And the shave ice. And the ice cream.
We’d spent the first four days of our vacation making day trips around the island, so on our fifth day, Nishan and I stayed close to home. After a hearty breakfast at Living Foods Market in Koloa, we made the five-minute drive to nearby Allerton Garden.
Allerton Garden is one of the United States’ five National Tropical Botanical Gardens. All but one are in Hawaii and one is in Florida. Queen Emma of Hawaii formerly resided at Allerton Gardens and in the 19th century, it was purchased by the McBryde family until it changed hands again in the 1930s, this time by Robert Allerton. Allerton designed the landscape into a series of individual gardens, and today the grounds maintain much of its original roots.
But enough about that. These gardens contain the larger-than-life Moreton fig trees that were featured in Jurassic Park. I got a kick out of realizing that the trees’ roots are, in fact, taller than me. Giant trees! So cool.
After our lazy day at the garden, we stopped at Koloa Fish Market on our way back to the condo to pick up some tuna sashimi, tuna poke, and cucumber salad for dinner. What’s better than a meal of fresh fish while you take in a stunning view of the Pacific?
Our sixth (and last day) in Kauai was just as lazy. After another breakfast at Living Foods Market, we made another five-minute drive to Poipu Beach. Poipu Beach is one of the island’s most popular beaches, both for its clear blue waters and its calm surf. Calm enough for a rookie like me, even.
The beach is popular with non-human visitors, too.
After Poipu Beach, we stopped at Koloa Fish Market for another meal of assorted poke, because, really, is there ever such a thing as too much poke? Probably not.
We spent our last evening relaxing in the back yard of our rented condo, taking photos and snacking on arare. A sunshower left us with a huge rainbow as the sun was setting and just like that, the day was over. Too bad I couldn’t bring some poke back with the mainland but until next time, I can always recreate the flavors of Kauai in my kitchen.
We woke up bright and early on our fourth morning in Kauai and headed from Koloa to the west side of the island. Nishan and I were headed to Waimea Canyon, but first, we stopped at Ishihara Market in Waimea for some poke.
Ishihara Market boasts the most expansive (and freshest) poke selection I had during my time in Kauai. Nishan and I picked up a few containers of maki sushi, tuna poke, and the most tender lobster poke you can imagine. I only wish we bought more, because soon we were out of time and had to get back on the road towards Waimea Canyon.
Waimea is Hawaiian for “reddish water”, a reference to the erosion of the canyon’s red soil. Known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon is unique in that it was formed not only by the gradual process of erosion, but also through the sudden collapse of the volcano that created Kauai. Intense island is intense.
After spending the the afternoon at the canyon, we headed back towards the town of Waimea for Jo-Jo’s Shave Ice. Next up: Port Allen. Port Allen is the halfway point back towards Koloa on the south shore, and we had scheduled a boat ride around the Na Pali Coast which departed from this old port town.
The Na Pali coast encompasses sixteen miles of rugged coastline along the northwest side of Kauai and is inaccessible to vehicles. Na Pali means “high cliffs” in Hawaiian, and indeed, these cliffs rise as much as 4,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean.
We were lucky to see the coastline on an exceptionally calm day, which meant that our boat was able to sail further north than usual. Between the dolphins, the crystal-blue waters, or the intensely colorful sunset, we took in the gorgeous views as much as we could. You know the saying “photos don’t do it justice”? Yeah.
By the time we returned to Port Allen, it was nighttime. We settled in for a quiet evening at our condo, tired but happy from another day well spent on the island.
The roadside scenery in Kauai is so beautiful that it’s hard to not be distracted behind the steering wheel. On our third day on the island, Nishan and I headed to the mountains in search of Kauai’s Hindu Monastery. Located near the Wailua River on the east side of the island, the monastery (also known as Kauai Aadheenam) is a traditional South Indian-style monastery-temple complex. Founded in 1970, the 363 acre grounds house two traditional Saivite Hindu temples, the Kadavul Temple and the San Marga Iraivan Temple, an all-granite temple currently being carved in Bangalore, India, and assembled on Kauai.
But really, all we wanted to do was hang out with our newfound furry friend, who we lovingly named Hindu Cat.
After the puja, or ritual prayer, we explored the monastery grounds, a larger-than-life Shangri-La surrounded by lush greenery and waterfalls. This place was incredible, and I can easily see why a monastery would be erected here of all places.
After the monastery, we continued our drive toward’s Kauai’s north shore, stopping at Kilaeua Fish Market for some poke and lunch.
The poke was fresh and delicious.
My plate of grilled ono fish? Not so much. Covered in too much sweet sauce and too much mayonnaise, I could hardly finish half my plate and focused instead on my salad and plain rice. Nishan felt sick from his ono tacos too. We called the meal a wash and got back on the road towards Tunnels Beach.
Tunnels, also known as Makua Beach, is surrounded by dramatic mountains and is an island favorite for snorkeling. Be forewarned: the roads to Tunnels Beach are a bit treacherous so be careful, especially if it’s rainy. Parking is also hard to come by so be patient. We arrived soon before a rainstorm hit, so we couldn’t spend too much time lazing about in the sun. After an hour of taking in the views, we got back in the car and drove back from where we came from, lest we face the roads in heavy rain.
We couldn’t help but quickly stop at Hanalei Bay, though. The storm was approaching and the bay’s usually picturesque crystal blue waters had turned into a murky green. Oh well. Back in the car we went.
The best part of our drive back from the north shore turned out to be the Hanalei Valley Overlook, an incredible view of hundreds of acres of taro fields. Grown for over 1,000 years, over 70% of all taro grown in Hawaii comes from here.
Looking at all that taro made us hungry, so we stopped in Kapaa on our way back for a quick snack of spam musubi and thai iced tea with coconut milk at Mermaids Cafe.
Back on the south shore, we had dinner at Josselin’s, a tapas-style Hawaiian restaurant in Koloa. We started with a deconstructed ahi roll, which was tasty but could have used more flavor. Some vinegar maybe? More salt?
The salt and pepper octopus made up it in flavor. Super crispy pieces of of seafood paired perfectly with a spicy-sweet pineapple-flavored dipping sauce.
Next we shared a roasted heirloom eggplant salad. The eggplant was good, but the real star was the fried goat cheese fritter on top. So gooey, so creamy, so delicious!
We also shared plates of hoisin braised short ribs, slow-cooked butterfish, and malasadas for dessert. Malasadas are kind of like Portuguese donuts and they arrived in Hawaii in the nineteenth century when Portuguese laborers came to Hawaii to work on the plantations. I like the occasional donuts, but these were too sweet for my taste. Still, Josselin’s was one of my favorite meals in Kauai, and the ambiance was perfect for a swanky night out.
Happy and satisfied, we drove back to our condo for the evening to rest. We’d driven so much that day, and tomorrow would be no exception. Next up: the west side of Kauai.
We’re smack in the middle of winter and I’m finding myself wishing for warmer days and reminiscing over the trip to Kauai that Nishan and I took this past summer. I hadn’t been to Hawaii since 2005, but that was for graduate school and I was too young to rent a car then. This time, Nishan and I picked up our car from the airport in Lihue and were on our way.
First stop: Hanmura Saimin. These saimin noodles are reportedly the best on the island, and while they were good, I was hoping for more. The noodles had a good bite to them but the broth was too salty and the dumplings weren’t meaty enough. Still, the restaurant’s casual vibe and the down-home fare was a welcome way to start our trip.
From Lihue, it was a short drive to the south shore of Kauai. We were staying in Koloa, and I soon learned that driving from the north to south shores was only a matter of a couple of hours. Here’s the kicker: there’s no way to drive through the center of the island. Nearly all the roads traverse the shores, thanks to steep inland valleys and Waimea Canyon. The Na Pali cliffs hug most of the northwest coast too, which means driving a full coastal circle around the island isn’t possible. All this nature makes for some incredible scenery, though.
Speaking of the Na Pali coast, we woke up early the next morning to head back to Lihue for a helicopter ride around the island, organized by Jack Harter Helicopters. These glass-bottom (and doorless!) helicopters are scary, but the ride was worth it. We spent a couple of hours seeing Waimea Canyon, Hanalei Bay, and the Na Pali coast.
And of course, the infamous Jurassic Falls. (Spoiler alert: Nishan took these helicopter photos. I was too busy gripping the bottom of my seat during the ride.)
Thanks to participating in the helicopter tour, I have photographic evidence to prove that I too, was once brave.
All that helicoptering makes a girl hungry, so afterwards we stopped by a fish market and picked up some tuna poke to enjoy at Kalapaki beach. Fresh fish on the sand, beachfront view, no complaints here.
I also wanted to grab some produce before heading back to the south shore, so we stopped at the Kukui Grove farmers market for some fragrant papayas, bananas, mangoes, limes, and mint. And I got sidetracked by shave ice. So colorful, so unhealthy. Mmm.
We slowly made our way back to Koloa, with one last stop in Poipu for the evening. In Poipu, we grabbed some popcorn at Paradise Popcorn (hurricane, Hawaiian-style for me and crazy spicy popcorn for Nishan. I also learned that the proprietor used to live in Sonoma County. It’s a small world after all.
Because you can never eat enough after a helicopter ride, we each grabbed a hot dog from at Puka Dog, also in Poipu. I had a Polish sausage with spicy lemon secret sauce and starfruit relish. This was too sweet and way too doughy for me, but there’s always a line at Puka Dog so they must be doing something right.
Back at home (aka our rented condo), we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset with rum cocktails in hand. Those farmers market limes and mint came to good use after all.