Couples Travel Diary - Kauai, Hawaii:
First Stop on our Global Long-Term Travels
Over the two weeks Jennie and I spent in Kauai, Hawaii, we worked for roughly three days. But instead of commuting home to our Los Angeles studio, we drove along scenic coastlines in a small Nissan Versa, back to our small Kauai cottage by the jungle.
If I could describe Kauai in one word, it would be lush. The Garden Island was much greener and the landscape more diverse than we’d expected (not just palm trees and beaches!). Time moves much slower on Kauai. Two weeks living there felt like months.
Exactly the type of place we were looking for to start our RTW trip!
A Week in the Life:
An Unfiltered Couples’ Travel Diary in Kauai, Hawaii
Since we manually record every transaction we make, I’ve recreated the first week of our trip, leaving in both the good and the bad parts. The second week is pretty much a variation of the first - except we’re hiking and snorkeling at different trails and beaches.
Day 1 (Sunday) in Kauai: Breakfast at jungle Airbnb cottage, cleaning gecko poop, showering outdoors, and biking along the East Shore
We’re staying at a rustic cottage near Kapaa on the East Shore of the island. I booked the place on Airbnb back in February for $75 a night ($975 for 13 nights), which is insanely cheap for Kauai. Other listed budget options here run almost double that. The cottage is located on a chocolate farm right on the edge of a tropical jungle. From our patio, we can hear the sound of the river flowing a couple meters below us.
Features of the cottage include a huge shelf of vintage books, no wifi, and an outdoor bathroom and shower, located about five feet from the cottage. I chose the place specifically for the experience, but Jennie for some reason was not as enthused. Also, the cottage is inhabited by a half dozen geckos. They mainly leave us alone, but in the mornings, they leave droppings we have to clean up. No big deal.
We wake up bright and early (6 AM) - partly due to the army of wild roosters who run free on the island - and take our first open air shower. Jennie insists on showering together because she’s deathly afraid of spiders. I’m a romantic and a gentleman, so I agree.
We make the 10 minute drive to Kapaa and grab breakfast at the first place we Yelp, an artsy coffeehouse called Java Kai ($17). The place reminds us of West Los Angeles/ Santa Monica - and not in a good way. We promise each other to do better.
We walk around Kapaa and rent a pair of island bikes from Hele On Bike rentals ($25 for three hours). We bike along Ke Ala Hele Makalae trail. The weather is humid without being unbearable. Tradewinds blow in regularly from the coast. In the afternoon, rain clouds move in and there is a brief, cooling shower. We return the bikes and cap our afternoon off with some Ono Ono shave ice ($6).
Shave Ice from Ono Ono Shave Ice - Sour cherry, mango and pineapple with an ube-flavored ice cream center is called an East Side Sunrise.
In the evening, we drive to Walmart ($55) by Lihue airport to pick up a week’s supply of water and groceries. Our plan is to eat out every day for lunch and cook simple dinners at our cottage.
There’s not much nightlife on Kauai. Locals typically turn in before 10 and wake up with the sun. That schedule sounds great to us.
Day 2 (Monday) in Kauai: Exploring Kapaa, morning run, poke lunch at Pono Market, and Kalapaki Beach
6 AM. Simple breakfast at the cottage. Jennie is working on a profile/interview of a senior exec for a client and needs to do a one hour phone interview, so she breaks out our pocket Wifi. I have no work planned, so I go for a morning run in Kapaa on the same route we biked along yesterday. Every runner/biker I pass by smiles and says aloha to me, which catches me off guard. The trail is less than four miles roundtrip and the scenery is stunning.
Jennie and I rendezvous for lunch at Pono Market ($21). It’s a cheap local spot that also serves Hawaiian plate lunches and other traditional dishes (amazing Lau Lau), but we decide to have poke bowls today. We order a spicy Poke bowl and a sesame Poke bowl and wash it down with a can of Hawaiian Sun Guava nectar. The ahi (tuna) is chewy and fresh.
In the afternoon, we pack up our beach towels and our green boogie board we bought at Ross ($10) and decide to hit our first beach. We pick Kalapaki Beach by the airport Marriott. We take turns swimming in the ocean, but grow bored quickly just laying there on the sand.
Turns out we’re not a do-nothing-at-the-beach type of couple.
A sample of our conversation:
“How long have we been lying here?”
“Only…(checks phone)...forty five minutes.”
“Feels like hours.”
Day 3 Tuesday: Kayak and hike to Secret Falls on the Wailua River and half day of “digital nomad” work at Starbucks
We’ve booked an early bird kayak and hike tour with Kayak Wailua ($50 per person, excluding tip). Our guide is Renee, who’s originally from Indiana but moved to the island 16 years ago and is now raising a family. She has a spacey, hippy vibe that reminds me of some people I know in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The first part of the tour is an hour-long kayak up the Wailua River. I’ve been solo kayaking before, but somehow I can’t seem to steer the double kayak in a straight line. We zigzag our way through the first part of the river. Renee slows down to give me tips. She says I’m over-correcting the kayak by turning too sharply. I take her advice and end up under-correcting. We do the second half of the river at a glacial pace. We trail the 10-kayak group, but thankfully, with the current, only by a few minutes. However, Jennie is not impressed by my navigational skills and my ego is bruised.
Side note: I have a tragic sense of direction. My instincts always point in the opposite direction of where I should be going. This makes for entertaining stories to tell friends after the fact, but in the moment, it’s very discouraging.
The second part of the tour is a hike to the “Secret Falls.” The waterfall is not so secret anymore because every tour group on the island brings billions of people there each day. Thankfully, we’re the early bird crew so we get the waterfall to ourselves for a while. Taking a swim underneath the waterfall helps my self-esteem recover and Jennie learns the power of forgiveness.
In the afternoon, Jennie and I both have billable work to do, so we decamp to a Starbucks and work until sunset. Jennie would like you to know that if you pay with your Starbucks card you can get unlimited free refills on any non-frappe coffee or tea drinks ($5) in the U.S.. Over the course of four hours she asks for five refills, and a different drink each time #shameless #winning.
Day 4 Wednesday: Sleeping Giant (Nou Nou West Trail) early morning hike, “digital nomad” work afternoon at Starbucks, Chicken in a Barrel BBQ
Early morning hike up Sleeping Giant Mountain (also known as Nou Nou). We take the less frequented Nou Nou West trailhead up the mountain, as recommended by our kayak guide Renee. In terms of effort-to-reward ratio, Nou Nou West Trail is the best trail ever. It’s only 1.6 miles and starts under a shaded canopy of ginormous trees and ends on a rock cliff with a panoramic view of the entire East Shore.
Back at Starbucks after lunch at Hamura Saimin ($23). We have two extra large portions of Hawaiian saimin and split a piece of lilikoi (passion fruit) pie. Today, Jennie is polishing off some presentation slides and I have to revise and edit a whitepaper. We also take time to set up coffee meetings for when we arrive in Asia. I shoot off an email to friends in Singapore and Malaysia to ask for some introductions.
For dinner, we stop by Chicken in a Barrel on our way back to the cottage, a local spot that specializes in Kauai-style barbecue chicken. The chicken is smoky, tender and tastes even better cold. We order two 1/2 chickens to go ($28), head back to our cottage, microwave some Uncle Ben’s Spanish rice and a packet of frozen broccoli. We split half a chicken and save the other half for dinner tomorrow. One less decision to make!
Day 5 Thursday: First argument, snorkeling on the North Shore. Sea turtles at Anini Beach, Princeville Hideaway Beach, and Hanalei Bay
While parked at a beautiful scenic lookout on the way to the North Shore, Jennie finally has a minor meltdown about the outdoor bathroom and shower situation. The first couple of days, we ignored our host’s advice about applying mosquito repellent, so our legs have been ravaged by mosquito bites. This is the first argument of our trip.
Jennie learns in this argument that part of the reason I chose the cottage (aside from having an authentic Kauai jungle experience), was because she would always make fun of my sheltered childhood (she’s not wrong). So when I saw the outdoor bathroom, a part of me thought: “Oh yeah? We’ll see about that.” Technically, I win, but I feel bad about Jennie’s mosquito bite-ridden legs. Also, very unsexy, so that’s some self-sabotage right there.
Both our clients have reviewed our deliverables and requested some minor last minute changes while we’re snorkeling with sea turtles on Anini Beach (gear rentals are $15 per week at Kapaa Beach Shop). We break out the pocket wifi and make the changes in 15 minutes.
Onward to Princeville and Hideaway Beach.
Hideaway Beach turns out to be at the bottom of a cliff we have to climb down via ropeway. On the way back up, while carrying all our water and snorkeling gear, I slip on a muddy step and land hard on my ass. Jennie laughs way too hard (and for way too long) at this, which annoys me. I’m further annoyed we had to park with the valet at the nearby St. Regis hotel. I understand why valets exist - I just think that reason is really dumb.
We arrive at Hanalei Bay. I’m still grumpy about my fall, but my misery is Jennie’s sustenance so she’s feeling chipper again. The Bay is not how I imagined it in the short story I read by Haruki Murakami, where a Japanese woman loses her son to a shark in Hanalei Bay and returns to the place every year for the rest of her life.
I hope Jennie gets eaten by a shark (I kid). That evening, I read her the short story.
Day 6 Friday: Hindu monastery, snorkeling on the South Shore. Sea turtles and lazy seals at Poipu Beach, Mak’apela Cliff Trail
In the morning, we visit the Hindu monastery (free) near Kapaa. You ring a small bell at the entrance to announce your arrival. Beyond the entrance, you can write down a personal obstacle or struggle you have on a piece of paper and set fire to it at the altar.
I write down “ego and my arrogant attitude,” but I’m having trouble with the lighter.
“What’s the matter, you’ve never played with matches as a kid?” asks Jennie.
“No, my mom never let me,” I say. “You?”
“Yup. There’ve been some close calls...”
I wonder what she wrote on her paper.
Beyond this point, there’s the temple grounds and a gorgeous banyan tree. I’m sitting on one of the five flat rocks underneath the banyan tree, trying to meditate. A mosquito is sucking blood from my ring finger. I’m tempted to kill it, but that would defeat the whole ‘every life is sacred’ thing.
For variety, we go snorkeling on the South Shore (Poipu Beach) in the afternoon. We swim with more sea turtles and walk past a fat and lazy monk seal sunbathing on the beach.
Day 7 Saturday: Hiking at Waimea Canyon (Awa’awapuhi and Waipo’o Falls and Canyon trails) and the best sunset drive
It’s the weekend, so no chance of last minute work requests. We take the 1.5 hr drive to Waimea Canyon National Park. Today is an ambitious day, so we’re doing two trails for over 10 miles roundtrip. Over the years, we’ve learned that it’s almost always worth it to sweat for your view, rather than just park at a scenic spot and take the same pictures as everyone else.
The first trail is the Awa'awapuhi Trail, which seemed deceptively easy and boring, since it was mostly downhill all the way there with not much to look at. But at mile 3, the trail suddenly opens up to a 360 degree view of the Kalalau Valley. There’s also a narrow strip of rock jutting right out into the ocean.
The second trail is the Waipo’o Falls and Canyon hike, which leads to a closer view of the Waimea Canyon rock face. Maybe we were spoiled by the view from the first hike because Jennie rates this trail a ‘meh’ out of 10.
We cap our first week in Kauai off with a view of Waimea Canyon from the main lookout point and then a lengthy sunset drive from Waimea Canyon back to our cottage.
What We Would Do Differently with a Week in Kauai
1. An outdoor bathroom is now a dealbreaker for Jennie.
Jennie has made me swear a blood oath never to book an Airbnb with an outdoor bathroom again. In all honesty, I thought it contributed to the experience. It’s not like we’re talking about a squat toilet with no running water. As for mosquitoes, we learned to deal with them after our initial mistake of not using repellent. Just wear long sleeves in the early mornings and after dusk, and apply repellent regularly. Our bites healed up after the first week, and everything turned out fine.
2. Too many visits to Starbucks
We found a better alternative in the second week with Ha Coffee Bar, but we should’ve made more of an effort to support local business. Sometimes when it comes to work, we just had to go for a sure Wifi connection and clean bathrooms.
3. Talk to more locals
The cottage is fairly secluded from the main residence and we were always driving off early for some hiking or snorkeling, but we wish we could’ve made an effort to chat with our Airbnb host. Her name is Charlotte and she’s originally from Germany and her story sounds really interesting! I really enjoyed her late husband’s book collection. During our stay, I read an obscure text called The Leisure of An Egyptian Official by Lord Edward Cecil, describing the day-to-day minutiae of a British colonial administrator.