Wednesday, August 4, 2010

14 days in Paradise (aka Kauai) -- Week 1.

On Monday we returned from an amazing family vacation. Reality hits hard after being away for two weeks, but it was worth anything that has or will be thrown my way this week (jet-lag notwithstanding).  It goes without saying (doesn't it?) that Kauai was amazingly beautiful. Each stretch of coastline we happened upon was more amazing than the last. On the way home we each tried to name a favorite moment or place and not one of us could name just one. Olivia finally summed it up most poignantly:  the best thing was being together as a family. Indeed.

There is so much I want to share -- the vistas, the tastes, the one-lane bridges, the way I could still hear the ocean each night. Every single moment was amazing. The sheer beauty of it all was breathtaking -- sharp, green mountains, coarse white sand, and blue water. I cannot possibly do it justice, but I have to at least share the highlights of our time in paradise.

Day 1 - Monday
Breakfast at Wake Up Cafe, Hanalei Bay. Wow. Macadamia Nut Cinnamon Rolls for the kids and  Over the Falls for me. "Over the Falls", indeed:  custard french toast made with Portuguese sweet bread, covered with fresh pineapple, coconut and whipped cream. What a way to start the day! Kaden absolutely loved this place and quickly coined it "Breakfast Heaven." I do not disagree.

We started slowly and let the kids take part in some of the resort activities, starting with Lei making around the pool. We are in Hawaii after all.

While we are staying at the Westin Princeville Villas, we have privileges at the Princeville St. Regis just down the road, so we headed that direction and hit the beach. Love the aesthetic of the St. Regis, but it is almost too fancy for this not-at-all-fancy-but-absolutely-incredible island. Their view of Hanalei Bay, however, is possibly the best on the island (of course this is just day 1).

We snorkeled a bit, had fruity drinks delivered to us on the beach and began to officially unwind.

Day 2 - Tuesday
Knocked out some kids' activities early:  Koi fish feeding. Puka shell necklace making. Then off for our first outing:  Kileau lighthouse. Absolutely gorgeous views. Dolphins were frolicking along the shoreline. Birds abundant. Kids enjoyed the activity provided by the park rangers -- looking at local plants and identifying bird silhouettes.

Lunch at Kileau Fish Market.  The Seared Ahi Wrap came highly recommended. And oh my! Simple and delicious.  After lunch we returned to the pool for a bit before hitting the showers and shuttling the kids off to the kids' club for Parents' Night Out!

Kevin and I made reservations at Kauai Grill -- the Jean-Georges restaurant at the St. Regis. Fancy Shamancy.  We stopped for a drink at terrace level and watched the sun almost set.  Amazing view over Hanalei Bay.

Then downstairs for the main event.  At the Grill they don't bother to lower shades so you can sit in relative comfort while you watch the sun set.  No. Instead, they ask that you simply wear your sunglasses until the sun is at a comfortable level. This only adds to the intrigue as we  walk in to see table after table of beautiful people staring into the blazing sun and wearing their designer shades (obviously, right?). The menu is as amazing as you would expect from a Jean-Georges establishment.  When faced with too many amazing choices, I did what I generally do in such a situation, and ordered the tasting menu with wine parings. Ahi wraps.  Heart of palm salad.  Pea greens ravioli.  Lamb chop.  And, drum roll please, Warm Chocolate Cake. I may have to devote an entire post to the warm chocolate cake, so I will not go on too long about it here. They entire dinner / experience:  wonderful. Of course the food was great.  The sunset was not, however, the best we've seen. Too many clouds that night. An evening alone with my husband, though, well that was spectacular.  Of course we spent a tad too long eating - did I mention the chocolate cake - and our reverie was disturbed by the thought that we do still have children and we are supposed to pick them up at 9pm.  This revelation occurs at 8:59.  Oops!

Day 3 - Wednesday
I specifically make it a habit to not exercise on vacation. This is, however, a 15 day vacation so I compromised and signed up for an outdoor yoga class overlooking Hanalei Bay. Mele, the instructor, was wonderful. The view, however, stole the show.

With my body back in alignment, we headed to Kayak Kauai to rent some equipment so we could better explore the island and reefs. We also booked surfing lessons for our next week. With our snorkel equipment in the trunk we headed down to Ke'e beach, or the end of the road. The Na Pali coastline (or the northwestern part of the island) can only be accessed by air or water. There are no roads. It is jagged and gorgeous and even more alluring, I suppose, because you cannot access it easily. Ke'e beach is literally where the road ends. From there you can hike to see a bit of the coastline, but I dared not hike too far with my duo in tow. Instead, we enjoyed this most amazing beach.

We'd packed a lunch -- sandwiches for the kids, salami, cantaloupe, Gouda cheese and french bread for us. We snorkeled together for the first time. The reef was about 20 feet off the beach. Getting the privilege of snorkeling with my children for their first experience was priceless. Their eyes simply popped open as we hit patches of colorful, unbelievable fish. Olivia was speechless when we happened upon an entire school of fish -- seemed like thousands -- just swimming along with us. We spent all day at this spot. The kids made friends with some other tourists. We didn't bring or purchase beach toys. Instead, they used a coconut shell to make a sand castle. Perfection.

On the way back to our place, we stopped at the Hanalei Dolphin Fish Market and purchased a few ahi rolls and a bit of sashimi.

I cannot adequately describe how wonderful these dinners are -- fresh, fresh fish, local green salad and wine.  We are starting to wonder why we ever spent $300 for a dinner when we've had such amazing fare for under $50.  Only perspective would allow me to say that, though, so I am glad to have experienced both.

After dinner the kids enjoyed a movie (Princess and the Frog) on the lawn. Kevin and I enjoyed a bottle of wine on our balcony and the most incredible sunset.

Day 4 - Thursday
Up and out early in the morning for our  splurge outing:  Blue Hawaiian Helicopters Tour. I cannot possibly describe this experience in detail. It was breathtaking -- the waterfalls, the Na Pali Coast, the crater -- every moment was unbelievable. If you make it to Kauai, you must do a helicopter tour.  With that behind us, we felt nearly relieved. In one hour we'd seen the most incredible vistas the island has to offer. Anything after this point was just gravy.

On our drive back to the North Shore, we stopped at Kileau Fish Market for more seared ahi wraps. Just as good the second time. We also discovered Kileau Video and Ice Cream. It may not sound highbrow, but that is the beauty of this island -- little gems around every unassuming corner. Seriously, this ice cream was incredible -- all homemade with fresh ingredients. Kevin tried coconut. I sampled Rocky Road -- but with fresh coconut and macadamia nuts. Strangely, though, Olivia's mint chocolate chip was possibly the best.

Day 5 - Friday
We finally met up with our friends, Linda and Ben. Ben was a priest at our church when he was fresh from seminary. He baptized my twins and guided Kevin and me through the confirmation process. He is the most laid-back priest you will ever meet. In fact, you will have a hard time believing he is a priest, unless of course you talk theology with him. He is the real deal, just in a hangin' loose sort of way. He and his wife, Linda, have been in Kauai for two years now. Suffice to say, I'm a tad jealous. It was such a treat to see them and spend a day with the locals!  As is their custom, we spent Friday at Black Pot Beach. Black Pot Beach is part of Hanalei Bay, but specifically the portion from the pier to the river.  It is a glorious stretch of beach. The combination of the green, sculpted mountains, the waterfalls and the blue pacific is simply hard to beat. Truly Heaven on earth.

We had a wonderful time -- paddle boarding, kayaking, talking and eating. Oh, yes, you knew it was coming: more amazing food.  Linda and Ben introduced us to Pat's Tacos.  Pat's is as unassuming as it gets -- a trailer on the beach.

This Pat fellow, though, knows a thing or two about tacos (and about overhead costs).  He's even been featured in Food & Wine Magazine. Linda urged me to try the carne asada. But we are on the beach, shouldn't I have the fish tacos?!?! She insisted. Thank you, Linda. Thank you. Delicious food and wonderful company. What a day!

We had reservations for the kids at Parents' Night Out again so, despite the fact that we were beyond stuffed and exhausted, we headed out on our own and found ourselves at Tahiti Nui. Another fabulous meal. Allegedly George Clooney ate here 3 times the week before we arrived.  Just my luck.  Nonetheless, another unassuming, but wonderful find.  I had seared scallops and mashed potatoes. Oh, and lots of Mai Tais, but who's counting?

Day 6 - Saturday
Up and out early for breakfast at Wake Up Cafe. Yes, even on vacation we are creatures of habit.  I just loved that we vacationed long enough to form habits!  Then off to the Hanalei Bay Farmers' Market to purchase more local produce. Honestly, the arugula is the best I've ever had. And the mangoes and papayas and avocados. You get the picture.

After our morning outing we were all exhausted (I realize this is hard to believe, but true) so we spent the rest of the day lounging by the pool at the Westin.

Day 7 - Sunday
Another early morning:  Church at All Saints' Episcopal Church. Ben's sermon was on prayer. I will not attempt to do it justice, but he talked about times when we can't pray the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf. I nearly cried. You see, seven years ago Ben came to see me in the hospital. I had two babies in the NICU and couldn't brush my teeth, much less pray. I tried, I really did, but I would just cry. When I told Ben I felt horrible that I wasn't even able to pray for my own children (just the beginning of motherly guilt), he said simply: no worries, we are praying for you and the Holy Spirit is interceding on your behalf. That was seven years ago. I reminded him of that moment outside the NICU. He didn't remember the moment nor was he aware how comforting the words have been to me on so many fronts over the past few years. Loved that. And seriously, he is the Coolest. Priest. Ever.

After church we shared a great lunch at Monico's in Kaapa. Apparently Jennifer Anniston ate there the week before we arrived (seriously did I miss all the stars?!). I nearly balked at the thought of Mexican food in Hawaii,  but how could I not trust them after they introduced us to Pat's! I had the Fish Taco Taco - scallops, shrimp and seared ahi with cabbage and a jalapeno creme sauce.  Oh, and fresh pico.  Scrumpdiliumptious! A great meal we would repeat again before the trip comes to an end.

After saying Aloha to Linda and Ben we headed to Anhini Beach for the rest of the day.  Anhini is a gorgeous stretch of sandy beach stretching for what seemed like miles.  We found a spot right next to a huge tree with swings in it.

We all snorkeled and made friends with the family renting the house 20 feet from the beach.  House envy ensued.

Sunday was a little bittersweet -- we were at the half-way point.  We no longer had more days in front of us than behind us. I know that doesn't sound like much of a problem.  But that's the thing about paradise: once you experience it, you cannot imagine living any other way.  The bright side: at least we had another entire week to soak it in!  

Stay tuned for Week 2 -- probably next week.


Ben Nelson said...

Oh you guys don't know how awesome this is! We loved getting to share a little bit of your vacation time with you! I'm so grateful for the reminder about the precious sweetness of life, and the value of enjoying every moment! Mahalo and warmest Aloha! B

Eat. Live. Laugh. and sometimes shop! said...

Mahalo to you for your hospitality! We will be back summer 2012. Hope to see you again during that trip.

Leigh Powell Hines said...

Found this post. What a great trip. Awesome!

Amy Anderson said...

Sounds absolutely unbelievable. So jealous!

Post stumbled.

Amy @ A Little Nosh

Unknown said...

What an amazing trip! I loved getting to visit along with you by reading your words.

Post stumbled.

Alison Golden - The Secret Life of a Warrior Woman said...

Ooooh, lucky, lucky you! It all sounds fantastic. The photos look awesome and it looks and sounds like you were in paradise!

Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama said...

So jealous!!

Stumbled ;-)

Maureen | Tatter Scoops said...

That looks like paradise!

The Budget Diet said...

My husband has always said, "if I ever lose my job, we're going to Hawaii." Your beautiful article really makes me want to go!

DrJulieAnn @ Modern Retro Woman said...

This sounds heavenly! And to have a nice reminder about prayer in the middle of heaven makes me envious!

Gigi said...

we have 2 things in common: we both have hubs named kevin and we've both been to Kauai and done the helicopter tour!

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