Waimea Canyon and the Pihea / Alakai Swamp Trail

May 26, 2015—The sun washed over the mountains at the rear of the house as we prepared for our day trip to the west side of the island. We lingered just a few more minutes to see the full spectacle.

We continued south then west, stopping to fill the tank with gas as recommended, then took a right up towards Waimea Canyon. The journey was a gem in and of itself-the first look at Niihau Island from above and the ever-changing environment was a delight. After miles and miles of steep climbs and sudden turns and hunter trails that looked like they might be roads, we arrived at the Waimea Canyon. Before any other visitors arrived, we were gifted the rare opportunity to marvel at it all—the diversity of the colors, the drama, the bug-like helicopters swooping over the waterfalls.

The sun rose higher as we continued the climb to the end of the road, the Pu’u o Kila lookout. We passed through the entrance of Kokee State Park and noticed the NASA laboratory on the other side of the street. It was much colder up here in the rainforest at an altitude of 4,000 ft. We laced up our sneakers and were thankfully parked next to a woman headed down the same trail as us, the Pihea / Alakai Swamp Trail. Steps away from the car and I was already leading us in the wrong direction. Thankfully, she set us straight.

The trail became muddy fast, but that didn’t deter us. It is, as the sign dictates, one of the wettest spots on Earth. Only minutes in and we looked to our left to see the most beautiful, precious and unspoiled scene I’ve ever witnessed. The Kalalau Valley lay before us like the most generous gift. We gawked at it for a while, then a little more due to my instance. I was thankful for the time as we wouldn’t get a repeat.


The trail was an adventure through so many different environments—a journey through muddy trails, pristine rainforest and stark desert. Within the swamp existed plant life that appeared, dare I say it, prehistoric? The ferns were developing at an almost visible rate and we were privy to it. At the end of the Pihea trail (where you must turn right to stay on it) we ventured up the path to the lookout, but by now the view was entirely invaded by clouds. While disappointing to miss the valley from this well-earned angle, the blank view was something to behold. It was like being in the place described as “heaven”.

After wandering to the crossroads with the Alakai Trail, we continued straight for a while before beginning the somewhat treacherous journey back. While the swamp itself was covered by “boardwalk”, the planks were more balancing act than leisurely stroll.

By now the trail had reached a level of difficulty that had me considering removing my shoes for traction. While frustrating at times, the adventure of it all had a hold on me. The surrounding area was covered in moss and diverse varieties of trees and flower and even wild ginger. At every steep pass requiring strategy and a bit of grace to navigate, I brought my attention to the layers upon layers of different colored Earth that made up the mud.

Once back at the overlook we found ourselves in the midst of the clouds still. It hadn’t lifted. We’d been incredibly fortunate to arrive when we did. Others were not so lucky and their faces showed it. Did you get a picture? One asked…as if I’d spotted a mystical creature. I guess it was sort of mystical.

We found a picnic area near the Canyon where we had our lunch and the clouds hid that view too. We continued down the winding road and began a bit of a beach hop along the south shore complimented by a stop-off for poke (pronounced poh-kay).

After a quick dip at Salt Pond Park in Hanapepe (calm waters and a perfect spot to cool off in, but perhaps not the most atmospheric), we stopped at Sea Glass Beach—the beach that is at times covered in sea glass depending on the tide—before ending at Poipu Beach. In between, we ended up at Koloa Fish Market and I devoured a combination of a classic poke and avocado over rice. It was really, really good. We walked the main thoroughfare of Koloa with its sweet shops, before returning to the coast.

Poipu Beach was more crowded than the beaches we’d been visiting, however it gave us a precious last couple of hours of light and reefs that were bursting with life. The current was picking up as I followed the schools of fish with the ebb and flow of the sea. A band played nearby.

Before returning to the bed and coffee, Luke was in the market for classic Hawaiian food. Arriving only twenty minutes before closing at Mark’s Place in an industrial area of Lihu’e, I expected we’d be out of luck. Not so, there was a line and we joined it. The offerings at this time of night (there are specials and bento boxes during the day) ranged from Loco Moco to Chicken Katsu. L got the mixed plate and we settled in at the picnic tables out front with the other patrons who also made it just in time to chow down at the most popular spot for Hawaiian comfort food on the island.


Advice:

Pihea/ Alakai Swamp Trail
This is another trail that was recommended by both the book and the boat captain. It was a total trip and one of the highlights of ours. It was certainly physically demanding as it required a steady up and down-hill climb of very, very muddy trails with limited footholds. If there’s been a heavy rain I’d say beware; it was hard enough to make it through under normal conditions. The entire trail is 9 miles, but we cut it short. You can easily adjust it for your preferences. Bring lots of water, snacks, sunscreen and layers (mostly layers you don’t care about. Those “red dirt shirts? Made with mud from here!)… as you can see, the environment is quite unpredictable.

General Advice for Kokee/Waimea:
Bring food and water. There is only a small lodge in Kokee, so it’s worthwhile to plan ahead. Also, fuel-up before making that turn into Waimea; it’s a long (about 40 miles or so) hilly round-trip journey on which there are no gas stations. Oh, and get there early!

Links:
Kokee Park
Alakai Swamp Trail Info and Advisories
Pihea Trail Info and Advisories

Waimea Canyon

Perrier Enoteca at Vetri

This city continues to surprise me. Just when I think its gems have been exhausted and it’s time to move on, I experience something so amazing  that I can’t tear myself away.

Friday we were among the lucky eighteen (thirty-six, all said) that attended the Perrier Enoteca at Vetri Restaurant. Long the subject of my curiosity and desire, we were finally crossing the threshold of that pretty townhouse on Spruce between thirteenth and broad. We were greeted warmly– with bubbly and a row of the owner’s, Marc Vetri’s, books set against the wall for perusal. It was like walking into my version heaven. The other diners arrived and we all crowded in before it was time to make our way to the upstairs space for a “meet and greet”  with the chefs that was a complete surprise to me…I was ecstatic.

We entered a beautiful demo kitchen and were met by Chefs Vetri and Perrier, poured glasses of champagne and handed oysters topped with lemon gelato (I told, you heaven.). Chef Perrier–a quintessential French chef with such passion and precision (pictured in the first of the images above)– announced the asparagus soup and small ramekins of each were distributed. Chef Vetri– an incredibly kind, down-to earth guy and one hell of a chef–gave us an overview of how the night came to be and what we could expect. It would be a dinner not so different from family dinners at their homes. There would be no courses or ordering. Just sipping wine and being served a Thanksgiving-like feast. If, that is, your Thanksgiving includes handmade pasta, Boeuf Bourguignon and no arguing.


We were seated at a long, wooden table in a charming room that can be reserved for special events. We had a list of wines curated for our choosing, and diners were able to purchase a glass or a bottle (or both). The service was the best I’ve ever experienced anywhere. They were so charming, knowledgeable, and made the experience enjoyable for us all. While we waited for the meal to be served, we made introductions to diners across the table and the conversation flowed freely.

Chefs Vetri and Perrier and the waitstaff arrived bearing a smorgasbord of mostly French and a few Italian dishes.For the French components, there was a salad covered in fresh seafood and fennel and the famous Le Bec Fin crab cakes. There was asparagus smothered Béarnaise and the most delicious mashed potatoes you can dream up. And let’s not forget the Boeuf Bourguignon.  The Italian beauties included a bowl overflowing with polenta and a rigatoni bolognese that I truthfully couldn’t spot eating. I mean it…I was the last of the eighteen people to toss in the towel and allow my plate to be cleared (Sorry!).

None of us could stop raving about one dish or another. Hell, none of us could stop going on about any of them! Chef Vetri stopped in and chatted with us for a bit  and admitted the enjoyment he got out of these events– the opportunity to feed people in a way that was more true to home-style cooking and, of course, to collaborate with a longtime culinary icon and friend. Later, we would have a minute to give our regards to Chef Perrier and admit a bit of nostalgia as Le Bec Fin was our first formal dining experience.

The meal winded down as we finished the meal with a fruit soup– a relief from the July heat and the hour I spent gorging myself with my favorite dishes. Wine bottles and decanters were passed around by those too full to continue and, we gladly partook. We may have had even too much fun if that’s possible.

With another seating at 8:30, we left at right around 8. It was a big party–rich food and wine and great people– and honestly one of the best dining experiences of my life. It was an evening that won’t be forgotten.



Details:

The Enoteca at Vetri is held very rarely, but when it is being held, it shouldn’t be missed. It’s $75 per person for the family style dinner. Sometimes there’s a guest chef, sometimes they’re trying out a new menu. These events are announced the morning of and need to be booked ASAP. As a reference, I sort of serendipitously spotted the notice on Twitter and called three minutes later. They were completely booked in twenty minutes. Follow here.

1312 Spruce Street, Philadelphia
215-732-3478

Bed, Coffee, and a Secret Beach

May 25, 2015—I was reluctant to wake up. Today we left our paradise…the cabin on a farm on a bitty island in the middle of the ocean. A week or so earlier I was cursing myself for choosing such a location; I was unready for the bugs and the rustic qualities I came to adore. How will I ever forget this place? The breakfasts and dinners on the lanai complete with geckos darting here and there and the sounds and smells of the tropics all around. The rustle of the palm trees swaying and the call of the chickens had become familiar. The fruit and flowers begging to be picked, the latter for what would become my wedding bouquet. Speaking of which, let’s not forget preparing for the day itself; I took deep breaths as I practiced my vows in the teeny kitchen and hurriedly did my makeup in the bathroom that, now that I think of it, didn’t have a light other than a small vanity mirror on the other side of the room.

We packed up the car as efficiently as possible before inhaling our surroundings one more time. I put my haku on my head for symbolic and practical reasons, and after one more look-around, we were gone.

For the last three days we were headed for a “bed and coffee” (self-explanatory) about fifteen minutes away as new residents moved into our cabin. We arrived at the Makalahena Bed and Coffee and couldn’t help but stare at the views beyond; a perfectly unobstructed view of the mountains with waterfalls pouring down the side from the late-night rain the day before. Once inside, we realized the purpose of this new accommodation was to acclimate us to 21st century life once more in the most gentle and beautiful way possible. What waited for us was a huge shared space complete with a kitchen, laundry, and television. We walked outside and up a case of wooden stares and arrived in a perfectly situated room. As it would turn out, two of the three nights we had the place all to ourselves.

We developed a food tour of sorts while we were en route to the North Shore. First, Luke’s pick…a food truck in Anahola offering Kalua pork, Portuguese donuts, and a few types of salads from their kitchen. The owners placed two of the donuts on our containers and we drove to find a small pull-off near the beach to try it all. Once in Kilauea I was thrilled to see Shave Ice Tege Tege at its designated stop behind the health food store and next to the taco stand. The line was a few deep but I patiently waited, finally deciding on the Tahitian Berry after much debate. Watching the staff make the shave ice was surprising; each order was made so deliberately and with such care. My shave ice was adorned with a hibiscus flower before it was handed to me.


We ended up at Secret Beach for the afternoon, which I overheard a surfer talking about days before at Tunnels. After a sort of precarious walk down a path to access it, we were rewarded grandly. The beach is vast and the views extraordinary. There’s the lighthouse on the right and lava pools to your left. The water was too rough for swimming, so we waded and walked. This was the first beach that I noticed a different type of beach life in the form of nudist beach goers and bonfire gatherings. Separate parties, mind you. You wouldn’t know it was Memorial Day.

I witnessed the power of the sea here as it swallowed the beach whole for many seconds as I was seemingly trapped in a precarious spot trying to nab a photo. Take heed: the ocean is a powerful, beautiful beast.

Before arriving back at the bed and coffee, we gave into the intrigue of the sign that read Mango Bread on the road across from our cabin that, upon further examination, presented a house offering pickled mango and leis as well. At the end of the road was the tree of life if you will—a towering mango tree with perfectly and overripe mangoes gracing the tree and rotten ones scattered around. After a sort of dizzying exchange with the maker of said products, we were given once small container of the bright red pickled mango and a recommendation for a family restaurant in town that we hadn’t the time or craving, truthfully, to visit.

The kitchen at the B&C was fully-stocked with every spice, oil, condiment, utensil and pan you could want. It was located within a much larger room with a huge wraparound couch, desk, television and table for eating. Used to living in a small space at the cabin and at home, the excess was sort of unsettling at first. That sounds ridiculous as I write it, but it’s true. We started the first bit of a movie, and only saw our fellow housemates hailing from Colorado as they passed through to their room. For the curious, the movie was Jurassic Park.

Kalalau / Hanakapiai Falls Trail (8 miles)

May 24, 2015–This trail was declared a must for us (by me) before we even arrived on Kauai. The iconic views and the feel of it, told by the words of those who walked it or even lived it before. Remember Tom and his stories of Kalalau? While we only got a glimpse of it (2 miles of the 9 mile Kalalau Trail), the pleasure of it can’t be overstated.

To do the trail in its entirely requires an overnight stay for us mere mortals, so we decided instead to hike the two miles to Hanakapiai Beach then two miles to reach the falls. It was a bit ambitious, but we were happy and determined.

We arrived at Ke’e beach and were lucky to find parking steps from the trail head. Later, we saw cars lining the road to Ke’e, in addition to filling parking lots a distance away. We brought two gallons of water with us, in addition to lunch, snacks, and a camera. We saw hikers outfitted in much more official attire than us and barefooted people and people actually running the trail. Would you believe it if I told you we saw the same guy running Kalalau that we saw on Sleeping Giant the day before? Bizarre—the size of the island and this guy’s endurance.

The hike to Hanakapiai Beach was incredibly scenic. It took us a bit of time, as we stopped here and there for photos, but the trail itself was well-maintained and not overly strenuous to navigate. After a few stream crossings and narrow passes that made my stomach lurch, we arrived at the first of several river crossings to reach the beach. This time, we followed suit and hopped across the rocks. Several people fell in (not very dramatically) others took their shoes off to cross the sort of raging stream. I’ll tell you, the crowds started picking up and many seemed in a bit of a hurry; this is not to be acknowledged as it lessens your chances of a successful crossing dramatically .

Hanakapiai Beach—overwhelmingly inviting and overwhelmingly deadly. The signs with markings indicating drownings are to be heeded, but many feel untouchable at this beach. We took a walk around, admiring its power, and headed inland towards the falls.

While the first leg (Kalalau) was a bit crowded, this leg was far better (at least in this direction). We passed through a bamboo forest and continued on through the rainforest. We zig-zagged across the river from before, some passes far more challenging and requiring more strategy and balance than others. Don’t rush—on the way back I did and whoop in I went! It was a lengthy two miles. Towards the end the trail narrowed and became far muddier. We teetered on the edge of the rocks and ducked back as others passed. At long last, we could hear the falls in the distance. A hiker on the return trip encouraged us you’re almost there! And at last, we were.

The falls are worth every step. The towering cliffs surround you, birds soar and swoop, and all is quiet. It’s an understood rule I think, at least among the first to arrive for the day, that conversation be kept to a minimum and reflection be the priority. We savored it. Some swam, but today was too cold, even for me.

And then we made the return trip—the powerful and empowering journey that pushed this body of mine in a way I hadn’t felt in some time. It felt amazing. I felt so strong and so overjoyed.

We had lunch back at Hanakapiai Beach, this time being surrounded by a swarm of tourists. It is very obviously advantageous to get here early.

Back at Ke’e, we washed off our muddy selves before heading over to the beach. Returning from the facilities, Luke ran into the family we met at Queen’s Bath. They were delighted to share that they had toasted us on our wedding day.

Ke’e is the end of the line; it is the last beach accessible by road. Like others, it has soaring trees that provide the perfect umbrella for napping. This beach is unique, though, as the roots supporting the tree are above ground and gnarled. The swimming was wonderful the day we visited. The current is strong though, even in calm seas, and if you let it, it will carry you in an unpredictable direction.

Rain determined our departure time, as the beach cleared and we made our way back to our car. I thought of the hikers back on the trail, especially the trail to the falls; neither would be too desirable when the conditions are muddy.


Tips and Resources for the Day Hike:

Official trail website

Overview of Kalalau/Hanakapiai trail This 8 mile journey is an adventurous, mind-blowing day hike. It is so much fun and lived up to every expectation I set. It is a must-see if your body and the environment are in the right place that day. What I mean is, it’s definitely a challenge. I’ve mentioned before, only you know your physical limits. The trail is very challenging in many areas and that should be understood before taking it on. If the weather is rainy, I’d also think twice about setting out. The trail is made of dirt, very sweep, and host to many drop offs. Rainy conditions may just be a little more adventure than you’re looking for.

Supplies Bring lots of water, food, extra socks ( I wish I had!), sunscreen, bug spray, sunglasses, and a camera. Oh, and your bathing suit if you plan on swimming.

Facilities At Ke’e there is a full bathroom with an outdoor shower as well. The only bathroom on the trail is a composting toilet right after Hanakapiai beach en route to the falls

Parking I would recommend arriving early so you can park near the trail head. Follow directions to Ke’e.

Sleeping Giant (Nounou) Hiking Trail, Kauai

May 23, 2015–Only about fifteen minutes or so from the trail head everyone from the boat captain to the sister of my hair stylist recommended, we decided we needed to go. At 6:30am there was no one parked at the trail head other than a group of young dudes that were likely just winding down from the night before. We found the trail easily and set out. We were struck by how silent it was. Minus the sound of our feet hitting the dirt we were completely alone, and it was strangely beautiful.

The hike was a perfect level of difficulty for our first time out. It was steep but doable and had a few muddy spots here and there. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect: at 7:00am or so the sun was just finding its place in the sky and it seemed to us that we rounded corners at just the right time to see its debut.

The steepness got to me after a bit and I realized why the guidebook called it a “puffer”. It is not a term of endearment. We neared the top as the first pair of hikers we saw were actually jogging up with their dog alongside. We had to laugh at this.

Here and there we reached forks that weren’t all that clear. More confusing was the trip downward where your gut (or sense of direction, whichever) needs to guide you if you don’t have a photographic memory. But I had a snapshot of the section of the book that mentioned keeping to the right so we pressed on through areas of forest and bamboo, and we were rewarded with a perfectly serene and private (save two) oasis once at the top.

We were advised that if you were brave (or foolish) enough, you could continue on in search of an unobstructed view. You know we did. Looking confused, the couple from before sent us in the right direction and this is where it got tough. There were passes over rocks and areas I didn’t think it was possible to pass. That is until we saw a man actually running back down the path. So it’s possible it appears. We reached the top and though heights never bothered me before, I’ll admit this did but in the most thrilling way possible. The views were really enough to make you breathless. Luke continued on to the very end but I remained in my little nook high above the sea.

Once we navigated our way down the trail, we headed in the direction of Wailua Falls right down the road. This is considered the most sacred place on the island, but this was the first we saw of true tourism; there were the crowds rushing to check spots of the dreaded “list” and that aura of stress we just hadn’t seen before. We wandered for a bit—first towards Wailua Falls then across the street to the sacred and navigable Wailua River—before headed on to see the heiau located nearby. Heiau were places of worship located on the river long ago. Now, you can recognize them as purposefully placed stone structures located on each side of the road to the falls.

After a break at the cabin we returned a few miles south to Donkey Beach. There’s parking for about twelve cars or so as well as restroom facilities here. From there it’s a walk through a surreal tree tunnel to the beach. But first you cross a bike path that extends down the coast. We didn’t get to rent bikes to do this this time, but I think that would be a sweet way to spend the afternoon. Instead, we lounged a bit, took a walk, and watched the powerful waves strike shore. There is a cove to the left that is a worthwhile detour. It was too rough for swimming but far too beautiful not to linger.

Eager to see one more, we headed North to Rock Quarry Beach which is the same beach I had on my list for a possible ceremony site. We found the turn easily off of highway 50 then cautiously made the turn onto the bumpy road that looked wrong. After a few minutes we realized we weren’t mistaken and we found the parking area easily. Rock Quarry Beach is an understated beauty. There are few people, it’s surrounded by cliffs and there’s a path through pine trees to get to the far side of the beach. This is a location where a freshwater river meets the ocean and it makes for a setting very different than most others. I waded through the river and explored a bit before judging it not to be a swimming day here either. It really didn’t matter. A bitty detail like that can’t rob us of any joy.

So now, about a week in, I have to ask what is it with this place? One beach or view is more gratifying than the next. I suppose L is right—it just doesn’t make sense to go someplace twice. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop asking though.


Hiking on Kauai:

The hikes on Kauai are plentiful, varied, and beautiful. After being advised to do this particular hike, Sleeping Giant, by everyone we spoke to, we decided on it. There is a huge variety of options in the guidebook.

The section up to the main area is likely suitable for most hikers. There are steep areas that require a little finagling, but overall it’s a straightforward journey. The roundtrip is very approximately 4-5 miles.

Wherever you go, bring lots and lots of water. If you have too much as Captain Larry mentioned, you can always leave it along the trail for someone else. A few snacks never hurt, either.

As always, know your limits. Only you know your level of physical ability. So if you decide to take on a hike that is labeled strenuous, be sure that’s what you’re up for.

Here is a link to where you can find the trail as well as the heiau.