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“Oh shit!”

I heard the words and so never did see the wave that inspired them. When your raft captain yells an expletive, you know to hang tight to the rope and duck your head. You also know the heightened sense of adventure is what you paid for, so no panic necessary.

The Na Pali coast is the most spectacular feature of Kauai, and that’s saying something considering the Hawaiian island is also the home of “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon. The Na Pali cliffs, standing up to 4,000 feet (1,200 meters), dwarf even the ocean below. And the ocean sure dwarfed the 14-person inflatable raft we were clinging to.

The bumpiness factor was nothing compared to some trips, we were assured, yet we also knew that if ocean conditions are too rough along the Na Pali coast, the rafts are diverted south, or cancelled. Capt. Andy’s offers more sedate catamaran tours, and they are serious about making you consent over and over again to having no medical issues that would be exacerbated by bouncing on the ocean for four hours, but the little inflatable vessels are closer to the water and therefore to the numerous Spinner dolphins and sea turtles we encountered (I may have squealed every time one broke the surface), and rafts can be maneuvered into the caves carved into the cliffs. I have no regrets. After hours of clenching the rope in a death grip, my hands might disagree.

That was just one of the Kauai adventures I crammed into three days. As a travel junkie with not unlimited funds to indulge the habit, I wonder about the wisdom of subscribing to YVR Deals’ email list. (The man behind the deals, Chris Myden, also runs sites for flights originating from several other Canadian cities). How could I resist a $300 flight – including taxes – to Hawaii, even if limited vacation time and budget for such spontaneity meant only three days on the ground? I’m not a beach person, but I have turned into something of a beach-adjacent person.

I went kayaking on the calm Hanalei river, snorkeled and tiptoed around a sleeping seal in Poipu, hiked near the colourful Waimea Canyon, and took a surfing lesson from the Kauai Surf School – which turned out to be more of a boogie boarding lesson, but maybe next time I’ll actually stand up. And then in accidentally perfect timing, just before getting on the big plane home I took a small plane tour over the island with Wings Over Kauai, seeing from the air what I’d just seen from the ground, a new perspective of those stunning cliffs and canyon, of Hanalei Bay, and of Mount Waialeale, one of the rainiest spots on earth (like, even rainier than Vancouver).

Kauai is a small island — fourth largest of the Hawaiian islands and geologically oldest— but from above it was easy to see I had covered a lot of ground in three days – and a fair bit of bumpy ocean.

BTW:

  • No-fuss kayaking: Unlike some rental places, Kayak Hanalei has a private dock leading to the water, meaning you don’t have to strap a boat to your rental car. Reservations aren’t required for rentals, which are for 24 hours; if you rent later in the day (a discount is available after 1 pm) you can come back the following day for more. Stand-up paddle boards are available, and they offer tours as well.
  • A meal to remember: For the most part we grabbed fish tacos and shaved ice on the run, or threw together our own meals, but dinner at Art Cafe Hemingway in Kapaa was a lovely indulgence. My tongue still dreams about the baked pear with blue castello cheese, pine nuts and thyme honey.
  • Mobile massage: After getting buffeted by the ocean in various ways, a lomi lomi massage was the perfect way to end a day. Aloha Massage Kauai will come to you, or they have studios in some of the major centres. You can even book online.
  • Water water everywhere, but where to shower? What to do if your flight home is in the evening, you checked out of your accommodation in the morning, and in between you’ve coated yourself in layers of sunscreen, sand and salt? One option is to savour the sticky/gritty combination on your flight home. But a free option to get all your crevices clean without shocking bystanders is the showers at the Lydgate campground not far from the airport. They offer more privacy than the ubiquitous open-air beach showers, which are more suitable for a quick rinse than a full shampoo and soap job.