With indulgent resorts, new sunset sailing tours, and unspoiled tropical scenery, Kauai is more romantic than ever. Are you ready for an adventure?
It was the first night of our romantic escape to Kauai, and the scene from the Seaview Terrace at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa was exactly what we had wished for: a crimson sunset over the Pacific, waves kissing the shore, and the sounds of a local entertainer strumming sweet melodies on a ukulele. We munched on deep-fried poke rolls and sipped cool island-brewed lagers, taking in the warm breeze and sweet-scented island air.
Prior visits to the islands (my wife and I have been to Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Molokai, and the Big Island) have centered on family or work. But this time, it was just the two of us, with the goal of relaxation, rejuvenation, and the belated celebration of our 20th anniversary. We chose Kauai because it’s the smallest of the four most visited Hawaiian Islands (only 552 square miles) and boasts a nearly perfect blend of tropical scenery, pristine beaches, and luxury hotels.
A Paradise in Po‘ipu
After landing in laid-back Lihue, we headed into the countryside, where sugarcane plantations have been replaced by fields of coffee, macadamia nuts, guavas, bananas, and papayas. We passed through a tunnel of tall eucalyptus trees on the way to Po‘ipu (which means “covered in waves” in Hawaiian), an alluring stretch of coastline with numerous resorts, including our hideaway for the next three days: the resplendent Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, set on the shore of Keoneloa Bay.
The 600-room resort, ranked the best in Kauai by Travel & Leisure readers in 2010, just celebrated its 20th anniversary and the final phase of a major room remodel. Three hundred rooms reopened in December, decked out with rich mahogany furniture, traditional Hawaiian-print linens, petroglyph artwork, and rain-style showers big enough for two.
Our sixth-floor terrace overlooked the richly landscaped grounds graced with waterfalls, tropical plants, and flowers. Two crystal-clear pools, one with a “lava tube” water slide, are set in a gardenlike setting and are connected by a winding river pool. On the beach side of the property is a one-acre saltwater lagoon and the golden strand of Shipwreck Beach.
If shimmering waters aren’t enough to force you into relaxation, the Grand Hyatt’s renowned Anara Spa should do the trick. With lush foliage and stone paths, the spa features open-air, thatch-roof hales (houses), each with its own private lava rock shower, steam room, and soaking tubs. Among the spa’s 47 treatments is the lomilomi, a traditional Hawaiian massage whose name translates to “touch with loving hands.” Practiced since ancient times by native Hawaiian healers, this tender approach will share the love with rhythmic flowing strokes and deep presses. If you’re traveling with your sweetheart, however, you should book the romantic Ku‘uipo (lovers) Escape, which includes a rock shower with tropical salts, native Kauai clay, and organic oil; a wild ginger steam grotto; and an orchid-strewn bubble bath, followed by a side-by-side massage.
After you make a trip to the spa, the Grand Hyatt might be hard to leave, but you won’t regret hiking along the Makawehi cliffs, formed during the last Ice Age. The lightly used trail meanders through brushy stands of ironwood to the quiet Maha‘ulepu Beach, passing the stone heiau hoouluia, an ancient place of worship where locals pray for good fishing. Hikers here might spot a Hawaiian monk seal, an endangered species that inhabits this stretch of coast, or, from November through March, humpback whales cavorting offshore.
Day Trips to Remember
Day two, we headed back to Lihue for an 85-minute Island Helicopters tour that swept over the cliffs, caves, and remote beaches of the Na Pali Coast. My heart pounded as we traversed the island’s lush interior for a landing at Manawaiopuna Falls, an otherwise inaccessible waterfall made famous in Jurassic Park. My wife and I loved being in the clouds near Mount Wai‘ale‘ale, where we hovered along the mountainside, taking in the lacy waterfalls that streamed down from the extinct volcano’s slopes. After an exhilarating heli trip, the place to go is Lihue’s new Koloa Rum Company tasting room to try the first legally distilled rum in Kauai.
That afternoon, we took a four-hour sunset cruise on the new 65-foot luxury sailing catamaran, the Southern Star. By motor and sail, we explored the stretch of coastline along the barren Polihale Beach to the sheer 3,000-foot cliffs and hissing sea caves of the Na Pali Coast. Several times along the way, we slowed to watch humpback whales and dolphins breach the surface—one of many unforgettable moments we relived over an island-style dinner that evening at the Hyatt’s Tidepools restaurant. Reserve the lagoon-side table in your own private palapa for a twilight dinner to be remembered.
There’s so much to see on this tropical isle, so we also squeezed in a visit to Koke‘e State Park on the island’s far west side. After seeing the viewpoints of Waimea Canyon (deemed by Mark Twain as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”) and the breathtaking Kalalau Valley overlook, which drops 4,000 feet to the ocean, we met guides from a local adventure company, Kayak Kauai, for a three-mile hike to Waimea Canyon’s Waipo‘o Falls. The winding trail follows narrow switchbacks along the canyon’s edge, passing fig trees and fragrant wild ginger before opening up to a set of tiny falls—a perfect place for that Kauai-style smooch photo or perhaps an impromptu wedding vow renewal.
A Land Called Hanalei
No trip to Kauai is complete without an indulgent stay at the St. Regis Princeville Resort on the island’s northern side. Draped cliffside overlooking exotic Hanalei Bay, the St. Regis is regarded by the travel industry as one of the most scenic and luxurious resorts in the world. Since unveiling a multimillion dollar renovation in 2009, the St. Regis now welcomes visitors with 252 upgraded rooms (51 of them ocean-view suites), a fine-dining restaurant, the full-service Halele‘a Spa, and serene waterscapes galore, including an infinity pool that seemingly ends in the sea.
The view from our ninth-floor room was indeed stunning: The cloudy weather and occasional mauka (mountain) showers created a mystical panoramic view of Hanalei Bay, whose graceful gray waves peeled into the crescent-shaped, mountain-ringed cove—like a living Japanese painting. In the misty distance rose Mount Makana, also known as the mysterious island Bali Ha‘i in the 1958 film version of the musical South Pacific.
Along with a sumptuous bed, huge HDTV, and well-appointed furnishings in our room, the bathroom featured a tub-to-ceiling window with the same panoramic view. In the evening, we snuggled over dinner at the Kauai Grill. This is the culinary domain of acclaimed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, where we savored Pacific ahi tartare and grilled sirloin with plump Kauai shrimp. We ate, illuminated by the unusual lit fabric ceiling that spirals like a nautilus shell into a tentaclelike chandelier.
At sunset on our final day, we strolled the nearly deserted Ke‘ e Beach, one of the most picturesque beaches on the north shore, as the sky became polychromatic. Set against dramatic green cliffs, the scene was so beautiful that you could almost hear the strains of “Bali Ha‘i” fading faintly with the sun over the ocean. ■
Adventures in Kauai for Two
Ripe for adventure and exploration, the unspoiled island of Kauai offers countless opportunities to get lost with a loved one.
» Captain Andy’s Sailing Adventures: Snorkel, dinner, and sunset catamaran cruises along the Na Pali Coast and in the Po‘ipu region. napali.com.
» Coconut Coasters: In the funky town of Kapa’a, rent a cruiser bike for rides along the new four-mile coastal bike path that stretches past beaches and scenic vistas. coconutcoasters.com.
» Hawaiian Surfing Adventures: Hang 10 in no time with a surf class in the forgiving waters of Hanalei Bay. Stand-up paddle boarding is also available. hawaiiansurfingadventures.com.
» Island Helicopters: Island-wide tours in the latest six-passenger Astar with a Jurassic Falls landing option. islandhelicopters.com.
» Kauai ATV Tours: “Do something dirty” is the motto of this company that leads four-hour group rides over rugged terrain to a secluded waterfall, where you can wash off in one of the swimming holes under the cascade. kauaiatv.com.
» Kayak Kauai: Kayak, hiking, and waterfall tours, plus surfing and stand-up paddle board lessons on Hanalei Bay. kayakkauai.com.
» Limahuli Garden and Preserve: This 1,000-acre plot in Haena, set in a stunning tropical valley, offers hillside tours of many rare and endangered native plants, including the white hibiscus, once thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the preserve in 1976. ntbg.org.