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Rejuvenation Kauai Style

Adventure awaits in this corner of paradise.


Courtesy of Kukui’ula

The code for Kauai’s airport, Lihue, is LIH, as in “Like In Heaven.” Or my new mantra, “Live in Hawaii.” After a handful of visits to the Garden Island over the past 20 years, I’ve been utterly entranced by this rainbow-graced Pacific playland. And when my yearning for relaxation and rejuvenation arises, there’s no place on Earth more satisfying than lush, mountainous Kauai.

Last June, with springtime recharging on my mind, I jetted out of Oakland direct to Kauai on Hawaiian Airlines. Upon landing, my first taste of aloha was the island’s warm, moisture-laden air—a breath of the tropics that cast an intoxicating spell that would last well beyond my week on the island.


Courtesy of Kukui’ula

Saddle Up

I hightailed it to the North Shore, about a 30-mile drive from Lihue, to The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas, a complex of deluxe condo-style dwellings perched a stone’s throw from where cliffs cascade to the sea. The resort attracts well-heeled but laid-back visitors, many of whom spend their stays enjoying the multitiered pool, barbecue areas, and private poolside cabanas. Dining that evening at the resort’s open-air restaurant, Nanea, with its tiki torches casting an exotic glow over the pool, I fully transitioned from airplane-and-rental car–travel to flip-flop island time.

Ben Davidson Photo

The next morning, I set out early to join a half-day horseback tour with Princeville Ranch Adventures at the nearby Princeville Ranch. As I learned the nuances of steering and connecting in an extrasensory fashion with my chestnut brown steed, my Hanalei-based leader escorted our small group on a leisurely trip into the ranch’s paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) country. After about an hour of easy riding, we paused at a woodsy overlook to take in the view of the mountains, valleys, and ocean, before tying up the horses for a trip on two legs.

Using rope handholds, we navigated our way down a steep trail into the rainforest to a secluded 80-foot waterfall, where we explored the falls and swam in the fern-lined pool. After climbing up a 10-foot rock wall with views from the top of the waterfall tiers, I remounted my horse for the ride back through the ranch. I returned to terra firma with a greater appreciation for Kauai’s hidden marvels—and my new equine friend.

Ben Davidson Photo

Na Pali Nature Show

In search of more ways to connect with the island’s natural wonders, I joined a guide from Wailua-based Kayak Kauai for a half-day hike on the North Shore’s Kalalau Trail. This popular route follows the steep and scenic Na Pali Coast, the first leg of a multiday journey that backpackers describe as one of the top hikes in the world. Over the course of two miles, this beginning section of the trail brought us from the trailhead at Ke’e Beach—a beautiful arc of sand with shallow waters that are popular with snorkelers—to Hanakapiai Beach.

Remote and beautiful, this hike along the Na Pali Coast can be challenging, especially in wet weather. We hoofed along high oceanside cliffs on trails ranging from muddy puddles to dry, crumbly rock, but frequent stops allowed us to take in the views of the craggy yet verdant coastline.  

Before reaching Hanakapiai Beach, we opted for an additional two-mile hike through bamboo forest to a remote waterfall, which dropped into a large, deep pool. After a quick dip, we clambered back down to the beach, where we rested up and feasted on fresh sliced pineapple in the shade.

Most beachgoers avoid going into the water here, heeding warning signs about dangerous offshore currents. (One foreboding sign near the beach uses crosshatches to mark the 80-plus visitors who have purportedly drowned at the beach.) During our visit, about a dozen or so people were hanging out: Some explored a small cave near the surf line while others made Zen-like stacks from beach stones. A group of very fit women who had been swimming along the coast from Ke’e Beach emerged from the surf and were bare footing it back to the trailhead—a scene that seemed pure Kauai.


Stand-Up Adventures

To top off my active quest to achieve reinvigoration, I signed up for a four-hour stand-up paddle boarding, hiking, and swimming exploration of the Hule’ia River, which flows into the private Kipu Ranch.

My guide, a Kauai local who works for Outfitters Kauai, gave me and a few other intrepid travelers a quick lesson on the relatively easy techniques of stand-up paddling before we set out on our river ride. Winds from the ocean ushered us down the tranquil river along a route lined thickly with impenetrable mangrove trees. The two-mile-long trip wound through the Hule’ia National Wildlife Refuge, in view of the jagged peaks of the Haupu Mountains, which are steeped in Hawaiian legend.

Stepping from the board to the shore, we set out for a guided hike through the ranch’s rainforest trails. The jungle path, which follows small streams, is lined with plants introduced to the islands by the Polynesians. The two-hour hike included a stop for exhilarating rope-swing plunges into a river (featured in Raiders of the Lost Ark) and the stream-fed waters of the Blue Pool. The spot also offers a zip line and two platforms for launching into the water.

Courtesy of Kukui’ula

Spa Spectacular

After a week of horseback riding, trail hiking, stand-up paddle boarding, and pool plunging, I was ready to cap off my rejuvenation and restoration regimen with the grand finale: a deluxe spa treatment at The Spa at Kukui’ula, one of the most deluxe and exclusive spas on the island.

A valet whisked away my car, and I was ushered into the club’s spa hidden by high volcano rock walls. After an aromatic wash-down in the private outdoor shower, it was off to the saunas—hot and steamy—before a vivifying plunge into an outdoor cold pool. Then, I headed to a lomi lomi (healing hands) massage. I came out feeling like a jellyfish, glowing from the club’s custom-blended botanical massage oils and lotions.

It was all very seductive—a real treat for mind and body, and a delightful way to end a week of recharging on the enchanting island of Kauai.

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