We’re off! A day and night in Sydney, May 1
After months of planning, preparation, excitement, tedium and stress, two medium suitcases sit at the top of our stairs. The lovely Jon and I are finally leaving for two months of travel in British Columbia, Canada, for me a first. Jon, an American, had been to the eastern provinces in his teens on holiday with his family but not to B.C.
As it is too long a flight for us, we have planned a ten-day stopover in Kauai, Hawaii…but first a day and night in Sydney with Lene, my art-school girlfriend of more than forty years, and the Sydney Biennale.
A couple of sound-works excite me – Songs My Mother Taught Me where two women gently cradle each other’s faces, alternately singing/breathing into each other’s mouth, which becomes their shared voice box. It’s extraordinarily intimate and implies a high level of trust.
In another work, an orchestra plays Tchaikovsky’s fifth – the only sound is ambient – pages turn, musicians breathe but no music is heard. It is unusually compelling.
Then a poignant wall-installation comprising tiny children’s slippers, decorated with shell work precisely laid out in a huge grid, in memory of the lost children, made by an aboriginal artist.
And ‘the usual’ Sydney pleasures – old colonial sandstone buildings, walkways and harbour views.
Mahalo: Flights to Honolulu & Kauai’i, Hawaii, May 2
Off we fly, jam-packed on Hawaiian Airlines for nine, less- than- friendly hours, disappointed that there are no movies to while away the time. Honolulu airport is chaotic, with huge queues, insufficient signage. It’s a struggle to find the Kauai flight but twenty minutes later we step off the plane into the Frangipani world of this little island, which has a mountain almost a mile high, lots of rain, great soil and about sixteen rivers of various lengths.
We collect our hire car and, as the designated driver, I am pleased but not surprised at my comfort and confidence driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. It is not my first rodeo, as Jon would say! Drivers here are unbelievably polite. Speed limits of 25 mph or 40 mph with occasional stretches of 50 mph seem very slow but it’s laid back. Drivers constantly give way and sometimes give the Hawaii- wave; with the three middle fingers tucked, thumb and pinkie extended, the hand swivels from side to side from the wrist, OK OK, all’s cool.
Lokelani & Leis: Kauai’i
We head for Kapa’a, and in ten minutes, before entering the town centre, turn onto a winding, semi- rural road, pass modest homes, climb the escarpment now densely green with tropical vegetation, pass a glorious twin waterfall and arrive at our Airbnb. It is in a residential setting consisting of quality properties on large blocks of land with beautiful lush gardens and huge trees. Our Airbnb host Sandy, a Japanese Hawaiian, greets us at the well-appointed, self-contained Lokelani Garden Cottage set in a tropical garden, which surrounds their large home. Sandy brings us two “welcome leis”, very touching, that she has made from the Jade Vine-large, waxy, aqua coloured blooms with mauve centres, their form reminiscent of legume flowers. Almost impossible to believe they arn’t made of plastic. The weather is overcast with some light drizzle, and at 22C, unseasonal and much cooler than expected. This remains the pattern for several days. Pretty ordinary dinner back in Kapa’a, the local town, some ten minutes away and a quick shop for supplies in the overly expensive supermarket…half decent bread $10, grapes $10! Back to our magnificent bed in a perfectly quiet environment where we sleep for twelve hours…until cocks crow at dawn, charming.
Waterfalls & Wild Chickens: Kauai’i, May 3
Between our ‘home” and Kapa’a, we pass the twin waterfalls cascading down at the end of the valley. On the opposite side of the small road, the Wailua River wends its way down to the coast, flanked by ancient taro fields, where once a traditional Hawaiian village existed. Chickens and cockerels scurry everywhere, typical throughout Kauai.
Impatient for dawn,
I crack open the night
at 3 a.m.
I’m not alone.
By day I am scattered
pecking an apple
on a sandy beach,
foraging for earthworms and
insects on the grassy verge
beside the highway, cushioning
my newly hatched brood
beneath me on a gravelly path,
leading my young
across the foreshore
through the camp sites
under the picnic tables
along the walking paths
around the food vans
on the steps of the town cafe.
I thread my way between
chairs, tables and legs in
outdoor cafes where crumbs have fallen
or kindly folk have thrown me scraps
both large and small
Impatient for dawn
a voice cracks open the night,
stealing the 3 a.m. silence.
A few minute’s drive down at the coast, we walk the Kapa’a bike path together with young and old, some with dogs on leads, and a few well-overweight walkers. Pass a cluster of scruffy young folk who, sadly, appear to be homeless and under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
We cruise up the east coast in our little car, past rugged, volcanic mountains with verdant expanses of coconut palms and African Tulip trees in full red bloom. It’s densely tropical and beautiful. The road curves up to Princeville, a small developed community that lies on a ridge high above the sea. It’s an expensive area, with a large concentration of tasteful, low-rise resorts and homes with manicured gardens much of it along a stunning, rocky coastline. No fences between properties, common in the USA. There are barely any people to be seen, and many homes are clearly only used for holidays. The authorities want to concentrate tourism here, eliminating Airbnb. It’s not our cup of tea though!
People here are so relaxed, roads are narrow, drivers take it easy, no one is in a hurry.
On to Hanalei. Lonely Planet says: there are precious few towns with the majestic natural beauty and barefoot soul of Hanalei with its wide sweep of cream-colored sand and magnificent jade mountain views. Unfortunately, today it is not at all as described but for the magnificent flat wide surf beach. It’s too wet for walking and all is bathed in grey. The village has an unsophisticated, hippy feel to it with tawdry little shops, the exception being one funky shop with an entire wall double- hung with ukuleles of every conceivable colour!
Real estate prices here are exorbitant – a large block with 3 BR/3 bathroom home, beachfront and mountain view US$9.2 million. Sotheby’s ads abound. Eating out is expensive- a light lunch and three cocktails set us back $100. Unfortunately, the road is closed due to recent severe mudslides caused by huge, unseasonal rains and thus we are unable to proceed further up this famous coast.
They Don’t Eat Brown Eggs Here Either: Kauai’i, May 4.
Still recovering up from jetlag, and transfixed by Trumptrumptrump’s latest on NBC last night, today’s emails bring news of the serious volcanic eruption on the Big Island, where lava flows are shown oozing right up to people’s front gates! Luckily, it has no impact on Kauai.
Today we head in the opposite direction, back toward the airport and Lihue, the capital. It’s a busy main road and the traffic is fearsome, but soon we are in greenery, surrounded again by verdant mountains. The island has thousands of wild chickens who seem to have road sense and obviously no predators; they are absolutely everywhere. We stop at Koloa, a little village of older traditional -style buildings and cheap clothing shops. Jon buys a funky Hawaiian shirt. It is ablaze with palm trees, seductive ukulele-playing-hula girls and orange and green cocktails with the requisite straw, lemon slice and glace cherry! This is SO Hawaii! Then to a surprisingly sophisticated coffee shop with a slick, white, Dutch espresso machine of a type we have not seen before. Very good coffee, a relief after the dreadful norm of American- style drip coffee, though still not as good as an Aussie latte.
Nearby Lawai, a lovely stretch of coast with volcanic black rock, a blowhole and expensive but classy homes, resorts, and the usual magnificent gardens. At Poipu overlooking the sea, we order two appetisers, shrimp-stuffed mushrooms, sashimi and margaritas!
We shop at Safeway en route home; this one is good! It’s astonishing in size, with many wonderful products and the best capsicum display imaginable…a pyramid of yellow red and green. Today we get a Safeway card giving considerable discount. Interesting to note that Americans don’t eat brown eggs, not a one to be seen anywhere! We have noticed this before on mainland USA. And while they eat all sorts of fatty food, full cream milk is impossible to find! They take the fat out of milk and put it elsewhere to fool ‘em! Difficult shopping for the health-conscious!
Hemingways & Another Lei: Kauai’i, May 5-7
Ah some sun, no rain. A little solo adventure to the port in Lihue. I am keen to see a huge cruise ship up close. The guards at the port won’t let me beyond a barrier so I peer through the cyclone wire fence. A few people walk or wheelchair their short way from ship to nearby waterfront and back. They can now say they have seen Kauai.
The nearby Marriot waterfront is lined with bright grass, white sand beach, deckchairs and many people. It is pretty though and it’s where Airbnb Sandy’s son works! Back to collect Jon and into the little scruffy town of Kapa’a. An old blue timber building, Colonial-style, grabs our attention. Hemingways turns out to be a very funky, sophisticated cafe full of small European antique timber tables and chairs, interesting intellectual looking locals a beautifully designed menu with delicious food, each item named after a Hemingway title! I order a goat cheese crepe, Jon smoked salmon, and crab with wasabi mayo, good bread, fabulous scrambled eggs. That evening Sandy gives us purple and white orchid leis she brought back from an Oahu wedding instructing us to wear them when we go to the Japanese restaurant tomorrow night! Meanwhile she wraps them in moist paper towel, placed inside a plastic bag to be refrigerated. Apparently, this will preserve them for several days.
We try to find a waterfall we have read about but the roads are so poorly marked that we don’t succeed. However, we come to a park-like bush area, where several others have stopped to explore. The ground is damp and slippery, so we do not venture far but suddenly come across a stand of trees the trunks of which are brilliantly coloured in vertical stripes. They are obviously gum trees but we have never seen the likes of them. I proudly tell another couple that they are Australian trees. Back ‘home’, I search for them on the internet and discover they are Rainbow Eucalypts, native to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines, and are the only Eucalyptus species with a natural range that extends into the northern hemisphere. Their name aptly describes their appearance. In a nearby creek, a couple of little blond girls play and then, with their dad, set out undaunted through long wet grass.
The Sleeping Giant: Kauai’i, May 8
Uphill from our cottage at the end of the street, is the access to the Sleeping Giant Trail (Nounou Mountain), named for its shape. It’s a steep, tree- clad mountain I have been wanting to climb, too wet yesterday so today is the day for this two- hour return hike. A pile of sturdy tall sticks is stacked neatly at the start of the walk, crude walking stocks to use and return. I’ve never seen this before, nice touch. With no one in sight, I start uphill through a tunnel of trees leading into a forest of tall, slender Cook Pines. Criss-crossed with tree roots, the trail is muddy in sections and switches back and forth through tropical native forest, helping gain elevation. Heart thumps with exertion though I take it steady. After an hour of steep climbing, I am at the false summit, the Giant’s chest. A picnic table, shelter and lone bench perched with a perfect view overlooking valley and ocean where a young couple is sitting. From here, a serious short section of rock clambering to reach the Giant’s head. I hesitate, unsure as to whether I can safely manage this, but as there are now several people in front of me coming down, I feel up to tackling it and, watching my step carefully, am pleasantly surprised.
Sitting at the top with their floppy-eared puppy on a leash, poised precariously close to a sheer drop, a delightful young pair with whom I get chatting with, he native Hawaiian. Spectacular 360-degree views. The eye flows over flat-topped Albizia trees, which are reminiscent of Africa, over Wailua Valley and east Kauai’i. The Wailua River winds its way into the bluest ocean far below. There are now fifteen to twenty people around the two highest peaks, all far younger than I. On the descent, one young Latina- looking girl says wow, you are the only stylishly dressed person I have seen up here. I’m tickled pink!
Still More Chickens: Kauai’i, May 9
Weather turns summery at last and I am determined to visit the Kilauea lighthouse but Jonny wants a ‘rest day’, so I drive up the beautiful coast alone. The lighthouse sits on a promontory and, while the throngs of tourists drive as close as they can get to it, including the requisite number of well big bums and overhanging tummies, I want to walk down the saddle of the hill and up to it. Huge numbers of birds cover the steep cliffs opposite, where they nest, and a few wheel about the sky in a mesmerizing display- Frigate birds, Albatross, Booby Shearwater, and Tropicbird are amongst their number. Gorgeous sandy beach views to Princeville and far beyond in one direction, rocky rugged cliffs in the other. I drive back to collect Jon intending to breakfast again at Hemingways in Kapa’a but are too late. Instead, we go next door, entering a real Americana world. Its decor is, nonetheless, charming and colourful; the ubiquitous Kauai chicken is the dominant theme- walls dense with brightly coloured chicken paintings, wood shelving with more and still more ceramic chickens of every conceivable size and type. Chairs and mugs all red and yellow to match. Jon sits opposite, wearing his newly acquired hula-girls/cocktails/palm tree shirt, a white baseball cap, emblazoned with the word ‘Australia’. It is intended for his brother, though later he thinks this a silly idea, so it remains buried in his suitcase until finding a home much later in this journey. He orders food that turns out to be stodgy- pork meat, rice and gravy, I have eggs. Then off to walk another section of paved beach path cut short by the heat!
The Sun Also Rises: Kauai’i, May 10
We manage another Hemingway’s brunch. Every menu item bears the name of a Hemingway work. Today I am having The Sun Also Rises – 5 oz fresh squeezed orange juice, two organic scrambled eggs with Parmigiano Reggiano, Camembert, baguette, whole grain bread, butter. Last time I chose The Old Man And The Sea – smoked salmon and crabmeat salad, two organic scrambled eggs, baguette, whole grain bread, butter. For Paris, add croissant with the rest, Venice, add goat cheese and Mediterranean relish, Pamplona, add spinach and tomato. The waitress, American, tall and leggy, is well and truly but artistically tattooed, wears thongs (flip-flops) and styles her hair with asymmetrical plaits (braids). Each time we drive or walk the Kapa’a street, we see one or more homeless people but one stands out, a (rare) black woman. She reclines in a chair on the footpath away from the busiest section. She’s in the same place every day, surrounded by all her worldly belongings, sometimes sheltering under an umbrella. Her story feels un-fathomable, unlike the small group of younger people who hang out near the public toilets obviously drunk or possibly on ice.
Wonderful Waimea: Kauai’i, May 11
Over next days…en route to Waimea Canyon, we stop in Hanapepe, renowned for its hippy/arty/ alternative culture- a little village with charming old timber buildings. The French patisserie-cum artisan bread bakery, is run and owned by young people where we decide to breakfast. Enjoy an unusually fine espresso coffee and first-class Italianate sandwiches (think white platter with four little baguette ‘boats’ piled high with prosciutto, tomato, rocket and grated parmesan).There’s a quirky bookshop selling new and shop second-hand. The salesperson, a middle-aged woman, has recently relocated from Michigan. Good choice! A little further along, an old Alsatian dog sleeps in front of the gift shop.
A measure of the quirkiness of the place, is that the dog has a colourful lei draped around her neck, and thus we are not surprised to find the woman who runs the shop, equally charming. She tells us she was a hippy surfer in Philippines for seven years before settling here some 20 years ago. All the stories people tell us are interesting, and we engage with many throughout our travels.
From here, the road climbs and winds through uninhabited, thickly- treed country before entering the national park. We follow a well-trod walking track to one of several viewing platforms and, side-by-side with many others gaze, over Waimea Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Formed by a deep incision of the Waimea River arising from the extreme rainfall on the island’s central peak, Mount Waiʻaleʻale, it is among the wettest places on earth. 16 kms long and 900 metres deep in parts, it is striated, convoluted and textured in many different greens, mauves and oranges. It is also host to some unique plant life.
Aloha Kauai’i: May 11
Our Kauai sojourn is over. The flight to Honolulu goes smoothly this time, with several hours at the airport before boarding Air Canada for Vancouver, thereby avoiding the horrible queues we encountered on the last flight. However, this airline is no better than Hawaiian Airlines- we have to pay extra for seats, movies, blankets; luggage costs $25 per case, no food is served. Impossible for me to sleep, as usual, during the six hour flight, and we arrive exhausted but …the adventure continues.