Trouble in Paradise

From the very beginning, Hawaii is a mistake. As soon as I step out into the moist fragrant air, wander into the verdant flowered landscape and along the sparkling sandy beaches, I know I am in trouble. I aspire to travel the world! I want to visit remote places requiring long, bumpy journeys in rickety vehicles, communication by comedic hand-charades, and sweaty lumps of money hidden in my shoe. I want to be a traveler, not a tourist! But now look at me, lazing here on the deck of an ocean-front condo, sipping an umbrella-drink, watching turtles lolling about in the waves. I’m ruined. Spoiled by a taste of heaven – easy, beautiful, sweet-smelling heaven.

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We are staying at Kuhio Shores located in Poipu, on the sunny south shore of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Adjacent to the property, the sandy cove of Lawa’i Beach allows easy entry to some of the best snorkeling and scuba-diving on the island. Our first day we splash through schools of rainbow-colored fish and float alongside a turtle the size of a La-Z-Boy chair. Steps from the beach, offering spectacular sunset views from every table, the Beach House (www.the-beach-house.com) is an award-winning restaurant serving a delicious and varied Pacific Rim menu. Within hours of arrival, Lorenzo is transformed from a harried northerner into a hang-loose surfer dude.  Trouble, I mumble to myself, this is nothing but trouble.

Lorenzo is normally an unapologetic night-owl who grumbles about any activity before eight o’clock. When on vacation, this might be considered a welcome routine for those looking for a chance to sleep-in. But no, in Hawaii he leaps out of bed at the first hint of sunrise and rustles around noisily in the pre-dawn, gathering up his boogie-boarding equipment. By the time I straggle out of bed, he is bouncing off the walls in anticipation. I pull on a bikini and mull over the irony of a day in the sun, as I fill an enormous bag with endless paraphernalia to protect me from harmful rays.

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We drive a few miles east to Poipu Beach park. It is a lovely long swath of grass fronting the ocean, offering every possible amenity for a great family day at the beach; covered picnic tables, BBQ’s, bathrooms, showers, play equipment, open spaces for games and groups. On one end of the park a sand-spit projects into the ocean, creating a protected shallow area perfect for small children to frolic and play. The other end is Brennecke Beach, a sandy cove open to the ocean, where sets of gentle waves are perfect for strong swimmers, intermediate boogie boarders, and us. As Lorenzo jostles happily for a place in the lineup to catch a good wave, I pull on fins and swim goggles and kick out past the wave break. I swim back and forth along the outer edge of the cove, looking for sea creatures. I am rewarded with a steady stream of green sea turtles shuttling along the sandy bottom. I’ve found a turtle highway! I drift after each one, peering down from the surface, following until they dart out of sight into the deeper waters. I notice that each turtle has a uniquely shaped tail. Why do turtles have tails at all, I wonder? When I pose the question to Lorenzo, he says with a wink, “why, for streamlining, of course!”

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Only after Lorenzo is completed thrashed from boogie boarding am I able to convince him to see something else besides the face of a wave. With his defenses diminished by fatigue, I book the last tour of the day to see Allerton Garden. It is a lush paradise tucked away in the secluded Lāwa‘i Valley, transformed through time by the hands of a Hawaiian Queen, a sugar plantation magnate, and the architectural designs of Robert Allerton and John Gregg. With the Lāwa‘i Stream as the spine of the garden, a series of garden “rooms” unfold along the varied topography in a masterpiece of tropical displays. We wander transfixed through open meadows, a bamboo forest, along moist shady ravines, and rugged cliffs sprouting varicolored ferns and thick vines of brilliant scarlet flowers. This magical wonderland is lit by the golden glow of the afternoon sun fading into soft twilight.

Nothing screams self-indulgent tourist louder than signing up for an exorbitantly priced activity that no local resident is ever seen doing. We chose a helicopter ride with Blue Hawaiian. (www.bluehawaiian.com). I obsess over types of helicopters, safety records, seating arrangements, engine noise, ride smoothness and viewing vantages. So I know we want to be in the front seats of the American Eurocopter ECO-Star, with its generous interior room, quiet engines, two-way communication with the pilot, and expansive glass for sweeping vistas. I am stoked when this is our view:

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Strapped into our seats, Lorenzo and I are both a little hopped up with nervous adrenaline. I try to keep my twitching limbs from accidentally bumping the pilot’s controls. My heart surges into my throat as the blades whirr to life. I am amazed when the pilot lifts the big blue bird off the ground in a smooth, effortless motion. In an instant, we are gently swooping through the air. Rising on the wind, we float over beaches, soar atop the jagged peaks of Na Pali Coast, sweep along the canyons of Waimea, and dive into volcanic calderons. Brother Iz croons “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as we fly directly into the heart of the island. We hover weightlessly, completely encircled by Mt. Waialeale’s towering 5,000-foot crater walls, blanketed in glistening green moss cut by silvery ribbons of misty waterfalls. Suspended above this ancient landscape, it feels like drifting through a dream.

Over 10 days, we explore only a sliver of what this incredible island has to offer. We revel in being outdoors everyday; swimming, snorkeling, boogie-boarding, hiking, biking, dining under the stars. I notice my pace is slower, my spirit calmer, and my mind more present in the moment and less worried about the future. As we settle into our seats preparing for the flight home, surrounded by other happy, rested, sunburnt holiday-makers, I bask in the pleasure of a little respite from the constant, chaotic, stress-riddled demands of modern life. I guess if I am going to trade in the adventure and discomfort of the road less travelled, it might as well be for a piece of paradise.

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