Remember that incredible rain-forest waterfall in “Jurassic Park?” Don’t search for it in the movie’s fictional location off Costa Rica. It’s on Kauai Island, the self-styled “garden isle,” State of Hawaii.
Travelers in search of war-torn Central African villages infested by twin plagues of the Ebola virus and Dustin I’m-exactly-the-same-in-all- my-movies-Hoffman should also rethink their Congo bookings. The movie “Outbreak’s” version of Africa was also filmed on Kauai.
Indeed Kauai appears time and again on TV and silver screens, both ancient and modern.
It stood in for Australia (“The Thorn Birds”), Vietnam (various lousy movies), Skull Island (“King Kong”) and the South Pacific (“South Pacific”). Kauai was “Gilligan’s Island.” And Donnovan, in the shape of John Wayne, had a reef here.
We could go on. Elvis in “Blue Hawaii.” Harrison Ford in “Six Days, Seven Nights.” You’ve probably got the idea by now. This small 60-km diameter blob of volcanic upthrust in the north Pacific is very photogenic — if you choose your camera angles carefully.
That’s the Kauai deal. Look in the right place at the right angle. Then it’s gorgeous. Otherwise it requires a little editing. To help keep you from wasting precious vacation time, here are our “takes” and “outtakes.”
But first, Star Billing!
Helicopter “flight seeing.” In a fit of miserly pique we almost didn’t do it, but in retrospect $130 was never better spent. Prices vary depending on how long you wish to stay in the air (and what sort of discount voucher you’ve got in the innumerable brochures everyone keeps giving you).
Stay in the air as long as possible. See everything. Hover up and out of Lihue Airport and Kauai suddenly makes sense.
Humanity has organized the flat bits of Kauai into neat clumps of sugar cane, green fields, condos and golf courses. But Kauai isn’t really like that at all. Hard by Lihue is a ridge of mountains, steep and jagged like a dragon’s back. And then mankind’s stamp on Kauai fades and it is all sea cliffs, 1,000-meter waterfalls, and vast, inaccessible volcanic masses muffled in green.
Kauai is the oldest of Hawaii’s populated islands, and according to oral traditions was the first to be inhabited by Polynesians. In effect Kauai is a single volcano, a mass of impenetrable ridges which reaches a crescendo in Mount Wai’ale’ale, 1,569 meters high. Wai’ale’ale, with more than 1,163 cm of precipitation annually, is proudly touted by islanders as the rainiest place on earth. They have a Guinness record to prove it. The summit is almost permanently shrouded in clouds. Waterfalls cascade hundreds of meters into its sacred crater.
OUTTAKE: Wailua Falls. “Remember Fantasy Island?” asks the “101 Things to Do on Kauai” brochure. “These falls were featured in the opening credits just before Tattoo shouted “Da plane, da plane.”
“101 Things” then goes on to list all those reasons one shouldn’t bother visiting. “No hiking is required for viewing . . . Just pull your car up to the side of the road and grab your camera . . . A quick five-minute drive from Lihue.”
If Tattoo was around today Reality Island would begin with him yelling “Da traffic jams! Da massed ranks of jostling fatties here grabbing da cameras! Da sheer overpopulation!” Various bits of Kauai are like this.
TAKE: Waimea Canyon is unquestionably the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Center piece of the Kokee State Park, Waimea is 19 km long, 3.2 km wide, more than 1,000 meters deep, splendid for hiking and beautifully colored. It is also home to the hoary bat, Hawaii’s only endemic mammal.
TAKE: Bird watching. Kauai is one of the few Hawaiian Islands where mongooses were not introduced from the West Indies in an inept attempt to control rats. Apparently a crateload did arrive at Kauai, but it was chucked into the sea after one of its occupants bit a stevedore. Diurnal mongooses rarely prey on nocturnal rats but have caused havoc with Hawaii’s native bird species. Mongoose-free, Kauai is home to a profusion of fowl. Twenty-one of the Hawaiian archipelago’s 71 unique native species occur here. The Alakai Swamp is prime habitat.
TAKE: Hanalei. Puff the Magic Dragon lived here by the sea. Quite understandable given the views, sunsets, beaches, water buffaloes and bird-filled taro wetlands. Taro, a Polynesian staple, tastes like wallpaper paste.
TAKE: Snorkeling/Scuba/ Snuba (something between the two with you at the end of a long breathing tube). Among other marine marvels one can expect to encounter are green sea turtles, eels, octopi, lobster and Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a. Hawaiians use only 12 letters in their alphabet (the world’s shortest), but make the most of them. The protective reefs around Kauai are the oldest and, perhaps, best of the main Hawaiian Islands.
OUTTAKE: “Kauai’s famous Fern Grotto and Wailua River Cruise.” A flat-bottomed boat trip to witness excruciating hula action at a beautiful fern grotto. The return trip is accompanied by comic, off-color Hawaiian songs. Join this one and you have to shout out Aloha to passing boats. You do it, too, feeling like every stupid tourist ever born, but anxious not to spoil it for anyone on board who paid the $15 and might actually be enjoying it. Japanese network NHK was on our trip. Editing furiously.
TAKE: Kamokila Hawaiian Village. Very few tourists visit (they’re all on the nearby Wailua River sheepishly yelling aloha or struggling with rented kayaks), with the result that the tours are very intimate. Just you and a native Hawaiian who walks you round at a leisurely pace explaining how a traditional pre-European village worked. Peacocks all over the place. Fascinating and totally in tune with Hawaiian ecological realities.
CUT! CUT! CUT!: Utterly out of tune with any form of reality is Poipu resort town. This is where U.S. real estate dealers retire and buy real estate. Golf-course builders, wetland-wreckers and assorted blots on the environment and humanity fuss endlessly over menus in quavery selfish voices, tan their wattled necks into crinkly leather and, because real estate greed is a disease even retirement cannot cure, continue to sell one another real estate.
One night’s hotel sea-view room here can cost you as much as your air ticket from Japan. Meals excluded. You can’t fault them for the view. But the sea covers 70 percent of our planet’s surface and there are plenty of other places to see it from.
TAKE: Reasonably priced bed and breakfasts are scattered liberally across the island. North Country Farms offers “a hand-built one-bedroom redwood cottage set on an organic fruit, vegetable and flower farm.” Guests can pick as much fruit and veg as they can eat during their stay. That’s the Bed and Breakfast atmosphere on Kauai.
And that’s a wrap.