Hawaii has always been one of those places that seems totally wild and far off. Yet, like Lada Gaga, it’s American. So when I was tasked by my better half with finding a summer adventure that didn’t require a subscription to Rosetta Stone and also had a beach, it became abundantly clear that Hawaii was the perfect solution. The Aloha state’s islands are as distinct as New York’s boroughs, each with their own vibes and sensibilities. However, instead of hoping from one island to the other across its 1500-mile long chain, we decided to pick one and dive in. We were off to Kauai.
Don’t Miss: Our previous travel gear review: 9 Days in Vietnam, 9 Gear Essentials
Dubbed “the garden island”, Kauai is the oldest and northernmost of the eight main Hawaiian Islands. With rainforests on the west, the Pacific’s version of the Grand Canyon in the middle and reefs in the south, it’s a one-stop shop for outdoor beauty. In fact, if you’ve seen Jurassic Park, Avatar, Tropic Thunder or the latest Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ve already glimpsed the allure of the 33 x 25 mile volcano-turned-destination yourself.
We left LA on a direct flight to Lihue “la-who-ee” and were greeted with two things after landing. The expected: a ceremonial lei; and the unexpected: a thriving rooster population. Evidently, during Hurricane Iniki in 1992, rooster nests all over the island were destroyed unleashing the beasts to cock-a-doodle all day long. The fact there are no natural predators on the island allows them to multiply like tribbles. They earn their fair share of complaints, but for us, they simply added to the island’s rural tone. Here, everything local shuts down around 8 pm, save for a few resort bars. Business conveniently resumes at 10am each morning, or about as early as any sane vacationer wakes up.
After checking into our hotel, we shook off the stress of California, and enjoyed the pool — a monument to resort landscape design — and the beautifully lush bay. Despite the arresting surroundings, we quickly concluded that lounging around was a wasted opportunity. So we rented a Jeep and set off. The entire island really only has two major roads: Kuhio Highway and Kaumualii Highway. If you think of the island as a clock, the first highway connects the 12’ o’clock to the 4, and the other takes you from 4 to 9. There is no way to access the 9 – 12 quadrant unless you own an amphibious vehicle or want to huff it through mils of trails. We chose to focus on the 12-9.
Our first foray had us heading up to the North shore to a place called Hanalei (“han-a-lay”) Bay. The lush scenery backed by distant serrated mountains and narrow waterfalls left us ready for a T-Rex to burst forth with a lawyer flailing around in his mouth at any minute. (Un)fortunately, Spielberg disappointed. The area is also home to a perfect half-moon white sandy beach that’s the stuff of postcard legends. For dinner, we ventured to the much-recommended Duke’s Canoe Club Barefoot Bar. Yes, Duke’s is popular with the tourists and there were certainly a fair share of them, but you’ll soon forget it when you dig into their famous Hula Pie. It’s essentially a pint of Macadamia nut ice cream, covered with a chocolate cookie covered crust, fudge, whipped-cream and more nuts. Think Tartufo Hawaiian style.
The next day commenced with taro hash, pulled pork and two eggs over easy. That is to say it started off superbly. Taro, a starchy root that can be made into chips, fries or pretty much anything a potato would be used for, made for a fantastic hash. Fueled up and hungry for more activities, we headed north again to the jungle for hiking, kayaking and zip lining. A day of body-wearing adventures, there’s still nothing quite like zip lining. Moving 30mph+ over 2,000 feet over tropical terrain never gets old.
Subsequently, we decided to dial down the pace by spending the following morning in an inner-tube, wandering through flooded sugar-cane fields dating back to 1870, followed by a day of snorkeling at the very popular Poipu “Poy-poo” beach. Surfers love it because the reef and rocks make for dramatic breaks, and bystanders (tourists) love it for the clear, warm water. The aforementioned reef also makes for great snorkeling.
Then suddenly, after four days and five nights, it was time to go. We repacked everything for the red-eye returning us to LA at 5 am and soon stepped back into the life we had left. An area 100 square miles smaller than Kauai with roughly 10 million more people packed into it just didn’t feel right. It’s enough to make you forget about a normal vacation, but Kauai is an unforgettable place.
Of course, this is Gear Patrol and what trip would we discuss without highlighting our gear essentials. Below, a few of the items we couldn’t live without.
Booq Cobra Courier & Briggs & Riley Explore 22 Upright
The chore of packing (always the night before—no matter how long the trip) was made much more enjoyable by these two test bags.
The Booq Courier Bag ($195) proved to be crucial. Stylish (Nappa leather), durable (ballistic nylon), smart (trackable ID code) and built distinctively for a 15” MacBook Pro. Having that focus on specific design means every element has a purpose. The shoulder strap attaches to the bag at an angle allowing both to lay flat against your side. A weather-proof front zipper and rubberized water-resistant bottom keep things dry. Th centered rear handle allows the bag to be balanced when lifted up. k.
I also hate the checking bags dance at airports these days. Luckily, the Briggs and Riley Explore 22 Upright bag ($290) was brilliant. It stood out from your standard roller in two keys ways. First, the external structure allowed for more efficient interior space. Thanks to an expandable top and exterior clips to cinch it down, the bag is also perfectly suited to remain carry-on sized — no matter how much you over pack it. The fact that B & R insures the bag for any breaks or tears is great news to any seasoned travler.
Mosley Tribes Sandoval Sunglasses
The sharp sun and glassy water of Hanalei bay made it a great spot for putting sunglasses to the test. The polarized Sandoval glasses felt sturdy and at first seemed a bit heavy compared to my daily Wayfarers — but I quickly adapted and forget they were on. One major beef I have with sunglasses is the warping or distortion that can happen at the edge of the lens. No worries on these bad boys. Often in bright sunlight I furrow my brow because the light is still strong coming through the lens. The polarization, however, was crucial and eliminated this all together. It also created great contrast to the sky and cut the glare off the water.
Buy Now: $160
Aether Button Swim Shorts
My Aether Button Swim Shorts ($135) proved their worth repeatedly during our daily adventures. As opposed to the Jalen Rose below-the-knee board shorts, the Aether’s sported a great cut and looked like any other pair regular shorts you’d wear away from the water. Combined with their quick-dry micro fiber material, they were perfect for exiting the surf and walking down to the pub for a beer without looking like you checked your water skis at the door.
Buy Now: $135