PRINCEVILLE, Hawaii— My mother has always had a special connection to Hawaii.
Her father flew there nearly 200 times as a commercial airline pilot. He would bring home fresh pineapples and Trader Vic’s Mai Tai mix. The kids got the pineapples. The adults got the mix. They even vacationed in Honolulu.
So when it was time to celebrate my mother’s retirement from the hotel industry, we decided to take her on a family trip to Kauai and Maui to rekindle and share some of those happy memories. (And in case you’re looking for inspiration for your own trip, our itinerary did not include the Big Island, where the Kilauea volcano was spewing lava in early May.)
Rainbows, chickens and coffee
We were famished when we arrived on Kauai. We drove to the Sleeping Giant Grill for fresh poke, fish tacos and delicious chicken plates. We sat at an outdoor picnic table, sipping freshly-roasted coffee from Imua Coffee Roasters next door. It was a perfect way to begin the trip.
Kauai is known as the garden island and rainbows are plentiful. As we drove to our north shore hotel, we were amazed by the lushness of the flora and intensity of the colors. “Spectacularly beautiful,” my mother said.
We relaxed at the beach in the mornings and ventured out in the afternoons when it started to drizzle. One thing interrupted our serenity, something I’ve never encountered on a beach before: feral chickens. One of them even stole the pineapple from my mother’s pina colada. The chickens have no natural predators to keep their numbers in check. Thousands roam Kauai.
For a day trip, we went to the Kauai Coffee estate in Kalaheo. We drank free coffee samples and walked among the coffee trees to learn how the coffee is made. Caffeinated, we set off to Waimea Canyon, known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” It’s about 10 miles long and roughly 3,500 feet deep. There are lookout points to admire the red, green and burnt orange gorge and its waterfalls.
Part of what keeps Kauai so lush is abundant rainfall. Kauai’s Mount Waialeale is one of the wettest spots on earth, with about 450 inches of rain annually. Unfortunately, in April, a few months after our visit, nearly 50 inches fell on the island in one 24-hour period, causing flooding. Some places on the north shore experienced damage, but most of the island was unscathed, including most of the places we visited with mom, including Kauai Coffee and Waimea Canyon.
But the island’s north shore, known for rugged hiking trails, was impacted by the floods. My husband, sister and I took a hike on the challenging Kalalau Trail there during our trip in February — without my mother, but accompanied by a guide from a tour company, Hike Kauai With Me. That trail will be closed for some time, along with other trails in the area, while damage is repaired.
We also visited the town of Hanalei. We enjoyed shave ice with macadamia nut ice cream, took sunset photos by Hanalei Bay and gave mom her first post-college ramen experience. She thought it would be too salty, like noodles in a cup, but she loved the modern ramen with fresh noodles and roast pork at Ama restaurant, which offers amazing mountain views and specializes in ramen. Hanalei was hit by flooding but nearly everything is open on the main street, including Ama.
After a short flight to Maui on Hawaiian Airlines, we headed straight for Maui Brewing Company’s new restaurant in Kihei. It’s about half an hour from Kahului Airport. It has excellent island-inspired cuisine and many craft beers.
We visited the beach town of Lahaina, then set off on a whale watch with the Pacific Whale Foundation. It was peak humpback whale season. About a dozen whales flipped their tails up and dove as we tried to capture the moment with our cameras.
For a special night out we went to a traditional hula and feast, the Old Lahaina Luau. My sister joined in a hula lesson and we crowded around a pit to snap photos as the roast pig was dug up. We took heaping plates before enjoying the expertly choreographed show.
Before saying goodbye to Hawaii, we shopped for keepsakes at one of the ubiquitous ABC Stores.
Fortuitously, the Hawaiian convenience store chain sells Trader Vic’s Mai Tai mix. On our last day in Maui, we poured it over ice and raised a glass to family.