Friday, April 15, 2016

Hawaii - Kauai Part I

Goodness...if one thing is true, getting back from vacation means you are slammed right back into real life and real responsibilities.  I've had zero time to finish up blogging the picture of our trip, but nearly a month after we got back, I feel like it's time to get these pictures out there!

Monday was our first full day in Kauai.  We'd spend Sunday traveling from Honolulu to Kauai, getting our rental car, grabbing groceries for the week and checking into the hotel to relax.  Monday though, we were back into the "cram it all in" groove and started our day with a helicopter ride around the island.  For those of you that have never been, the island of Kauai has one main road that loops around the outside of the island, but the road only takes you around about 3/4 of the island.  The last quarter is where the Napali coast is located and that area of the island is not accessible by car.  It's been called one of the most beautiful places on earth and we just knew we needed to see it for ourselves.

I've been lucky enough that this is actually the second time I've done this tour.  I spent a week in Kauai about 10 years ago with my parents and we did this same ride.  Admittedly, since I'd done it before, I was wishy washy on doing it again, but I'm SO glad we did.  I think it was even more awesome than I remembered it being.

The ride itself isn't extremely long - about an hour from start to finish.  Since I'd been on the ride before I offered to take the worst seat in the house, in the middle on the left hand side.  Somehow though I think the lady who checked us in got our party all confused because I think I actually ended up having the BEST seat in the house.  It was awesome.  I sat right up front, next to the pilot, right in the middle.  Three seats in front, four in back.

The weather was one of the best days we had on the island.  It was a little hazy because of the VOG.  I guess it's like SMOG but it's related to the volcanic dust from the big island which causes a haze to settle over the surrounding islands.  You can sort of sense it in the above picture.  You may recognize that's the iconic one from Jurassic Park's opening scenes.

The views from the helicopter were truly amazing.  It's very hard to capture it's grandness in photos so you'll probably just have to trust me, and go visit it yourself on day.  It's beautiful.

The helicopter ride wasn't our only adventure that first day on the island.  We'd also scheduled 2 hour surf lessons.  For obvious reasons we don't have pictures from that event...but I can tell you a little about it.  We started with a 30 minute "dry" lesson where we got the basic idea of form/stance etc just using the boards on land.  It took every ounce of my being not to say "do less" while we were practicing on land.  Everybody gets the movie reference, right?  Forgetting Sarah Marshall for those of you who don't love sappy girly movies.

After that we headed out with our boards to the water.  Our instructor was great.  We would paddle out towards the bank of waves and wait our turns.  It was just the four of us in the lesson, so the wait was never too long.  In fact, I often found myself letting one of the others go before me, it was hard work!!  Anyways, when it was your turn you paddled up to him where he was standing in about chest high water.  Then he did most of the work for you.  Well, he found the best waves, told you to get ready to paddle and then would give you a push just at the right moment so you'd catch the top of the wave.  The rest was up to us.  From then on you just had to stand up and ride the wave to shore.  Sounds easier than it actually was.  I think I got up a total of three times.  Ryan or Chris probably got up the most, but I was definitely dead last.

Rainy hikes....not so ideal.  On Tuesday we'd planned the one thing I was personally most excited to do - hike the top of the Napali coastline.  There is an 11 mile hike called the Grand Loop that takes you along the top ridge line of a few fingers that form that valley's along the coast.  The views are touted as being some of the most amazing views in the world.  I was SO excited to hike this loop.  In fact, we were all so excited that when we arrived at the trail head after driving two hours in the pouring rain, only to find it pouring there as well; we decided to hike it anyways.

Ryan and I bought rain ponchos at the little diner/store at the state park headquarters there and we grabbed our hiking poles (so worth every penny we spent on them) and off we went.  After hiking for two hours in the pouring down rain and finally getting to what was clearly one of the lookout points we were intended to find, we looked out and all we could see was fog.  Fog 10 feet in front of us and nothing beyond that.  You can see it in the picture above. We'd hiked in miserable conditions with upbeat attitudes the entire way but getting to that point and seeing nothing made us all realize that the effort was lost and we should just turn back and head home.  I couldn't resist a picture of our failed hike, Chris was less than excited about it, but we were already soaked and had been for the last two hours, why not spend 3 minutes grabbing a quick pic?  This actually is one of my favorite pictures from the entire vacation.  If nothing else, the hike was worth it for the memories alone.

Wednesday, let me tell you about Wednesday.  Somehow we signed ourselves up for waterfall repelling.  Now, this was an activity the I was totally pessimistic about. My words exactly: "This is going to be just like on the Bachelor"  They are going to have you hooking into a harness where you can't possibly hurt yourself and then there will be a long line of similarly dressed tourists all waiting their turn to "repel" down a waterfall...which will likely be a tiny squirt of running water."  I just did NOT think it was going to be as cool or as adventurous as the book and website described it.  Let me start by saying, I was wrong.  Dead wrong!

For anyone thinking of visiting Kauai soon, this is an activity you need to try.  Especially if you want to do something a little out of your comfort zone.  It all started to get very real when our guide started his safety speech by saying "Does anyone watch the Bachelor?" (Sadie chuckles quietly in the back and nudges Chris) "Well, this is nothing like that.  On the Bachelor they have you hooked in to safety clips where nothing can go wrong....not here!"  Oh good lord - is exactly what started flashing through my mind.  We're going to die!

The tour stars with a 20 foot dry repel on land where you learn the basics of the equipment and they explain how to safely repel.  After about 30 minutes of hearing about all the ways we could, and likely would, die, they explained that in fact there were safety measures and while they have had some bumps and bruises, they've never had one person get seriously hurt on the tour in the 4 years they've been in business.  I was slightly reassured but I think Hawaiian Dundee, our guide, knew better.  He probably saw the look of both fear and intimidation on my face as I slowly backed further and further away from both him and the ledge as we went through our safety talk.  He pointed me out in the crowd (there were 10 of us total on the tour that day) and said, you ma'am are first.  I was both terrified and thankful.  I was in fact weighing the costs of just calling it quits and waiting in the van for the group while they continued on with the adventure.  

Luckily, the dry repel went fine, and was much less scary than he'd described.  In hindsight I understand why they did it that way.  They wanted to be sure they had our full attention when explaining the safety gear and process.  By scaring us, they most certainly achieved that.  There wasn't a single cell phone to be seen or whispered conversation to be heard.  They had our full attention! 

After safely completing the dry repel we took a short walk to the smaller of the two waterfalls, a 30 foot repel.  Looking back there are two things I'm thankful for. One, when we arrived at the falls we came at it at the top, so you couldn't quite see it in full until you were done and standing on dry ground.  Second, that they had the women go first.  If I had to stand and watch the guys do it first, I'd have probably talked myself out of it all together.  But, much like on the dry repel, they sensed my fear and made me go as one of the first ones down.  I think if I remember correctly, Brenna was actually the very first one to go down, but I wasn't far behind.  

While it looks super tame in the above picture, and nothing like 30 feet high, this was the first waterfall that we repelled down.  You can see the guys up top getting ready to belay down and the two safety guides in the water helping to direct and ultimately running the rope if things got really hairy and you needed help.  In real life, it's actually much safer than they lead you to believe at the very beginning of the tour.

Now - the 60 footer, that's another story.  This time instead of arriving at the top of the waterfall after a second short hike, we approached at the bottom and for me, that was enough.  They told us at the beginning of the trip that this was a "choose your own adventure" kind of thing and boys and girls, my adventuring was complete after seeing the 60 foot waterfall.  I bowed out and let the others in the group have their turns.  I played photographer from the safety of the rocks near by.  Ryan, Chris and Brenna all did the 60 foot repel down the side and Ryan even went back a third and final time to try going straight down the middle.  The water was much harsher and faster there and there was a huge ledge you had to navigate as well.  Here's a quick video to give you an idea of what it looked like in action.

Now, at this point, you may be wondering, when exactly were we going to enjoy the beaches of Hawaii?!?!  Trust me, Chris and I were wondering the same thing.  HA!  At this point we'd packed each and every day full of adventure, adrenaline and just plain work.  We were ready to sit by the beach, enjoy some pool side drinks and get some sun!  No adventure, no adrenaline...just a nice slow day of reading in a lawn chair, snorkeling and maybe a nice dinner out.

Luckily we'd stuck one day of "nothing" right smack dab in the middle of an adventure packed vacation.  And it couldn't have come soon enough!  I think even Ryan, the most antsy of the group, was happy to have a day where we didn't need to be anywhere at any specific time and we just took it slow!

We saw some pretty cool sea animals including this guy and his monk seal friends.  It was crazy how close you could get to them.  Luckily the beach is patrolled by volunteers who help protect the sea life when it comes up on shore.  They build temporary fences around the animals to keep people back and then when the animals finally decide to head back out to sea, they remove the fence.

After sitting on the beach for most of the day we ran out to one of the local touristy towns and did a little shopping.  We wanted to get some things for the girls and Brenna and I stocked up on fancy soaps.

We finished off our day of relaxing with an amazing dinner at a fancy restaurant.  We picked a restaurant called Tidepools that was located on the grounds of the Sheraton hotel right down the street from where we were staying.  It was the most amazing hotel...and restaurant.  If you are ever there, you should go!  We all decided to order a fish of some sort, we had two bottles of wine and topped it all off with dessert.  Seriously, you guys need to go there sometime!  

Well, that leaves us about half way through our trip.  I have more stories, and picture, to share in another post.  Though, at this rate I probably won't have that post written for another month!  It's a lot of work guys!

So, for now, enjoy these last few pictures that were too cute to not make the cut and stay tuned.

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