Sunday, May 19, 2013

Waimea Canyon and Koke'e State Park

Located on the western side of the island of Kauai is the incredible 'Grand Canyon of the Pacific' as described by Mark Twain. The drive into the park was rather peaceful with very few cars in sight on the way up on this pleasant May afternoon. The drive from the Westin Princeville was fairly long (about 2 hours) so budget enough time to get there and back if you're living in the north end of the island.

As we approached the start of the park, we stopped by at one of the unofficial lookout points and you can see the Waimea river snaking its way through the bottom of the valley into the distance.

 The first stop was the Waimea Canyon Lookout which offered incredible views of the deep and scenic Waimea Canyon.

Now if you've ever been to the Grand Canyon before, this looks a little similar but there is definitely a lot more greenery covering up the sides of many of the ridges and the distinct red soil is clearly noticeable throughout the park.

The famed ever-present, ever-'Cock-a-doodle-doo'-ing Kauai wild chickens did not disappoint even at this high altitude. There were a number of them congregated at the parking lot and every so often, they would be blocking the path of departing cars.

The Ni'ihau location offered another opportunity to gaze out at the incredible canyon that was formed not only by the mighty forces of erosion but also by the collapse of the volcano that created Kauai.

I had originally thought of turning back at this point as I thought the next two lookouts listed on my map simply offered additional views of the same Canyon from different locations. But I figured since I had driven all the way from Princeville, I may as well go the extra few miles and see the rest. Boy was I in for one of the biggest travel surprises I've ever encountered! When I arrived at Kalalau lookout within Koke'e State Park, I was fully prepared to look out again at Waimea Canyon when the view entirely took my breath away.

Instead of a canyon, I was greeted by the unique, jagged and ridged cliffs forming the Napali Coast! From this vantage point, you could see the entire lush-green Kalalau valley below with the soaring Napali cliffs reaching into the clouds. To make the experience all the more memorable, the air at this elevation was infused with the cool humidity of the clouds leaving you feeling refreshed and invigorated.

Off in the distance, we can see one of the waterfalls within Kalalau valley.

Not too far from the Kalalau Looking is Wai'ale'ale, which is as far as your car can go. This is one of the wettest spots on earth averaging over 452 inches of rain per year. Here too you can see the Napali forest reserve on one side and another view of the Napali coast on the other.

From Mount Wai'ale'ale, we took the winding and curving Kokee road all the way back down to Waimea. The drive is rather pleasant and you can get a nice view of the ocean on the way down.

At this point, we were rather thirsty and so we were rather glad when we came across Jo-Jo's, one of the best shaved ice locations in Kauai (according to Yelp). Unexpectedly, it was run out of a rather rundown-looking shack but I can definitely say that the shaved ice made for a delightful treat to end a totally eye-opening afternoon.

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