Cock-a-doodle-do welcome on Hawaiis oldest island
KAUAI, Hawaii - When hurricane Iniki blasted its way through Kauai in 1992, it also decapitated and dismantled a few ill-fated chicken coops that happened to be scattered across its path.
The renegade chickens, reluctant to give up their new-found freedom, resisted the temptation of a life of luxury in shiny new coops and struck out on their own. A virtual chicken explosion ensued, or so it's said, and today it's just as common to see a rooster roaming wildly about the countryside as it is to spot a palm tree waving gently in the breeze.
Kauai is the oldest and fourth-largest of the Hawaiian Islands. Roosters weren't the main attraction when my family decided to go there to escape the frozen fingertips that characterize Canadian winters. In fact, we hadn't read, heard or seen anything about roosters.
But from the moment our plane touched down at Lihue Airport, they could be seen practically everywhere: strutting about in parking lots, biding their time in ice-cream parlours and coconut groves, and scurrying recklessly across busy roads, quiet bike paths and secluded beach trails. Heads held high, chests puffed out, legs pumping in that awkward and exaggerated marching motion of theirs, they seemed more like lords of the island than escapees on the run.
Initially, we were taken aback by the birds' cocky attitudes and incessant cock-a-doodle doings. But it wasn't long before they wedged a rather sizable spot in our hearts. It was quirky little discoveries such as this - not covered by any tourist guide - that really came to define Kauai for us.
We had read about the jagged cliffs and deep crevices of Waimea Canyon, and the steep bluffs and shimmering waterfalls of the Na Pali Coast, and looked forward to visiting "Mount Waialeale, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific," so long as it wasn't shrouded by rain clouds.
The Mount Waialeale part of Kauai is one of the soggiest places in the world, with precipitation averaging 1,168 centimetres a year.
Of course, that isn't the only way to get wet in Kauai. We could squeeze our swimsuit-clad bodies into humongous rubber tubes and slosh down the canals of an abandoned sugar plantation, or don fins, masks and snakelike air tubes and launch ourselves into the clear blue ocean and the world of Snuba (a mix of scuba diving and snorkelling).
If we wanted to avoid the whole wet-dog look, we could shake and dangle on a zip line a mere 24 metres from common sense and trumpeting roosters.
All the kayaking, whale-watching and helicopter tours - not to mention popular but puzzling free shuttles to the local Walmart - could keep anyone busy. But beware the pushy tour operators and the incessant cacophony that spews from their mouths like the erupting lava that now shapes Kauai. A hurricane's fury might not unshackle you from their clutches and endless tours.
Kauai is one of the quietest and most laid back of the Hawaiian Islands, and that intrigued us. We longed for no schedules, no commitments and no tours.
Relishing a two-week respite from the headache-inducing urgency of the morning alarm and mad hunts for missing mittens, we crammed our suitcases with flip-flops and sunglasses.
We chose to stay just a coconut's toss from Kapaa. Like the trendier Poipu and Princeville, it has picturesque beaches, rugged coasts and crashing waves. It also has more than its share of the legendary Hawaiian sunshine.
What it doesn't have are quite as many sunscreen-slathered bodies obscuring the sights, and that's part of its charm.
From our beachside condo, we could listen to the rhythmic crash of breaking waves and gaze at the sunrise. And plunking ourselves down on the gently sloping shore and losing ourselves in the mesmerizing immensity of the Pacific Ocean had its moments - barring random outbursts from bands of travelling roosters, that is. But jagged rocks and sharp drop-offs thwarted any attempts to dip more than a toe into the ocean.
One afternoon, when the wind was resting and the waves were relaxed, our beach divulged its magical side. Inhospitable terrain provided front-row seats for a spectacle, as two humpback whales majestically spouted and dove in the blue waters before us.
Within a few days, we had established a morning routine, one we grew to relish. It started when our feathered friends stretched their lusty lungs. That gave us ample time to grab a mug of Kona coffee before slipping through the lanai doors to experience the sunrise.
Then we'd pack up the truck with towels, sunscreen, boogie boards and sand toys. After throwing our Hawaiian cooler, loaded with ice-cold water, on top of everything, we'd head to one of the perfect beaches Kauai is famous for.
We never had to venture far, and these morning jaunts sometimes provided as much entertainment as our eventual destination.
One morning, we spotted a lone donkey wandering through a giant maze of towering palm trees, like an ant tramping through a field of overgrown grass. He wasn't alone. Strutting about were the incessant roosters, discharging staccato screeches like drill sergeants barking commands.
Confident that the miniature commanders-in-chief would sound their sirens if coconuts were to torpedo down from above, we wished the donkey well and went on our way.
We also discovered "99.9 - Rooster Country." The radio station prided itself on a curious mix: the twang of country music and the rap-like mantra of roosters' shrieking. The thought of the brash creatures, decked out in Stetsons and cowboy boots, infiltrating the radio station as they had infiltrated Kauai, always made us smile.
And we counted roosters - an activity that never seemed to lose its charm.
Kalapaki Beach, a gorgeous moon-shaped crescent of sparkling sand, was where we and our beach towels often spent the early part of the day. It opens into Nawilwili Bay, a protected oasis of clear blue water enclosed on one side by rocky cliffs and on the other by the harbour and a little park.
We exhausted our mornings swimming in the crashing surf, clutching our boogie boards while throwing ourselves at the rolling waves, tunnelling with our sand toys, and traipsing up and down the magnificent stretch of beach.
When our ocean-soaked bodies grew weary, we collapsed on the sand and lazed. But a little white dog, with floppy black ears and a yellow surfboard, often invigorated us. He'd trot onto the beach and we'd sit at attention.
A bronzed older woman was always just a step behind, and would vigorously squeeze him into his own life-jacket, a vibrant black and yellow affair. She'd paddle and he'd stand, somewhat awkwardly, with his head dipped low and his feet spread wide, while they roamed the bay for a large part of the morning.
We pondered taking surfing lessons. But after seeing eager souls practise diligently onshore before venturing out into the bay, only to spend the next hour or so plummeting unceremoniously into the depths below, we quit pondering.
Once, after rinsing off our sand-etched bodies, we lugged our beach toys back to the truck and poked around in an open-air shop. We didn't unearth any treasures, but we did stumble upon a tiny, bright, green gecko. He gaped up at us from a tacky T-shirt he appeared to guard tenaciously, like a sentinel minding the Crown jewels.
When we pried ourselves away from the beach, we stumbled upon other wonders.
A bike path, just steps from our condo, twisted along the shore for kilometres. On one side, it passed banging screen doors and little potted palm trees. Battered boogie boards leaned against weathered homes and scarlet hibiscus petals littered the lawns.
On the other side, only beachside memorials interrupted the breathtaking beauty of the seascape - an unsettling reminder of the sheer power of the churning ocean.
Then there was the moon - not the familiar, vertical crescent moon, but one stretching side to side like a gigantic smile.
We also had to eat. When we weren't wiping the fresh pineapple and papaya juice off our chins, we were busy devouring fish. The mahi mahi, ono and ahi were so fresh.
Then there was the ice cream:coconut macadamia nut fudge. Our stomachs stockpiled waffle cones stuffed full of it. After all, it's only available in Hawaii.
In the end, we didn't do any organized tours, but we relaxed and quickly grew to love the bits and pieces of Kauai and the little slices of life that we saw.
Kauai boasts gorgeous beaches, beautiful weather and stunning scenery. But it's those darn pesky roosters we can't seem to forget. Kauai is their island, and we feel privileged they allowed our sandal-clad feet to trod all over it.
If You Go
Alaska Airlines flies from Edmonton to Lihue, Kauai, with one stopover in Seattle. (www.alaskaair.com)
You need to rent a car if you plan on visiting Kauai. Alamo offered the best rates when we went. (alamo.com)
Waipouli Beach Resort & Spa provides one-and two-bedroom luxury condo accommodations. The resort features a heated two-acre pool with waterslides, an Aveda spa and a beachfront restaurant. Waipouli is rated among Hawaii's top resorts by Expedia's Insider's Select for 2009. (www.waipoulibeachresort.com)
Other useful websites for planning a trip: www.kauaidiscovery.com and www.kauai.com.