Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Grand Canyon of the Pacific

Stunning view from the Waimea Canyon Lookout

Every single person I know who visits Kauai, the oldest of the Hawaiian islands, can't help exclaiming over what a gorgeously scenic place it is. Of all the sites, Waimea Canyon is a standout. Nicknamed "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific," it is about 10 miles (16 km) long and 3000 feet (900 m) deep. The photo above doesn't do justice to this panoramic view. When in the midst of something so massive, a person can feel like just a speck. 

Gazing out from the lookout, I was in awe at the bevy of contrasts. Lush green vegetation is interspersed with bare areas revealing Kauai's trademark red dirt. Instead of the one long channel that I was expecting, it was a mix of numerous peaks and valleys.

A towering waterfall looks tiny off in the distance

Looking down, birds glided below us. We were that high up! I found a waterfall far off in the distance and traced a river as it wound its way between the peaks. Mount Waialeale to the east is one of the wettest places on Earth, and its runoff carved out the many intersecting valleys that make up Waimea Canyon. Eventually, they combined together to form the Waimea River, one of the longest rivers in Hawaii. There are tons of hiking trails throughout this area, but we elected to just see what we could via car.


Kauai's signature red dirt

On the twisting drive up to the lookout, one of the most striking sights was a short waterfall, probably only 8 or 10 feet tall, that was surrounded by Kauai's infamous red dirt. In the Hawaiian language,  "waimea" means "reddish water." The island is so old that the volcanic soil, high in iron, has eventually oxidized and turned to rust. If you ever visit, be sure to buy one of the iconic souvenirs, a T-shirt dyed red in a bucket of dirt. When Hurrican Iniki hit in 1992, a screen printing shop discovered that their inventory of white shirts had been stained red by the dirt that covered everything in the hurricane's aftermath. Instead of calling it a loss, they embraced the damage and sold the shirts with the "Red Dirt Shirt" gimmick. You could say that life gave them lemons, and they made lemonade! Supposedly, a 5 gallon bucket of dirt is enough to stain 500 shirts. Be careful with your clothes out there. 

We continued further uphill along Kokee Road in anticipation of what's reported to be one of the most stunning ocean views on the island. We were headed towards the highest elevation in Kauai accessible by car. At the end of the road is Puu o Kila Lookout which offers a sweeping view of the Kalalau Valley along the famous Na Pali Coast.  


What we saw at Puu o Kila Lookout

You might say that I was completely underwhelmed. We actually weren't very surprised. It had been a sunny day as we started up the canyon road from Waimea Town, famous for being the first place on the Hawaiian Islands where Captain James Cook landed in 1778. He is the first European in recorded history to have made contact with the Hawaiians. 


As the road rose higher, a few droplets of rain started falling. By the time we got out of the car at Puu o Kila lookout, we were donning raincoats and grabbing umbrellas. When the trade winds are blowing from the ocean towards land, the moisture get trapped in the valley and turns into a massive cloud. The winds have been known to quickly shift the other way. When they do, the moisture is channeled down the valleys and pushed out to sea to clear up. We weren't patient enough to wait around in case if we got lucky. Later, a boat operator told us that some people plan multiple trips to the top of Puu o Kila Lookout just to make sure they catch it at when it's clear. Between 8AM and 11AM are supposed to be the times when you are most likely to have a good view. 


When the winds are blowing the right way, this is what people see. What a difference!

Puu o Kila Lookout on a clear day
Photo credit: Alex Schwab

No wonder people drive out multiple times to try to catch this sight. The lookout marks the end of the road on the western side of the island. No roads completely encircle Kauai. It's an 80.5 mile drive to reach where the road ends on the north coast. By the end of our week on the Garden Island, we had driven every single lush mile between Pu'u O Kila Lookout and Ke'e Beach.


Google Maps

In between is wilderness. People lived in the valley until 1919, but it no longer has permanent residents -- just hikers and backpack campers. The rugged Na Pali Coast is deemed too difficult to conquer with heavy, roadbuilding machinery.  That's part of why this area's natural beauty has been so perfectly preserved, and the towns along the west and north remain small and quaint. 


TIP: The only place on Kauai where I found mountain apples for sale was the fruit stand by the Waimea Canyon Lookout parking lot. In Malaysia, they are called rose apples and also hard to find there. The taste is similar to an Asian pear but much juicier. It's so refreshing! Be sure to try it if you have the chance. 



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28 comments:

  1. I remember how beautiful Kauai was when I went as a teen! Would love to go back and explore some of the other islands! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

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  2. We visited Kauai many years ago but we spent nearly all our time on the beach. I think I'll have to go back and explore the interior more carefully.

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  3. That is a beautiful view. I can definitely see why people go back. Hawaii seems so stunning and I really want to visit some day. #weekendwanderlust

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  4. I have been to Oahu and Maui. Kauai is definitely next. The scenery looks absolutely stunning! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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  5. Oooh, we have Travel Envy! Kauai is next on our Hawaiian Hit List. Can't wait to see the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and maybe sail around Na Pali. Loved this post - it really did fire up our wanderlust! #TheWeeklyPostcard

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  6. This is so beautiful Michelle! I love the red tone of the soil in this area. So bad you didn't get to see the beautiful view. The same thing has happened to me a lot of times (boo!). Very interesting to see how the road is on the island. Would live to drive all of it. #wkendtravelinspiration #TPThursday

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  7. As long as you're "in the area," you must not miss the Big Island either.

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  8. You definitely need to make sure you sail around Na Pali. It's breathtaking.

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  9. Kauai is a photographer's paradise... well, it's everyone's paradise.

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  10. Oh yes, you must definitely return. There's so much to do!

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  11. I'm having trouble deciding which is my favorite Hawaiian island now that I've been to the 4 major ones.

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  12. Part of me wants to travel to see the Northern Lights, but what if the weather once again does not cooperate?

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  13. We love Kauai island and we go there as often as we can. In fact we are headed there next month also. Waimea Canyon is one of my favorite places on Earth. We did hike to Puu o Kila Lookout too some years ago. What a beautiful view you have from up there! #WeekendTravelInspiration

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  14. We so adore Kauai and this post has taken me so totally back there that I can almost feel the breeze! Love this canyon!

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  15. Bryna | Dotted Line TravelsJuly 30, 2017 at 2:50 PM

    I've still yet to visit Kauai. It looks amazing. That photo of Puu o Kila Lookout - wow!

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  16. Thanks for sharing your gorgeous photos. I do like the contrast of the red dirt and the green vegetation. I would not want to think of how things would look in this paradise if it were less rugged and the developers built roads.

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  17. We loved Kauai when we visited awhile ago. Though, your pictures and scenery were much better than what we had. The rain clouds rolled in and we saw its beauty momentarily. Thanks for showing me what we missed our on and for these beautiful photos as inspiration to return to that beautiful island.

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  18. There were tons of people when we were there -- mid-day in the summer. I'd love to have it almost all to myself.

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  19. Lucky you to get to be a multiple repeat visitor. If I were to return to Hawaii, I think that Kauai might be where I'd head to.

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  20. Perhaps I need to follow your lead and look into a timeshare option here.

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  21. If you ever have the chance to visit, grab it. This area is just one of the many gorgeous areas around the island.

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  22. Thank goodness that Mother Nature has thwarted the developers.

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  23. It sounds like you need a return trip here.

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  24. This post made me really miss Hawaii. I haven't been to Kauai but the Big Island has a town name Waimea that we stayed in during our two visit there and nearby is a beautiful canyon as well. Need to explore more of the state on future visits!

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  25. I loved the way you showed the 2 different scenes, dependent on weather. It is just incredible isn't it and one of the reasons that people have such differing opinions on the same place.That red dirt is startling! Thanks for linking up with Travel Photo Thursday.

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  26. Love the bold colours here, from the deep red of the earth to those rugged green mountains. Hawaii really does look quite incredible #wkendtravelinspiration

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  27. What a shame after that long drive the view was all clouded over. A bit like the risk you take going up Penang Hill :)

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  28. 1AdventureTravelerAugust 4, 2017 at 8:59 AM

    Great adventure you had at Waimea Canyon. Love the photos! Hawaii is amazing! Thanks for sharing! #TheWeeklyPostcard

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