May 10, 2013
When it comes to honeymoons, nothing is more romantic than a tropical island. From Los Angeles, the most tempting include the Hawaiian archipelago. The oldest — and by far the greenest — of them all is Kauai.
Also known as the Garden Island, Kauai’s lush rainforests, jagged green cliffs and stunning vistas include the 400-foot, jaw-dropping waterfall made famous in the film "Jurassic Park." Like an episode of television’s "The Bachelor" played out in real life to its happiest conclusion, the island hosts countless “fantasy backdrops” for the kind of memories that transform a vacation into a honeymoon.
In the case of Kauai, a six-hour flight from LAX to Lihue Airport, it's worth stating the obvious: This place was built for romance.
Intense couple care abounds at idyllic spas, beaches and resorts, but there are a wealth of gonzo excursions, too. Think helicopters, zip lines and ocean catamarans. Botanical garden tours, easy snorkeling and much more accommodate nearly every honeymooner in between. Amid its roughly 550 square miles and more than 50 miles of white-sand beaches, the wettest place on Earth somehow has it all.
Recent segments of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series were filmed on Kauai. And the locals, who love celebrity name-dropping, won't let you forget it. Hey, if it's good enough for Johnny Depp, it's probably good enough for you, right?
Hollywood-worthy locations are included on the docket of Outfitters Kauai’s fun-filled Kipu ZipLine Safari, near the southern shores of Poipu. From its start on a mellow kayak on the Hule'ia River, the tour climaxes with exhilarating zip lines through a forest canopy at speeds up to 35 miles per hour. A much shorter — and slower — zip line on this half-day tour drops you into a tropical freshwater lagoon. Mellower thrillseekers opt for the sunset bike ride, which begins near the lookout for Waimea Canyon and zooms back down to sea level. Mark Twain described this massive valley as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” outfitterskauai.com, (808) 742-9667.
The southern shores of Poipu also are home to the iconic Spouting Horn blowhole, where waves flow into a rock formation and create whale-like sprays. But the island’s nearby DIY snorkeling is not to be missed. Bring or rent gear for public beaches with lifeguards or the popular “at-your-own-risk shores” of Lawa'i Beach, next to the Beach House Restaurant. The waters can be rough, but if you’re a strong swimmer, it’s well worth it. You might even find yourself — as I did — suddenly mesmerized by a giant endangered sea turtle as large as a Volkswagen Beetle, chomping at the coral, the sound of each bite magnified underwater.
For low-key entertainment favored by the likes of Katy Perry, Kauai Backcountry Adventures will plant you on an inner tube, then set you off on a floating, mild thrill ride through former irrigation ditches and tunnels that twist and turn. Let the reservation agent know your food preferences for the picnic lunch included in this excursion. They’ll gladly pack certified kosher Hawaiian potato chips, fresh fruit and bottled water. kauaibackcountry.com, (808) 245-2506.
Up the adrenalin ante with a 90-minute tour from Island Helicopters, which lands in a secluded tropical valley for a stop at the Manawaiopuna Falls featured in "Jurassic Park"; theme music from the film fills the chopper on approach. Once airborne, you'll spy the best view of the legendary Na Pali Coast. islandhelicopters.com, (800) 829-5999.
Whether by air, land or sea, consider a visit to this majestic coast along northern Kauai an absolute requirement. Kauai Sea Tours offers a Na Pali Coast Snorkel, where staggering cliffs, lush valleys, sea caves and more are viewable from zodiacs and large catamarans. kauaiseatours.com, (800) 733-7997.
The National Tropical Botanical Garden maintains several breathtaking preserves on the island. In the Edenic Lawa'i Valley, McBryde Garden is a veritable Noah’s ark, with 250 acres of tropical plants. They include endangered and extinct-in-the-wild species, as well as rare palms, heliconias and gingers. Its sister site, the Allerton Garden, was once a retreat of Hawaii’s Queen Emma. The meandering Lawa’i Stream enters the Allerton Garden at its border with McBryde and flows through it toward the sea into Lawa’i Bay. Nature lovers of all ages flock here for amazing hiking trails, sculpture gardens, waterfalls and Hawaiian legends spun by gifted guides who encourage spontaneous snacking on the ripe tropical fruit growing at your finger tips. ntbg.org, (808) 332-7324.
Accommodations on the island span a wide range, from full-service resorts to picture-perfect luxury cottages Martha Stewart might have dreamed up. The Princeville St. Regis Resort along the north shore, for example, features a private beach on Hanalei Bay, the 10,000-square-foot Halele'a Spa, and, on certain nights, evening entertainment with a fire dancer in a raised faux lagoon. stregisprinceville.com, (808) 826-9644.
The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas also offer high-end opportunities to luxuriate. With spacious kitchens and outdoor grills (the latter by reservation), they easily accommodate any special diet. An on-site market provides supplies, as do area shops. westinprinceville.com, (808) 827-8700.
The midrange Kauai Beach Resort near the Lihue airport, with beach views and lagoon-like pools, is a central location to launch excursions north and south. kauaibeachresorthawaii.com, (866) 536-7976.
If your budget is truly unlimited, reserve an exclusive club cottage at the estate community of Kukui'ula, which recently opened its private gates. Made for the pages of Travel + Leisure, its cottages reflect the charm and character of a plantation and are luxuriously appointed with state-of-the-art electronics and other amenities for "seamless indoor/outdoor living."
Cottages are clustered near the $100 million Plantation House and a dramatic 18-hole golf course designed by Tom Weiskopf, winner of the British Open, with sweeping postcard ocean views. A pool for wading, lounging and swimming also boasts jet tubs, sand shores dotted with volcanic rock and palm trees. Don’t miss the Zen-themed spa, with its 20-foot waterfall. Three words: to live for.
Upcountry (local lingo for the hills), a community farm yields fruit, veggies, herbs and flowers. Guests gather food, picnic, hike, bike and canoe in a 20-acre catch-and-release lake. The cost? Between $1,000 and $1,500 per day. kukuiula.com, (855) 742-0234.
The local Shops at Kukui'ula are a village-like venue for everything to complete your stay, including eateries, apparel, gift stores, natural foods and a weekly gourmet farmers market. If you can't absolutely live without Kukui'ula, cottages start at $2.5 million, fully furnished.
When Shabbat or a holiday hits, there’s the Jewish Community of Kauai, a tiny unaffiliated Jewish congregation that holds monthly Shabbat services. kauaijewishcommunity.com. Rabbi Michoel Goldman leads Orthodox services at Chabad Kauai. jewishkauai.org, (808) 647-4293.
If you're still not convinced Kauai is the ideal honeymoon destination, each winter brings with it the mating season of the singing humpback whales, viewable by land and whale-watching excursions. In other words, it's a far, far cry from Nineveh.
Case. Officially. Closed.