The painted red concrete on Disneyland’s Splash Mountain was starting to look like the rich red dirt of Waimea Canyon. The canopy of trees and the rope bridge at the theme park’s Tarzan’s Treehouse evoked Maluhia Road Tree Tunnel and Hanapepe’s Swinging Bridge. And on board the Jungle Cruise, I spied a banyan tree that reminded me of the Banyan House overlooking Wailua Valley.
When Disneyland started to look like Kauai to me, I realized it was time to head for the Garden Isle. That’s what my family — Mikko and Dax, our 5-year-old twins; Mirae, 7; and husband Adriohn and I — did recently during the twins’ spring break. No disrespect to Disneyland, but Kauai is a wonderland of lush greenery, waterfalls, lazy rivers and beachfront serenity, all of it real.
We wouldn’t do much of what we used to do as a couple, which we did in years before having kids, but we had a good idea of what would make a memorable trip.
Kauai Coast Resort at the Beachboy in Kapaa used to be our mainstay. It’s close to the falls at Wailua and Opaekaa and the sunrises were spectacular, but to avoid the rains common on the windward side of Kauai, we decided to stay on the sunnier south side. We ended up at Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu, close to Old Koloa Town and a short drive to Poipu Beach.
We arrived in the evening and awoke to a stunning view of one of the pools. “Mom, it’s just like Disneyland,” Mirae said, pointing out the waterslide I hadn’t yet noticed. We had stayed in Adventure Tower at Disneyland Hotel. Minus the ocean view in the background, I could see similarities.
We needed something very Hawaiian, so we started with Smith’s Fern Grotto Tour on the Wailua River. The Hawaiian folk music, hula and the open-air boat ride that passed the mangrove trees that line the river imparted the essence of the islands, at least to me.
At the end of the two-mile cruise upstream, we walked to the lava-rock grotto, where maidenhair and Boston sword ferns dripped from the ceiling. The trickle of a waterfall descended into a stream, and bird calls provided the harmony for the music of the Hawaiian slack key guitar that drifted from the observation deck. Somehow, though, the kids were more interested in the intricate webs spun by Hawaiian garden spiders.
We then headed to nearby Lydgate Beach, where we first snorkeled with our now-adult daughter, Kiara, 10 years before. We let the kids get wet in their street clothes, then, having washed the sand from their feet, they went to play at Kamalani Playground just across the parking lot from the beach. Kids did what kids do: They played hide-and-seek, grappled with the monkey bars and even enticed Mom to try the circle slide.
Trading Sunday brunch for the train
Kilohana Plantation is home to Gaylord’s, where we had enjoyed Sunday brunch on previous visits. I was eyeing the Koloa Rum Co. tasting, but instead we chose the family-friendly option: the Kauai Plantation Railway, a relaxing 40-minute route around a real farm, complete with cattle, lush green pasture lands and orchards of fruit trees. A 3-week-old calf did elicit a collective “aw,” but Mikko was bored — at least until we fed a dozen or so pigs at a stop along the way.
The next day, after enjoying some pool time, we headed for Outfitters Kauai: FlyLine Kauai Zipline at Kipu Ranch. I stayed back while Dad and Mirae took flight. The short tour lasts a little more than an hour, and she proclaimed it “so incredible.” The boys were too young, so we enjoyed the malasadas — fried Portuguese doughnuts, so what’s not to like? — at Hanalima Bakery.
By then I was ready for a little bit of me time in a garden, something I do to relax.
I’d done McBryde Garden’s self-guided tour on a previous visit, so I turned my attention to the Allerton Garden at Sunset Tour, a garden-lovers’ dream. The three-hour guided experience requires a shuttle bus ride up the ridge overlooking the ocean, through gates that skirt the only private golf course on Kauai, ending as the sun sets just beyond the horizon.
The expansive outdoor spaces at Allerton are a wonder, and together with the sound of ocean waves crashing on nearby Lawai Bay and the dinner served on the lanai, I had found my definition of Zen.
The next morning it was time to wake up and smell the coffee — at Kauai Coffee’s Farm Tour in Kalaheo.
A fan of eco-tourism, I liked that each of the the kids would plant a tree during the tour. It’s no roller coaster, but the bumpy ride in the open-air truck was just enough jerky fun for them. I enjoyed the view of the ocean from the farm, the flowering coffee plants and the smell of the all-you-can-drink coffee at the visitors center.
From there, we drove to Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, as some call the 10-mile-long gorge. By the time we got to Kalalau Lookout, fog obscured the valley below and the kids were fast asleep.
I willed the fog to clear because we were due to tube down the irrigation flumes of an old sugar plantation in Lihue. I envisioned raging rapids, but it was more like the lazy river at L.A.’s Raging Waters without the crowds and in the middle of a rainforest.
It was relaxing to meander along the waterways once I realized how safe it was. Much like Disneyland’s Splash Mountain, there’s only one real “dip,” and there are multiple guides at the front, middle and rear to keep everybody moving. The children’s laughter reverberated in the tunnels, even when their helmet lights were off.
With less than 24 hours before our return to L.A., I was spent. We had planned to go to Keiki Cove near Lawai Beach, but the family slept in the next morning, so I enjoyed the sunrise on Poipu Beach on my own.
On the ride to the airport, Mikko asked whether we would be going to Disneyland again. I cringed for a second, thinking they should be over Disneyland for at least a few months. Then I acknowledged to myself that yes, Disneyland was in our future. But so was Kauai, the happiest place on my earth, where the only thing missing is fireworks.
If you go
THE BEST WAY TO LIHUE, KAUAI
From LAX, American, United, Delta and Hawaiian offer nonstop service to Lihue, Kauai, and Hawaiian, Delta, United and American offer connecting service (change of planes.) Restricted round-trip fares from $495, including taxes and fees.
WHERE TO STAY
Koloa Landing, 2641 Poipu Road, Koloa; (808) 240-6600. Seaside property offering villas, studios and penthouses close to shopping and Spouting Horn. Doubles begin at $600, excluding daily resort fee of $35.
Kauai Coast Resort at the Beachboy, 520 Aleka Loop, Kapaa; (800) 428-1932. Beachfront property offering studios, one- and two-bedrooms with private lanais and island-inspired decor. Doubles from $188.
The Cabins at Kokee Park, 9600 #MC2 Kaumualii Highway; (808) 652-6852. Five types of rustic mountain cabins of varying sizes. Each cabin has indoor plumbing, a full kitchen and a wood-burning stove. Cabins begin at $79. Two-night minimum.
WHERE TO EAT
Island Taco, 2360 Kiahuna Plantation Drive, Koloa (Poipu Shopping Village). Hawaiian-style burritos, tacos, salads and quesadillas. $10-$17.
Ono Family Restaurant and Shave Ice, 4-1292 Kuhio Highway, Kapaa; (808) 822-1710. Serving Hawaiian breakfast and brunch. Entrees $10-$14.95. Shave ice served starting at 10 a.m.
Holoholo Grill, 2641 Poipu Road, Koloa; (808) 742-2538, serving gastro-inspired Hawaiian comfort food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Main dishes $20-$32.
Hanalima Bakery, 4495 Puhi Road, Lihue, (808) 246-8816; Open 6 a.m.-1 p.m. Mondays-Fridays . Besides pastries and baked goods, takeout breakfast and lunch are served from $5.50.
TO LEARN MORE
Kauai Visitors Bureau, (808) 245-3971.