LIHUE, Hawaii — When we told friends and family that we were going to Kauai for our vacation, they smiled and told us how happy they were for us.
When we told them we were taking the kids, they told us we were crazy. After all, Kauai, Hawaii's "Garden Island," is for honeymooners, surfers and Midwesterners in the winter.
Not necessarily. We had second thoughts once or twice. The first day our boys, ages 8 and 5, were cranky from jet lag and fought continually. Kauai, however, has a lot that appeals to children. It didn't take our sons long to find that out.
A Flawless Beginning
The five-hour flight to Honolulu went flawlessly. My husband and I congratulated ourselves for our ingenuity in filling two backpacks, one for each boy, full of dot-to-dot books, crayons, paperbacks, card games, snacks and gum for ears at takeoff and landing. The two of them played quietly for the entire trip and even took turns sitting by the window.
The boys were sure they were in a foreign country when at Lihue Airport on Kauai, a beautiful Hawaiian hostess bedecked in leis offered them each a cup of papaya juice. In the aura of the moment, they took it, drank it and liked it, forgetting that they usually hate anything new.
The Adventure Begins
Our vacation became an adventure the day we discovered a book called "Underground Kauai" by Lenore Horowitz on the shelf of our condominium. Horowitz has been coming to Kauai for more than 10 years with her four young children. In her book she describes beaches, restaurants and other activities in such an enticing way that the morning we read it, we cancelled our plans to spend another day at nearby Poipu Beach and packed a lunch and headed north to Kalapaki Beach.
Kalapaki is the crescent-shaped beach that you see when you fly into Lihue Airport. We spent the morning there riding boogie boards and swimming in the warm, gentle surf.
After a stop at the majestic Kauai Surf Hotel that overlooks Kalapaki Beach to buy some ice cream cones (chocolate macadamia nut, coconut and passion fruit sherbet) and to feed stale bread donated by the hotel restaurant to the koi and ducks in the ponds there, we headed north to Hanama'ulu Beach. The drive took us about 20 minutes, just long enough to learn to pronounce Hanama'ulu.
Before you see the beach, you come to a lush tropical lagoon off to one side. The beach is bordered with graceful ironwood trees, and sugar cane fields form a fringe north and south. Small sand crabs scurried from the water to shore and kept the boys occupied when they weren't riding their boogie boards.
A Special Sunset
We ended the day by continuing to drive north on Route 56 to Hanalei for a Kauai sunset. The two-lane road winds through the picturesque countryside and forms the main street of numerous small Kauai towns.
The crickets began their chorus, and the sky started to change color in a preview of what was to come. From a bluff by the Pali Ke Hua condominium in Princeville, we watched the sun dip into the waters of Hanalei Bay and disappear. Even the boys stood quietly in awe.
Visiting new beaches filled us with a sense of adventure. Kauai is compact enough so that with a little planning we could visit several beaches in one day with a minimum of driving. Horowitz writes: "Kauai will never bore you, because a half-hour drive, at the most, can take you to a beach that almost seems to belong to a different island."
It's true. To get to Polihale Beach on the western shore, we drove for 20 minutes through sugar cane fields. Once we reached the vast expense of white sand and craggy cliffs, we found that we were among only a handful of people (as we had been at Kalapaki and Hanama'ulu beaches).
On the other hand, at Lydgate Beach Park, right in the center of the eastern shore, we had to do some searching through the crowd to find a place on the beach large enough for us and all our gear. As at Poipu Beach, people from nearby hotels and condominiums come to swim and snorkel in the two natural pools. Swimming is safe enough for small children, while at Polihale, swimming is not safe even for adults.
When the waves break on shore at Polihale, the water is sucked out again quickly by powerful rip tides. Strong currents from Alaska flow down that western side of the island and can carry unwary swimmers out to sea.
Some Familiarity Advised
We found out the hard way that it is important for parents to know something about the beach they use. At Salt Pond Park Beach in the south, we watched from shore as our 5-year-old took one step and disappeared in water over his head. A lifeguard reached him before we did and plucked him out. The swimming area was protected by a coral reef from strong ocean currents, but we had been unaware of a sudden drop-off.