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ONE Christmas, my family of six (Mom, dad, brother, and aunts), pulled up to our ten-day Airbnb on the East side of Kauai, near Tunnels Beach in Hanalei Bay.
Hanalei Bay’s terrain makes you feel as though you’ve plopped into a magical realm between two miles of beaches and endless mountain ranges. Being a midwestern family, we were blown away by the sheer size of the palm trees and hanging coconuts, the ideal decorations for our beach lodge, less than a mile from the ocean. We were also pretty jazzed about recognizing film locations, as we drove by them, from movies like “The Descendants”, “Jurassic Park”, “Jurassic World”, and “Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides”.
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Known as the Garden Isle for its fields of Taro, lush landscapes, and oxygen-rich air quality, Kauai is the ideal island getaway. Kauai is Hawaii’s oldest island and is far less populated than the big Islands of O’ahu and Maui.
Upon arrival at our VRBO, our family discovered there was no key left inside the mailbox as promised by the landlord. Our first adventure began with me climbing onto my brother’s shoulders to crawl through an open, second-story window and unlock the front door.
And that’s how we began our vacation.
Without planning, our next day adventure began by hanging out with sea turtles. Known as “honu” (hoh-noo), most common honu sightings on the North Shore of Kauai are in Anini, Turtle Cove, Ke-e Beach and Tunnels Beach. Sea turtles lay their eggs on the Garden Isle from May through September, but can be found year-round popping their heads above the surface and feeding off the reefs. My family arrived at Tunnels Beach and split up to explore the sea life. I jumped into the water and began snapping pictures of various butterflyfish with only the sounds of water rushing past my ears. Out of the corner of my eye, a hint of green fluttered into my vision. I turned to see a Hawaiian green sea turtle gliding alongside! They are much bigger than I imagined, with deep, kind eyes that just stare at you. With wide, smooth shells and long flippers, sea turtles can cut through the water like glass, reaching speeds up to 35 mph. I managed to capture a couple of up-close shots before dropping my camera into the reef and scaring off my leopard-printed friend. I know what you’re thinking, don’t worry, my camera was fine. My aunts rented masks, snorkels, and fins from Hanalei Surf. Prices depend on the length of your rental and go from $6 per day to $22 for the week. I love a good deal.
Sleeping Giant Trail of Nounou
Having downhill skied all our lives, my family was naturally drawn towards the mountains on Kauai, regardless of the warm weather and non-snowy conditions. The Sleeping Giant Trail of Nounou was the perfect distance and elevation for a half-day hike. The hike itself isn’t very steep, but the mud can add to your level of effort. Careful, the pathways get very narrow at certain points. The trails are wet and muddy during the winter and dry during the summer. Set your tribe up for success with good hiking shoes and plenty of water, snacks and bug spray for this moderate level 5.8 km trail. You can expect to complete the hike in roughly 2 hours.
Best Ice Cream In Kauai
No vacation with my family would be complete without a trip to the local ice cream hole. Did I mention that my family is from the Midwest? Frozen treats are not only a must to my family but an essential incentive for stirring up fun games on a long car ride. Every game ends the same, no matter who wins or loses, everybody gets ice cream. The way Hawaii does shaved ice is something special. Wishing Well Shave Ice is the ideal spot you’ll want to get it. A cute, little shack you’d miss if you blinked, this Instagrammable spot is worth finding for that perfect shot. What makes this shaved ice so special is the scoop of ice cream surrounded by syrup-sweetened ice. As simple as this concept seems, there’s a specific delicious texture that will make you think “why don’t they serve this back home?”
The Wishing Well Shave Ice is open 7 days a week from 9:30 am – 5 pm. Go find them and tag us on Instagram @lafamilytravel so I can reminisce with you!
The Spirit of Kauai
Our families’ most spiritual adventure took place at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Lihue Kauai. Walking into the church, you notice how intimate of a space it is, with its high ceilings, wide-open windows, and small wooden pews. Halfway through the mass, rain started pouring. A priest was delivering the sermon in Polynesian. Sunlight streamed in on the early morning worshippers, accompanied by the soft pattern of rain outside. If you’ve ever had one of those moments when you felt like someone who wasn’t physically there with you – was – this was that moment.
Discover the best things to do with family in Kauai when you visit the garden island with your kids. Gorgeous views included.
Earlier in the year, we lost my grandparents, my father’s parents. After that, I began a new business venture in copywriting. My brother spent all year studying for his civil engineering exam and my parents dealt with the properties left behind. Up until that point, we hadn’t gotten a moment together to process the hole they had left in our lives. I’m not the most religious person, but this experience felt healing for us all.
Between the laughter and sunny beaches, it’s the moments of figuring things out and going through hard times that binds you. Hawaii was the escape my family needed to jump back to reality.
When You Go
Getting To Kauai From LA
A direct flight from LAX to Kauai’s primary airport, Lihue, is a hop, skip and a six and a half-hour nap away! Most airlines serve a meal and snacks during flights. Make sure to wear something comfortable and bring your sleep mask! Upon arrival, you will be greeted with colorful leis from the concierge team.
Another excellent discount site for flights (and cars, hotels) is Expedia!
If you’d like to be in the know for exclusive discounts to fly anywhere in the world, check out Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights). Their website shows current deals, and they send emails when they find new deals. Try out their free 7-day membership to save BIG money on flights. I’m not kidding. They have the best deals out there and we’ve tried them all, or so it seems. There’s no need to buy a membership (you’ll still have access to great deals with their free trial).
Rent A Car
Directly outside the airport, you will find car rental booths within walking distance. The pick-up and drop-off areas for all the rental car companies are located right there. Use Expedia to find the best deal on rental cars in Kauai.
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