Our good friend Chase Lochmiller, whom we met in Antarctica on our Mt. Vinson trip almost three years ago, was getting married on the Hawaiian island of Kauai in late September 2016. Having never been to any Hawaiian island, Kristine & I decided to make this happen with Sawyer and immediately Ken & Dianne Oelberger were on board to come with us. And, from everyone we talked to, Kauai was the least developed, most mountainous, and exotic of all the islands, which sounded right up our alley. Also, our friends from London, Harry & Halla Koppel, whom we met on Mt. Vinson as well, were making the long trip over and so it would be a great opportunity to rekindle our fun friendship we had in Antarctica together. We were so excited to spend this vacation with Sawyer,Ken, and Dianne. Definitely a different kind of vacation for us, but it turned out to be so much fun and memorable. Kauai certainly did not disappoint. We rented a functional beach house in Wainiha on Kauai’s north shore between Hanalei Bay and the Kalalau trailhead. It was a perfect location and was a 5 minute walk to the famous Tunnels Beach, where we went about every day for swimming with Sawyer and snorkeling.
We flew from Denver to LAX and met Ken & Dianne there for the big flight direct to Lihue Airport on Kauai. We rented a van when we arrived and drove the hour+ up to the north shore and our beach house. It was an extremely long day with Sawyer, but we finally made it to the house around 4pm in the hottest part of the day. I think it was because we were all so beat from the travel and very tired and likely because the house had been closed up until an hour or so before we arrived, but we all sort of lost it when we arrived into the house due to the extreme temperature inside the house. I know I for one was thinking how the heck I could stay here, especially sleep at night in this hot of a house with no AC. It was unbearable. Ken and I immediately took off our shirts as did Sawyer to try and cool down. The property manager, however, did show us the portable AC units in a closet we could try and hook up to the windows at least to cool 2 rooms down. So, Ken and I jimmy-rigged one of the units in Sawyer’s room and it worked pretty well really cooling down her room to 70 degrees or colder. We did a less-inspiring engineering installation in the master bedroom where Kristine and I stayed, but it worked pretty well. It did cool down at night and was much more manageable. Ken and Dianne were stronger than us (me) and did well in the 3rd bedroom without an AC unit. Still, though, shirts off for the boys and Sawyer were still a staple for the week. Despite the initial shock of the heat & humidity, we adjusted and had a fantastic week.
Despite not having full AC in the beach house, this place really had about everything else. Toys for Sawyer, beach chairs, snorkel gear, etc, a downstairs outdoor shower, a master bedroom outdoor tub and shower, great views into the jungle, very private, and a great location. We soon learned from Chase that most of these beach houses do not have AC, anyway. One of the first afternoons during Sawyer’s nap, Kristine and I drove a few miles east to Lumahai Beach to check out some bouldering I had researched on the beach. It turned out to be really fun bouldering on volcanic rock with the soft sandy beach as a crash pad. Kristine doesn’t boulder very much, but I was extremely happy she went with me. We had brought our rock shoes and chalk bags with us.
That evening we took a drive to the Kilauea Lighthouse, but it was closed. That’s ok because we had a ball chasing roosters and getting some nice pictures in the evening light.
The next day we all decided to give the famous Kalalua Trail a try (at least the first mile or so) to get some views of the amazing Napali Coast. We actually made it just over a mile in depite how rocky and muddy and wet it was and Sawyer walked a decent portion of it. She was beat about halfway back and in the pack she went and fell asleep. However, it was gorgeous scenery.
That evening we went over to Chase’s wedding party/friends house they rented in Hanalei Bay. Apparently, it was owned by the real life family depicted in the movie Descendants starring George Clooney. Also, the house in which the move was filmed on the beach was immediately across the street, which I definitely recognized. We had a great time catching up with Chase, meeting his fiance Devon, who grew up on Kauai, and checking out the home.
The Kalalau Trail (Napali Coast)
The next morning we all woke up around 6am and K and I got ready for our big adventure of the week: trail run/hike the Kalalau Trail to Kalalau Beach and back in a day, which turns out to be about 5,000′ vertical gain and 23 miles RT. Ken & Dianne were so nice to hang with Sawyer for the day and I think they had a really fun time together at Tunnels Beach. Ken dropped K and I off at the Kalalau trailhead around 7am (only 2 miles west of our house) and it seemed like we beat the majority of folks that morning to get on the trail. Armed with a water bottle, Gatorade bottle, a backpack water bladder, and trail bars/snacks in our pockets, we went light and fast. We brought iodine tablets to purify the stream water as we had to refill several times throughout the day.
We tried to slowly run the first 4-5 miles of the trail, but much of it is so rough, rocky, muddy, and wet it was pretty dangerous to do so, especially on the down. Good thing is there were no people on the trail to try and get around. I had never sweated as much as I did on the Kalalau Trail with all of the humidity. I looked like I had already swam in the ocean. Anyway, the morning hours were relatively cool and in the shade as the sun had not come overhead yet.
One thing about this trail is it is A LOT of up and down. As soon as you get comfortable going up or down, the trail switches and you do the other mode. Miles 2-4 were some slow miles because of the overgrowth onto the trail and slick mud and rock. We came upon a lean-to shelter at mile 4 and I left my shirt hanging there as it was completely soaked with sweat. We chatted with a grizzled man at the lean-to laying on the bench from Oahu who had hiked this trail countless times in his 30 years of coming to Kauai.
We reached Hanakoa Valley at mile 6 (halfway point) and after that the trail really opened up, became much more runnable, and the views opened up as well. It was great.
I think around mile 7 was the fun and interesting portion of the trail that was pretty exposed down to the raging surf several hundred feet below.
So, after about 4 hours on the trail, we reached Kalalau Beach. It was such a treat to be there. Many campers were camped in the trees just south of the beach and were beginning to come out to the beach. It reminded me of Leonardo DiCaprio and the island dwellers all going to the secret, remote beach in the older move The Beach. In fact, many folks were in the nude heading into the surf. We decided to not join the ranks of the nude.
We ate one of our denser, larger snack bars we previously bought and rested for 20 minutes or so. We also gathered a few special coral pieces and rocks from the beach to remember it by. We said our goodbyes and began the slower return run/hike back the way we came.
A quick little video of Kristine on the exposed portion of the trail:
On the return trip, we decided to take a detour and go check out Hanakoa Falls, which said only a half mile off the Kalalau Trail. However, it was a rough and slow trail consisting of some bushwhacking and we began to think if we’d ever see this waterfall. Finally, we reached the falls and I guess it was worth the detour.
The last few miles were slow and we were hiking by then. Lots of folks on the trail once we got back to mile 2, but fortunately the trail had dried out quite a bit so it was much less slick. We were back at the trail by about 4pm with tired legs and feet, but feeling good about our adventure. We walked the road back to our house trying to thumb and hitch a ride. We were finally picked up by some nice folks we met along the trail and drove us in the back of their pickup the rest of the way back arriving around 4:30pm just in time to see Sawyer waking up from her nap. I immediately went out to get us some much needed ginger beers and guava drinks from the Wainiha General Store as we (me) were craving these the last few miles.
The Remainder of the Week and Chase’s Wedding
We all did some more swimming and snorkeling on that Thursday and Kristine & I made it to Chase & Devon’s welcome part at the St. Regis in Princeville that evening.
The next morning we all went to Lumahai Beach for some exploring and swimming.
Harry & Halla had arrived late Friday night and came over Saturday morning to visit. We all went to Tunnels Beach and swam and snorkeled. It was so great to see them again. Its almost like we all had never skipped a beat! We definitely need to get together with them and their year old daughter soon on another vacation.
That evening we got ready for Chase & Devon’s wedding and drove ourselves to the Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens for the wedding and reception. It was a great celebratory evening and was super fun to hang with Harry & Halla all night.
We did one more quick Tunnels Beach trip early morning to say our goodbyes. Sawyer was a tired gal after a big week.
After watching some early Sunday morning NFL games and a good Sawyer nap in my arms, we all loaded up the van and made our way to Lihue Airport. Little did we know that we were all in for a 2 day adventure to get back to Colorado. In a nutshell, due to limiting weight on the airplane because of turbulence, American decided to bump 20 folks off the plane. Kristine & I being two of them because we didn’t check-in the night before or early that morning. Ken & Dianne, however, did check-in the night before. So, after 6 hours at the airport that afternoon and a lot of tears and frustration, we were put up in the Marriott with food vouchers, we each got a $1,000 voucher on American, including Sawyer, and left the next day. We got home an entire day later on Tuesday evening. Ken & Dianne could have gone on without us and gotten home Monday evening, but we appreciated them so much hanging with us. Nevertheless, it was an adventure with a 2 year old, but really Sawyer did so very well. It was fun in retrospect to go through that adventure with her.
In conclusion, what a phenomenal family trip to a wonderful island. We would highly recommend this kind of trip and the island of Kauai to anyone looking to get away from the more developed islands. It was beyond special to share this trip with Ken & Dianne and especially to be able to bring Sawyer along and have so much fun with her.