But when I started doing my abbreviated bucket list, visiting my 50th state was now at the top of the list again-- a 12-day trip to Hawaii. Specifically, to Kauai and Maui!
It was a great relief that Randy and Karen also wanted to join me. I'd now be able to enjoy the visit without worrying about being on my own if an emergency struck while 3,000 miles away.
We left Vail at the beginning of October when aspens were still golden and snow was starting to collect on the slopes.
Our flight out of Denver was scheduled for something like 6:00am, so we stayed the night at a hotel next to the airport. While the early alarm was not well received, the gorgeous sunrise views out the airplane window of the snow-capped Rockies certainly were!
Within a few hours, we were flying over the vast Pacific-- hours upon hours of clouds and water.
Finally, as we began to descend for landing, I saw my first glimpse of my 50th state-- the rugged shoreline of Kauai!
Karen again was our expert booking agent finding us some great airBnB condos. Our condo in Kauai was on the north shore in Princeville and each room had an ocean view. Just perfect!
Since we landed around noontime, our first stop in Kauai was to a local fish market for some poke bowls (sushi, rice, and a variety of Korean-like toppings).
After getting our tummies full, we explored a bit of our local surroundings and made a stop at Costco and the grocery store to fill up our fridge. Sunset was a bust as rain was moving in, but we still discovered an amazing viewpoint of Hanalei Bay near our condo that we'd revisit almost daily.
For our first full day on Kauai, we drove down to the south end of the island to Poipu Beach. It was a rainy, cloudy day but the sun did manage to make a quick appearance when we we visited the Spouting Horn blowhole nearby.
On the way home, we drove through a "tunnel" of bamboo trees--
and saw lots of giant Monkeypod trees that made me think we were in Africa!
Our final stop was to see the island's most-famous waterfall, Wailua Falls.
As we came around the bypass road, we got to see the other famous waterfall, Opaeka'a Falls. Not as spectacular, but still worth the stop.
Randy and Karen wanted to rent and ride bikes along the beach in Kapa'a the next day, so I decided to bring my telephoto lens and a beach chair to see what I might photograph while sitting on the beach. As luck would have it, there was a great surfer dude practicing his stuff on the waves right in front of me!
Cute little crabs were scurrying along the beach too!
After an afternoon in the sun, it was time for happy hour!
That evening, we headed to the very end of the road on the northwest corner of the island at Ke'e Beach for sunset. The views of the rugged NaPali coast were spectacular and we knew we'd have to find a way to see more (even though the entire west coast of Kauai is roadless)!
The next day, we headed to a quiet local spot called Wyllie's Beach to do some snorkeling.
Then, we headed back to Hanalei Bay to walk the pier. If the mountains surrounding Hanalei Bay look familiar, it's the setting of "Bali Hai" from the movie "South Pacific"!
The most photogenic areas of the island are the western and southwestern regions-- the NaPali coast, and the "Grand Canyon of Kauai", Waimea Canyon. There is a road that goes into Waimea Canyon from the south, but it would have taken us all day to drive down there and back, and we still would have missed seeing NaPali. So, the next option was a catamaran trip. That too, though, would also be an all-day trip as most tour boats only left from the south shore. Randy did happen to find one tour operator that departed from Hanalei Bay, but they reported 8-foot seas that day and said they could not take anyone "with a bad back." I suddenly recalled the 8-foot seas of the tour boat I took in Alaska 10 years ago, and was thankful they sternly warned me against taking the trip.
Fortunately, there was one transportation method still left, and it was one my battered back could handle-- a helicopter! Randy and I got loaded up into the back seat with 4 other passengers and the pilot and were ready for our 45-minute tour!
Our chopper was a luxury affair-- $4.5 million dollars worth!
Before I could get too nervous, we were up and flying over the center of the island towards a large dormant volcano. Lots of green, lush mountains and waterfalls!
Soon, the pilot was flying us into the caldera itself and flying up right next to the vertical walls of the caldera! Wow!
Up and over a few more mountaintops, and we were now looking at the gigantic Manawaiopuna Falls, made famous by the movie "Jurassic Park"--
Next, it was over to visit Waimea Canyon, the "Grand Canyon" of Kauai. Spectacular red clays mix with lush greens to form quite an impressive valley. So glad we saw it from the air rather than via car-- I doubt we would have seen nearly as much on land!
But the best was yet to come! Flying out over the Pacific ocean to cruise up the NaPali coast.
The pilot flew us into a couple of the narrow canyons along the coast to see the "fin" shaped cliffs that NaPali is known for.
Finally, we made our way back up to Hanalei Bay, and stopped to see one of the cliffside waterfalls after waiting for another helicopter to show its passengers first. Traffic in the skies in Kauai!
Back to the Princeville airport after a terrific tour!
Of course, with all that excitement, we had to go find Karen and tell her all about it over pretty Happy Hour drinks. What a wonderful way to end our stay on Kauai. Next stop, Maui!