May 5, 2008


I'd like to take a trip back to the island of Kaua'i sometime this year. While the Big Island is picturesque, Kaua'i is even more so. 'The Garden Isle' is a nature photographer's dream. Though much smaller in size, it boasts more breathtaking and exhilarating beauty per square mile and around every turn than any other island in this archipelago. Kaua'i is also the most untamed and unexploited of the four major islands. Of course its economy relies heavily on tourism so it's got a few golf courses and big box stores, but it's nature, rather than development, that runs rampant.

Another interesting fact about the island that you won't find in tourism pamphlets is that it receives about 5-10 sunny days per year. Granted, the sun shines, for bountiful sunlight is equally necessary as moisture to keep a place so lush and green. The key (not the caveat) is that with the exception of those very rare days where the weather turns -completely- stagnant, it seems to be raining there nearly as often. Not only is it the wettest and lushest island, it also has the most dramatic topography. The famous Na Pali cliffs, for example, are almost too astonishing a sight to be real.

There are of course the sandy beaches, many of which stretch on uninterrupted and devoid of development and people for several miles. When I checked out Pacific Beach in San Diego for the first time, I thought, "take away all these buildings and replace them with rolling green mountains in the background, turn all these people into sand crabs, install a pleasant tropical breeze, throw a few cottony clouds in the sky, remove the urban stench, add a huge splash of vivid color, and you'll get Kekaha Beach." Even the beaches here on the Big Island are fairly lackluster compared to those on Kaua'i, since this is the youngest island in the chain and consequently many of the beaches here are still composed of pebbles and coral. One of the many delights of Kaua'i is exploring ancient trails that run along the coastline and discovering a perfect swimming beach hidden amongst the trees which you will almost certainly have to yourself.

Then, of course, there are the mountains. I still vividly remember often visiting a densely wooded hollow that could only be accessed by crawling through a secret cave, the mouth of which was mostly obscured by dense undergrowth. I'm not sure how my parents ever found it in the first place to show it to their kids, but my father especially used to be quite the adventurer as well. It's safe to say I got it from him. Koke'e State Park consists of seemingly endless dense tropical rainforest perpetually bathed in fog and mist and Waimea Canyon, which many would say is probably more visually impressive than the Grand Canyon, and not nearly as overrated (hey, Arizona has to have something to be proud of besides saguaros, right?) I truly miss the abundance of gorgeous hiking trails up there, the only means of accessing the heart of the wilderness. Many people naively think, "well, it's such a relatively small island, it's hard to get lost, right?" Truth is, it's all too easy to get lost and never find your way to civilization if you happen to follow a false trail and become disoriented. From the sky, the wilderness might not look so vast, but when you're actually in it, it's a different story.

The spiritual power of the island is especially enrapturing. It's all to easy to surrender to its captivating beauty, mystique, and ancient mana. I could camp on a different beach or place in the mountains each night for a week, and all the time spent alone with the wild would be remarkably soul-soothing. So many fascinating ruins to explore, too. One of the best things about Kaua'i is that camping is more popular and permitted there than on any of the other islands, where a decent place to camp can be hard to find. Certainly beats shelling out for an expensive hotel every night.

Just a week spent there would do me a lot of good. I know I would return with hundreds of exceptional photos, which would certainly boost my portfolio. But most treasured of all would be the memories themselves.

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