By Zachary Moses
I’ve dreamed of visiting Kauai since I was a little boy, and learned that the prettiest parts of Jurassic Park were filmed there.
To justify a visit to Kauai, I knew I would have to create a legitimate reason for HE Travel to create a tour there. The adventure aspect is easy enough: amazing hiking, breathtakingly lush scenery, and gorgeous beaches.
That’s not enough for a HE-Travel tour though – I knew I also needed to track down how the people of Kauai interact with that striking landscape. For example, what’s the gay community on Kauai like? I did a little research and discovered that the Courtyard by Marriot on the beach hosts gay pride each year. Hmmm. That got me thinking… if a Mormon-owned hotel chain can support gay rights on this island, this is probably a pretty nice place to bring gay adventure travelers.
Day 1: Kauai
I flew from the Big Island (see Part 1 of my Hawaiian adventure), stopped briefly on Maui, then flew on to the island of Kauai. I was so excited to visit one of my biggest bucket list destinations. Kauai is the oldest island of the main Hawaiian islands, so it is the most eroded and heavily vegetated. The cliffs are serrated like the edges of an old tree saw.
We deplaned directly onto the runway and walked across the tarmac to the rental facility to pick up our car. Everyone in Kauai is ridiculously friendly. You’d think you’d been neighbors your whole life with the warm welcome you receive here. We delayed going to the hotel to drop our bags, and went instead in the opposite direction, straight into the research.
My first stop was Waimea Canyon, also known as “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” I had just been to the Grand Canyon a month earlier and was really excited to see its Pacific counterpart. The drive up the mountainside was beautiful with its twisty turns, but the view from the edge, into the gorge, took my breath away. It really looks like the Grand Canyon! Red dirt and all. Even more impressive is the tropical foliage hanging from the cliffs. Absolutely spectacular.
On my way down from the canyon we stopped and bought some fresh lychees and coconuts. Then we drove over to eat it at the beautiful Salt Ponds Beach where locals from the leeward side of the island camp out.
After rinsing my sticky lychee fingers in the ocean, I made another quick detour into the cute town of Poipu, another potential spot to use as a hub for our tour. The town was precious, but overly touristy. It was getting dark so we decided to make our way to the hotel. After checking in, we got ready for dinner. I looked up local restaurants and chose the only Indian place in town (which happened to be a 5-minute walk from the hotel), and was blown away. The food was incredible – better Indian food than I have ever had on the mainland. When I come again, I will certainly order curry!
The hotel was perfectly centrally located. If our guests stay there, they can enjoy an amazing multi-sport tour to every corner of Kauai and come “home” each night, without moving luggage to different hotels. The Courtyard by Marriott manager was very friendly and arranged a meeting for the next day with several local adventure outfitters.
Day 2: Hiking the Na Pali Coast and Shooting Clays
We woke up early this morning for a Sunrise chant and hula. It’s interesting how different Hawaii is compared with my home island of Key West. It takes a LOT to drag us out of bed early after staying up all night in our party town.
Today’s first stop was the historic lighthouse and bird sanctuary. There were birds (and poop!) everywhere. It was insane! The lighthouse itself… kinda boring, although the views of the rugged coast were worth the detour.
We continued north and west toward the famous Na Pali Coast via the picture perfect town of Hanalei. The locals keep it this way by refusing to allow the historic one-lane bridges to be replaced with larger ones. Traffic can back up for miles to gain access to the city. The local population hopes that this makes their homes less interesting for developers, and they can keep more of their relaxed lifestyle.
On the far side of town, the road dead-ends at a lagoon, which is also the trailhead for the Na Pali Coast hike. We didn’t have a lot of time, but I hiked for about two hours to get a feel for the trail on foot. National Geographic lists this trail as one of the most spectacular and treacherous hikes in the world and I can’t wait to return and hike the whole thing. The trail moves along high ridge lines and through hidden valleys where ancient Hawaiians lived in isolation.
We had to make it back to the hotel for a meeting with the vendors so I did a little bit of … fast driving. We made it just in time to meet some great people whose companies showcase the very best of the adventures Kauai has to offer.
By the end of the meeting, we had reservations for an early morning speed boat cruise along the Na Pali Coast the next morning and an afternoon helicopter ride over the island.
Tonight though, we hurried and changed our clothes, then headed out to shoot clays with a sweet couple originally from my home town in Utah. What do you wear for shooting? Ass-less chaps? …because that’s what I wore. The gun range was much more beautiful than the desolate desert I’d practiced in as a kid. At first I felt guilty putting bullets into the mountain side, but soon just enjoyed the wonder of the fabulous setting and the challenge of shooting a fast-flying target.
By the time I got back to the hotel, I was sore from the day’s activities and sat myself down in the hotel hot tub, where I woke up an hour later looking like a withered prune.
Day 3: Water and Sky
We had to get a bright and early start from our hotel in order to cross all the bridges and reach Hanalei in time for our Holo Holo boat trip. We skipped coffee at the hotel and stood in a long line for some expensive lattes after we were safely in Hanalei. We placed the cups on the roof of the car, and I promptly spilled both coffees when I opened the hatch. There was no going back, since the line was too long and the boat about to launch. So I had to endure hours of anger from my traveling companion because I’d ruined the morning.
The boat ride was truly glorious, and helped me forget that spilled coffee. We zipped along the coast for an amazing perspective I didn’t have while hiking.
We zoomed in and out of sea caves and watched dolphins jump and spin all around us.
Eventually we stopped and snorkeled with sea turtles among the coral. I say “we”, but I mean “I” because somebody had caffeine withdrawal and stayed on the boat.
When we got back to shore we hopped into the car for a race toward the airport on the opposite side of the island. We boarded our helicopter for the ride of a lifetime:
The absolute most breathtaking thing I have ever done on a travel trip, and I do a lot of cool stuff! At one point, the theme song from Jurassic Park came over the headset and we came around the corner to see a glorious waterfall, the same one from the movie!
So thrilling, I got goosebumps. We flew over Waimea Canyon and out over the bay where we had snorkeled (was it just earlier today?). The constant grin from that ride hurt my face.
Tonight we had dinner at a beautiful farm-to-table restaurant. The local and slow food movements are respected here, and the meal was perfection.
Day 4: A quick swing in a hammock before heading home
Before heading to the airport, we set off to the southern part of Kauai to connect with a gentleman who has traveled with He-Travel in the past and who has lived on the island for many years. He graciously agreed to host us for an afternoon, and tell us more about gay life on this tiny island.
His home was at the top of a hill that had been pasture land 50 years ago. In the last half century he has transformed it into the most glorious tropical garden. He took us on a tour of the garden and talked about life for the local gay community, and how things have changed over the years. He told us where to take our guys to get the local gay vibe. We talked about previous trips he’s done with us and all his other experiences exploring the world.
While touring around his property, I felt at one with the world, and with my community. I realized that through interactions like this we can change the world to be a better place for LGBT people everywhere. This is what I want to share with our travelers. I often am asked “Why should I travel with a gay company, when straight companies accept us now?” I say that this is because we care specifically about gay people everywhere, and we want to touch those people’s lives and hear their stories. We do have a common bond even when our daily lifestyles are very different. That’s something that the straight community can never give us. Come join me sometime and we’ll discover the big gay world together!
See the tour we developed HERE, and see Kauai with us.