Artsy towns, stupendous scenery, great golf and a fine family resort on Kauai

ISLAND OF KAUAI, HAWAII – A gem of a small town. The most beautiful golf course you can play for pennies. One of the most stunning pieces of geography on the planet. And a wonderful family resort.

There are few islands in the world with the kind of diversity you find on Kauai, sometimes known as the Garden Island. I was staying at a lovely family spot on the bustling southeast portion of the island, the Outrigger Waipouli Beach Resort . It’s got a beautiful, free form pool with a couple of slides and three Jacuzzi tubs, one for families and two for adults. My room had a full kitchen and two bedrooms with two full baths and a couple balconies overlooking the pool and the ocean.

The lobby is sleek and very attractive, and there’s a koi pond and fitness centre and plenty of lush landscaping that seemed friendly for a couple of frogs I saw hopping about at night.

I found the key system a little strange, as you use a six digit code to enter your room (this would never work in Vegas given the drinking, me thinks). For the pool, you have to type in your four-digit room number, then the pound sign or hashtag, then the six digit code for getting into your room. The bad news is that some mental arithmetic is needed. The good news is you don’t need to carry a key down to the pool, I guess. Mind you, most of us takes paperbacks and cell phones and all sort of things, so I don’t know that being able to avoid hauling a key is a big thing.

It’s a great location for restaurants and activities. There are tons of great places to eat all around, and there’s a huge Safeway across the street and a large drugstore if you want to buy sunscreen or some steaks to cook on the barbeque or juice and cereal for breakfast.

They have a restaurant on site called Oasis, which fronts onto the beach. I had a fine meal of swordfish and sweet potato mash and a lovely salad. Up the road, I can highly recommend Ono Family Restaurant for a hearty breakfast that includes a slab of hash browns the size of a paperback novel. Not to mention the excellent and filling fish tacos at Tiki Taco and the utterly marvellous chicken at Chicken in a Barrel; moist and smoky and delicious.

The only drawback is the beach. It can get pretty windy and it’s quite rocky and has a reef very close to shore, so the water is quite shallow. If you want to swim in the ocean or body surf or what have you, this isn’t the place for you. But if you’re a pool person who values convenience, it’s fabulous.

And there are lots of things to do nearby, including paddling or taking a cruise boat up the beautiful, placid Wailua River or playing golf on the Wailua Golf Club, one of the toughest and most enjoyable municipal links in the U.S.

But that’s not the golf course I referred to at the start of this blog. No, that course is called Kukui O Lono . And it’s unbelievable. It’s located on a former estate of a major landowner in the area, who bequeathed the property (the golf course and gardens) to the public. It’s only a nine-hole course and it’s not kept up to the standards of Augusta National, or Wailua. But it’s enjoyable and has some challenging holes.

The property sits high on a hill in west Kauai, with absolutely killer views for miles around and out to the blue Pacific. Best of all? It’s $9. And you can play all day. That’s right, as many holes as you like.

One guy told me he pays $160 for year-long ticket to play all he wants. It’s about the same price to play one of the resort courses in Princeville, up near the town of Hanalei. So how’s that for a bargain?

Further northwest is the small village of Hanapepe, an artsy community that fell on hard times after the island’s main port was moved to the capital of Lihue a few decades back but has since seen a bevy of artists move in and give the place a nice kick start. There are tons of great galleries and a wonderful book store called Talk Story books, billed as the westernmost in the United States. They’ve got a huge collection and wildly diverse titles and they’re fun folks to talk to.

The town of Waimea isn’t as interesting as Hanapepe, but it’s famous for being the landing place of Captain James Cook in 1778. You also can find the remains of a Russian fort and a nice place called the Shrimp Station, with excellent shellfish.

A half hour or so from there is one of the most magical places in the United States; Waimea Canyon . It’s a smaller scale version of the Grand Canyon (see photo at top of the blog) in the southwest U.S., but it’s monstrously deep and carved with huge canyons that expose brilliant red volcanic rock that’s punctuated by day-glo green grass and trees from all the rain they get on this part of the island.

The views are magnificent and there are a couple towering waterfalls, to boot. It’s about 11 miles up from the beach to the canyon. The road is twisty and turny but there aren’t any cliffs to speak of and it’s not a big deal by any stretch. And the views are simply magnificent.

Further up the road you’ll find a couple of majestic lookouts. You’re up around 4,000 feet, sitting above the top of some of Kauai’s highest peaks. The Kooalau Lookout reveals a silent row of towering, spiky, rumpled and deep green, jungle covered peaks marching in a row down to the blue Pacific, which was studded with the shadows of white, puffy clouds when I was there and gave the water tremendously varied shades of blue. The tops of the mountains were covered with clouds, which obscured the view a bit. But the mist rising and swirling around the valleys and into the sky made it all that much cooler, I thought.

“I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon and rafted the Grand Canyon and ridden a mule in the Grand Canyon,” a visitor from Wisconsin told me. “This one’s even better.”

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