Magazine article Sunset

You're Going to Love Kauai

Magazine article Sunset

You're Going to Love Kauai

Article excerpt

The mission: Introduce the most beautiful place in the world to somebody who's never been there

ALBERTO IS PRACTICALLY A FISH. He grew up swimming in the Mediterranean in the south of Spain. But while Alberto has lived in San Francisco for 30 years, he had never been to Hawaii. Talk about a missed opportunity: I knew this merman would love Hawaii.

Which is why I'm bobbing in Kauai's Hanalei Bay, trying not to throw up.

I had been to Hawaii 10 times before this trip, and I'd always managed to avoid the ocean as much as possible. Snorkeling was the worst. Everything about it made me uneasy. Aquatic claustrophobia comes over me underwater. Thejaws theme throbs in my ears as soon as I get waist-deep.

But I wanted Alberto to love his first trip to Hawaii. We had been together for less than a year. Bobbing in Hanalei Bay, I wanted to show him, and maybe myself, that I was up for any adventure together, no matter how scary.

I chose Kauai as Alberto's introduction to Hawaii for good reasons. I know the island well enough to play tour guide. I knew he'd have lots of opportunities to enjoy the ocean he loves. And I also thought this one island could give him a full Hawaiian experience. Kauai is exactly what people picture when they imagine Hawaii - jungles, waterfalls, cliffs dropping down to turquoise ocean.

I planned four days at a condo in Po'ipu, on the island's dry south side, and three days at the St. Regis in lush Princeville, on the northern shore. We would save money the first half of our trip, then splurge the second.

Snorkeling reared its head the minute we checked into the condo. Po'ipu Beach was a short walk away, and Alberto took me over to check out the rental snorkel gear: $10 for 2 hours.

"Maybe tomorrow," I said. "Let's have a drink at the Grand Hyatt." We had our first mai tais and watched the sunset slip into the ocean from the Seaview Terrace - a perfect vision of Hawaii.

Canyons, cliffs, and octopus

The next day I suggested a hike in Waimea Canyon. "It's like a mini, mini Grand Canyon," I told Alberto, hoping to put off snorkeling for another day. We drove west on the Kaumuali'i Highway, stoppi ng for sweet-potato fries and Napali Pale Ale at the Waimea Brewing Company. The scenic but arid red-earth countryside took Alberto by surprise. I knew he craved water, so we headed back to Po'ipu Beach in the afternoon.

Alberto was happy to be in the ocean at last. He was also perceptive. "You don't have to go in if you don't want to," he said. That only made me more determined to get over my fears.

But not right away. Timid in the water, I'm fearless in the air. The next day, we took a helicopter tour. We flew with Island Helicopters, the only outfitter with a permit to stop at otherwise inaccessible Manawaiopuna Falls, seen m Jurassic Park. The views of the NaPaIi Coast, dolphin spotting, and the hike to the falls were unforgettable. I could tell Alberto was coming to like Kauai.

When it came time for the splurge half of our vacation, the St. Regis in Princeville did not disappoint. Where to begin? The cucumber-ginger margaritas served by the infinity pool. The butler that comes with your ocean-view suite.

We had dinner at the hotel's Kauai Grill, where chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has brought the intense flavor contrasts he's known for in New York and Las Vegas to the Islands. It was a good choice. Alberto was warming to Kauai. But, a serious food-fan, he hadn't been impressed by Hawaiian cuisine. Vongerichten's sophisticated black-pepper octopus was just the kind of seafood my Spaniard was craving. …

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