Kauai

Travelling to Kauai felt like I was slipping out of my real life and into a dream. On the day that I left Vancouver, I was packing alone all morning, then caught a bus to the airport and left the country for my first solo trip. There were no witnesses to my leaving. Nobody was around to notice that I was escaping reality to go explore a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I subtly fell into a different world. 

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I arrived in Lihue at 9:30pm local time. Despite a 7:00pm sunset, the heat from the day still hung in the air. It felt full and comforting, which I welcomed to soothe my concerns about getting to the rental car company on time. A kind stranger and lovely taxi driver later, I got my car and head out through the night to my hostel in Kapa'a. I rolled down the windows and listened to the reggae on the radio. All of the concerns I'd held so close escaped my grasp through those open windows, and they were replaced with a smile that spread as I became untethered. 

The sound of roosters (that would become incredibly familiar to me on this trip) woke me up at around 5am. I lazily opened my eyes and allowed my body to be pulled out of bed by the sound of the waves. I meandered barefoot through the hostel rooms, still filled with sleeping bodies, and to the lawn across the street to watch the spectacle with nine other awestruck travellers. 

I ate breakfast with two French runners. One of them sprinkled dark chocolate on my almond butter banana toast, an action that immediately made me love him, and also proved it was true when I was told that I would meet good people while travelling alone. Afterwards, I set out for my first hike on the island with two other people from the hostel. We made a quick stop at Wailua Falls before heading to Waimea Canyon.

 Wailua Falls

Wailua Falls

In Waimea town, a woman was selling dragonfruit in the back of her art gallery, which became our snack supply for the day. Though the drive was longer than I had anticipated, I instantly felt back in my element once we got on Canyon Trail. We walked across dry, orange earth to a waterfall where we swam. The water was much warmer than the places I'd swam in Canada, refreshing my skin after my long journey. The trail took us to a place where we stood at the top of a huge waterfall overlooking the canyon. I stood at the very edge, my right arm wrapped around a tree, and soaked in the landscape's changes - dry rugged canyon, to lush forest, to open ocean. 

 Canyon Trail

Canyon Trail

That night I was exhausted from a busy first day, but was lucky enough to share tea, chocolate, and laughter with the French runners before falling asleep. 

I woke up to rain, and headed out to the picnic gazebo alone to listen to the waves and watch the baby chickens as the sun rose, subtly reflecting peach tones above the mountains to the West. The cool wind washed away the heat of yesterday that still clung to my skin. We ate breakfast at Eat Healthy Kaua'i. I had the avocado toast, and stole bites of somebody's macadamia banana pancakes. As we drove towards Princeville, we wound down the coast passing trees that did not look real to me. They towered above, with leafy green vines conquering the surface area of their trunks, making me feel like the tiniest being and far less wise than they are. 

We hiked down a root-filled trail to the ocean, floating over volcanic rock towards a bustling natural bath called Queen's Bath. It was too busy for me to feel comfortable jumping off the cliff into the pool, so we kept walking farther and exploring the shore. We came across another natural bath, and this one was smaller. There was nobody there. The only beings we shared this crystalline pool with were tropical fish. My eyes were overwhelmed by the green, blue, and turquoise hues matched with the dramatic mountains in the background. I was captivated completely. 

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Our next target was Turtle Cove. This trail was more hidden, and filled with mosquitos. After we skirted the edge of a cliff, we arrived at one end of a cave. We walked through the cave, so dark that we couldn't see, and had to rely on our hands gently moving across the damp rock walls to know where we were going. The light from the other side of the cave led us to a small cove - Turtle Cove! We did see one sea turtle very close, but we didn't want to disturb it. 

I parted ways with my hostel friends, and ended up making a new friend while I was relaxing in Princeville, trying to find a place to camp. We connected very quickly and ended up having snacks for dinner at Secret Beach. It was like living in a postcard - the watermelon, perfect golden sand, and brilliant yellows and oranges that emerged as the sun tucked into the ocean. We set up camp at Anini Beach. 

The ocean was still and silent in the morning. It was peaceful. Then the roosters started, waking up both the ocean and all the campers, causing a stir of ebbs and flows. 

I hiked the Hihimanu Ridge Trail, past Hanalei Lookout, up some of the steepest pitches I've ever scrambled. There were ropes that we needed to use in order to hike up and down along the ridge. I felt powerful, and simply stoked to have my whole body engaged in the ascent. I even found Indian Paintbrush lookalikes, which made me feel at home. However, it rained at the top. I tried to do a wind dance to get the wind to push the clouds away, but it didn't work. It felt good, though.

I don't believe Kauai trusted me at this point. Not only did we not get a view, but the way down became a new level of dangerous. As the ground became too slippery to stand on and none of the foot holds were reliable, I was out of my comfort zone. Pros to hiking out of your comfort zone: you accomplish something that feels BIG, and when you finally reach a section of trail that is stable, running on it feels like flying. Cons to hiking out of your comfort zone: it's super scary, and your legs will get beat UP. 

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That evening, I charged my phone at a the Bistro in Kilauea, where I had black coffee and an appetizer that consisted of garlic, olive oil, and an artichoke tapenade that accompanied pieces of fresh baguette. It was a sliver of the trip that I had just to myself, and the simple beauty of it is hard to capture. It was a moment that was nurturing, like an long exhale. 

Afterwards I met up with my new friends, and we had a bonfire under the Milky Way at a beach nearby. They played ukulele and guitar, improvising songs that shook us with laughter. There were more stars than I'd ever seen in my life. We stayed up all night, only realizing it was the next day when the sun peeped over the horizon in the most beautiful display of rose and honey. I swam in a pink ocean, then napped for the first two hours of the day. 

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I drove myself to Hanalei for the day. I recharged my phone and my body, indulging in an acai bowl and another black coffee from a small food truck. I drifted over to Hanalei Bay, and felt once again like I was living in a postcard. The mountains hanging about the ocean, carpeted in their lush green, made me wish I could stay longer. 

The next place my friends showed me was the most incredible place I've been. I am not going to share the name of it, or its location, but I wanted to include it in this post because it was magic. We walked barefoot along the black rocks, across a wooden plank that linked two cliffs over the ocean, past the base of a small waterfall, and arrived at a cave eroded into the side of a cliff, surrounded by rock arches that looked like bridges. We jumped 12ft down into the basin, which looked and felt like a nest, and from there we swam into a cave that spat water in our faces as the tide collided perfectly with the back walls, creating a mist that drifted out the holes above the cave and into the ocean air. The water was so blue and clear that when my friend dove 30 ft to the bottom on the basin, I could still see him from the surface! Jumping into a cave system like this is something that would have paralyzed me with fear only a few years ago, but here I felt free and awestruck and so enthralled in the beauty that I was able to take it all in without hesitation. There was a moment where I was floating on my back, gazing at the stunning sights around me, reflecting on how I've grown. I felt whole, and so, so happy. 

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After camping at Kealia Beach, we had a slow morning cooking oatmeal with banana, maple almond butter, and granola. Then we were off to our next beach campsite, Polihale. On the way we stopped to taste test 30 different flavours of coffee at Kauai Coffee. I tried every flavour, and definitely received a caffeine kick that carried me all the way to the beach.

Polihale was gorgeous. Sand dunes easing into an endless ocean; layers of Na Pali Coast mountains cascading into the water. We cooked coconut rice and veggies in the van at this little slice of heaven, fell asleep under a blanket of stars, and woke up to another breathtaking sunrise. We found coziness on a topical island. 

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In the morning we swam 800m in the ocean, spotting fish and turtles along the way, to access a secret beach. As if it were scripted, we had the entire place to ourselves, and sunbathed surrounded by mountains and black rock. 

The last adventure of the day was hiking Kalalau Trail at sunset. It was perfect timing! The mountains were glowing! I was glowing! The ocean, spires, birds, light, shadows, and flowers were all in harmony. It was a snapshot of the experience of living. I had never giggled so much in my life, I was and am so grateful for the humans I shared this day with. The smile was permanent, the stoke was real. That night, I collapsed into the van, exhausted from another perfect day.

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We camped in Poipu that night, but in the morning I headed back to Koke'e State Park for a solo hike on Honopu Ridge. The wind was strong as I moved through the trees. Branches and bushes caught my skin, and would hold my hair hostage as I pressed on. I saw only glimpses of the mountains during this section. They teased me. When I reached the ridge, exposure was sudden and bold. I was planted on this thread of a trail on a ridge on a rock in the middle of the ocean. I felt so small looking out at the dramatic, yet confidently cool mountains. Total peace filled my lungs, settling my bones despite the need to balance on the ridge line. I was in complete solitude, gazing at this place I've wanted to visit for years. Waking up in a dream was surreal. 

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That's when I understood the significance of being here. I created that for myself. I got myself there on my own two feet, using only my intuition as a resource for my decision making. I did that. And I felt like that could extent through to anything. We are constantly creating the life we want, and becoming the person we want to be. It is all within reach, once we push beyond the barriers of fear.

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My trip wrapped up with drinking from fresh coconuts at the beach, missing my flight back to Canada, and spending the next 3 days on hurricane watch with my friends. My first solo trip gave me everything I needed and more. I am looking back, writing this post, and almost not believing that all of this happened. Everything felt like a dream. Yet, after being there for 10 days, life on Kauai started to feel like real life. So I am choosing to use that power of dreaming to create that same magic back in Vancouver, as I head into my Master's degree.  

Thank you for reading, if you made it this far! This trip was very personal, and sharing it will probably not do justice to the experience, but I hope there was some value in this for you as a reader.

All my love,

Kristen Joy