Adventuring In Kauai: Waterfalls, Kayaks and Fire

A few hours ago, it was yesterday. That is always true, always. But never is it more true than when you take a red-eye flight home from a magical adventure.

I stood in the kitchen, making a small batch of pancakes from what little mix we had left in the house (because the milk had spoiled in our absence and the eggs we had wouldn’t cover it) and I thought about the shortest night of our adventure to Kauai, the one that had just passed, and started dreaming out loud.

“We were just on an island. A few hours ago we were swimming in the Pacific, playing on Kauai.”

The kids bargained for the pancakes that batch made, which ended up being enough, brushed their teeth and packed their bags. School started two hours before they finished breakfast, but we were still on Hawaiian time. 

And when they left, I was alone for the first time in days, secretly willing housekeeping to arrive with more mango-scented body lotion and a lovely offer to tidy up the mess left in the wake of a whirlwind trip.

We had planned it for months, Kauai. They had wished for it, quietly and directly, for longer. And there is a danger sometimes in planning something you hope to be so magical for that length of time — keeping every detail a secret from the tiny humans who would experience it.

Would it be what you wanted? Would it be everything?

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I’m tired. And dirty. And behind on a few things. But, beyond happy. Yes, it was everything we wanted it to be, even knowing we missed a few things we would have loved to have done with them. 

It was still everything.

Even in the rain that met us that first day. We’re from a desert, so rain is like chocolate. And we soaked it up. 

They loved finding out where they were going by cracking a code — something we thought would be cool as we raced to pick them up from school and catch a flight. Yeah, we packed all five kids without their input, which is something I highly recommend. It keeps adventures a surprise, but it also avoids a train of unnecessary suitcases and excessive outfits.

We snorkeled, even when the surf was trying to keep us from it (stealing my mask and knocking us into the rocks). And when we did, we cruised with a few sea turtles — one even swimming in close to shore to say “Hi!” to the kids who didn’t make it out beyond the break. And the fish, they were so cool, swimming with their stripes and bright colors. 


We chose February for a reason. It is that time of year, we learned on a previous trip to Maui, that humpbacks congregate with their calves in the waters off the Hawaiian islands. Our kids needed to see that. And if they were lucky, they needed to hear it.

Two of them did, the oldest girls in total amazement after diving under at about a 15-foot depth and floating to catch the whale calls without the audio interference of the water’s surface. That’s the moment. That’s one of the moments we wanted. 

We drove to waterfalls, talked to the island chickens (which are everywhere and basically steal the show), spotted humpbacks breaching and splashing from the shore and grabbed dinner at a beachfront restaurant that sources its fish from local fisherman, daily.

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We woke before sunrise one day, dropped kayaks into the Wailua River, and paddled to a trailhead that would give us uncontrollable giggles and lead us to a magical waterfall that spilled 100 feet into a pool below, where our girls splashed and explored until they were so cold they could no longer feel their legs. 

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That same perfect spot was crowded with chickens eager for a dropped Cheez-It, overgrown with fairytale-like trees with trunks so wide you couldn’t reach your arms around them, roots so tangled they look like they could come alive, and leaves so big you’d think a dinosaur might walk up and take a bite out of one.

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Despite all that, the mud might have been the best part – for the kids. They were sliding around the trail, using it to create warrior marks under their eyes, and splashing in it…because they could. And after all that, we paddled back. Kayak, as it turns out, is the only way to access the trailhead. So, they had to problem-solve on their own, as they figured out how to paddle past a group, with tired arms, away from the shore and on the side of the river that the tour boats don’t use.

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And then we let them play with fire. With supervision.

We couldn’t have found a better mentor than Phil, the Kauai native who opened his home to us to teach us how to play traditional drums and how to harness flaming balls and spears. It sounded like a good idea, and it ended up being an incredible one.

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We walked away with a new relationship with fire, a better understanding of the land, its people and their philosophies, a few deep thoughts on fear and responsibility and some kickass stories to tell. And the photos — they show it all. 

We found flowers and put them in our hair to match dresses that matched the spirit of the island. We walked barefoot more often than with shoes — so much that the oldest left the resort for a real errand forgetting to put on shoes. We caught raindrops while kayaking, snorkeling and swimming in our resort’s pool.

We tried mochi, purple sweet potatoes, tropical sorbet, Hawaiian hot dogs (where the buns look like little sleeping bags) and local beer. We made friends with sea creatures (think turtles and seals) and had endless one-sided conversations with chickens. We cheered for them when they tried to run across the road and ran after them when there were too many in one spot. 

They tasted the island. And that’s what we wanted. 

Now we just need to figure out when to go back for seconds.

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