My Thanksgiving Trip To Kauai

A little bit about my love affair with Hawaii

I think it’s fair to say that Hawaii is on the bucket list of any travel enthusiast and, as an avid diver and total beach girl at heart, it didn’t take long after moving to the US before I was on a plane to The Aloha State. I picked the Big Island as my first destination, predominantly for its world-class diving, but also for its (4!) active volcanoes that I couldn’t wait to check out. I did indeed some of the best dives of my life outside Kona (with Jack’s Diving Locker), and I met some incredibly interesting characters on its trails and clothing optional beaches.

Overall, the Big Island blew my mind away in terms of natural beauty, but as a curious adventurer, I couldn’t wait to discover the other Hawaiian islands as well. And so my next Hawaii trip took me to Oahu, where my travel buddy and I fell in love with its fusion-style cuisine and world-class dining, as well as the stunning beaches along the island’s North Shore. Next came Maui, where I attended a yoga retreat at the Lumeria Maui, and spent quite some time exploring the nearby fishing town of Paia, which is populated by old-school hippies, professional surfers, new-age mamas and in-the-know tourists. I had an amazing time in Maui as well, but I thought that in terms of natural beauty it was the most underwhelming of the islands I’d seen so far. It also felt quite run down by tourism, which is always a little disappointing.

As I was planning my Thanksgiving holiday this year, I realized it’d been almost two years since I’d last visited Hawaii. I missed it. As a European living in the States, Thanksgiving is always an opportunity to travel for me, as I don’t have family or close friends here that really do the whole “Thanksgiving thing”. I invited my sister to visit me from Greece and, after some back and forth, we decided we’d fly out to Kauai.

Kauai is regularly to be found on lists of the most naturally beautiful islands on earth, and – as it turns out – for good reason! All of the Hawaiian islands have widely varied landscapes that bring together deserts, steppes, rainforests and mountains, but Kauai has  something ancestral and profoundly wild that is not quite there on the other islands. It is truly and utterly stunning and, perhaps, one of the last places where the feeling of old Hawaii still lives.

Our B&B experience

Because we booked the trip fairly late, we didn’t have too much choice in terms of (nice but affordable) accommodation. We booked our stay at the Hale Ho’o Maha Bed and Breakfast right outside Hanalei, without quite realizing that we’d be staying in the “second wettest spot on earth” (!). No regrets though, as we were soon to find out that we were staying in one of the most stunning spots on the whole island.

Our B&B was a large house built in across of Japanese and traditional Hawaiian architecture, with only a handful of suits and a huge shared kitchen and dining area. The premises were very well-kept and the kitchen was exceptionally well-equiped; you could literally cook anything you wanted and some basic pantry-items like oil, sugar and flour where provided for guests to use. There was also a shared laptop and printer, which I appreciated.

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Our host Toby and his wife were really friendly, but also quite particular about how and where things ought to be kept, when it was ok to do laundry, how to separate the trash etc. Guests were also expected to wash their own dishes if they used the kitchen outside breakfast hours, which sort of makes sense, but for the price tag I’d expect a little bit more “pampering” to be honest. Overall, it felt more like an Airbnb than a hotel, where you kind of have to be extra mindful and can’t really ever let go completely.

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Something we struggled with quite a bit and probably the biggest nuisance, was getting the host to serve us breakfast we could actually eat. We asked for eggs any style when we booked and again upon arrival, and explained our food restrictions (I’m keto and my sister paleo), but Toby’s response was that he “tries to switch things up”. So the first day we were confronted with waffles (I had to remind Toby about the eggs) and the second day we were confronted with “gluten-free pancakes”, to which I said “thanks but no thanks”, which visibly pissed Toby off. After that incident, Toby finally accepted that we wouldn’t be eating anything other than eggs and protein, and went on serving us that regardless of what the other guests were eating. But, you know, if you can’t accommodate me just let me know from get-go and I’ll make my own arrangements. Don’t make me have to fight for food on vacation too.

On the plus side, the hosts had a GORGEOUS Abyssinian long-haired cat that was a joy to have around. Plus, the location of the B&B was, as I already mentioned, amazing.

So, let’s move on to how we actually spent our time on the island!

Three days on the “Garden Isle”

Our first day on the island, we decided to check-out the Waimea Canyon (also known as “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific”) and adjacent Koke’e State Park. Since there is no road linking Hanalei and Koke’e from the north, we drove all around the island to enter the park from the west. It took about 2.5 hours one way, but given the natural diversity of all Hawaiian islands, a roundtrip around the island is always a must anyway.

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On our way up, we drove past Waimea, all the way up to the end of the road to the Kalalau Lookout in the Koke’e State Park. It was wet and cold there, but it was marvelously lush and the views of the ocean from the mountain were stunning. I felt very unprepared in my leggings and tennis shoes and wished that I’d brought waterproof clothes and a poncho along to hike around the area. Since that wasn’t really available, we headed back down the road, making a stop at the cafe inside the Koke’e State Campground for some much-needed coffee and tea. The campground was located on a forest clearing and surrounding by huge pine trees that reminded me of central Europe more than Hawaii to be honest. But the location was gorgeous, and if I were to ever come back to Kauai for camping, that’s where I’d try and stay.

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Once we’d warmed up, we drove down back to Waimea Canyon, where we made an attempt to do the 4.5 mile Kukui trail all the way down to the river at the bottom of the canyon (and back up). The long flight and drive around the island had worn me out, however, and I wasn’t in the best of shape. I felt my MG symptoms creep in fairly early on and, about a mile in, I had to accept that the trail was too steep for me. So we headed back up and by the time we reached our car I could barely lift my two legs.

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On our way back, we made a stop in Poipu, at Living Foods Market, to pick up some snacks and explore our late lunch/ early dinner options. Since they have a salad bar and food counter inside the market, we were hoping to eat there, but their keto-friendly options were limited to a kale salad with bell peppers, which, as it turned out, was actually seasoned with sugar. They did have some yummy-looking paleo-friendly salads with dried fruit though, so it’s definitely a place I’d recommend for more “lax” paleo and gluten-free folks.

We spent some time walking around the Kukui’ula Shopping Center looking for compliant restaurants, but ultimately decided to just grab some bunless burgers from Bubba Burger, a fast-food chain with several locations across the island.

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Day two saw us start the day with a hiking attempt inside the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, which was only a 10 minute drive from our B&B. The Kalalau trail is considered one of the most beautiful hikes on the island, but unfortunately the conditions were extremely challenging as it had rained cats and dogs during the night and the early morning, making the already steep trail slippery as hell. Again, I didn’t want to admit the hike was too much for me and my MG, and so dragged my sorry body up up up to first scenic outlook, when it started raining again and we agreed that it didn’t make sense to go any further.

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It was such a difficult hike that I seriously thought I’d have to crawl back down on my butt but, miraculously (truly!), I made it back on two legs and in one piece. If you visit Kauai during rainy season and plan on doing that trail, make sure you bring proper hiking shoes (not trainers), waterproof clothes as well as (two) trekking poles. I would not recommend it to anyone with mobility issues, however, as it gets crowded and truly dangerous.

After the hike, we checked out the Hanalei Farmer’s Market at the recommendation of our host Toby. It’s a small market, but it’s a great place to pick up local fruit, such as papaya, avocado (biggest ones you’ve ever seen!) and passionfruit. They also sell crafts and jewelry, coffee and food, but the food doesn’t cater to paleo/keto folks. If you’re staying a few days longer, it’s also worth picking up some fresh tropical flowers, as they’re fresh and vibrant unlike any flowers I’ve ever seen in the continental US.

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From Hanalei, we drove over to nearby town of Kilauea to grab some lunch at the Fish Market there, which I’d seen on many people’s Instagram feed before visiting and was eager to try out. We ordered a simple grilled catch of the day (mahi mahi and blue marlin) with a side salad. I asked for no dressing and some slices of lemon or lime instead, but when the order arrived it came with two suspicious dressings filled with sugar and soy. Meh.

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Right around the fish market was a Kauai Juice Co branch, where my sister picked up some local kombucha and I flirted with their tonics and elixirs for quite a while before deciding that they were overpriced indeed. They do offer bottled cold brew with MCT oil though, for those who can’t live without their bulletproof coffee.

Because we were tired from our morning hike and the gloomy weather, we decided to call it a day early and head back to our B&B to chill, play with the owner’s cat and watch some TV (so unglamorous, I know). On our way back, we made a stop in Hanalei again at Harvest Market, a very comprehensive but slightly overpriced health market in the center of town which offers fresh produce, all sorts of supplements, dairy-free as well as grass-fed cheeses, fermented veggies, paleo-friendly chocolate, an smoothie and salad bar and some local treats, such as dairy-free truffles and pudding made with breadfruit, tapioca and coconut milk.

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Back in our B&B we enjoyed a huge salad with avocado (from the farmer’s market), marinated artichokes, spiced pumpkin seeds, chicken breast and a delicious macadamia nut pesto (by Maui Raw).

On our third day, we decided to explore the Wailua/ Kapaa area. First stop was the Hindu Monastery in Wailua Homesteads which, as a yoga fanatic, of course I had to check out. The monastery is located inside what feels like the garden of Eden, in a remarkable location (whether you are spiritual or not).

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It is home to two dozen monks, an interesting gift shop, beautiful vegetation (keep an eye out for the cacti) and two temples, one of which is currently under construction. They do a tour of the monastery once a week, so if you’re interested in visiting it’d be worth checking that one out (make sure to call and book ahead of time). You’re only allowed to go near the new temple they’re building as part of the tour, so it’s worth planning ahead. But they do accept visitors daily from 9 till noon regardless, and you can still enjoy the new temple from a distance if the tour doesn’t work out.

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After our stop at the monastery, we checked out the Wailua Falls and river.

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Sadly, we didn’t find a trail that would let us explore the area by foot, so we headed back north toward Kapaa and took a long walk on the 8-mile Ke Ala Hele Makalae path that connects Fuji beach with Kealia beach. We walked in the later afternoon and the color of the sky and ocean were just so beautiful. It’s on even ground and I highly recommend checking this one out if you can’t or don’t want to do a “proper” hike.

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Around 7PM we headed over to Hanalei for a deep stretch yoga class at Yoga Hanalei Studio & Boutique. It’s a cozy studio in the center of Hanalei and it was super convenient for us, but the class itself was a little dissapointing. Maybe I’m spoiled coming from LA, but the instructor really didn’t seem to know what they’re doing and she barely described the poses or offer adjustments. As a seasoned yogi, I could figure things out on my own, but I felt pretty terrible for my sister who I’d dragged along, and who doesn’t practice yoga herself.

Right under the yoga studio was a restaurant-bar called Ama with a breathtaking view of the mountains, which serves cocktails and a japanese-inspired menu. We didn’t check it out as the menu was heavy on the grains and soy, and we weren’t dressed appropriately either, but it’s a place I would definitely visit for a drink, especially if I were traveling with a partner or romantic interest, as the location is just incredible.

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On our last day on the island we had to catch a mid-afternoon flight, so we didn’t have time to see too much. We decided to check out the capital, Lihue, which as it turns out doesn’t have much to offer. We did discover an amazing health market there though, called Vim’n’Vigor, which had the best selection (for paleo/keto folks) from any store we found on the island. Because it’s close to the airport, that’d be my first stop next time to stock up on snacks and local goodies, like macadamia nuts, kombucha and fermented veggies.

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Final recommendations

If you plan on hiking pack proper hiking shoes, trekking poles and waterproof clothes, especially if you’re visiting during rainy season.  I really can’t emphasize this one enough! I brought only sneakers and one trekking pole and have never felt so underprepared on a hike. The island, like most of Hawaii, caters primarily to vegetarians, vegans and macrobiotic eaters (as well as SAD eaters, of course), so if you are on a strict regimen like keto, paleo, AIP etc.,  try to book a room with kitchenette so you can make your own meals (or at least part of them). We found plenty of paleo-friendly snacks all over the island, but if you’re on a stricter plan, you might want to bring some of your own snacks along as well. Oh, and don’t forget to try some Aloha Fresh Macadamias and Tiny Island Macadamia Nut Butter! The flavors are insane!

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