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Hidden Hawaii: The Real Island Paradise

By Kris Radish

Don't kid yourself. Hawaii is popular, developed and touristy. There are Wal-Marts and stoplights and hundreds of places to purchase surfboard key chains and red dirt t-shirts. 

But what about those lusty trade winds and water the color of your turquoise ring? What about palm trees that dance at sunset and sailing across miles of water that makes you weep just to look at it? What about the real Hawaii? You know, the one with native dancers and hidden biking trails and sea turtles that kiss you on the shoulder?

It's all there and this postcard banquet of bliss is not as hard to find — or as pricey -- as you might think. With a little luck and investigation, it’s easy to discover the hidden side of Hawaii and rack up a list of adventures that rate more than high on your "Oh, My Gawd!" list.

The Adventure Begins

Begin your Hawaiian adventures by staying on the north Shore of Oahu, where tourists rarely stay. We bunked at the Windward Marine Resort where our house was nestled in the hills next to the locals, where we had fresh fruit every morning, a spectacular view of Kaneohe Bay and service that included a private boating adventure arranged by one of the managers when the regular boat was out of commission.

From the edge of this bay to the tip of infamous Sunset Beach, there are miles of quiet highway, numerous deserted beaches and small ocean side villages where you can rub elbows with local residents, eat a fresh fish sandwich for $5 and get a sense for why this state is called paradise. On Kauai, we found the secluded, private waterfall that everyone in the world dreams about. Saddling up a couple of ponies at Princeville Ranch Stables, we headed out onto a private ranch.

Ninety minutes later we were straddling long chains that dropped us past the beginning of a waterfall at the edge of a cliff. Then we followed a rope trail down a steep slope where we were rewarded with one of those cascading waterfalls and aqua blue pools you always see in movies.We swam, ate lunch, pinched ourselves to make certain we weren’t dreaming, then hauled our happy selves past ferns and flowers and the majestic Hanalei Mountains on the ride back to the stables.

"It wasn't a dream"

Things were just as unbelievable when we spent an entire day with Kauai Adventure Trek on a biking and hiking adventure that began at an abandoned sugar cane road that passed through the center of the 22,000 acre Grove Farm Plantation. The only way to see this privately-owned farm and its miles of coffee, papaya, and sugar cane fields is on one of Trek's private tours and with a local guide who knows the history of the area like the back of his hand.

We stopped outside of a half-mile long sugar cane tunnel to put on headlamps. When we came out the other side of the mountain, wild parrots swirled around us and we could see the tip of deserted Mahaulepu Beach. 
It wasn't a dream.

Waimoku FallsWaimoku Falls

Next, we pedaled to an abandoned sugar cane processing plant and poked through rusty machinery where we learned how Hawaii's first sugar mill got started, thrived, and was shut down just four years ago. 

Lunch on the beach, swimming with giant sea turtles and a chance to see a beached rare Monk Seal almost completed the afternoon. But a 30-minute hike to view some of Kauai's South Shore beaches about brought us to our knees. 
"This is Hawaii," we pretty much said in unison as we stumbled back to the van that took us home.

A gut-wrenching, 38-mile ride up the Na Pali Coast on an inflated raft rounded out our visit to this island and put us in the mood for some long drives on the next island. On a quick stop on Hawaii, the big island, we followed the Macadamia Nut Trail -- just a paper trail really -- that led us to the farm of Diane and Bill Shriner. 

A farm experience like no other

From bud, to bloom to nut, Diane showed us her farm operation and her gardens. We picked and cracked nuts and experienced another slice of the real Hawaii few visitors get to see. Where are all the crowds we had so dreaded? On Maui, we all thought we had died and gone to heaven. Once we got away from the shopping centers (ah, here are the crowds!), the island was a maze of beauty. From rainforests to mountains to beaches to deserts, there was a little bit of everything.
There’s a reason people like this place.

We stayed at Mama’s Fish House in Paia, a small seaside town away from all those condos.  A handful of rentals, a secluded beach, the best food we have ever eaten in our lives and a birds-eye view of the world-famous windsurfing waters at Ho'okipa nearly kept us frozen at our lodging base for seven days. 

Yes, we did the Hana Coast drive, but unlike 99.9 percent of this island's visitors, we didn't stop and turn around when we got to Hana. We drove all the way home on a one-lane highway that offered spectacular views of cliffs and ocean. We found little roadside stands, stopped at waterfalls and discovered an entire island hiding along deserted roads.

A hidden waterfall on the way to HanaA hidden waterfall on the way to HanaA daylong catamaran trip with Trilogy took us to Lanai -- the island getaway of the rich and famous. Forget the $15,000 a week the movie stars spend on this island. We came for the great beach and for the tour of the island by our native guide who shared his life story, the story of his now pineapple-less home and how he manages to survive. It was a fabulous look at the real side of Hawaii that gave us a 12-mile ride across the ocean, secluded swimming, great food, views and a sense that not everything in Hawaii has to change.

And OK, we also went to a luau at one of the big fancy resorts and had the time of our lives. There was the brilliant sunset, the world champion fire dancer, enough food to sink a whaling ship, Mai Tai's, shell necklaces and the history of the hula right before our eyes. Of course, we bought the photo of all of us standing by the water, the sun at our backs, our tanned skin glowing like poster children for Hawaiian Tropic. How could we not?

After all, we were in Hawaii and it was paradise because we knew just where to look -- in the opposite direction as everyone else.


Windward Marine Resort
47-039 Lihikai Drive
Kaneohe, Hawaii 96744
Tel: 800-735-5711
Fax: 808-239-5711  
This resort shares yards
and ocean front with some locals and the people who work here will do
handstands to help you.  Accommodations vary, but this is as good as it gets on Oahu.

Princeville Ranch Stables
P.O. Box 888
Hanalei, Hawaii 96714
Tel: 808-826-6777
These people are real professionals who happen to own a chunk of land that is beautiful. 

Mama's Fish House
799 Poho Place
Kuau, Hawaii 96779
Tel: 808-579-8488
These units are run by the folks who own the most renowned restaurant on Maui. Secluded and beautifully designed.

P.O. Box 1119
Lahaina, Hawaii 96767-1119
Tel: 800-816-9732
This is a top-notch excursion and one of the most sought after places to work in the islands.

Outrigger Wailea Resort Luau
3700 Wailea Alanui
Wailea, Hawaii 96761
Tel: 808-879-1922
Oh, c’mon, its fun! Made-to-order sunsets. Dancing. Grass skirts. Bad Mai Tai's. You'll love it.

Macadamia Nut Trail
Hawaii Macadamia Nut Association
P.O. Box 2092
Kea'au, Hawaii 96749
Tel: 808-965-5444
Where else can you tour private nut farms and literally taste history?


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Tags: storySection: Destinations
Location: Hawaii
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