For spring break some dive buddies and I packed up the essentials (dive gear, swim suits, sunglasses, underwater cameras, sandals, etc.) and headed to Kauai.
The first day we explored Hanalei Bay. We spent the afternoon on a secret beach that we had to hike down to with a beautiful view of the bay, the waterfalls in the mountains, and our own personal monk seal who graciously welcomed us to Kauai.
KAUAI RESIDENT: A monk seal rests in the rocks. (Photo: Mike O'Neil
The second day we were guests at Kauai's annual Yap Day, an authentic festival for the island of Yap, located in the Micronesian Islands, that is held each year on the first weekend of March. Our generous hosts, the Warners, invited us to this special occasion. Here we met some important people to the island of Yap including Xavier, the next chief of Yap; Jonathan, the current chief of Yap; and Santos, the author of the constitution of Micronesia. We spent the day surrounded by those of Yap descent dressed in traditional clothing performing dances and chants, while we sat in the grass sipping on fresh coconut husked by a man in a grass skirt with a machete.
PARTY TIME: People of Yap descent performing traditional dances. (Photo: Mike O'Neil
We were also fortunate enough to be offered the island's traditional herbal drug. The areca nut is a seed from the areca palm that grows in parts of the Pacific. When the nut is wrapped in betel leaves, sprinkled with lime and then chewed, the chemical reaction causes the combination to become bright red. Chewing betel nut also produces a stimulating effect equivalent to a cup of coffee, although effects vary among individuals.
Also in attendance at Yap Day were the owners of the extensive strip of agricultural property pictured below. It was definitely a culturally inspiring day.
HANALEI OVERLOOK: An example of the agriculture of Kauai. (Photo: Sophie Gaze)
The next day we drove from our condo on the northeastern side of the island in Princeville to the opposite southwestern side to spend the day on a remote beach called Polihali at the beginning of the Na Pali coast. With whale spouts appearing in the distance, killer waves raging on the shore and the sun shining we spent the day playing on the beach.
SUN AND SAND: Polihali Beach. (Photo: Sophie Gaze)
On the way home we stopped on the side of the road to marvel at why Kauai is known as "the Garden Island" — everywhere you look, it is green and beautiful!
GOING GREEN: On the side of the road on the east side. (Photo: Sophie Gaze)
Another day we explored the dry and wet caves of the north shore. In the second wet cave we accidentally stumbled in on a legitimate Hawaiian ritual complete with eerie chanting and a pineapple shrine.
THE DARK SIDE: Hawaiian ritual at Waikapala'e Wet Cave. (Photo: Sophie Gaze)
Another one of the days was spent doing a drive-by of well-known spots around Kauai, including Waimea Canyon, a.k.a. the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, a ten-mile stretch where the island split to reveal a 3,000 foot deep ravine.
KAUAI GRAND CANYON: Waimea Canyon from above.(Photo: Sophie Gaze)
From the Waimea Canyon look out we caught a glimpse of Ni'ihau, the forbidden island. It is owned by the Robinson family and access to this island is invite only. In the summer months dive operations offer charters out there where the diving is rumored to be awesome.
THE FORBIDDEN ISLAND: Ni'ihau on the horizon. (Photo: Sophie Gaze)
We also stopped at Wailua Falls, an 80-foot waterfall that I am told is in the opening scene to the show "Fantasy Island."
REAL OR FANTASY: Wailua Falls. (Photo: Sophie Gaze)
As the sun was going down we briefly stopped at Anini Beach, one of the more calm, Caribbean-esque beaches on Kauai.
PEACE AND QUIET: Anini Beach at dusk. (Photo: Sophie Gaze)
It felt like our heads had just hit the pillow when it was time to wake up again for our early morning dive on the south shore. We stopped on the side of the road just in time to watch the sun rise on our awesome day of diving.
RISE AND SHINE: The sun peeks over the horizon. (Photo: Sophie Gaze)
We dove with Seasport Divers and were very impressed with their service, right down to the captain logging everyone's dive profiles for both dives. The first dive we were allowed to play on our own for a drift dive at Turtle Bluffs. It was a spectacular dive with about 70-foot vis, more turtles and white tip reef sharks than we could count, and a feisty taco (Hawaiian for octopus) that put up a good fight when we tried to chase him out the rocks. All too soon I was down to 600 PSI and ready to surface.
FRIENDLY SHARKS: White Tip Reef sharks hide out in a cavern. (Photo: Mike O'Neil
The second dive was at Sheraton Caverns with about 30-foot vis, but that didn't matter because there was a turtle in every direction you looked (sometimes right in front of your face).
UNDER THE SEA: Diver and honu, Hawaiian for sea turtle. (Photo: Mike O'Neil
Of all the amazing places on Kauai, the most beautiful and memorable was the town of Hanalei and its surrounding beaches. The north shore of Kauai puts Oahu's north shore to shame.
It's safe to say Kauai stole my heart and showed me that there is much more to learn, experience and appreciate about Hawaii beyond Honolulu.