On a trip to Kauai and the Island of Hawaii, Abra Dunsby finds scenic beauty, heart-racing adventure and a diverse culture filled with myths and stories
"Three, two, one, go!” shouts my guide, smiling in encouragement. My knees wobble as my feet hang over the edge of the wooden platform, then before I have time to think I defy my vertigo and jump.
The zip line hurtles me across a canopy of unruly vegetation cloaked in cloudy mist, a nearby rush of water drowning out my squeals.
The carpet of tropical foliage below my dangling feet suddenly drops away to reveal a yawning valley and a roaring waterfall foaming into a river.
With my feet firmly back on the ground, our Zippin’ Volcano tour stops here for lunch, and while the fresh pineapple and macadamia nuts satisfy my belly, the rainforest views feed my soul.
Think of Hawaii and sun-baked tropical beaches probably spring to mind, and it’s no wonder that the archipelago of six main islands in the Central Pacific remain perennially popular with honeymooners and the fly-and-flop crowd.
Yet coming here merely to sunbathe and sip mai tais would be missing out. America’s 50th state comes crammed with experiences for clients with an adventurous streak, and its culture teems with stories and myths as I discover on a fam trip to Kauai and the Island of Hawaii.
Kauai is the oldest of Hawaii’s islands and is nicknamed the Garden Isle for its jagged, prehistoric-looking emerald cliffs, which featured in the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World series of films and have filled the pages of countless Hawaii brochures.
On Island Helicopters’ Jurassic Falls tour, I see some of those blockbuster vistas. The 75-minute flight, which is accompanied by music, is nothing short of epic.
Our skilled pilot weaves us through cracks in the mountains so slim I find myself breathing in, then whisks us above toothed peaks where mountain goats bounce nonchalantly along vertiginous ledges and an owl hovers on the wind.
We land at Manawaiopuna Falls of Jurassic Park fame, marvelling at the cascade as a rainbow leaps from the waterfall’s spray.
Back in the helicopter, we plunge into the velvety green and rust- coloured gorges of Waimea Canyon, then soar above the crashing sapphire waves of the Napali Coast. It’s impossible not to be humbled by the island’s staggering, remarkably untouched splendour.
With more than 80% of Kauai inaccessible by car, a helicopter ride is a fantastic option for clients wanting to see the whole of the island (Island Helicopters’ prices start from $145pp).
The weather is very changeable here, so suggest clients book the helicopter early on in their trip so that it can be rearranged if needed.
Kauai is home to 70,000 people and feels wonderfully remote and uncrowded, making it perfect for back-to-nature relaxation, while its dramatic natural landscape means clients can enjoy a range of activities, from kayaking down meandering rivers and hiking in Waimea Canyon to driving 4x4s through former sugar and pineapple plantations.
Unlike on Oahu, home to the famous Waikiki Beach, the city of Honolulu and more than one million Hawaiians, Kauai legislation prevents any building from being taller than a fully grown coconut tree, so you’ll find low-key, luxurious resorts here instead of high rises.
If clients want all-out luxury, recommend Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, which has a range of activities and is located on the golden sands of the popular Poipu beach on the south coast.
The beach is well known for the chubby, long-whiskered monk seals that often doze here by day, but when we arrive we spot another visitor – a green sea turtle who emerges slowly but steadily from the blue surf, craning his wrinkled neck as he pushes himself on to the sand.
The Island of Hawaii treats us to even more wildlife encounters. In Kailua Bay as we lunch on ahi tuna poke and slow-cooked kalua pig, we spot a shiny dolphin twirling as it leaps from the ocean.
Another breathtaking experience happens on the west coast in Kona, where we join Sea Quest for a manta ray night snorkel.
As our guides shine lights into the ocean from our raft, we watch these gentle creatures as they glide gracefully through the water to feed on plankton, getting so close that I feel as though I’m in an episode of Blue Planet II.
The Island of Hawaii is the youngest in the Hawaiian archipelago, and it’s nearly twice as big as all the other islands, so clients won’t struggle to find their own peaceful spot here.
The entire collection of islands was formed by a series of volcanoes rising and moving along the ocean floor, and it’s on the Island of Hawaii, with its four live volcanoes, that clients can get up close to some of them.
At Hawaii Volcanoes national park on the south of the island, we take a guided drive with KapohoKine Tours up to Halemaumau crater to watch Kilauea volcano send steady, ominous smoke creeping up into the sky.
Kilauea has been erupting since 1983, and it’s even more mesmerising at night, when a red glow lights up the crater and the sky above it.
Clients can easily spend a day here on a guided drive, getting out to walk through a lava tunnel, peering over steam vents and travelling through a savannah-like desert of lava fields.
The Jagger Museum near Kilauea’s crater is also worth a visit, and explains the islands’ geology and love of legends.
Pele is Hawaii’s fire goddess, and this powerful creator and destroyer is greatly revered by locals. “Never take lava rock from the island – Pele will send you bad luck,” warns our guide Lawrence.
Hawaii’s natural beauty puts on a visual feast that can’t be forgotten, yet the people who live here are just as captivating thanks to a laid- back outlook on life and a deep and uniquely spiritual culture.
While its American flavour makes Hawaii familiar, this faraway archipelago is also distinct and captivatingly exotic: a place where Ohia trees turn lava into soil, where the aloha spirit celebrates life in all forms, and where legends abound about Kamehameha, a king with the strength of 10 men and prophetic powers.
Juan is our driver on Kauai; a caramel-skinned septuagenarian who wears orchid-print shirts and his hair slicked back into a white ponytail. He entrances us all with his musings.
“Everything has a story and a name here,” he tells us. “Every tree and every river. There are spirits all around us. If you think this way too, the island will accept you.”
In an archipelago of such astounding beauty and natural force, it’s impossible not to see Juan’s point of view.
Book it: North America Travel Service offers five nights at Grand Hyatt Kauai, five nights at Hilton Waikoloa on the Island of Hawaii, a helicopter excursion in Kauai as well as all flights and transfers from £3,860pp based on twin occupancy for travel in November 2018. northamericatravelservice.co.uk
The trip from the UK to Hawaii takes around 18 hours, so a Santa Monica stopover is a good way to break up the journey and ease clients out of their jet jag.
The coastal city is situated eight miles away from Los Angeles International Airport, and unlike other parts of Los Angeles, it’s small enough that clients won’t need a car to get around, relying on taxis or the metro system instead.
Many of the city’s upscale hotels are located minutes away from the beach, including the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, whose rooms have recently been refurbished, and the Fairmont, which has expanded its luxury offering with a new blow-dry bar, Glam and Go.
If clients feel tired after the flight, recommend a trip to the swanky Montana Avenue neighbourhood.
Here they can indulge in a dedicated jet lag- busting treatment in one of the spas, or enjoy a healthy meal in the many restaurants and cafes that source their ingredients from the local farmers markets.
A walk along Santa Monica’s wide, palm-lined beach is a must, with its miles of soft sand and its kitsch-but- iconic pier.
Active clients can hire a bike from one of the rental shops dotted along the beachfront and go exploring along the Santa Monica beach path – also known as The Strand – which stretches for 22 miles from Torrance to Pacific Palisades.
Bikes cost around $10 an hour, while many of the smart hotels such as Casa del Mar, Shutters on the Beach and the Viceroy offer guests complimentary bike use.
On the four-mile cycle from Santa Monica to Venice Beach, clients will pass the aforementioned iconic hotels.
Even today, boho Venice is a place where anything goes; where hippies hang with dreadlocked rappers, where artists and musicians flogging their wares and where stores sell everything from Trump-bashing T-shirts to marijuana licences.
Cycling back, clients can check out the talent flexing their pecks on Muscle Beach, where the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger once beefed up.
Clients can also get around using the Free Ride Shuttle, a free service whereby guests send a text to be picked up from their hotel and dropped off at the city’s main attractions.
If it’s shopping they want, suggest Montana Avenue for chichi boutiques, Third Street Promenade for classic American brands or Main Street for retro vibes.
For art lovers, there’s Bergamot Station, a converted metro stop that’s now a collection of art galleries, or the hipster, artsy enclave of Pico Boulevard.
In fact, whatever their vibe, one of Santa Monica’s eight neighbourhoods will suit, while its compact size and relaxed atmosphere make it an easy stopover city with heaps of Californian character.