'This is the scary part; I warned you about it," said Jerod, my zipline instructor, as he directed me to place my hands lower down on two wooden supports only a couple of feet off the ground. At the same time, he picked up my feet, and I was suddenly helpless, hanging in midair, stomach facing the ground. He instructed me to pull my hands into my chest, and I reluctantly complied.
"Let's go," he said a moment later, releasing me on the "flyline" zipline, a 4,000-foot adventure that you experience Superman-style, facing downward toward the canopy of trees, wildlife and terrain. My partner, Lance, was launched on a parallel line moments after me, and we soared together for more than a minute over the landscape.
Once at the other end, we had a few minutes to recover our breath before the kids followed, hooting and hollering at how awesome it had been. Joshua, 16, had been all pumped for ziplining from the start, but Matthew, 10, was decidedly more nervous. Luckily, our guides from family-run Outfitters Kauai
put him to ease at the start, and after his first run on a traditional zipline, he was sold on the concept. We did several standard ziplines before finishing Superman-style. While I'm glad I experienced that breathtaking last line, once was more than enough for my nerves.
We had come to Kauai
looking for some family adventure. We love the beach, but we also enjoy hiking and the outdoors, and we're always up for trying something new. We figured we'd get all of the above on this verdant little part of paradise, perhaps most well-known as the backdrop for the original "Jurassic Park" film.
After recovering from our zipline fun, we huddled around the guidebooks back at our hotel. The next day would bring a drive into Waimea Canyon
at the island's southwestern end. Dubbed "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific," this sharp gully pierces 3,600 feet into the lush, green island. The canyon is actually set within a state park and has free admission. Picture the orange and red layered rock formations you see in Northern Arizona but with lush greenery growing on and around everything. It's a feast for the eyes.
From the town of Waimea, it's a windy 18-mile drive to the top of the canyon. There are multiple overlooks to stop at along the way, and hiking trails of varying difficulty dot the route. Near the end of the road, stop and walk on the short path to the Kalalau Lookout. It's a beautiful view down to the island's rugged and almost-unreachable Na Pali Coast.
A boat tour is the ideal way to take in the awe-inspiring beauty of the Na Pali Coast. Spotting dolphins, snorkeling and sipping onboard mai tais are a pleasant bonus. Photo Credit: Paul J. Heney
But we discovered that stopping there and turning around is a mistake that many tourists make. Continue on one more mile past Kalalau to the Pu'u O Kila Lookout at the true end of the road. This overlook is even more spectacular. We hiked about a half-mile down the wide dirt path along the top of the ridge for a more panoramic (and picture-perfect) view down the wide Kalalau Canyon, with the impossibly blue Pacific beyond. This sight alone, with majestic waterfalls gracing some of the cliffs, was worth the long flight to get to Kauai. When even app-obsessed teenagers are awestruck at the sight, you know you've come to the right place.
The kids were really entranced by the concept of the Na Pali Coast, how it was mostly unreachable due to its ruggedness. So, we decided to wake up early to catch one of Blue Dolphin Charters' Na Pali snorkel tours the following day. The boats leave out of Hanapepe, a small town 20 minutes west of the popular Poipu hotel area on the island's sunny southern coast.
Blue Dolphin runs custom-built, 65-foot catamarans that are quite spacious and offer plenty of spots to sit in or out of the sun as you cruise around Kauai's southwestern tip. As you motor or sail past the Na Pali Coast, you'll likely kill your phone's battery taking constant photos of the stunning, rugged mountain ranges and valley, each one seeming more glorious than the next. We spotted multiple large pods of dolphins along the way. The captain slowed down each time and maneuvered the boat so we could all watch and get some photos of the friendly and curious mammals that love to play in the boat's wake.
After getting us close enough to one waterfall that Josh actually got wet (and loved it), we headed back to a snorkeling spot where we had almost an hour to swim and experience the myriad fish and even see a few sea turtles. Both breakfast and lunch are served onboard, and adults were able to partake of mai tais, smartly served only after the snorkeling.
On our final couple of days on the island, we stayed close to the resort and took advantage of the amazing Poipu Beach State Park. Poipu was ranked America's No. 1 beach in 2001 by Dr. Beach. It has an interesting layout, with two small bays separated by a sandbar that juts straight out from the shore, connecting with a small island composed of black volcanic rock. The structure is called a tombolo, and depending on the season and the tide, you can either walk or wade out to it.
The kids had a great time wandering the hundreds of tide pools on the island, finding sea cucumbers, tiny crabs, sea urchins, starfish and sea snakes. We decided it was like the world's best aquarium —not only totally free but an experience completely of our own making — each time we waded out. Memories of that kind of adventure will surely last a lifetime.