Nearly the size of a soccer ball, the fluttering jumble of downy gray and white feathers turned its adorable face and short, dark beak in my direction.
The albatross chick hunkered down near a tall palm tree on the front nine at the Princeville Makai Golf Course on Kauai's North Shore, where several relatively recent hatchlings occupied protected places only steps away from a handful of fairways.
Tooling around with Andrew Schmidt, a PGA professional at the Makai course, I'd joined a guided version of the club's Sunset Golf Cart Tour, which debuted last year with nongolfers in mind.
"The adults have a wingspan of about 7 feet," Schmidt told me as a full-grown albatross glided over the roof of our golf cart. "And they've nested here for years."
One of Hawaii's most photogenic golf courses, the oceanfront property features several holes perched high up on sea cliffs, making the location prime real estate not only for nesting albatross pairs but also Kauai visitors looking to enjoy some of the Garden Isle's most stunning Pacific vistas.
"It's just a perfect setting for a really neat memory," said Doug Sutter, the course's sales and marketing manager. "And for visitors who've never jumped in a golf cart before, that's half the fun right there."
Sutter developed the product because golfers would commonly ask if they could just take out a cart to show off the scenic beauty of the course to a spouse or loved one after playing a round. Today the cost is $50 per cart for a self-guided version of the tour, which is well marked with on-course signs and includes a clear brochure detailing stops and directions around the facility's highlights, ending with the signature seventh hole's stunning view of the Hihimanu and Namolokama mountains for what is commonly a fiery sunset.
"It's an awesome experience for a husband and wife, [and] honeymooners love it," Sutter said. "We get a lot of families, too. Often it's mom and dad with two or three of their kids."
Views of some of Kauai's top North Shore ocean attractions come standard, including Anini Reef and Lumahai Beach along with Queen's Bath and distant Kilauea Lighthouse. Plus the tour offers spectacular vantage points for whale-watching during the November-to-May humpback season and a terrific opportunity to see Hawaii's rare state bird, the nene.
"We have almost 500 nene living on our golf course," Sutter said. "The wildlife, the scenery, the intimate moments with your loved ones — the tour's just a slam dunk."
Sutter said he's also happy to work with agents on private tours and commissions, adding that the Sunset Golf Cart Tour is a great option for group travel bookings and can be arranged for as many as 100 participants.