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I'm Holley.

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Turning 30 on Kaua'i // Our Mother-Daughter Getaway, Part 1

Turning 30 on Kaua'i // Our Mother-Daughter Getaway, Part 1

Long post ahead. Be warned! In Part 1, we'll cover:

  • How to not be mean to your mother while enduring stressful situations together
  • The best free hotel on Kaua'i
  • How to beach yoga
  • A boozy sunset cruise
  • How to not spend all your money on pricey hotel cocktails
  • How to fail at hiking, but still have a good time

My cell phone started buzzing one day last October. "Mama Cell." I paused "House Hunters: International" and opened my phone.

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Ummm, YEAH, I do, are you kidding?! ...But I had a few hesitations. The obvious one was that I didn't exactly have a couple grand to shell out for a lavish vacation abroad. It was almost the Holiday season, and I had a bunch of projects I'd been saving for around the house, and a new record to pay for, and, and, and...


Well, now I had a couple more hesitations.

Real talk here for a minute -- my mom is a strong, vibrant, and outspoken woman. It's one of the things that I've always admired most about her. She's a whole lot of fun, and it's kind of impossible to go anywhere with her and *not* be having the time of your life. But as I develop into my own brand of strong, vibrant and outspoken, we have a tendency to press each other's buttons with skillful accuracy. When you get two such strong personalities together, you'll have a hell of a good time, but you're also liable to clash.

I love my mother -- a lot -- and we're definitely a dynamic mother-daughter duo. But without The Boyfriend there as a buffer, I wondered if we'd survive a week or two together without major incident. Also, traveling over Christmas would mean that I'd miss the Holidays with Dan and my father's side of the family.


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Gahhh, 30. I had completely forgotten about that! (Well, ok, not completely. The idea of turning 30 had been haunting me all year.) So, maybe, it might actually be nice to get away for my birthday this year. I could skip the whole "30th Birthday Bash" bullshit and just kick back with a book on the beach somewhere and share a few too many Cosmos with my mom. And maybe this would give me a chance to practice being a little gentler with her. I mean, I'm turning 30. A little personal growth is probably in order.

Ok, I'm in.

We started doing some research on places to visit in February. Denmark was ruled out -- too cold. Mexico went, too. We wanted to visit some place we'd never been. Italy? Spain, Greece, Croatia? Cuba would be a dream, but we were trying to travel on Hyatt points, and we doubted we'd find a Hyatt there. 

England and Ireland were proposed. My mom wanted to ride horses across the countryside. She's an incredible rider, and I'm... eh, pretty good, actually, but let's be honest, I hate it. (Along with most forms of mildly dangerous cardiovascular activity.) 


Alright, so. No cold weather. Must have Hyatt (and cocktails.) Must offer *some* form of mother-approved exercise and adventure that daughter can tolerate.


Ding, ding! We had a winner and were off to the planning races.

We'd been to Oahu before -- my mom actually lived there while she was serving in the Navy in her early 20's, and the family went back for a visit when I was in 4th grade. It's without a doubt a dreamy island, but we wanted something new. The original plan was Maui, but due to some hotel scheduling flubs and the customer service nightmare that followed, we landed on Kaua'i. An accidental fall-back plan, and to be honest, we were (stupidly) a little bummed about it.

But a happier accident there never was, because, you guys... Kaua'i is an absolute stunner.


Just before this trip, Daniel and I spent a few days visiting New York. Sort of a joint birthday trip for the two of us, since his is almost exactly a month ahead of mine in January. So, instead of flying home to Nashville and then to Hawai'i, I decided to just meet my mom in Philly the night before our super-early-morning flight so we could travel there together.

Here we are at the hotel bar, kicking off the trip with a cocktail, as you always should. Mom (of course) made friends with the bartender and we played Naughty Hangman on the back of a napkin.

We finally arrived on Kauai'i around 3pm on the first day. We nabbed ourselves a rental car -- a Jeep for all of our island adventuring -- and made our way down the eastern coastline to our South Shore hotel, the Grant Hyatt Kaua'i. Mom had a bunch of Hyatt points, and combined with the fact that February is Hawai'i's slow season on account of the rain (which we hardly saw, by the way) equated to a FREE STAY for us.

Yep. Zero. American. Dollars.

Come on. *praise emoji*

This place is basically a paradise. The grounds are enormous, and covered in lush fauna and bizarre alien-esque flora. There are no fewer than seven pools, most of which are connected lazy-river style. And (hallelujah), there is also a large kid-free area for boozy grown-ups.

There are plenty of nooks and crannies to discover, speckled with hammocks and cabanas. We spent days at the hotel before we had the lay of the land. There are so many options, you can pick your poolside territory based on the kind of vibe you've got in mind for the day. Topside with the adults is the best place for lounging in the sun. There are also some quiet shadier decks midway down to the beach, and a man-made lagoon as you snake your way down the path towards the shore. (Beware, though -- here, there be toddlers.) 

By the time you've made your way down to the beach itself (which is gorgeous and sports a massive cliffside that some clearly insane people like to jump from), you've wound your way through two or three miles of garden paths and hopefully had a few drinks along the way.

Months before we came, I ordered a copy of The Ultimate Kaua'i Guidebook, which I have to say was a complete lifesaver. My copy is tabbed and tagged and jotted on, with the places I was most keen to see enthusiastically circled in marker.

Generally, I'm not really one for pre-trip-planning, but a couple of things changed my mind about it in this case. Firstly, I didn't want to spend a week on this island and only ever visit the places that the hotel recommends. I wasn't in to the idea of hotel-hosted luaus and table-side ukulele serenades. I wanted to see the stuff that wasn't in the brochures. Secondly, I knew that if I had a plan for where to go and what to do, it would probably minimize conflict with Mama. Win-win!

According to the book, February is Hawai'i's rainy season. But, also according to the book, the South Shore is the sunniest shore, which we found to be completely true. If it did rain for a little while in the morning, it had burned off by early afternoon and the rest of the day was clear as a diamond. When we traveled to other parts of the island, we got in the habit of bringing our rain coats along, because it was reliably wetter elsewhere.


Day One, however, was a short one, and we were zonked from the flight. So, a bit of exploration around the hotel grounds, a quick sunbathe, a couple cocktails, and a hard snooze were in order. 


The second day of this trip was quite possibly the first most stunning day of my life.

We started off by revisiting a little beachside nook we'd discovered the previous night, for the one and only form of exercise in which I willingly participate -- yoga. 

(It's right around this point in the trip when I'm regretting not packing my Canon camera. Please excuse the iPhone 6 and its crap photos here, although I have to say, it did a pretty damn good job on the boat tour coming up.)

I wish I had some more pictures of this little nook. It was high up on a hill, and to get down to this one level sandy spot, you had to climb down several pointy, barnacle-clad rocks. A bit challenging with two yoga mats and water bottles. Mom has only taken yoga once, while visiting me in Nashville. Since I was planning to drag her to every class offered at the hotel that week, we had a little seaside crash course. A group of people stood on the cliff watching us, probably wondering where they could book their own private oceanfront yoga lesson. 

Nowhere, hunnies, this club is closed. Mamas only.

(Also, you're probably thinking "pssshhht, tree pose? C'mon. Stop showing off. I can do that!" I'll bet you can, you saucy fox. I said I liked yoga -- I never said I was a head-standing Gaiam prodigy. Pipe down.) 

Next up, a nice long bake at the pool, a sunset boat tour of the Na Pali coastline, and the most insane shade of blue that my eyes have ever seen.

Isn't this hat the bee's knees? It's at this point in the trip that I start referring to my mom as Shirley (McLaine.) Also, my mom is a hottie.

We booked this tour through Holo Holo Charters, who came highly recommended by the guidebook. For a very fair price, we had a lengthy sunset cruise to look forward to, complete with endless cocktails (sign me up) and pu pu's (little noshes) for us to enjoy. I love nothing more than to feel like the Queen of Sheeba on any given Tuesday, so this fit the bill for the kind of birthday pampering I had in mind for my 30th. The port was in Eleele, a little town maybe 20 or 30 minutes west from our hotel, and the boat cruised up the western coast of the island, on up to the Na Pali coast on the North Shore. 

When we arrived at the port, we were given a little briefing about what to expect. "No shoes on the boat" and "You will get wet" and so on. I knew that because February is Kaua'i's rainy season, we might have choppier waters than usual. (Thankfully, Holo Holo refunds or reschedules weather-related cancellations.) That day, we were told the waters would be "iffy" due to high winds, but the Captain was confident that we'd be fine. If  he found that we were facing rougher weather than he'd thought, he'd turn around. But ultimately, the goal was to get all the way up to the coast, and if anyone thought they might have trouble with these choppy waters, he essentially told us, "speak now or forever hold your peace." I believe he also offered refunds if anyone wanted to opt out at this point.

At least five unfortunate souls should have accepted this offer right then and there, because they were heaving their guts up the entire trip, poor things. (I think maybe their English might not have been so hot. Probably wouldn't have hurt the Captain to deliver this warning in Japanese, as well.)

I am susceptible to seasickness in the worst way, so I took a generous dose of Bonine before we left. This, I strongly recommend, even if you're not typically prone to seasickness. You don't want to end up like that poor family, trust me. You wanna end up like Shirley and I -- happily drowning tropical cocktails, making loads of new half-drunk friends, yucking it up with the super-friendly crew, and squeeing with delight like we were riding a 4-hour-long roller coaster. That's the way to be, kids. (Bonine, you can send me a check for that gleaming advertisement.)

The views, though, guys... I really can't even describe it and the pictures don't do it justice. The water is such an alarming shade of blue, it makes you wonder if you've ever really seen blue before. The sheer cliff faces are straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean (no, seriously, they filmed the third one here), and the thought of ancient peoples living their entire lives at the tops of these peaks, climbing miles down to fish and hunt, is mind-boggling. I mean, I sometimes travel from my couch to the fridge for food, that's pretty much it. The views and the history and the culture to be found here -- it's all fascinating.

This is the point in the trip at which I begin to really fall for this island. If you do one thing on Kaua'i, guys, you should do this.


The third day of our trip was supposed to be the first day of many planned Adventure and Exercise activities. It ended up being about the only one due to a couple things:

1. They weren't lying about the rainy season thing. These hiking trails were miserable.


2. I hate hiking, even in the best conditions.

I tried to put on a brave face and tough it out for mom, but I definitely failed. I wasn't having any of it, and we annoyed the hell out of each other on that would-be-hiking excursion. But I'll get the that later. For now, check out the views on the drive up to Waimea Canyou! 

Look at that, you guys! They don't call it the Garden Isle for nothing.

On the way up (before The Spat) we took this insane winding road -- Waimea Canyon Road -- to the top, where the guidebook informed us that one of the island's more beginner hiking trails could be found. The book cleverly pinpoints all the lookout stops along the way, ranking them on the quality of their views. We stopped at the highest ranking ones and played tourist for a while, which was completely worth looking like a fool for a few minutes. These views were spectacular.

They filmed Jurassic Park here in this valley, and you almost expect a brontosaurus to come strolling by, just chompin' leaves.

The higher you climb, the more canyon-y it begins to feel. The whole thing is kind of magical, twisting along this insanely steep road, passing through clouds, and then suddenly the dense foliage breaks apart for a while and gives you this.

Before we reached the tippy-top, we stumbled upon a little restaurant called the Kokee Lodge, which the guidebook calls the best (and only) restaurant in Kokee. The menu was small and nothing fancy, but a "nothing fancy" burger and salad split between us was exactly the kind of thing we were looking for. The weather had gotten a bit chilly and cloudy at the top of the canyon, and this was a welcome pit stop for warmth and noms. There was a little gift shop there, too, where I picked up some peppermint soap for The Boyfriend entitled "Dirty Pussy." Clearly, it had to be bought.

Here comes The Spat. When we got up to the trail, I realized that "beginner hiking" in Kaua'i is more akin to black diamond skiing in my book. The rain had washed over the red clay at the very top of the canyon, leaving the trail looking like a drained riverbed. And it was *steep*, y'all. I took about one look at this, went "nope," and entered full-tilt Anxiety Mode.

Shirley likes adventure, and risks. Holley... does not, really. Sometimes, sure. But generally, no. Especially if the risk involves something I was never really keen to do in the first place, and I'm never really keen to do hiking. Mom wasn't having my swift mood swing and general lack of bravery in the face of adventure, and I just wasn't having any of anything. A pretty epic spat ensued.

Afterwards, I think we were both kind of like, "Well, there it was. Our first fight of the trip." Ergh. Needless to say we didn't stay long and decided to chalk the trip up to a pretty drive. Back down the canyon we went, with a nice little cloud hanging over us.

We shook it off pretty quickly, though. You just can't stay mad at each other when there's so much to do and see. Getting into a tiff over a stupid hiking trail and letting it ruin your whole day kind of feels like an insult to the island. I mean, get over it. Look where you are! Right?

On our descent, we were treated with a view of nearby Eleele, where the charter tour had departed from the night before. We passed through a few really quaint little towns on our way back to the hotel (where, apparently, I took zero photographs), including Hanapepe, which had a few cute places. Japanese Grandma's Cafe looked and smelled phenomenal, and the adjoining boutique Blu Umi had some seriously adorable beach-y fashions and modern home decor. (Also, some brightly colored bento boxes which I had a very hard time resisting.) The town has an old swinging bridge which I was too chicken to cross (sorry, mom.) We also picked up some booze while we were here, which was clutch, seeing as how the hotel menu was apparently designed to drive you to debtor's prison.

Old Koloa Town, a sweet little nook of a place near our hotel, was also on our way home. We ended up there several times during our stay. This time, we had some top-notch tacos from a truck called Chalupa's (the shrimp was delish) and then made our way back to the hotel for a yoga class, DIY mai tais, and early zzz's.


Since this is turning in to the longest blog post in history, I'll cover the last four days of our trip in "Turning 30 On Kaua'i, Part 2." Stay tuned for:

  • Boozy poolside shenanigans
  • Lazy river floating
  • A visit to the Hindu temple
  • Shopping and beach-hopping in Kapa'a
  • Rum tasting at Kilohana Plantation
  • So much sun
  • A super-late night, post-closing meal at Plantation Gardens
  • Birthday celebrations!
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