Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Kauai vacation recap, Day 4: Na Pali sail and tea at Hanalei

Thursday, August 13, 2015

We drove south again today, this time to the boat harbor in Port Allen, for our sail and snorkel trip on the Na Pali coast.  We had booked a tour with Captain Andy's company based on its solid reviews online, and because the 65-foot catamarans provide a smoother sailing experience than smaller boats or rigid hull inflatables.  The boat felt reasonably but not excessively full, with a mix of couples and families (and some fortunately well-behaved children).  In addition to the skipper, Captain Bernard, there were three other crew members on board (Luke, Heather, and Roy).  All were confident, helpful, and funny.  The cabin area was spacious enough for everyone to stow their bags, and there was plenty of cushioned seating on the exterior decks.  Andrew and I quickly discovered that the upper-level navigation deck had a great seating area that felt quieter than the main deck, so we sat there for most of the tour.

Cinnamon buns, pineapple, and coffee started off the trip as we left Port Allen.  Off the southern coast, near the old sugar mills, we found a big pod of spinner dolphins that are apparently regular inhabitants of those waters.  Some were sleeping, but quite a few were happy to frolic in the breakwater coming from the boats, and provided an exciting show.  We rounded the bend to the U.S. Navy property and then Polihale Beach, and then began our trip up along the Na Pali.  After the buttery white brightness of Polihale Beach, the cliffs are jarring in their beauty.  I'll let pictures do the talking.

Eventually, the crew unfurled the sails, and we sailed south along the coast until we had returned to the designated snorkeling spot.  This was my first time snorkeling, so I was glad of the crew's short lesson (and the fact that Andrew is an experienced snorkeler), and of the calm, clear water in the cove.  There weren't very many fish, but certainly enough to make it interesting, and the adequate depth meant that I didn't have to worry about accidentally hitting coral.  After this first snorkel experience I was definitely excited for more.

Lunch on the boat was a delicious barbecue spread of burgers (or chicken), cole slaw, baked beans, drinks, and eventually some freshly baked macadamia nut cookies.  We basked in the sun for the bumpier ride back to Port Allen.

After cleaning up and resting a bit at the apartment, we then drove north to Princeville, thus nearly circumnavigating the island in one day.  I had made a reservation for afternoon tea at the St. Regis Princeville, which is apparently the only place for afternoon tea on Kauai.  As such, I didn't have great expectations, but we had heard that this hotel, which overlooks Hanalei Bay and the ocean beyond, was possibly the best place on the island to watch a spectacular sunset.

Tea was set up at a low table in the living room-like bar area, facing the picture windows with the valley and bay view.  We chose English Breakfast and Chai teas (bagged but still quite good, with hot water proferred regularly), and also shared a glass of champagne.  Sandwiches were roasted vegetable, roast beef, curried chicken, smoked chicken, smoked salmon, salmon with cucumber, and another which I'm forgetting.  A couple were on the dry side, but all the flavors were clear.  Next came an assortment of scones: chocolate chip with lime zest, pineapple, and guava, served with clotted cream, lemon curd, raspberry preserves, and orange marmalade.  I liked that our server, Jeffrey, paced out the courses in a leisurely but still careful fashion, and also suggested that we take some of the scones home so that we could fully enjoy the desserts.

The scones were excellent, especially the guava scone, and I was happy that they made Andrew's first afternoon tea experience a successful one.  (This, despite the fact that toward the end of tea I made a clumsy movement and knocked over the champagne, some of which spilled into Andrew's half-full teacup.  Kind husband that he is, he gallantly insisted that this new beverage blend tasted fine.)

We finished with an assortment of tarts and other desserts: pineapple tart, mango tart, guava macaron, coconut macaroon, chocolate cream tart (with dark chocolate pearls), lemon meringue tart, mixed fruit tart, and some chocolate cake.  With the exception of the chocolate cake, which was forgettable, the tarts were all freshly made, appropriately delicate and flavorful, and generally pleasing to these fruit tart fans.

After tea, we decided to move to the seating area on the terrace, having heard that it would become very crowded right before the sunset. It was still quite warm and humid as we sat down outside, but sure enough, the place filled up rapidly as the temperature dropped. Eventually we decided on two Mai Tais (their signature drink, and indeed well-made), and watched the entire valley and oceanscape fill with a rich golden-pink glow.

The sunset was every bit as lovely as we had hoped, and we finally headed home after the nightly champagne sabering: amusing if gimmicky, as the director of food and beverage services somehow tied together the St. Regis' champagne sabering tradition with the ancient Hawaiians' tradition of lighting fires on the Na Pali cliffs and tossing burning brands into the ocean to welcome visiting royalty into Hanalei Bay.