The Diversity of Kauai

I just returned from Kauai and while the weather was generally pretty poor, it broke just enough to allow for some nice photographs. Even when the weather is bad, it’s still Hawaii!  I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the Hawaiian Islands but had only been to Kauai once, six years ago.  Kauai is the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands.  The Big Island is the youngest and the furthest south and the islands get progressively older the further north and west they go. At the end of this post is a gallery with photographs from the various locations and wildlife I mention.  The diversity of Kauai is remarkable – tropical rain forests, arid lava fields, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, expansive taro fields and the Na Pali coast.

Kauai is a beautiful island, perhaps the prettiest of them all – particularly on the north side where the rain forest is denser and more prevalent than the south side.  That said, western Kauai has Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.  The canyon is more than 10 miles long, 3000 feet deep and just spectacular. Millions of years ago the island was actively erupting then the volcano suddenly collapsed. The Waimea River finished off the shape of the canyon through erosion, the river being continuously fed by the astonishing amount of rainfall at Mount Wai’ale’ale (Hawaiian for “overflowing water” – or “rippling water”, depending on your source). Mount Wai’ale’ale is one of the wettest place on earth, collecting more than 400 inches of rain a year.

The west side

At any rate, the air was fairly clear during my first trip to Waimea Canyon in 2010. While beautiful, the photographs turned out flat, without the depth I was looking for. For this trip I was hoping for two things: 1) dark and low rain clouds that would partially obscure the furthest parts of the canyon (as seen from the overlook where I’d be photographing); and 2) the sun spotlighting a portion of the canyon to add depth and brilliance to the landscape. That’s exactly what I got.

Waimea Canyon on Kaua'i - the Grand Canyon of the Pacific (Doug Oglesby)

Waimea Canyon on Kauai – the Grand Canyon of the Pacific – with the sun spotlighting the red canyon walls during a rainy day.  Photographed in 2016.

The north side

Back on the north side of the island is the Hanalei Valley and the taro fields.  About 60% of the Hawaiian taro is grown in the Hanalei Valley, which equates to literally millions of pounds of taro a year.  The staple Hawaiian food is poi, which is primarily made from taro. It’s a sacred plant to the Hawaiians. Legend is that the plant was created by the gods, from the stillborn child of the Hawaiian Sky Father Wakea and his daughter (!) Ho`ohokukalani. The child was buried and grew into a taro plant.  Wakea’s and Ho`ohokukalani’s second child was named Haloa. He survived and was responsible for looking after his “older brother” which would provide a lifetime of sustenance for the Hawaiians. The lush taro fields of Hanalei Valley on Kaua’i are a perfect testament this ancient legend. The fields light up a brilliant yellow-green in late afternoon light.

Taro fields in Hanalei, Kauai (about 60% of the Hawaiian taro is grown here, which equates to millions of pounds!) (Doug Oglesby)

Taro fields in Hanalei, Kauai.  About 60% of the Hawaiian taro is grown here, which equates to millions of pounds!

A short drive down the Kuhio Highway from the Hanalei Valley overlook is the Hanalei Bay overlook. Mountains, rainforest and lush green vegetation surrounds the bay.  It’s a beautiful sight at any time of day, but particularly in the morning when the early morning light is at your back. If you are lucky you’ll get a rainbow. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good!

Morning at Hanalei Bay on Kauai (Doug Oglesby)

Morning at Hanalei Bay on Kauai.


The Hawaiian state bird is the endangered Nene (pronounced nay-nay), also called the Hawaiian Goose.  It is endemic to Hawaii so you aren’t going to see it anywhere else.  But, it might look familiar to you – it’s a relative of the Canada Goose.  There’s less than 2000 of these birds left with the majority residing on Kaua’i in lowland areas.  Nenes are quite common and approachable in northern Kauai.  They will let you get quite close while they are grazing.  In fact, while barbecuing dinner one night a family of Nene (mother, father and two immature) walked right up to me expecting a hamburger. Silly birds! Note – I did not feed them.  They need to learn to eat on their own.

Hawaiian Goose on Kauai, the Hawaiian state bird and an endangered species (Doug Oglesby)

Hawaiian Goose on Kauai, the Hawaiian state bird and an endangered species.

Another common bird on Kauai is the Laysan Albatross, a large bird with a 6 foot wingspan. They breed primarily in the Hawaiian Islands and spend the summer months in Alaska.  That’s a long flight! To avoid predators while flying their migratory route they will frequently sleep while flying. These aren’t your typical birds. They’ll even live for up to 60 years. They are quite common on Kaua’i and can be easily see cruising the skies and hanging out on residential lawns.

Laysan Albatross on Kauai, a bird that will commute from Alaska to Hawaii every year (Doug Oglesby)

Laysan Albatross on Kauai, a bird that will commute from Alaska to Hawaii every year.

Another bird with a long commute is the Pacific Golden-Plover. It also migrates between the Hawaiian Islands (and even Australia) and Alaska, sometimes flying non-stop for 2000 miles. The breeding plumage on the plover is gorgeous! Black breast and belly, white racing stripes from the forehead to the rump and a yellow spotted backside. Just a beautiful bird.

Pacific Golden Plover in breeding plumage on the Big Island of Hawaii (Doug Oglesby)

Pacific Golden Plover in breeding plumage on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The Hawaiian Islands are among my favorite places to visit and the locale I’ve photographed the most.  More than a dozen trips later and I’m still eager for more.  There is just so much to see and take in.  Oh, and the best Mai Tai across all the islands is at the Royal Hawaiin on O’ahu (the Royal Mai Tai). I’ve got the recipe if anyone wants to drop me an email!  There’s a secret ingredient that makes this Mai Tai like no other.  Aloha for now.

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