Beginner's guide to Kauai

Get to know one of the most beautiful places in the world

Canyons, cliffs, and octopus

The next day I suggested a hike in Waimea Canyon. "It's like a mini, mini Grand Canyon," I told Alberto, hoping to put off snorkeling for another day. We drove west on the Kaumuali'i Highway, stopping for sweet-potato fries and Napali Pale Ale at the Waimea Brewing Company. The scenic but arid red-earth countryside took Alberto by surprise. I knew he craved water, so we headed back to Po'ipu Beach in the afternoon.

Alberto was happy to be in the ocean at last, but he was also perceptive. "You don't have to go in if you don't want to," he said. That only made me more determined to get over my fears. But not right away. Timid in the water, I'm fearless in the air. The next day, we took a helicopter tour. We flew with Island Helicopters, the only outfitter with a permit to stop at otherwise inaccessible Manawaiopuna Falls, seen in Jurassic Park. The views of the Na Pali Coast, dolphin spotting, and the hike to the falls were unforgettable. I could tell Alberto was coming to like Kauai.

When it came time for the splurge half of our vacation, the St. Regis is Princeville did not disappoint. Where to begin? The cucumber-ginger margaritas served by the infinity pool. The butler that comes with your ocean-view suite. We had dinner at the hotel's Kauai Grill, where chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has brought the intense flavor contrasts he's known for in New York and Las Vegas to the Islands. It was a good choice. Alberto was warming to Kauai. But, a serious food-fan, he hadn't been impressed by Hawaiian cuisine. Vongerichten's sophisticated black-pepper octopus was just the kind of seafood my Spaniard was craving. Our vacation was drawing to a close. I knew it was time to share the beauty of the ocean with Alberto. I had to go snorkeling.

We met with Paul Clark, the St. Regis's marine biologist, who would guide us as we snorkeled in Hanalei Bay. He began with a 20-minute tutorial on the coral and fish we would be seeing. Somehow, it made me want to get into the water. The three of us donned our gear and I slipped into the Pacific as if I did this every week. Swimming behind Paul, we glided through an underwater valley between reefs. As we spied barracudas, rays, and brightly colored schools of parrotfish, I tried to forget where I was--underwater.

We swam further out, following a teasing group of sea turtles. I popped to the surface to get my bearings. The beach was far away. The surf bobbed me up and down. I felt seasick and uneasy. Then I looked over at Alberto, happily swimming toward the turtles, and the uneasiness (mostly) went away. I knew that my Spanish fish was enjoying this day of our Hawaii vacation best of all. And I knew that, thanks to the ocean, we'd be back.



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