Take the teens to Kauai

On a family trip, sun, swim, and zoom above the jungle
Katie Tamony

My idea of adventure in Hawaii is renting a convertible or lolling in a chaise longue. Taking short hikes along the beach is also acceptable. Helicopter tours? Kayaking? These are beyond my comfort zone. So how did I end up ziplining over a 150-foot-deep ravine on Kauai?

Ziplining is 2006's hottest activity for adrenaline-seeking travelers. It combines the thrill of soaring through the air with the aesthetic pleasures of a bird's-eye view. It does not involve, say, lounge chairs.

But my husband, Patrick, and I were facing the challenge of a vacation with teenagers. Parents are always looking for ways to bond with their children, but those can get hard to find as kids develop their own interests. We thought Kauai would cater to adventurous souls like our 13-year-old, Caitlin, and to leisure lovers like me and our other daughter, 15-year-old Sara.

Kauai visitors tend to be loyal either to the north, which includes the lush region around Hanalei and Princeville, or to the drier, sunnier south, around Po'ipu Beach Park. We chose Po'ipu because I had long fantasized about splurging on the Grand Hyatt Resort there.

With its palms and pools, the Grand Hyatt is a successful tropical fantasy, and the girls both gave it a thumbs-up. They loved the amusement park scale of the pools. The beach in front of the hotel is a little rough for swimming, but we enjoyed combing the lava rock for crabs and pieces of coral. For snorkeling and swimming, we could head to Po'ipu Beach Park, just down the road.

No trip with teenage daughters is complete without shopping expeditions. By day three, we were on the hunt. They found swimsuits at Poipu Shopping Village, and bargain souvenirs for friends at the Whalers General Store. Our favorite discovery was Spouting Horn, which sends up spectacular sprays of surf as vendors sell jewelry nearby (we found good prices on earrings).

Next: The zipline adventure

 

Still, by day five of our week's vacation spent swimming, shopping, eating, and lounging, even I was ready for something away from Po'ipu. The concierge at the hotel gave me the brochure for a zipline adventure at Princeville Ranch on the north shore. Caitlin, of course, was enthusiastic. Sara, of course, was not. Inspired by my younger daughter, I was game.

When Caitlin and I checked in for the Zip Express, we met our nine fellow, nervous zip adventurers, all first-timers. There were honeymooning couples and another family with a teen. Our affable guides appeared: Kimo, who had grown up in Hanalei, and Susanna, from Vermont, who worked as a part-time guide to stay in shape. We loaded onto trucks for a 15-minute trip out to the ranch.

Our first zipline was the "bunny slope, only 25 feet above the ground," as Kimo said, to get us all acquainted with the feeling of gliding down the cable. He showed us how to put on a harness and a lightweight helmet, and demonstrated how he would clip the harness to the cable suspended over the ravine. Then each of us was supposed to walk along a platform, slowly, until our feet dangled and our weight did the rest of the work to carry us off to the other side of the valley, about 200 feet away.

Kimo told us the only rule was don't hang upside down - as if any of us would try it. When they asked for a volunteer to go first, my daughter raised her hand fast. I watched her calmly step off the platform and sail easily to the other side. Then it was my turn. With Caitlin watching me, I walked out on the platform as nonchalantly as possible. I felt the cable tighten and then I was gliding forward, suddenly suspended in the air. Although I was scared, the feeling was exhilarating. In seconds I reached the end of the zip, then I scrambled up the other side of the ravine. I wanted to do it again.

The zip course has eight lines in all, and each one is progressively more challenging. The longest is 740 feet, which gives you plenty of time to look down at the dense jungle canopy 150 feet below you.

By the end of our three hours, Caitlin and I were pros, taking one hand off the cable and even tucking into a ball to go faster.

That afternoon, we recounted our adventure together for Patrick and Sara. I was proud to hear Caitlin tell her sister: "Mom was actually pretty good."

Something new, something to remember, something we could do together: Now that's my kind of adventure.

Next: Where to go and what to see