Image: pool
Geoff Lung Photography  /  Kauai Marriott Resort on Kalapak
Kauai Marriott Resort's signature swimming pool is the largest single-level pool in Hawaii. It features four waterfalls and five whirlpools.
By
Tribune Media Services
updated 11/5/2010 2:59:09 PM ET 2010-11-05T18:59:09

We are at the end of the road — literally.

We've driven to the end of Kuhio Highway on the North Shore of Kauai to Ke'e beach — past some of the most luxuriant plants I've ever seen. Spectacular beaches abound here on Kauai, including Lumahai beach where Mitzi Gaynor "washed that man right out of her hair" for the filming of "South Pacific." There's also the town of Hanalei of "Puff the Magic Dragon" fame.

My daughters and young cousin are going to hike part of the iconic Kalalau Trail — the start of the Na Pali Coast and one of the most famous hikes in Hawaii, which goes first to Hanakapiai beach then to a waterfall (eight miles round trip for that portion). To go farther, you must backpack and get a permit.

Kauai has morphed from the garden island to the adventure island. There's snorkeling and surfing, of course, hiking (Waimea Canyon is considered the Grand Canyon of the Pacific), three National Tropical Botanical Gardens to explore, zip lines and kayaking. We even spend an evening at Luau Kalamaku.

"Less people on Kauai and less crowded," declares 15-year-old Yuri Tachibana, here with her family from suburban New York, though she used to live here. "It's calm not boring ... paradise!"

I feel we're getting to the "old" Hawaii on Kauai but when we get to the North Shore we've really arrived. Sure there's the developed golf and beach community of Princeville with the oh-so-fancy St. Regis Hotel and Westin Vacation Villas but there is also the largest taro industry anywhere in the state.

Hanalei and beyond makes me think this is what Hawaii used to be like — one-lane bridges, narrow, winding roads, shaved ice stands selling flavors like Li Hing Mui (sweet Asian plum) and Guava, small shops with colorful Hawaiian shirts hanging outside.

"It's totally different here on the North Shore," agrees Laura Richards, a longtime resident who oversees the 52-unit condo Hanalei Colony Resort. "The Aloha spirit is alive and well here. It is relaxed, laidback — only 4,000 people to the end of the road, and we take pride in being the native guardians of the land."

Locals come to fish here just as their ancestors did. Everyone comes for the beaches — to swim, to snorkel at Tunnel Beach, to kayak and surf. "There is the real Hawaii feel. Four or five days here and you are a different person," Richards promises. "After a couple of days you won't remember what day it is you are so in tune to the beaches. This is pure nature at its best."

This is the place for those who want to do it on their own. There are comfortable, two-bedroom, two-bath condos on a stretch of beautiful beach where Richards, the general manager, will know your kids' names by the second day, where you can attend a luau with just 80 people or have a barbecue at the new pool. (Volunteer at the National Tropical Botanical Garden nearby and get a room discount or take a break at the spa while the kids join the Na Nea program — four hours of hands-on crafts and Hawaiian culture (just $15 here, as opposed to $60 at most major resorts).

Yarrow Beydoun, Richards' daughter and the mother of two sons, ages 10 and 13, says another plus is that kids can go anywhere here safely — fishing, boogie boarding, bike riding. "I can't think of many places in the world I'd give them this much freedom," she says. Yarrow runs the Hanalei Colony Resort's restaurant, Mediterranean Gourmet, with her husband.

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"Don't just do paid activities," mother and daughter urge. "Get in touch with nature on your own terms and find people who can help you do that."

Another tip: Don't run yourself ragged trying to see too many islands. Two for a 10-day stay is plenty. "The beauty is getting used to Hawaiian ways, to settling down and relaxing."

You can find every variety of accommodation from simple condos to the deluxe resorts for which Hawaii is known. We sample two resorts during our visit and aren't disappointed. The centrally located and just renovated (to the tune of $50 million) Kauai Marriott — just five minutes from the airport — proves an ideal locale for exploring the island. The 26,000-square-foot pool is the largest single-level pool in the Hawaiian Islands, complete with water slide for the kids and the new sushi restaurant and a golf course being re-designed by Jack Nicklaus all add to the allure.

The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa has just completed the first phase of its own renovation. My girls and I love the spa there, set in lush gardens, and the network of pools designed to look like natural swimming holes. Kids race from one pool area to another, jumping into the pool, heading to the water slide and saltwater lagoon near the beach. "There is not a better family hotel," declares Kim Cheikha, a mom of four who has been returning here for years. Around the pool, it's a sentiment I hear repeated again and again.

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Both resorts teem with families determined to squeeze every bit of fun out of their hard-earned Hawaiian vacation. Is there really a recession? Absolutely, they're feeling the pinch, locals and hoteliers say, but there are still plenty of deals to be had.

Wherever you stay on Kauai, says longtime resident Brad Snyder, area general manager of the Kauai Marriott Resort, "you've got to slow down and appreciate the land, the ocean, the environment ... that is the true Hawaiian experience."

I'm trying. At the appointed time, we're back at the end of the road to pick up the girls, muddy and smiling.

"Shaved ice!" they demand.

We savored every bite.

For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.

© 2010 Eileen Ogintz ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Photos: Hawaiian paradise

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  1. Waimea Canyon, Kauai

    Kalalau Valley, on Kauai's west side, is more than 3,000 feet deep and provides stunning panoramic views. Waimea is nicknamed "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific." (John Borthwick / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Honolulu, Hawaii

    Men row their Hawaiian outrigger canoe towards Waikiki beach, with Diamond Head in the background. Outrigger canoes are now used for recreation purposes and to ride the waves, but in times past they were the main means of transportation between the Hawaiian Islands. (Mike Nelson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. The tranquil waters of Oahu

    Hanauma Bay is one of the finest stretches of beach in the world. (Eric L Wheater / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Surfer's paradise

    Australian Luke Egan competes on Oahu's North Shore, one of the best places in Hawaii to ride the big waves. (AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Water colors

    A school of manini fish pass over a coral reef at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Donald Miralle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Wailua Falls

    The beautiful 83-foot tiered Wailua Falls is an easily accessible, must-see waterfall on the island of Kauai. Wailua Falls was first made famous when it was featured in the television show, "Fantasy Island." (James Randklev / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Emerald peaks

    The iconic, towering emerald peaks of the 1,200-foot Iao Needle, stand out in Maui's Iao Valley State Park. (Adina Tovy Amsel / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Historic reminder

    The USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, marks the resting place of many of the battleship's 1,177 crew members who lost their lives during the Attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 by the Japanese. The memorial is the "ground zero" of World War II. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Aloha!

    Hula dancers welcome the sailing crew of a Hokule'a, a canoe, into Kailua Bay. (Ronen Zilberman / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The heart of Hawaii

    The sun sets on Honolulu, Oahu's capital and Hawaii's largest, most populous city. (Robert Y. Ono / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Polynesian heat

    Brandon OFueo Maneafaiga, 23, of Waianae, Hawaii balances two flaming knifes during the 13th Annual World Fireknife Championship at the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Laie, Hawaii. (Lucy Pemoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Explosive attraction

    People watch from a viewing area as an explosion takes place on Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, in Pahoa, Hawaii. Legend says the volcano goddess Pele dug fire pits as she traveled from island to island looking for a home with her brothers and sisters. She finally settled at Kilauea's summit, where she lives at Halemaumau crater. (Leigh Hilbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Forces of nature

    The Dragon's Teeth are bizarre lava formations eroded by wind and salt spray at Makalua-puna Point. (Karl Lehmann / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Heaven on Earth

    Astronomy observatories are seen on the peak of the snow-covered, Mauna Kea mountain near Hilo, Hawaii. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano. (Tim Wright / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. On the way to Sainthood

    Tourists walk through a cemetery past the grave, left, of Father Damien at Kalawao, Hawaii. After cancer patient Audrey Toguchi prayed to Father Damien, known for helping leprosy patients in Hawaii, to help her, and her cancer went away, Pope Benedict XVI approved the case in July 2008 as Damien's second miracle, opening the way for the 19th century Belgian priest to be declared a saint. (Eric Risberg / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Cool colors

    Rainbow eucalyptus (Mindanao Gum) trees grow in Keanae, Maui. Once a year, these magnificent trees shed their bark and take on the colors of the rainbow. (James Randklev / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Magic Sands

    An aerial view of La'aloa Beach Park or Magic Sands beach in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The beach is called Magic Sands because when rough surf hits, all of the sand is emptied off the beach and temporarily moved out to sea. (Brian Powers / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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