“I thought you’d like to sit out here, so you can watch the traffic go by,” Auntie Rose suggests, offering me a chair.
“Thanks, Auntie. But do you mind if I sit over on this side and look at the mountains?”
She smiles, shrugs, and turns to go. I take a seat and settle in on the porch out front of Wrangler’s Steakhouse, in Waimea, on the southwestern coast of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. I’ve become a regular at Wrangler’s—never mind that there are few other options for eating in town. Auntie Rose (auntie is a Hawaiian term of respect and affection, one not limited to blood relations) is a tiny woman with large glasses over dark eyes. She’s taken me under her wing. Her offer of a prime seat to watch the action along the street shows just how much she cares.
Across the way is the Waimea Hawaiian Church—Sunday services said in Hawaiian. Down the street is the local cinema—five showings weekly. A few pickup trucks hum by on the two-lane Kaumualii Highway. Same as yesterday. I’m beginning to get the hang of this particular island.
I know Hawaii pretty well. I had a house for 10 years on Maui. I trudged across my share of lava on the Big Island. I partied in Honolulu, golfed on Lanai, and slunk around insular Molokai. But Kauai remained off my personal radar—until now. The oldest and farthest west of the major Hawaiian Islands, Kauai bubbled up from the ocean floor 5 million years ago. Roughly circular in shape and covering more than 550 square miles, the island is sunbaked and dry in the south and west, while the north is lush and green. Dictating this weather pattern is Mount Waialeale, at the island’s center, which traps the passing clouds and often gets more rain than any place on the planet (460 inches annually).
On the bluffs above the eastern tip of Hanalei Bay, on the Eden-like North Shore, I look out on a near-perfect crescent-shaped beach. Tireless waterfalls spill from jagged cliffs in deep green valleys. Clouds hover and vaporize, altering the light, changing perspective. It is, simply, the most dramatic vista I have seen anywhere in Hawaii. Stephanie Kaluahine Reid, the 10th-generation Hawaiian standing by my side, takes it a step further. “It’s not a physical thing,” she says. She looks out over the deep blue bay. “It’s a sense of connection to the place. I feel rooted here.” I understand her meaning as much as a nonnative can. Perhaps that’s why I always feel like a better version of myself when I’m in the islands, and why I keep returning. A rain shower rolls across the far side of the bay while the sun blazes down on us.
Anchoring this camera-ready spot is the recently renovated and re-branded St. Regis Princeville Resort: 252 rooms carved into the side of the cliff, taking the best advantage of their greatest asset—the view. My wall-to-wall window catches me up short every time I glance out to see Mount Makana. The elegant grounds roll down past the low-key pool to the beach and bay and beyond.