It was the last day of our stay on Kauai. We looked at each other the night before and said, “How do you want to spend the last day?” Every time we get a little sad, hating for vacation to end, wondering when we’ll get back here. We try to make the last day special.

“Well, we’ll start at a garden tour by 8:30 a.m.,” Dick said.

And we did, touring the Allerton Garden, a series of garden “rooms” created by Robert Allerton and his son, John Gregg Allerton, beginning in the 1930s. Not only is Mr. Allerton’s Garden of Eden home to the famous Moreton Bay Fig trees featured in Jurassic Park (the very same trees!), it’s a showplace of sculpture in stone and concrete and, yes, foliage.

Jurassic Park tree (really, a Moreton Bay fig) and me.

Robert Allerton was originally an artist, and the garden reflects his method of sculpting with plants.

It’s a magical place and widely used in films and TV. Parts of “Gilligan’s Island” were filmed here, as well as the fourth “Pirates of the Carribean” movie. And Tattoo in “Fantasy Island” stood on the lanai of an Allerton house in the garden to point and call, “Da plane! Da plane!” The garden, a non-profit part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden system, makes no money from Hollywood. It can’t, our guide David told us, or it would lose its non-profit status.

One of Mr. Allerton's orchids.

But the garden can brag about its fame. And lots of tourists can pose for photos in the huge roots of the Moreton Bay figs.

And while that was fabulous, the highlight of the day was zooming (as our friend Cora likes to say) up to Kokee State Park, past Waimea Canyon (the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Mark Twain allegedly called it), to the end of the road to see if we could catch a glimpse of what may be my favorite sight in all Hawaii.

The Kalalau Valley is reachable on foot via a wicked trail called the Na Pali trail on the north shore of the island. You can also get to its beach by boat or zoom in for a quick view via helicopter. But I love to drive to the second lookout, plop my butt on the edge of what was once part of a volcano and look out to see the spines of ancient rock cascading to the sea and green cathedral spires reaching for the sky.

The challenge is that Kalalau is often shrouded in clouds, so the best time to see it is in the morning… when we were in Mr. Allerton’s garden. And for the past few days, it’s been rainyrainyrainy. We tried to see Kalalua a couple of days before, and it was socked in… really, it looked like a white sock or a big cotton ball or… pick your similie… had descended upon the majestic sight.

So after the garden tour, we decided to take a big chance and zoom up to the overlook. Though it is not far in miles from the Poipu area where we were staying, it takes a good hour and a half over slow roads (there are no fast roads on Kauai, honestly). And there was no guarantee the valley would be open.

This is where faith comes in. Dick hightailed it to the little town of Waimea in our rental car, which, naturally, tailed two verrrry slooooow tourists for some time. (Funny how we don’t think of ourselves that way, huh?) Stopped briefly in Waimea to get a sandwich to go and then raced up the winding road, bypassing the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, as clouds swirled around and over us.

Waimea Canyon (the Grand Canyon of the Pacific), clouding over.

Every so often, they’d part, revealing a piercing blue sky and huge, friendly, fluffy clouds miles high. I thought, “Be open. Be open.”

We drove to the second overlook at Kalalau, blue skies overhead, parked and ran up the incline to see… yes! the same wispy clouds slowly climbing one wall of the massive green valley… and majestic peaks on the back wall in full sun, cascading into impossibly blue ocean. My breath catches every time I first see this place. Part of me wants to weep—I can’t believe it’s still here, still so perfect.

Kalalau Valley being overtaken by mist.

I plopped my butt on the edge and watched. Dick took photos. Tourists milled about, one young woman saying what everyone thinks about this place: “It’s magic.”

And it is. Not because it’s always visible, but because, like Brigadoon, it isn’t. It emerges from the mist when it’s ready, perhaps when weather and air conditions permit, perhaps when someone asks. Two days earlier, I stood on that same spot and looked into a shroud of cloud. I asked. It did not open up. On our last day, we watched the mists overtake the valley and close off the view within ten minutes of our arrival.

The Kalalau mist

We hung around for another half hour or so, waiting, watching. I asked, “Open up again. Please.” But those clouds were persistent. We’ve seen wispy ones wander into the valley and lift up and over it like white hot air balloons, but not today. As we waited, Dick noticed a tiny ladybug on him… not a traditional red one but a pale green one that landed on his pants of about the same color.

Green ladybug at Kalalau overlook.

We tried to get it to hold still for a photo, but the camera close to it made it nervous, we think. Finally, it flitted to my hand, opened its wings and flew away.

But we got to see the Kalalau valley, however briefly from above, to remind us that there is magic alive and well in the world… even if we can’t always see it. (And other gifts besides the ones you hoped for, like a little green ladybug.) The lovely things are always there—like blue skies and big fluffy clouds, like Kalalau. If you’re lucky and patient, have a little faith, they show themselves, and yes, they can literally take your breath away.

About janishaag

Writer, writing coach, editor
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6 Responses to Kalalau

  1. Lauren says:

    I knew those trees the second I saw the picture! Only my favorite movie EVER! Lava you!

  2. Cora Johnson says:

    The pictures and the blog ARE magical! I was there with you, enjoying the vista that you presented with much splendor. Mahalo for sharing!

  3. Connie Raub says:

    Once again, you have captivated our minds and taken our breath away with your experiences, detail and photographs. I love the gray/green ladybug. I think she is a “mist spirit”.


  4. LauraM says:

    That tree looks like it’s going to eat you!

    BEAUTIFUL photos!! Glad you had such a fantastic time 🙂

  5. Georgann Turner says:

    Gorgeous gorgeous, words and pics. Thank you!!

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