Quality time remaining. It's a new buzz-phrase in travel, and it's about wanting to spend the rest of your life in comfort, beauty and peace. It's said to be especially important to boomers and honeymooners: people who want to make the most of their retirement, and those who want to pack in the most fun before real life begins. At the crowded rental-car agency at Lihue Airport in Kauai, both groups are clearly anxious to get on with it. Time may beat to a different clock on Hawaii's Garden Island, but there's much to pack in it.
We hop in a car and steer toward Poipu Beach, a town on the south of Hawaii's oldest island. Lying in the island's rain shadow, Poipu is known for its great weather, beaches and plum-orange sunsets. Turning off the highway, I drive through a tunnel of tall eucalyptus trees, emerging into a landscape framed by mountains and old sugar cane plantations. It all looks vaguely familiar, which is unsurprising. Kauai is a popular Hollywood location, doubling for exotic jungle locations in movies like Indiana Jones, Tropic Thunder and Jurassic Park. The island's tree tunnel, planted more than 100 years ago, is like some vacation fantasy wormhole.
Three types of accommodation in Poipu Beach serve those seeking QTR. For successful boomers, Kukui'ula, a luxury private-member retirement community, offers five-star living in every respect: a forgiving Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course, luxury villas, excellent dining, recreational services and a stunning spa. The $100-million (U.S.) development offers vertical membership, meaning your kids and grandkids can continue to enjoy the exclusive facilities, in year-round perfect weather. The price tag: Around $2.2-million for a two-bedroom home, plus monthly maintenance fees. It's QTR for those with QCB – quantity cash in the bank.
For the rest of us, Poipu offers a range of affordable vacation rentals, conveniently marketed by the Parrish Collection. We check into Unit 700 at Nihi Kai apartments, a block from Poipu's best bodysurfing and snorkelling beaches. It feels like we've been given the keys to a friend's homey apartment, with balcony views of palm trees and ocean. Farther up the road, the Grand Hyatt accommodates more than 200 destination weddings a year, and many more wedding guests along with it. It's worth strolling the Hyatt's manicured gardens on this 22-hectare property, dipping in the lava-rock pools or melting away with a lomilomi massage.
"I never thought I'd be on my honeymoon and be asleep by 8 p.m.," one newlywed says to another. We're on Captain Andy's 65-foot Southern Star catamaran, and a half-dozen other couples nod in agreement. We're sailing along Kauai's spectacular Na Pali coastline, watching huge swells crash into jagged cliffs and white sandy beaches. As Jimmy Buffet croons from the speakers, three bottlenose dolphins scratch an itch against the boat to the delight of the passengers. Activities like these usually begin around sunrise, so the early nights are understandable.
The next day, the sun had yet to rise when we joined ATV Kauai for a mud buggy safari into an old sugar cane plantation, one of AOL founder Steve Case's local properties. Down the road, Poipu's Outfitters Adventures offer a genteel paddleboarding experience, floating downriver along the towering Hau'pu Mountains. Later, we hike through ancient terraces, with the fragrance of wild guava and passion fruit in the air. "I haven't done this since I was a kid," a middle-aged tourist from Denver says as he steadies himself on a rope swing overlooking a jungle rock pool. Pirates of the Caribbean used this spot as a location for its fictional Fountain of Youth, which makes sense – here adults can still play like children.
Only 20 per cent of Kauai is accessible by road, but there's plenty to see from the air. I joined a young pilot from Island Helicopters who guided us above Waimea Canyon, a huge rift known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. We land by "Jurassic Falls," seen clearly in the movie, and zip over the north island where A-listers like Oprah Winfrey and Julia Roberts own homes. The rocky spires of the Na Pali coastline are even more dramatic from above than from the water, while streaking waterfalls surround Mount Waialeale, known as the wettest spot on the Earth.
Underwater, Kauai has some of the best diving in Hawaii. Turtles are abundant, as are seals, sharks and a variety of indigenous fish. Poipu's Seasport Divers offers a seasonal dive to Ni'ihau, a dry, brown island off the west coast. Just seconds in the water, I'm greeted by a large, endangered monk seal. At a spot called Pu'u Mu'u, I enter a series of underwater caves, encountering butterfly fish, purple spiny lobster, and the thrill of watching my air bubbles gather on the cave ceiling like puddles of mercury.
Back on land, I sample the tropical fruit at Kukui'ula's weekly farmers market while my wife shops for a new bikini. The sky turns peach with another picture-postcard sunset, before the bright island stars begin their rotation across the sky. Our quality time in Poipu is almost at an end. Just a few hours remaining.
IF YOU GO
WestJet now offers direct flights from Vancouver to Kauai from December to April. There are several major rental-car agencies at Lihue airport, but booking ahead is essential in high season.
Where to stay: For a wide range of apartment rentals, check out the Parrish Collection ( parrishkauai.com). Prices range from $100 to $469 (U.S.) a night for condos and from $250 to $1,650 a night for homes. The Grand Hyatt Kauai, located on the Poipu Beach Road, is a massive resort, with stunning grounds and one of the island's best spa experiences. Rooms from $330.
Special to The Globe and Mail
(Editor's note: The online version of the story corrects the spelling of Parrish Collection.)