Nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” by author Mark Twain, the Waimea Canyon is a large canyon stretching 14 miles long, 2 miles wide and more than 3,000 feet deep located on the western side of Kaua’i, the Garden Isle, fourth largest and oldest Hawaiian Island with amazing geographic diversity. A counterpart to Arizona’s icon, Waimea Canyon is a true gem of natural wonder you must have to see to experience its majesty enveloped in variegated hues of red, purple, green, brown, and blue complemented by waterfalls and frequent rainbows depending on the weather and a time of day.
Waimea is Hawaiian word for “reddish water”, a reference to the erosion of canyon’s red soil which can be seen along the road getting to the canyon. Formed by a series of prehistoric lava flows from volcanoes, earthquakes and forces of wind and water, including the narrow Waimea River that snakes through the bottom of the canyon. Waimea River, the longest river in the Hawaiian Islands, is the only navigable river in all of Hawaiian archipelago framed by lush vegetation and mangrove at its banks.
Although there are two main roads you can take to get to the canyon, we turn up Waimea Canyon Drive (Hwy. 550) at the town of Waimea. The Canyon Drive, a rim road and narrow, is scenic and has quite a few curves with some great lookouts along the way overlooking the coastline and the mountain landscape. One popular stop overlooks a small waterfall surrounded by Waimea’s popular red dirt soil. The canyon road leads us to the most popular lookout areas that include the Waimea Canyon Lookout and the Puu Hina Hina Lookout that both offer incredible panoramic views of the deep valley gorges, rugged crags and crested buttes. From Puu Hina Hina vantage we can see all the way down to the Pacific Ocean from atop the canyon walls. Additionally, the lookout provides us the opportunity to get a clear view of the Ni’ihau island, the Hawaiian “Forbidden Island” where time has stood still and the only three places in the world where technology has not yet moved in.
The first time we try to head up the gorge it’s already fogged in and can hardly see anything in front of us. The second time we head up in the morning for the best views of the gorge when the canyon’s vibrant colours are at their most vivid.
Beyond Waimea Canyon we enter Koke’e State Park to visit the Koke’e Natural History Museum, the interpretive centre highlighting the natural history of Kaua’i and the island’s native plants and animals.
There are miles of numerous hiking trails on the mountain to traverse both for beginners and seasoned hikers offering vistas of the canyon, waterfalls, the ocean, and even rare birds. With Jer, Marie-Anne and our granddaughter Cassy, I successfully finish for almost three hours hiking the Waimea Canyon Trail with a red warning: hazardous cliffs – this trail contains this hazard that the ground may break off without warning and you could be seriously injured or killed. For this I have a certificate of hiking the Waimea Canyon Trail!
A must-stop on the way back from our visit to the Waimea Canyon for our dinner is the “Shrimp Station” at Waimea, home to the best coconut shrimps on the planet – fresh succulent shrimps dipped in a secret batter, then rolled in fresh coconut flakes and fried to perfection. We finish the day indulging in frozen Hawaiian shave ice (shave, not shaved) traditionally served in a conical paper (or plastic cup) with multiple flavour and a scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled over the top with sweetened milk.