I’ve only just met Maria, but already I can see she’s got an unmistakable rough-around-the-edges look to her. Her wild and edgy haircut looks more West Berlin than south Kauai; her eyes, wary, survey me up and down before she looks away, coolly. It’s clear she’s got street smarts, maybe trust issues, too. I take the first step and reach out my hand; “Hi,” I say shyly. We’ve only got about 20 minutes to get to know each other before pairing up for a hike. She approaches me – and takes a big whiff.
The Kauai Humane Society doesn’t loan out all their dogs for field trips, just the ones who can handle themselves like Maria. Straight out of central casting, she’s a scrappy mix between an Australian cattle dog and a terrier with maybe a dash of dingo thrown in, but after a few months stay here, she knows the drill. These excursions are a win/win for everyone: The shelter’s residents get their exercise and a change of scenery while volunteers get to hang out with locals who know the terrain on Hawaii’s oldest island.
Kauai’s epic hiking trails are legendary with hikers who love the combo of harrowing cliffs and jaw-dropping views, but today Maria and I opt for a more leisurely seaside stroll along the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail. From a hidden trailhead near the Grand Hyatt hotel beachfront in Poipu on the busy south shore of the island, it wends and winds its way along craggy rock with vistas of crashing waves below; it’s a scene so picturesque that even my trusty companion wants to stop and take it all in. Or maybe it’s just Maria, clad in her “Adopt Me” vest, who manages to charm every hiker we pass (the shelter adopted out nearly 100 dogs last year, some as far away as Germany and the Caribbean). Eventually, though, it’s time to wrap up the socializing and, after returning Maria home, I “hike” a few metres beyond to the Hyatt’s famed Anara Spa where fresh Hawaiian botanicals used during the pohaku, or warm stone, treatment further help me, and my stiff calves, acclimatize to Kauai.
I continue my hiking ways the next day. At Living Foods market, I fill my daypack with a cache of local goods, including fresh bread and a jar of spiced tomato jam from Kauai’s Monkeypod Jam company; once stocked, I point the car toward the serpentine road that will lead me to what Mark Twain called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Waimea Canyon National Park was formed when the Waimea River – flowing from extreme rainfall on the island’s central peak, Mount Waialeale – left its deep erosive mark. That incision now cleaves a canyon 16 kilometres long and up to a kilometre deep.
In Hawaiian, Waimea means “reddish water,” so I know I’m in the right place when I start to see the earth turn to dramatic ochre-coloured dirt (a note to self for next time: don’t wear white shoes in these parts). At the Hinahina Lookout, I gape at the deep vertical below (it’s 900 metres down, which is amazing considering I was at sea level only 20 minutes earlier). Punctuated by lush tufts of green that grow with abandon, the view, though vertigo-inducing, is breathtaking.
But just as suddenly, a fog rolls in and shrouds the entire valley with a heavy cloak of mist. Those same dizzying heights and panoramic craggy views are now replaced with a peaceful, eerie calm. I can barely see three feet down with the blanket of white before us. Looks as if Lilinoe, the goddess of Hawaiian mist, has awakened. This area is a hiker’s nirvana with trails shooting off in every direction, but the slick earth and woozy elevations are not for the faint of heart. Either way, these parts surely rank as the most scenic-per-metre on the planet.
On the drive home, I detour through the historic town of Hanapepe, roll past the decrepit, circa-1930s Aloha State theatre and the creaky Talk Story Bookstore, the island’s largest, featuring a charming mix of reads, both new and used. Shelves groan with the weight, but past the many hiking guides, I spot The Call of the Wild. I wonder whether beloved Buck’s adventures in the Yukon rival Maria’s exploits on Kauai. There’s only one way to find out. I buy the book and head back to the Kauai Humane Society.
The writer was a guest of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. It did not review or approve this article.