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Family vacations are often easier to talk about than they are to actually take. But, as the Dwyer-Bolden Family from Silverlake, Los Angeles learned recently, even a quick trip with the kids can create lasting memories, especially when you’re staying in a home on the north shore of Kauai with a pool, a hot tub, a koi pond, and sweeping views of Kalihiwai Bay.

Toussaint Bolden, his eyes gleaming, the droplets of water in his hair refracting the sunlight, bobs in the water of a tide pool in Kauai, Hawaii, a smile spreading quickly across his face. A 13-year-old eighth-grader currently attending middle school in Los Angeles, Toussaint has never been to Hawaii before. His older brother, Olinga, standing on the rocks about 30 feet above—the same rocks Toussaint just leapt from—hasn’t either. The edge of this swimming hole is the edge of this island; beyond it the Pacific extends to the horizon. Every time a large wave hits it floods the pool, turning the clear turquoise water into a frothing white whirlpool, and sucking all those in it out toward the open ocean. This, of course, only makes all the more fun.

“Toussie!” His mother Liz shouts from the top. “Toussie!” Her youngest son doesn’t hear her. He’s underwater, fish darting this way and that. “How fun is this!?” he sputter-shouts as he pops up. “Come on Olinga! Jump in!”
Olinga seems unsure, looking down and trying to judge exactly how much water is between the surface and the clearly visible rocks on the bottom. “How far down do you think it is?” he asks his dad, Elarryo.

“Like 30 feet? You gonna do it?”

Olinga peers down, brow furrowed, weight firmly on his back foot.

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“This trip has shown them that life isn’t just Los Angeles,” says Liz, later that evening. “There, we’re in a bubble, because it’s something that’s so familiar to us. So coming here, watching them do stuff like jump off those cliffs…. It’s just amazing.” She’s sitting on the deck of the sprawling Asian-influenced Airbnb home the family is staying at in Kilauea and turns to look at the view; through the window, beyond the pool, the waves are crashing into the rocks of Kalihiwai Bay as the day gradually slips into night. She sighs, resting her head on her arm.

It’s been a difficult year for the Dwyer-Bolden family, who live in a two-bedroom apartment in Silverlake. Liz, a breast cancer survivor who still has to get scans every three months, lost her job. Her husband Elarryo has been working nights as a field training supervisor in the campus safety department at a university and, with both kids in school, the family hasn’t had the opportunity to spend much time together. “There’s never really a point where we say, OK, this week, on this day, we are going to do something together,” says Liz. “It just doesn’t happen.” Sometimes Toussaint, the first home from school, would catch his father leaving for work. But not often.

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“I feel like where we are now as a society, it’s harder for people to make time for what they really should make time for,” says Elarryo. “I don’t wanna get into some cliché about people lost in their phones or spending 24 hours a day working, because we are all going through the same stuff. But, at a certain point, we all deserve something else.” He gestures across the tropical, manicured garden to the ocean below. “It gets harder and harder to get away, and that’s why we’re able to recognize how special it is now.” He pauses, smiles. “Because not only are we doing it, but it’s going so well.”

Kauai is the smallest and wildest (and oldest, geology fans) of the four primary Hawaiian islands. If you’ve seen Jurassic Park you’ve seen Kauai—it was almost entirely filmed here. The jungle-covered mountains rise sharply and improbably around every corner of the winding roads (well, road, as there’s really only one); waterfalls erupt from nowhere and ribbon down into empty space; all is verdant, lush, Edenic. Life seems to spring from every surface.

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“It’s like something out of a dream,” says Olinga, gazing out of the window the next afternoon, as Elarryo drives his family to a beach on the island’s north shore. But for Olinga the natural beauty of Kauai is secondary to the experience of just being here with his family. All four of them. “Personally, it’s the little things that add up for me,” he says. “Moments like watching my parents watch the sunset: these things show me not to take what I have for granted. And swimming in the sea here: you wish it could last forever but it doesn’t, and you have to recognize it for what it is in that moment.”

In a few weeks, Olinga will turn 16. He carries himself with the poise of a much older man though, speaking slowly, with consideration. At any given time you might turn a corner of the house and find him drawing (among his favorite artists are Egon Schiele and Wassily Kandinsky), strumming the guitar—his little his brother plays too, and is in a punk band called the Slipouts—or just looking out of the window. “I haven’t seen him smile in the way he’s been smiling here in…” Liz says, “well, in a long time.”

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Liz and Elarryo, who typically take their kids on vacation in California (“We’ll decide together as a family whether we go north or south”), are only too aware of the inherent evanescence of these moments they’re sharing with their children. Whether they’re watching them surfing, swimming, or just listening to them talk to each other while pretending to do something else, they remember, and record, every moment.

“Today, there was a certain point when Olinga and Toussaint were ahead of us, hiking up the trail, and it reminded me of the day I brought Toussaint home from the hospital,” Liz says. “He was like, a day old. Olinga was just so super excited for his new little brother to come home, so I sat him down on the couch and I made him stick his legs out and laid Toussaint on his lap so that he was looking up at Olinga.” Sitting next to her, Elarryo reaches over and takes his wife’s hand in his, tightening his grip as her eyes fill with tears. “I told him then, ‘From here on out, and when your dad and I are gone, it’s going to be you two. So never let anything come between you. You guys have to be close, stay close, and always love each other.’” She takes a moment to steady the tremor in her voice. “So, to come here and to see them walking ahead, just the two of them. That’s what you want as a parent from a vacation.” From outside, the chords of an acoustic guitar are clearly audible drifting over the sounds of splashing from the pool; it’s impossible to tell which brother is responsible for which.   

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Olinga jumped off those cliffs, by the way. “I mean, when else am I going to get a chance to do something like this?” he asked no one in particular before taking off his T-shirt, stepping to the edge, and leaping in. “To see Olinga also go for it, to see him stretch himself, meant so much to me,” says Liz on the last evening before the family heads back to Los Angeles. We’re sitting in the pool house; below us Toussaint is in the hot tub, eating Cheerios, and Olinga is sitting on the edge, his feet in the water next to his brother.

“Who knows?” Liz says. “Maybe he’ll start a tradition when he gets married and has his own kids and he’ll come back here and stay in this house, and he’ll be telling his own kids, ‘When I was fifteen, I took a risk and jumped off these rocks,’ and he’ll tell them: ‘You can do it too, you know.’ That would be so neat….” her voice catches in her throat, almost imperceptibly. She exhales slowly, then picks up her sentence: “It would be so neat, if he did that.”

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Explore more family-friendly homes in Hawaii here.

Liz Dwyer’s Travel Guide to the North Shore of Kauai

Hawaii is well-known for its fiery volcanoes and sandy beaches, but families hoping to adventure like a local living in paradise should look no further than the north shore of Kauai. With its verdant landscape and a wide array of colorful flowers it easily lives up to its nickname: “Garden Island.” My teenage sons, my husband, and I instantly fell in love with the relaxed, tropical vibe, and we soon found out that Kauai has more to offer than the scent of hibiscus. These are a few of our favorite experiences from our five days on the island. 

To Do:

Surfing Lessons at Hawaiian Surfing Adventures: Teaching folks how to surf is a family affair at Hawaiian Surfing Adventures, which is owned and operated by local surfing legend Mitchell “Uncle Mitch” Alapa and his wife Lynn. The easy going instructors brought the equipment, gave my boys a lesson in ocean safety, taught them surfing basics, and then took them out to ride the waves. Once my boys were in the water, the instructors were hands-on with their coaching, and talked to them about everything from local surf culture, to what it’s like to go to high school on Kauai. Bonus: At the end of the lesson, you get to jump off Hanalei Pier.

Shopping at Hanalei Bay Farmers Market: Pick up a package of taro chips, a coconut drink, and some fresh local fruit—like a bag full of red, hairy rambutan—to snack on while you’re out hiking. While you’re at it, take home the ingredients for a healthy dinner salad, like locally grown daikon radishes, cucumbers, and heads of lettuce. Handmade jewelry and clothing are also available if you’re looking for an authentic souvenir.

Swimming in Queen’s Bath: Diving into the pond-size tidepool known as Queen’s Bath veers into daredevil territory, but it was an irresistible challenge for my family. A short hike down a slippery red clay trail followed by a jaunt across a shoreline cliff of black igneous rock gets you to the pool. Jumping into the tidepool—or standing close to the cliff’s edge—should not be attempted if the surf is high or by those who aren’t strong swimmers. And although the mountain views behind you are spectacular, use common sense and don’t turn your back on the crashing waves of the ocean.

Hiking the Kalalau Trail: With the Pacific Ocean on one side and towering, vegetation-covered mountains of the Na Pali Coast on the other, a hike along the Kalalau Trail feels like stepping into a prehistoric jungle. It’s no wonder that parts of the Jurassic Park movies were filmed here. Although the entire trail is 11 miles-long, one-way, we stuck to a shorter but still physically challenging 1-mile trek up to a lookout point with stunning views. No cars can drive along the coast on this part of the island, so the experience is definitely one that’s off the beaten path.

Snorkeling at Ke’e Beach: After a hike on the Kalalau Trail, you’ll be ready for a refreshing dip in the Pacific. Fortunately Ke’e Beach is just a few feet past the trailhead. An offshore coral reef creates a peaceful blue lagoon that’s perfect for snorkeling. The water is so clean you’ll feel like you’re in a swimming pool. Take a break from snorkeling if you’re in the water when the sun swings around the Na Pali Coast cliffs at sunset: that’s a view you’ll never forget.

Lazing Around at Anini Beach: The combination of white sand and calm turquoise water make for a postcard-perfect spot to chill. Grab your beach towel and that book you’ve been meaning to read. You’ll be able to relax while the kids chase tropical fish in the shallow water along the shore.

To Eat:

Kilauea Fish Market: Head here for lunch and you’ll feel like you’re eating in a friend’s backyard—a friend who just happens to know how to whip up everything from mahi mahi tacos to a delish tofu burrito. But the poke, a traditional Hawaiian raw fish salad, is what the locals come for.

Hanalei Taro & Juice Co.: This farm-to-table food truck serves up inexpensive lunchtime eats that are based on local family recipes. You can sit at adjacent picnic tables while you chow down on a taro veggie burger or fish tacos and sip fresh guava juice or lemonade.

Wishing Well Shaved Ice: Organic homemade syrups are the secret to the sweet treats served up at this shaved ice truck, which has been locally owned and operated since 1983. One serving of the fruit-flavored ice is large enough to be shared—and go ahead and add the macadamia nut ice cream underneath. Outdoor seating is available so you can eat this traditional Hawaiian snack while looking at the green mountains that surround Hanalei Bay.

Foodland: Pick up your late-night snacks, breakfast eats, and barbecue supplies at this supermarket in Princeville.