The view from the hammock is a stunning combination of cerulean water, verdant plants and exquisitely sculptured rock that molds the coastline.
A photograph shows Tara Long stretched out in a hammock, looking back over her shoulder at the photographer, smiling, and enjoying this tropical bliss known as Kauai, Hawaii.
Tara was not alone in this paradise. She and her family, including her husband, John; their children: Lennon, 4, Norah, 2, and Harrison, 8 weeks; her father, Michael O'Hara; her sisters, Colleen O'Hara, Michelle O'Hara and Andrea Rupnik; as well as Colleen's boyfriend, Joe Stevens; Michelle's boyfriend, Austin Kent; and family friends Ron Richards and Christine Batty spent 11 days exploring the beauty of Hawaii's northernmost island.
The group spent the first three days of their visit on the island's south shore, where they relaxed on the beach and took the opportunity to visit Waimea Canyon, which is touted as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific Ocean (a description attributed to Mark Twain, according to one tourism Web site). Tara and Colleen described dazzling waterfalls and how they drove slowly around Waimea to take in every possible view. Each turn they made produced a new and breathtaking vista.
After a few days, the group drove to the north shore to begin the next part of their vacation. Arriving at their rental house on the north shore is one of Tara's favorite memories from the trip. She and Colleen spent a lot of time researching where to stay.
"It was difficult to find a house that would hold all of us," Tara said. "And we all wanted our own room," Colleen added. They chose Dali Hale, an estate near Secret Beach. But on the drive to the rental house, Tara was a touch nervous. What if the house was nothing like the pictures on the Web site? What if they didn't like it?
When the house finally came into view, all her concerns dissipated.
"We were screaming and yelling and so excited," Tara said about seeing the estate for the first time. "It was like the adults were kids in a candy store from all the excitement. It was so funny."
The family ran around, checking out the property, thrilled with what they were finding. "We decided to run down and check out this gorgeous beach, and there was this dog. We threw a stick and he fetched it, so we played fetch with this random dog on this beautiful beach," Tara recalled.
The beach she refers to is Secret Beach, so named, according to Tara, because it's difficult for the public to access. Even with direct means of entry to the ocean, the family found getting down to Secret Beach to be anything but simple. That's because of the steep terrain and the fact that the stairs leading from the estate to the beach were made from wood planks cushioned deep into the rich island soil.
Tara and Colleen said at one point the journey to the beach included a ladder everyone had to climb. The trip took 10 minutes going one way. Fortunately, no one fell on the way down, but everyone had to take breaks on the way back up. It wasn't the easiest journey, but, according to Tara, "it was totally worth it" once they made it to the waterfront.
And if the family didn't feel like making their way down to the beach, the estate provided plenty of other ways to stay entertained, including tennis courts, a swimming pool and a hot tub. Or they could kick back and read in one of the multiple hammocks hung throughout the property.
One day the guys decided to take a 14-mile kayak trip along the Na Pali Coast, a stretch of island that is inaccessible to automobiles. They left at 6 a.m. and didn't return until later that evening. Everyone who stayed behind received a massage at the house. "Best massages I think we've ever had," said Colleen, a statement that was quickly seconded by Tara.
Most of the activities were done together as a family. From sunbathing on the beach and making sandcastles with the kids, to trying one of the many seafood restaurants in the area to playing Scrabble in the evening, the vacation provided ample opportunity for the family to spend quality time together.
"We all basically had our cell phones turned off. There was no phones, no televisions, no computers, which doesn't happen very often," Tara said.
"My dad and John (Tara's husband) are both attorneys and workaholics, but while they were there they were able to leave work behind," Colleen chimed in.
Everyone pitched in to help around the house too. Tara and her father, Michael, would often cook breakfast. The guys would grill at night while others would do the laundry or wash the dishes. It may not be easy to find a house that can accommodate a large group like the O'Hara family, but it's definitely worth the effort to locate one. "When you're staying at a big resort, you're dealing with a lot of people, a lot of lines. The family strives to always have their own house to stay in because it's easier on everybody, and everyone interacts together more," Tara explained.
At night the house windows stayed open and the family could hear the rhythmic crash of ocean waves.
The family tradition of traveling together continues. Already Tara and Colleen are busy formulating plans for the next trip. They are planning to visit Spain. When asked who gets to decide the location, Tara said, "Colleen and I are good about planting the seed." She quickly added, "We do a lot of work for it too, though, so we pick where we want to go."
They hope to go there next summer.
Story published Friday, November 6, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 6 )