Hawaii Golf Cruise


Cruising the Fairways

KAUAI, HAWAII -- The sun was rising as we warmed up at Kauai's Kiele Lagoons -- a dazzling golf course where sculpted marble beasts preside over tees banked by blossoming frangipani and tulip trees. Fairways roll through rain forests, descend into valleys framed by purple mountains, and meander toward cliffs jutting above turquoise seas. Kauai, however, is the rainiest place on Earth, so the weather was bound to kick in. Sunny skies over the ninth hole turned drizzly grey by the 10th. Two holes later, a rainbow arched over blue Nawiliwili Bay. Gusty winds came into play, forcing us to punch low shots over roughs and send bump and run shots onto undulating greens. Driving off the 16th tee was breathtaking: It juts above crashing waves, over a volcanic gulch and onto a skinny fairway that slopes along the coast to sea level, where a tiny green hugs an old lighthouse.

This was one of many spectacular vistas we experienced on a golf cruise around the Hawaiian archipelago. Hawaii's diverse courses, sculpted around wildly shifting topography, teem with visual thrills. They hug seashores, straddle lava flows and wind up mountaintops. But on our first day out, we also discovered that stray shots can lead to trouble in paradise.

Golfers at heart, we booked this cruise because it promised prearranged tee times at select courses, shuttle services, plus cart and club rentals. The seven-day itinerary, looping from Honolulu's historic Aloha Tower to five ports on four islands in the Hawaiian archipelago -- Oahu, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii, the Big Island -- allowed for three golf games interspersed with sightseeing. En route to Kauai, we jogged around the top deck watching a school of playful dolphins escort the ship, their shiny skins glistening in the sun.

The next day, still exhilarated by the Kiele Lagoons course, we embarked on a helicopter tour of Mount Wai'ale'ale. We soared over the razor-edged cliffs and palm-fringed beaches, deep canyons and cascading waterfalls that were natural sets for the filming of South Pacific, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park.

At dawn, we sailed into Maui. Circled by sugary white and jet-black beaches -- and gorgeous golf courses -- Maui is also a hub of activity. Lahaina, an old whaling port, once the capital of the Hawaiian kingdom, buzzes with bistros and galleries, and the area off its shores is a winter playground for humpback whales. Adventurous types rose early to watch the sun rise over Haleakala, the world's largest dormant volcano, then bicycled down its walls.

In search of a more level playground, we drove to Wailea. The challenging Gold Course, a par-72 at 7,070 yards, turned out to be a strategist's dream that rewards smart layups. The 11th was a sweet par three cloistered by four bunkers. Besides rough gullies, hazards on the Gold Course include large chunks of papohau -- remnants of ancient lava rock walls built by the early settlers. Every hole has spectacular views of Mount Haleakala rising 3,000 metres to the east, with the blue Pacific in the west.

By dawn the next morning, the ship was in Hilo, the Big Island's gateway to Volcanoes National Park. We traded our soft spikes for track shoes and joined a group on a 11-kilometre hike around the Kilauea Caldera Crater. Heeding warnings about the park's fickle climate, which can shift radically as you travel from steamy rain forests to chilly summits to dry plateaus, we made sure to bring layers of clothes, sturdy shoes and loads of water. After following the Crater Rim Trail through fragrant forests to vast swaths of land devastated by lava flows, we descended through the rain forest, dense with tree ferns, to the crater's parched floor. Though the view was awesome looking up, we spent most of our time watching our steps, straddling fissures and circumventing plumes of steam that hissed up from the crusty lava.

That night, we stood on deck listening to legends about Pele, Goddess of the Volcano, while sailing by the rare spectacle of the Pu'u Huluhulu volcano spewing its molten lava into the sea. Early again next morning, we waited to come ashore while the ship was anchored off the Big Island's Kona coast. This section of the island boasts Hawaii's best weather, best-preserved Hawaiian temple, the world's clearest astronomical vantage from the Mauna Kea Observatory and arguably the world's best beach at Hapuna Bay -- a long, wide arc of white sand.

Most courses on the Big Island are chiselled and gouged out of nature's harshest concoction: 5,000-year-old lava fields, scrubby savanna, damp rain forests and parched deserts. Golfing here pitches you against daunting elements. You must hit strong over ocean carries, gulches of crusty lava and mangled scrub. To choose a course was tough. Mauna Kea is a ruggedly undulating, sea-level coastal course crafted by Robert Trent Jones with tight fairways lined by trees, scrub and clefts of crusty lava. The nearby Hapuna Course, designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay with narrow, Scottish-links-style fairways, runs 30 to 180 metres higher in elevation through a lunar landscape, dubbed a dryland forest, scattered with wheat-coloured grasses and shrubs that skirt desert dunes. Both championship courses offer views of the ocean melting into the sky. But time was tight so plying Kona's nearby Mauka Course made more sense.

By the second hole, we were gritting our teeth. Mauka, which means mountain, wends up and around a steep, undulating slope, past wide ponds and lava gulches, before winding back down to sea level. We learned quickly that bouncing balls roll down to the fairway below. Never mind. For all our nerve-racking flubs, we found golf heaven here at the top of the world, playing high in the sky on the green crest of the mountain. At this altitude, only the birds heard me cheer when I parred the 12th and 13th holes.

When the ship returned to Honolulu, we took a day room at the Royal Hawaiian and rushed down to the beach. The sand was warm, the ocean shimmering silver and blue. After concentrating on long drives, low punch shots, bump and runs and tricky putts, we needed a rest.

If you go

Encore Cruises offers Hawaii golf cruises priced in Canadian dollars. For more information, contact a travel agent.
Kauai Lagoons Golf Club: 3351 Hoolaulea Way, Lihue, Hawaii; phone: (800) 634-6400; Web: http://www.kauailagoonsgolf.com.
Wailea Golf Club: 100 Wailea Golf Club Dr., Wailea, Hawaii; phone: (888) 328-6284 or (808) 875-7450; Web: http://www.waileagolf.com.
Mauna Kea Golf Course: 62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Dr., Kohala Coast, Hawaii; phone: (808) 882-7222 or (800) 882-6060; Web: http://www.maunakeabeachhotel.com.
Hapuna Golf Course: 62-100 Kauna'oa Dr., Kohala Coast, Hawaii; phone: (808) 880-1111 or (800) 882-6060; Web: http://www.hapunabeachprincehotel.com.
Kona Country Club (Mauka Course): 78-70 Alii Dr., Kailua Kona, Hawaii; phone: (808) 322-2595. For more information on Hawaii golf courses, visit http://www.gohawaii.com or call (800) 464 2924



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