Kauai is a wonderful island, it is very lush and green with abundant forests and tropical plants, especially in the center and north-west parts of the island. There are also beautiful sandy beaches along most of the coast, lined with striking black lava rock. The whole island is very accessible by car. A coastal road runs three-quarters of the way around the island from the Haena area in the north round to Mana in the west. We drove along this road many times on our adventures.
Map of Kauai (with some of Kauai’s attractions marked in red):
If you are considering buying a guidebook I would recommend the Kauai Revealed, which is very informative and has great reviews of activities, restaurants, etc.
The highlights of our trip were:
1. Hiking the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali coast.
The hike begins at the northern point of the island heading west. There is an 11 mile hike to a beautiful beach, where hikers can camp overnight. We did not do the full 11 miles. 2 miles into the hike, there is an initial beach and an offshoot takes you another 2 miles to a stunning waterfall, making it an 8 mile round trip. This hike was the highlight for many of us on the trip. The vistas are incredible, and well worth the effort. When we did the trail it was a little muddy, so be prepared to get your running shoes dirty. There are also some rivers to cross on stepping stones, so a walking pole would help to steady you (people left large sticks at the trail head). We also packed our camelbacks for water, and it would be a good idea to throw a small towel, a swimsuit and some water shoes e.g. chacos, into your bag if you want to go into the lake by the waterfall. The 8 miles takes approx. 6 hours. There are some steep inclines/descents. If the 8 miles seems a little much, even hiking 2 miles to the beach, and 2 miles back is very worthwhile. Alternatively, they do great helicopter tours over the area, which our friends did several years back and highly recommended. Or boat/kayak trips allow you to see the coastline from the sea.
You can read about the hike here: http://www.dayhiker.com/directory/hawaii_nopali.htm
2. Taking a whale watching/snorkeling tour (Dec – May)
We left from Port Allen on the south of the island and did a 2 hour excursion. This shorter excursion was on a zodiac boat, which went fast, and meant we were pretty close to the sea life. There are also 5 hr excursions on larger boats, which include lunch and time for snorkeling, which looked fun. During the 2 hours we got to see a dozen hump back whales, as well as spinner dolphins dancing, splashing and jumping right in front of our boat, and a sea turtle. It was a great experience. Boat tours also leave from Hanalei in the north.
3. Surfing at Hanalei Bay (or close-by Pine Trees beach).
If you want to give surfing a try, Hanalei bay is an excellent place to do this. There is a wide sandy beach with consistent small-medium waves to the left of Hanalei pier and also a great spot close by at Pine Trees beach, a little further west along Hanalei Bay. We have rented boards from Hawaiian Surfing Adventures and Kayak Hanalei (approx. $20-$30 day). If you haven’t surfed before, I would highly recommend taking a lesson. The lessons are usually 2 hours long. The instructors are very helpful in getting you to paddle for your wave in the perfect spot, and give you a helping push to start each wave. Here is some information about some of the surf schools in Kauai: http://www.trykauai.com/surfschool.html
You can rent 2 sets of snorkel gear for approx. $9 for the week from Boss Frogs. Or Snorkel Bobs is another popular outfitter. Both shops have numerous locations on the island. We found some great snorkeling near Poipu beach in the south of the island. We also snorkeled at Tunnels Beach in the north of the island near Ha’ena. Tunnels beach is beautiful, but the current was a little strong here, so be aware of that. It’s easier to walk along the beach back to where you started than fight the current. There were tons of different fishes: beautiful turquoise ones, yellow angel and butterfly fish, long trumpet and needle fish. Several of our friends had underwater cameras, which was fun.
You can rent bodyboards inexpensively from the surf shops which are situated near most of the main beaches (for around $20 for a week). These are a lot of fun to play in the surf with near the shore, and an enjoyable alternative or additional activity to surfing. Whether you do bodyboarding or surfing I would recommend wearing a rash vest. We wore long sleeve ones, so our arms didn’t get rubbed on the boards. They sell them out there at most surf stores (and also at the Costco on the island), and if you do a surfing lesson, they often lend you one to wear too.
6. Queen’s Bath
The trailhead is near the St. Regis Resort in Princeville. There is only parking for about 8-10 cars by the trailhead. If it is full you’ll need to go to the bigger public parking lot nearby and walk from there. It is about 10 min walk from the trailhead down to the shore. There are some steeper areas and tree roots to negotiate, but it is doable. You are met with beautiful black lava rock with stunning pools. The largest pool, Queen’s Bath, is furthest left. It is fun to soak in. We jumped into the pool, but made sure it was deep enough first! It is recommend not to go in the other pools as the current is strong and you can be swept out.
7. Floating Lihue Plantation.
This was a fun and relaxing excursion near Lihue and the airport. The float lasted about an hour or so, and took you through the irrigation channels of the former Lihue sugar plantation. You go through about 5 tunnels/caves and have head lamps to guide the way. The price is steep at $106 pp (which includes a packed lunch). However, this tour is good for all ages and levels of activity, so if you have members in your party who might not want to do some of the other more strenuous activities in Kauai, this could be a good option.
Other things we enjoyed:
* Eating the delicious local ice cream, fresh pineapple, fish tacos, and sushi!
Recommendations in Hanalei include:
– Hanalei Gourmet – Great fish tacos, and salads with catch of the day or chicken added
– Chicken in a Barrel – Chicken and ribs were delicious or go for the sampler plate and try everything
– For fish tacos we tried Tropical Taco and the tacos were good, also heard Pat’s Taqueria is great.
– Yummy iced coffee and delicious coconut macaroons from Hanalei Coffee Roasters (they do breakfast and lunch too)
Things to do in the Poipu/South Shore area:
* Poipu Beach for bodyboarding; Kiahuna Beach for surfing (booties advised as coral seabed); snorkeling in Poipu area
* Visiting the Coffee Plantation and sampling some delicious coffees
* Spouting Horn – in south, fairly close to Poipu beach area, it is worth a look if you are in the area:
Things we wanted to do, but didn’t get round to and we are sure would be a blast:
* Paddle boarding
A popular spot is at Kalapaki bay on the east of the island near Nawiliwili Bay
* Kayaking Wailua River
There are some other fun things recommended on Trip Advisor to do in Kauai such as zip lining, etc. Check them out here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g29218-Activities-Kauai_Hawaii.html