KAUAI, known as the garden island, is what allured us to HAWAII in the first place. By far the lushest place we have seen with our own eyes, it is the least developed/travelled Hawaiian Island. Out of all the places we have travelled, I would move to KAUAI in a heart beat (I’m actively trying to convince the hubs). Why?, you might ask. Well, it’s the one location that has it all – weather, ocean, mountains && a very laid-back atmosphere.
HANALEI BEACH – I left a piece of my heart in HANALEI. This was the beach that we kept coming back to. We adjusted our itinerary just so we could spend more time in HANALEI. It had that HAWAII surf vibe going on. Most people there looked like locals – spending time with families, catching waves & teaching their kids how to surf. If you’ve never surfed or are a beginner surfer – this is the beach to go to.
ANINI BEACH – Ahh, you have stepped into paradise. The locals call this beach, “the calm water.” The reason for it, the water is calm, go figure. You will not be catching any waves here, rather, you will be immersed in pale turquoise water. If you want a lazy beach day, this is the place for you. Just a heads up, instead of being pestered by seagulls, you will find yourself encountering roosters, who also will be attracted to your food. Consider yourself warned. KAUAI is known for roosters roaming freely – you see them everywhere!
KE’E BEACH – Located beside the Na Pali Coast, this beach offers beautiful mountain views of the coast. Right when you enter the beach, lots of people crowd in the main area, but if you walk maybe 500 meters to the right, the beach is so empty! The water is shallow for a long time and then gets deeper.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of hikes to do on this Island. Do your research to find the one that tailors to what you want to get out of the Island.
KALALAU TRAIL – this is a 11 mile hike from KE’E BEACH to KALALUA BEACH along the Na Pali Coast. Most people who do the hike end up camping at KALALUA BEACH and then hike back the next day. This is one of the most dangerous hikes in the world. You actually need to get a permit to hike AND camp on this trail. If you do not have a permit and get caught (most people do) you will be fined and a mandatory court appearance is expected. Don’t be a fool and take that chance. We looked into getting a permit 6 months before our trip and it was sold out for the dates we were going. I read that you need to book your permit a year in advance – crazy. Another tip, you have to check the website to see if this trail is open. Often it closes due to weather conditions (flash floods). Plan to do this trial at the beginning of your trip so if it is closed, you have other days to do it.
KE’E BEACH to HANAKAPI’AI BEACH – If you are like us and could not get a permit to hike the KALALUA TRAIL, do not fret, their is hope. The first 2 miles of the KALALUA TRAIL is from KE’E BEACH to HANAKAPI’AI. You do not need a permit to do this portion of the trail (phew!) and it provides the most gorgeous view of the Na Pali Coast. Once you get to HANAKAPI’AI BEACH, you can walk another 2 miles and see the HANAKAPI’AI FALLS.
WAIMEA CANYON – a.k.a the Grand Canyon of the Pacific is a 10 mile long and 3,600 feet deep canyon. You access this park by driving up to Waimea Canyon State Park (its roughly a half an hour drive up) and you reach two view points PUU KA PELE and PUU HINAHINA that provide breath taking views of the red, green and orange hues of the canyon. If you walk to the left of the main look out – there will be significantly less people and no rails to block your view. There are numerous hikes you can do within this park.
KOKEE STATE PARK – there are tons of hikes in this park that you can choose from, you can even camp here (with a permit). The ones that intrigued my interest are: Kalalau lookout, Honopu Ridge Trail & Awa’awapuhi Trail. My advice to you is to start your hikes early (5 or 6 am) because if you start later, there are going to be clouds up in the mountains and the view won’t really be a view. Take my advice, we unfortunately learned the hard way. Also, check the weather and look if there are a lot of clouds in the mountains to begin with. If there are a lot of clouds up there, don’t waste your time – go another day when it ‘s more clear. I would also recommend penciling this in your itinerary early, so if weather becomes a problem, you can re-schedule it later on in your trip.
We did not book this in advance, we booked it once we arrived to the Island. We went to a surf shop in HANALEI’S town and asked them where we could get surf lessons. They gave us two options Russell Lewis or a random surf school (I forget the name). The guy then proceeded to tell us that we are in luck since Russell is home and we have a strong chance of getting him to teach us. He also said, all the locals have been taught by Russell.
The stars aligned and we had the privilege of being taught by Russell Lewis We didn’t know who Russell was at the time, but we found out that he was a pro surfer and was Bethany Hamilton’s coach from when she was a little girl! Side note, Bethany Hamilton lives and grew up on KAUAI. He told us the whole story of the unfortunate shark attack and where it occurred on the Island. I fangirled real hard.
He also was an amazing instructor. His lesson began on land where he taught us how to mark our area when surfing and to be aware of the riptides. He then taught us how to handle our boards in the water, which sounds silly but when a big wave is coming at you and you’re not on your board – you can easily get hurt if you don’t know what your doing. And of course, he taught us how to get up and stay up on our boards. Luckily, we were all able to get up and ride a few waves to shore. We loved surfing so much that the next day, we rented boards and went back to HANALEI for the day. This is where the obsession began.
KAUAI is most famous for the Na Pali Coast, which is where Jurassic Park and scenes of Avatar were filmed. The Na Pali Coast is inaccessible by car and can only be seen by hiking, helicopter or boat/kayak/paddleboard. The decision wasn’t hard.t of emerald cliffs that run along the pacific coast
This was the most EPIC adventure we have been on yet. We went with the company Island Helicopters Kauai. This one hour long helicopter ride took us over the entire Island from Waimea Canyon to Na Pali Coast to Manawaipuna Falls (only accessible by air) to Mt Waialeale (one of the wettest places on earth). We got to hover in front of waterfalls that are only accessible by air. Weaving in and out of the emerald cliffs that hover over the pacific ocean, aka: Na Pali Coast, was breathtaking. Music was being played the entire time which added to the adrenaline – he even played the theme song of Jurassic Park (made my experience, I am quite cheesy).
I will be honest with you, this is expensive BUT 100% worth it. You will not regret it. Tip, they advise you to wear dark colors, preferably black. They take this seriously because light colors reflect off the glass and the glare will capture people in your photos. My friend and I didn’t read the fine prints and wore light lavendar and white, haha. We didn’t have time to go back to our place to change so we had to buy t-shirt souvenirs in black in order to go on the helicopter. Well, at least I got a keep sake, haha.
QUEENS BATH is a natural tide pool where the waves hit crashing into the pool, replacing its water. Once you arrive, its an easy hike down to the lava rocks, roughly 10 minutes. You see a waterfall once you immediately hit the lava rocks. Walk another 5 to 10 minutes to the left, and you will find QUEENS BATH. Its crystal clear water is inviting – however, is quite dangerous. Be cautious because the waves can come up unexpectedly. Locals were in the pool, I wouldn’t feel comfortable going in myself, but it was worth seeing.
Our last night on KAUAI was spent in a tent on POLIHALE STATE PARK. Again, a permit was required to camp here which we booked in advance. We rented camping gear from Kayak Kauai and then headed off. The entrance of the park is interesting to say the least – a 4 km stretch of unpaved road. It was a fun bumpy 45 minute drive, thats for sure. An SUV or Truck is recommended if you are planning to do this activity.
Once we got there, we pitched out tent on the beach (maybe 20 meters from the ocean), attempted making a fire and watched the sunset. The sky filled with hundreds of stars, we stayed up chatting, laughing and watching the sky. We awoke to the sounds of the ocean and had a 7 am morning dip. One of my favorite moments.
DUANE’S ONO CHAR- BURGER was our go to burger place on KAUAI. Do not judge a book by its cover. This hole-in-the wall shack is located on the side of the road on the main highway to KAPPA or PRINCEVILLE. Don’t opt for the safe choice (plain burger) try their speciality teriyaki burgers – mmmm, you will not be disappointed.
KALALEA JUICE HALE well, since you’re going to stop at DUANE’S ONO CHAR- BURGER, you might as well cross the road and hit up this gem. The BEST acai bowls on KAUAI hands down. You are welcome. This cafe shack offers smoothies, acai bowels, teas, juices, etc. Our usual routine: boys gabbed burgers, girls grabbed acai bowls and we met at a table beside KALALEA JUICE HALE.
KALYPSO RESTURANT – located in HANALEI’S main town, this restaurant had fresh seafood. Yes, POKE BOWLS, FISH TACOS and many many more delicious options. This place was bustling with people.
LOCAL MARKETS – food in HAWAII is expensive, period, and then add some in KAUAI. I am not joking – a watermelon was $13 and eggs were $10 in a grocery store – WHAT?! I advice you to go make friends with the locals and get information to when the local markets take place. From what I remember, there is a local market every day at different location on the island. You get fresh local fruits/veggies for a good price! The LYCHE were so sweet and mouth watering delicious. We bought bag fulls and brought them everywhere we went as snacks.
KAUAI is known for shaved ice, we tried it, it was good but nothing special if you ask me. Its flavoured ice – meh, I couldn’t care for it tbh.
To me, your actual stay on KAUAI isn’t really important. The location is. There is so much to do on the Island that you don’t need to spend time at your stay to enjoy your vacation. I do not recommend staying at a resort – plus its ridicuously expensive. It’s actually super expensive even for a decent stay. We stayed in KAPPA through airbnb. It had a kitchen, so we cooked breakfast every morning.
If I could do it again, I would recommend staying in two different locatons. First location can be KAPPA, PRINCEVILLE or HANALEI. I would recommend staying in WAIMEA for the second location. The reason for this is because KAUAI is connected with one main road from POLIHALE STATE PARK all the way to KE’E BEACH (this is from one end of the Na Pali coast to the other end). Although it is a small island, you are going to waste your time driving if you don’t separate your stays based on the activities that I provided.
You need to rent a car during your stay on KAUAI. We rented a Jeep through National Care Rental and had a great experience 🙂