Kauai is pure nature. Lush forests, canyons and fairy tale waterfalls, volcanoes and coasts of incredible beauty will welcome you in this corner of paradise. Even before to go there, I was sure I would have had the best experiences in Kauai; I was right because, at the end of the journey, it was the island that gave me the strongest emotions. Are you ready to discover my Kauai Travel Guide together? Let’s go!
IntroductionTo preserve this unspoiled nature, there is a law that states that no construction can exceed the height of a palm tree.
Kauai is the fourth largest island in Hawaii; it is the oldest one and it’s located north west in relation to the other islands. The most populous city is Kapa’a and Lihue airport connects Kauai to the world. On this island there is the only navigable river in Hawaii, the Wailua River.
Kauai was nicknamed “The Garden Island” because, seen from above, it is a vast expanse of lush green mountains.
The island’s symbol is the rooster; in fact, wherever you are, you will see roosters, chickens and chicks around. According to some, in 1992, the roosters were set free by the heavy hurricane that struck Hawaii and these animals gradually adapted to living wild, being the island free of predators.
When to go
As I explained in my Hawaii islands guide, the best time to visit Kauai is definitely the summer (from May to September) since this season is the less rainy; however, Hawaii has a tropical climate, so temperatures are pleasant all year round, even in winter. I was there in late June: I found beautiful sunny days, acceptable heat and only a few hours of rain!
To get around the island you need to rent a car, in fact there are no public transportation. I rented a Jeep at the airport with GPS included; 4×4 is not necessary. Getting around Kauai is quite simple because there is only one large road that runs through the island in a semicircle, so it is not possible to cross it through the centre or do the whole tour. For this reason, sometimes the distances are quite challenging.
Where to Stay
where to stay was not an easy decision for me, so I will try to simplify the choice by dividing Kauai into 3 areas:
- North – If you are a sea lover and you know that you will spend most of your time on the beach, then I recommend looking for accommodation near Hanalei. It is a bit far from Lihue but in this area, there are the most beautiful beaches on the island.
- East – If you are looking for services and a good position to move between north and south, the most suitable area is between Lihue and Kapaa. Personally, I don’t like this part of Kauai.
- South – For my stay I preferred this area of the island, far from everything but much more characteristic and quieter. In Koloa, on the coast of Poipu, there is the richest part of Kauai, with golf courses and shopping malls. After several searches, I decided to book the Waimea Plantation Cottages in the south west of Waimea area. The only negative notes were the sea colour and the distance from the rest of the island; however, I would choose again and again this little oasis of peace with which I fell in love! It is a private property where they rent wooden cottages equipped with kitchen, living room, bathroom and bedroom. They are single houses that are located on the beach front, surrounded by palm trees and flowers. Having breakfast on the porch in the early morning was my favourite part of the day … I could observe nature while listening to the sound of the waves and the roosters singing!
N.B. Waimea Town is very small: apart from the schools, a church and the fire station, there is only one supermarket and some refreshment points.
What to See
One of the major natural attractions in Kauai is Waimea Canyon, known as “the Pacific Canyon” or as “the little brother of the Grand Canyon in Arizona“. This Canyon was created by the erosion of the Waimea River, its colours fades from green, to brown, to red. There are also some waterfalls that complete the landscape. Observing it from the panoramic viewpoints is free. It can be easily reached by car from Waimea, in about 15 minutes, along the Waimea Canyon Dr (State Hwy 550) where, halfway on the left side, there is also a small but suggestive waterfall on red rocks!
KOKE’E STATE PARK
Getting to the end of the State Hwy 550, about 40 minutes away from Waimea, you reach the Koke’e State Park, whose Kalalau Lookout is the most beautiful and famous viewpoint … location of several cinematographic shots. I liked this place so much that I tried to go back again before leaving Kauai, but unfortunately a heavy storm forced me to go back! Being very high and therefore at high risk of rain, I advise you to always check the weather before climbing up to the Kalalau Lookout.
Hanapepe is a lovely historic town in Kauai, famous for having inspired the Disney cartoon “Lilo & Stitch“, to which a mural was also dedicated. Here you will find a few shops, many art galleries (the largest number of Hawaiian artists are concentrated in this village) and some restaurants.
If you are hungry or just want to have a drink, you could stop at Little Fish Coffee, a small cafe where excellent quality dishes and drinks are served.
Poipu Beach is a nice beach south of Kauai. Being a bay, it is sheltered from the waves so it is easily accessible even to the little ones. Here I was lucky to see the monk seals, which slept for hours on the sand, protected by authorized personnel: he watched over them all the time, so that the bathers could not disturb them!
ALLERTON BOTANICAL GARDEN
In the same area of Poipu, I found this magnificent botanical garden that offers two-hour guided tours at a cost of $ 60 … not exactly cheap but it’s worth it! I have seen interesting things like the “breadfruit” (Artocarpus) which you can, for example, fry like potatoes; perfectly maintained gardens, a yellow bamboo forest, but above all the wonderful Australian Moreton Bay Figs. These imposing trees were chosen as location for a famous Jurassic Park scene: do you remember when Dr. Allen Grant discovered Raptor’s eggs with the children? Everything was filmed among the great roots of Moreton Bay Fig. Jurassic Park’s fans, like me, know that these trees alone are worth the full ticket price!
Spouting Horn Park is located near the Allerton Garden; you will be able to observe the beauty of the waves breaking in this reef, channelling itself in a natural tunnel and coming out like a small geyser.
Reaching the Spouting Horn Park car park is quite easy; all around there are also several handicrafts’ stalls.
The coast of Poipu is one of the best places to spot the humpback whales during the period from December to May.
ON THE ROAD TO REACH HANALEI
Skipping the whole area between Lihue and Kaapa, which was not part of my itinerary, and going towards Hanalei, you travel a road full of beautiful things to see:
WAILUA FALLS – Charming waterfall with a double jet of water, with a jump of 50 meters. The view is limited because it can only be seen from the street, at the top. I noticed, however, that some people walked down an unauthorized path to be able to see it from below. I suggest going there in the morning, there is more chance to see the rainbow!
SLEEPING GIANT – Going beyond Wailua, you can see on the left the “Sleeping Giant“, name attributed to the mountain that looks like a human sleeping figure. Hawaiian legend says that after a lot of work, the giant went to rest and hasn’t waken up yet.
KILAUEA LIGHTHOUSE – This is the northern lighthouse of Kauai. Getting out of the car you can enjoy a splendid panorama and, for just $ 5, you can visit the nature reserve with many birds.
HANALEI VALLEY LOOKOUT – This scenic spot is wonderful, overlooking the entire Hanalei valley. Parking may be limited during peak times.
HANALEI – A small town north of Kauai; it’s centre has many shops, restaurants, some hotels and the beautiful green church of Waioli. For lunch I had a sandwich from “Hanalei Bread Company“, what can I say … delicious! They also serve a home-made cider with different flavours such as pineapple or lavender.
KE’E BEACH and HA’ENA BEACH
Ke’e Beach is the dream beach… crystal clear turquoise water, low waves, clear sand and trees all around…the only problem is that being a paradise, it is usually crowded. In addition, the sand is covered with leaves and pinecones from the surrounding forest. However, it remains my favourite of all Kauai!
The Kalalau Trail begins here and allow you to reach the Napali Coast on foot.
Ha’ena Beach is the close beach, less beautiful but also less popular! Here the water is turquoise too but the waves are larger. It is a long beach, suitable for making beautiful walks on the shore. Plus, some Hawaiians in the parking lot sell fresh fruit and coconut trees!
It is also the ideal place to watch the sunset.
The most breath-taking part of Kauai is undoubtedly the Napali Coast: it is located in the West and is accessible only by boat (or on foot, but it takes 2-3 days and you have to sleep in a tent!). I purchased a 5 hours boat tour in the afternoon through Napali Experience ($ 179 per person); the views are amazing, I also spotted turtles and snorkelled in turquoise water. However, I do not recommend choosing this time because, even if the Napali Coast enjoys a beautiful light in these hours, the sea is far too rough. An early morning tour is the best solution, when the sea is calmer and you have a better chance of spotting dolphins!
One of the best experiences of my life: the helicopter ride over Kauai! It is an awesome adventure that will remain etched in my memory forever. I relied on Jack Harter Helicopters, the cost is $ 259 if you book online and the ride lasts an hour. Unfortunately, you cannot decide where to sit on the helicopter, they will position you according to your weight to balance the aircraft as much as possible. I chose the tour in the helicopter without doors, in order to better photograph the panorama … truly incredible! It was scary but exciting at the same time.
This is my little Kauai Travel Guide, what do you think? would you like to visit it? Hawaii is a true paradise and I hope to be back soon. I’ll wait you in the comments for any other information. See you next time! ♥