The Garden Isle
Boasting a lush landscape, crystal waters and the breathtaking Napali Coast, among other picturesque sites, the Garden Isle is truly a treasure.
Penned as “A Little Slice Of Heaven” by Conde Nast Traveler, it’s no mystery why the fairytale-worthy island of Kaua‘i presented an ideal filming location for numerous films—like The Descendants and Jurassic Park— to mention just a few blockbusters on Kauai's resume reel.
The island’s hotels landed two spots in Conde Nast Traveler’s 2016’s Top 10 Resorts in Hawai‘i— not too shabby for the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands. Kaua‘i’s golden beaches, thrilling ocean sports, shopping locales and charming towns are rich in history and aloha spirit.
The great gaping gulch known as Waimea Canyon is quite a sight. This valley, known for its reddish lava beds, reminds everyone who sees it of the Grand Canyon. Kauai's version is bursting with ever-changing color, just like its namesake, but it's smaller -- only a mile wide, 3,567 feet deep, and 12 miles long. A massive earthquake sent a number of streams into the single river that ultimately carved this picturesque canyon.
Today, the Waimea River - a silver thread of water in the gorge that's sometimes a trickle, often a torrent, but always there - keeps cutting the canyon deeper and wider, and nobody can say what the result will be 100 million years from now.
You can stop by the road and look at the canyon, hike down into it, or swoop through it in a helicopter.
By car, there are two ways to visit Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park, 20 miles from Waimea. From the coastal road (Hwy. 50), you can turn up Waimea Canyon Drive (Hwy. 550) at Waimea town; or you can pass through Waimea and turn up Kokee Road (Hwy. 55) at Kekaha.
The climb is very steep from Kekaha, but Waimea Canyon Drive, the rim road, is narrower and rougher. A few miles up, the two merge into Kokee Road.
The first good vantage point is Waimea Canyon Lookout, located between mile markers 10 and 11 on Waimea Canyon Road. From here, it's another 6 miles to Kokee. There are a few more lookout points along the way that also offer spectacular views, such as Puu Hinahina Lookout, between mile markers 13 and 14, at 3,336 feet; be sure to pull over and spend a few minutes pondering this natural wonder.
(The giant white object that looks like a golf ball and defaces the natural landscape is a radar station left over from the Cold War.)
It's only 16 miles from Waimea to Kokee, but the park is a whole different world because it is 4,345 acres of rainforest. You'll enter a new climate zone, where the breeze has a bite and trees look quite continental. You're in a cloud forest on the edge of the Alakai Swamp, the largest swamp in Hawaii, on the summit plateau of Kauai.
Days are cool and wet, with intermittent bright sunshine, not unlike Seattle on a good day. Bring your sweater and, if you're staying over, be sure you know how to light a fire. (Overnight lows dip into the 40s [single digits Celsius].)
The forest is full of native plants, such as mokihana berry, ohia lehua, and iliau (similar to Maui's silversword), as well as imports like Australia's eucalyptus and California's redwood. Pigs, goats, and black-tailed deer thrive in the forest, but the moa, or Polynesian jungle fowl, is the cock of the walk.
Right next to Kokee Lodge (which lies on the only road through the park, about a mile before it ends) is the Kokee Natural History Museum (tel. 808/335-9975; www.kokee.org), open daily from 10am to 4pm (free admission). This is the best place to learn about the forest and Alakai Swamp before you set off hiking in the wild. The museum shop has great trail information and local books and maps, including the official park trail map.
We recommend getting the Pocket Guide on Native Plants on the Nature Trail for Kokee State Park and the Road Guide to Kokee and Waimea Canyon State Park.A nature walk is the best introduction to this rainforest; it starts behind the museum at the rare Hawaiian koa tree. This easy, self-guided walk of about a quarter mile takes about 20 minutes if you stop and look at all the plants identified along the way.
Two miles above Kokee Lodge is Kalalau Lookout, the spectacular climax of your drive through Waimea Canyon and Kokee. When you stand at the lookout, below you is a work in progress that began at least 5 million years ago. It's hard to stop looking; the view is breathtaking, especially when light and cloud shadows play across the red-and-orange cliffs.
There's lots more to see and do up here. Anglers fly-fish for rainbow trout and hikers tackle the 45 trails that lace the Alakai Swamp. That's a lot of ground to cover, so you might want to plan on staying over. If pitching a tent is too rustic for you, the wonderful cabins set in a grove of redwoods are one of the best lodging bargains in the islands.
The restaurant at Kokee Lodge is open for breakfast and lunch daily from 9am to 2:30pm.
Everyone should experience a helicopter tour at least once in a lifetime. We believe there is no better place than Kauai because so much of this magnificent island can only be viewed from the air. Over 80% of Kauai’s diverse terrain is inaccessible making the helicopter the best way to see our spectacular waterfalls, canyons, mountains, valleys, rainforests and secluded beaches
Highlights of most helicopter tours on Kauai include Nawiliwili Harbor, the Menehune Fish Pond, Jurassic Park Falls, the Hanapepe Valley, Waimea Canyon, the Napali Coast, the Hanalei Valley, Mt. Waialeale and Wailua Falls.
Most tours last between 50 minutes and an hour. Some companies offer longer tours, usually accompanied by a stop or designed for the serious photographer. At least one company offers tours with the doors off, allowing for even better photos (no glare from the windows).
The smart traveler does his or her research and makes sure that they are comfortable with the company they choose. On Kauai, I have flown with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, Island Helicopters and Jack Harter Helicopters. I have flown with Sunshine Helicopters on Maui. I can recommend those companies, but other companies are equally good. I only recommend companies with which I have flown. It's really a personal choice.
Kauai is a tropical paradise and it rains a lot. For your safety and enjoyment flights often are canceled due to bad weather. I recommend that you book your helicopter tour early in your visit to Kauai so that you have time to reschedule should it be canceled. Most companies offer significant discounts if you book online. Prices vary widely, so check the websites of the various companies for current pricing.
Kauai is a movie maker's paradise and has been for over 70 years! Over the years well over 100 motion pictures and TV shows have been filmed on Kauai and the pace has not slowed.
Although Hollywood filmmakers have been making movies on Kaua‘i for many years, recent big-budget films with A-list stars continue to catapult Hawai‘i into the spotlight. Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, starring Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz, was filmed here, as was 2011’s The Descendants, starring George Clooney, which earned an Oscar.
The family favorite, Soul Surfer, starring AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt and Carrie Underwood, showcases Kaua‘i, and tells the story of beloved island surfer Bethany Hamilton.
Hollywood has been using Kaua‘i as a back lot for feature movies since 1933, when the film White Heat, directed by Lois Weber, was shot on the island.
The draw is 552 square miles of uninterrupted beauty parceled out in landscapes that vary widely from one short distance to another, which allows producers the imagery, diversity and red-dust haze needed to transform the island into the backdrops that shape their stories.
In Dustin Hoffman’s Outbreak, Kaua‘i mimics Zaire. Danny Glover’s Flight of The Intruder finds Kaua‘i doubling for both Vietnam and the Philippines. In Jurassic Park, the island is meant to mirror an island in Costa Rica, and in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, a South American jungle. Kaua‘i even played a role in the sci-fi blockbuster AVATAR.
Island residents often answer casting calls. PIRATES attracted 1,000 hopefuls, while 200 extras were hired for THE DESCENDANTS.
The southern shore of Kauai is the area between Maha'ulepu Beach in the east and Lawai Bay in the west.
The new Kukui'ula Village shopping center offers excellent shops, galleries and restaurants. A short drive along the coast will take you past Koloa Landing and Prince Kuhio Park to Spouting Horn where you can see one of Hawaii's most famous blowholes. The nearby National Tropical Botanical Garden offers tours. Their Allerton Garden Tour is the only way to access beautiful Lawai Bay.
A short drive inland will take you to historic Koloa Town, once a major plantation town in the Kauai sugar industry. Today there is an excellent History Center and numerous shops and restaurants.
If time allows, head further inland and back to Rt. 50 (Kaumualii Highway). Head west and explore the lovely towns of Hanapepe and Waimea. Be sure to stop by Salt Pond Beach Park near Hanapepe, one of Hawaii's loveliest beaches.
The island of Kauai has 43 gorgeous white sand beaches stretching over 50 miles - more beach per mile than any other island in Hawaii.
Here are just a few examples of Kauai's great beaches.
Poipu Beach is the beach-lover's beach, a family-friendly spot for swimming, snorkeling, boogie boarding, and simply peering into tide pools. Turtles love this reef-protected beach, so turtle-watching is often a bonus.
On the west side, partially protected by a reef, the Salt Pond Beach Park is the best family beach, popular for swimming, picnicking, or exploring tide pools near the Hawaiian salt ponds that give the beach its name.
In Nawiliwili, near Lihue, the half-mile crescent of Kalapaki Beach is beach boy central, a recreational nexus of canoe riding, catamaran sailing, surfing, swimming, wave riding, and every beach sport imaginable. And you don't have to limit yourself to the ocean. Kayakers can explore the glassy Hule'ia River nearby, featured in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and gaze at the koloa duck and other endangered birds from a wildlife refuge on the river.
On the east side, families love Lydgate Beach Park, near the mouth of the Wailua River. Its protective boulders keep the lagoon calm and snorkelers happy, and its pavilion, small playground, and white-sand beach are tailor-made for families.
Further north, in Haena, Makua Beach, called Tunnels, is an aquarium during the summer months, its underwater caverns and cathedrals a thriving habitat for tropical fish and a Technicolor treat for snorkelers and divers.
North shore beaches have larger swells during the winter, so heed the warning signs and always be sure to pick a beach with a lifeguard.A great source of information to check out before exploring Kauai's beaches is Funlocity.com.
Silver Falls Stables is located on four-hundred acres nestled into the interior high valleys of Kalihiwai Ridge on Kauai's beautiful North Shore. The riding trails here at the Silver Falls Ranch are among the most lush and beautiful on the island and well suited for horseback activity for all levels of riding experience and trail guides will assist all guests based on their past exposure to horses. The horses here are among the most beautiful to be found on the island and are considered the pride and joy of the ranch.
Every effort is made to provide the best life possible for these animals and as a result they reward their riders with a great equestrian experience.
Not all the tours offered by the Silver Falls Ranch strictly deal with horseback riding as some of the rides will take you to a beautiful secluded mountain pool and waterfall where you will be treated to a picnic lunch and a glorious swim with plenty of time to relax.
Generally speaking the folks at Silver Falls Ranch ask that you be in good physical condition before signing up for the ride and riders fourteen years or younger are required to wear helmets.
A trip up the Wailua River Valley either by boat or kayak is a must for any first-time visitor to Kauai. The valley has been used to film such films as Outbreak and Raiders of the Lost Ark. A boat trip takes you to the Fern Grotto which has recently been restored after years of neglect. A kayak trip can take you even further on Hawaii's only navigable river.
The trip down the two-miles of the river is as delightful today as it was when we first experienced it over 15 years ago. The boat captain narrates the ride along the river pointing out points of interest, describing the flora and fauna along the river's banks and relating tales of the significance of the river and surrounding areas (such as Mount Kapu) to early Hawaiians.
Guests arrive at the grotto area in less than 30 minutes and the make the short walk through the rainforest to the Fern Grotto area itself where they encounter a small group of entertainers who perform the Hawaiian Wedding Song, a long tradition in at the Fern Grotto. Over 19,000 weddings have taken place at the Grotto. Even today four or five take place each week.
As is a long tradition with Smith's, the return trip down the river features live Hawaiian music and hula dancers.
Anyone who has been there knows – Na Pali Coast is one of the true wonders of the world. This fifteen-mile stretch of rugged coastline on the northwest shore of Kauai literally means "the Cliffs." A must-do activity on any Kauai vacation.
Much of Na Pali is inaccessible due to its characteristic sheer cliffs that drop straight down, thousands of feet into the ocean. This, and its remote location, allow Na Pali to remain one of the most beautiful and pristine coastlines in the world.
Na Pali Coast is accessible via a strenuous foot trail that traverses 11 rugged miles from Ke'e Beach to Kalalau Valley.The only other way to access this hidden coastline is by boat.
Hawaiians relied on canoes to access Na Pali's numerous valleys, nearby Niihau and outlying islands. Today, Na Pali boat tours still offer the easiest way to explore this amazing coast. The calm surf of the summer months allows for kayaking, while year-round trips are available on sailing catamarans and rigid hull rafts.
Kaua‘i’s warm, crystalline water, its thriving reef system and its mostly sunny skies make it a natural for snorkeling. Because the Garden Isle is the oldest of the inhabited islands, nature has had millions of years to develop its reefs and the hundreds of species of fish—some found nowhere else in the world—that populate them.
Snorkeling is a great way to stick your head in the water without the inconvenience of holding your breath. You wear a mask and fins and breathe through a tube. People of all ages can participate, and there are plenty of good spots— many of them just offshore—to practice your moves.
The longest reef on the island is off Anini beach on Kauai's North Shore. Here, the near-shore water is generally shallow and, at reef’s edge, underwater canyons provide ample opportunity to explore. To get to this beach, take Highway 56 and pass Kilauea. Take a right on Kalihiwai Road (just past the bridge) and a left on Anini Road.
Poipu Beach Park on the South Shore, Lydgate Park near Kapa‘a and Ke‘e beach at the end of the road past HanaleI are other good snorkeling picks.
No matter where you are, the best snorkeling is in calm, clear water. Stay out if conditions are rough or choppy. Keep your distance from sea turtles and monk seals, and stick close to other snorkelers and swimmers. Also, don’t walk on the reefs— they are delicate ecosystems that are easily damaged but very slow to recover.
Gear can be rented or purchased. In either case, you’ll need a mask, a snorkel and some fins. Gear comes in many sizes and shapes. Most boat cruises also offer snorkeling as part of the package. These tours will take you to beautiful, out-of-theway locations that are difficult to access on your own.
SNORKELING TIPS (You’re welcome.)
Paddling a kayak up the Wailua River is more than a pleasant diversion— it’s a trek through a lush rainforest to an inviting waterfall, a journey through ancient Hawaiian sites and a few hours of healthy exercise delivered at a relaxing pace.
The easy 4-mile paddle and 2-mile hike to Uluwehi, or Secret Falls, is a popular trip that is available year-round. Paddlers can rent kayaks and navigate on their own, or sign up for a guided tour. Either way, it’s a great adventure fit for the entire family.
The journey begins in generally calm waters near the river mouth below the Wailua Bridge on Kuhio Highway. Heading toward the interior, paddlers lose sight of daily commerce as the shoreline turns to lush vegetation painted with mango trees and brilliantly colored flowers.
If you decide to go the tour route, expect your guide to spin tales of this ancient river-valley as you paddle toward a spot where you’ll dock, and then continue on foot to a waterfall. You might hear stories about Night Marchers, who move in processions down the river where they enter canoes and paddle to Polihale. Once these spirits of the dead reach their final destination, it is said that they leap from the cliffs into the land of the dead beneath the sea.
High on the banks above the river, the ruins of an ancient temple recall a time when the area was the seat of the royalty. About 2.5 miles upstream, you’ll notice the re-created thatched-roof Kamokila Hawaiian Village, developed and operated by a local family.
Once you arrive at Secret Falls, a 100-foot gusher with small, refreshing pools, you can take a dip and bask in the nature of Kauai's stunning landscape.
Honey-dipped sunsets, chocolate-sand beaches, aquamarine skies — Kauai has mastered seduction. But the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain doesn't have to resort to over-the-top luxury or tourist traps to entice; instead, it appeals to a no-muss, no-fuss type of traveler. You prefer rural to resplendent?
Kauai's your island — there are only two major highways, and some regions can only be explored on foot. Resorts are no taller than a coconut tree (literally).
Some would say that you need little more than a good pair of hiking boots, an umbrella, and an adventurous spirit to visit. But we should warn you: You might also need a little cash. Kauai has put a premium on its natural beauty and prized hiking trails, and room rates during the winter can reach $500 a night. To get the most and save the most, consider visiting in fall.
The best time to visit Kauai is between September and November or from April to June, when the weather is pleasant and airfare and hotel rates drop. Rain from December to March doesn't deter visitors looking for a winter getaway, but a word to the wise: You'll face the highest markup on rooms and flights if you visit at this time.
If the fall is out of the question and the winter is just too pricey, consider the spring months as a compromise: Kauai sees a slight dip in prices after the peak season concludes and before families take summer vacations.
Fall room rates dip below $150 at many hotels, and average temperatures are in the low 70s and 80s. You'll also avoid crowds at this time of year.
Most people travel to Kauai during this chilly season, but this is when the island experiences the worst weather. Average precipitation is fairly high, particularly in December. Book several weeks to months in advance if you want a winter vacation; some four-star hotels advertise rooms for more than $500 a night.
Kauai weather is picture perfect in spring and — shhh! — so is the airfare. But it's best to get your vacation in early, before school lets out.
Kauai hotels spike their prices just in time for family vacations; keep that in mind if you're itching for a summer trip, and book several months in advance.
The best way to get around Kauai is in a car — actually, the only way to get around Kauai is in a car. The bus system, though inexpensive, does not cater to tourists, nor does it stop at any of the hotels. Taxis are virtually nonexistent, though you will see them congregate at Lihue Airport (LIH), which is near the town of Lihue on the southeastern side of Kauai. Many hotels also provide shuttle service to and from the airport.
There are direct flights into LIH Airport, but many travelers choose to fly through Honolulu International Airport (HNL). If you opt for the layover, try to get a seat on the left side of the plane as you island-hop: You'll have an awesome view of Kauai as you approach the island.
Kauai is meant to be explored; to do so, you'll need a car. You'll find that driving is easy, as there are really only two major highways on island. Save yourself a headache, however, and reserve your wheels in advance. The line at the airport's car rental kiosk can be quite long. Another tip: check your personal car insurance policy before you arrive. Hawaii is a no-fault state and the agencies will try to sell you collision coverage. Your policy might already cover you when driving elsewhere.
There is an affordable bus system on Kauai, but it's not really convenient to tourists. None of the routes pass by any of the hotels, and you can't bring any bag larger than a purse or shopping bag aboard. Fares range from $1 to $2 per passenger.
The highway in Kauai is very hilly and much of it doesn’t have a decent shoulder so I don’t recommend biking as your main source of transportation. However, renting a bike in Kapaa where there is a bike path about 8 miles long is fine.Rent a bike in town and it's $10 for 3 hours.
Rent it about a half mile further north at Kapaa Beach Shop and and it’s $10 for the day.
Kauai restaurants range from your average American fast-food joints to top-notch luxury establishments. You're also guaranteed to find an assortment of restaurants catering to every craving, from Asian and Polynesian cuisine to Mexican and European dishes.Rice, meat, and seafood are staples on Kauai, and you should also make sure to sample some of the island's fresh produce.
Food is expensive in Kauai. But for good quality at a reasonable price you’re best to go to one of the food trucks. As I was told by a local, they are where the locals eat and if a truck is not up to snuff, it won’t last long.
On Kauai you basically have three main geographic areas to stay:
The good news is that you can’t make a bad choice. Each area has it’s special features and benefits. Of course, you’ll find beautiful beaches all over Kauai, so don’t worry a bit about finding the best beaches for strolls and relaxing.
Stunning scenery with a backdrop of tall, verdant cliffs with pencil thin waterfalls. You’ll really know you’re on the Garden Isle when you stay here.
If luxury is what you are looking for, you’ll find Kauai’s most luxurious hotel at the St. Regis property in Princeville. It has one of the most stunning views in all of Hawaii.
You can find villas, timeshares and condos to suit just about any budget on the North Shore.
There’s a variety of restaurants and food trucks in Hanalei.
The North Shore tends to get a bit more rain compared to the other areas of the island. This usually isn’t a big deal, but it can (not always) be a bit more of a problem in the rainier months of November – March./
Big waves hit Kauai’s North Shore in the winter months (November – March), which can make the beaches unsafe for swimming.
Hotel rates tend to cost a bit less here.Several hotels in the Lihue area offer free shuttle service from the airport, so you can reduce or eliminate your need for a rental car.
The East Shore is a convenient, central base for touring the island.Many inexpensive restaurants are within driving distance.
There aren’t any great sunset viewing spots from the East Shore, but you can enjoy sunrises.
Most East Shore beaches are not swimmable. The main exception is Kalapaki.
The South shore tends to be sunnier and drier year-round
Excellent selection of restaurants within easy driving and sometimes walking distance.
Great selection of accommodations — from inexpensive vacation rentals to mid-range and luxury hotel options.
Travelers used to a fast-paced life should take it easy in Kauai, and elsewhere in Hawaii, where life is considerably slower than on the mainland. While Kauai's laid-back attitude might aggravate some less-patient travelers, it tends to suit most vacationers seeking relaxation and solace in one of the United States' most beautiful travel destinations.
Although the slower pace and natural beauty of Kauai may seem very foreign, it is important to remember that Hawaii is part of the United States, and its residents are proud of their American heritage. It is impolite to refer to Hawaiian citizens as "islanders" or "natives."
We want you to know what to bring to Kauai. To be the most prepared when traveling to the island, however there is no need to over prepare yourself. Here’s a useful checklist!
Preparing for a trip to Kauai is probably going to be one of the most simple pack jobs of your life when determining what to bring to Kauai.
Overall, with the weather ranging between 70° F to 85°F during the day, you’ll want to wear the least amount of clothing possible.
During the evening and depending on the month you arrive, weather generally gets down to 55°F to 70°F.
Not necessarily heavy clothing worthy either at any time, although it can get chilly at elevation. Lighter cotton blends are going to be your best knights of choice.
Breathable, lightweight, natural fiber clothing with simple casual shoes and accessories are the best.
Remember, life on the island of Kauai is simple, and taking in the sights and sounds are the most important part of any trip, so don’t worry about what to bring, what to wear, and fret over not bringing everything you can with you.
Hawaii's ultimate tropical paradise, Kauai has amazing natural wonders to explore, from the velvety green, accordion-folded cliffs of Napali Coast to the multicolor vistas of Waimea Canyon. Sun seekers choose favorites from more than 50 miles of beaches, while hikers and kayakers have abundant options in unspoiled beauty.
Best of all, laid-back Kauai is one of the state’s least-crowded islands, with low-key resorts and mellow former plantation villages. Places like the North Shore's Hanalei Bay, with its turquoise water, are perfect for simply relaxing. Visit Kauai now and explore the great, tropical outdoors!