Kauai, the oldest island of the Hawaiian islands, is one of my favorite places I’ve visited. Unlike other more developed and more populated islands in Hawaii like Oahu and Mauai, Kauai is incredibly chill and stress-free. It’s full of beautiful beaches, so many that you may have one all to yourself, and you can usually snorkel directly off many of these beaches. There are numerous hikes through tropical rain forests and Kauai even has its own grand canyon. Surfing, zipling, four-wheel driving, kayaking, river tubing, horse back riding, helicopter tours, golfing, whale watching … Kauaii has it all! Whether you’re looking for adventure or just to relax on the beach, I can’t recommend Kauai enough!
Before I start with the summary of the amazing trip that my wife and I took in March of 2015, I want to say that the guidebook Kauai Revealed was incredibly helpful and I highly recommend it. Some locals in Kauai hate it because it describes a lot of the places that the locals would prefer to keep a secret, and I understand that, but I’m so glad that I got to experience these amazing places on our vacation. I decided where to go based on the recommendations in this book and I downloaded the app as well, which was really helpful for navigating to the destinations. If you’re going to Kauai or thinking about going, get this book and the app!
- You can stay in the South, East, or North of Kauai. There are no roads in the mountainous center of the island or on the Northwest’s Na Pali coast.
- Driving is easy and I don’t think the speed limit ever exceeds 25 MPH.
- The South has the most sunny days, the East is the most developed (relative to Kauai) and most central for both North and South adventures, and the North has most rain but is also most lush and beautiful.
- No matter where you go, there are beaches along the entire coastline.
- We spent 3 nights in Po’ipu (South) and 2 nights in Princeville (North)
- Highlights of our trip were Po’ipu Beach and the nearby cliffside trail in the South, Waimea Canyon and views of Na Pali Coast on the West, the waterfall hike on the East, and Tunnels Beach with views of Bali Ha’i in the North.
Our trip started with a 4 hour drive from Bangor to Boston, then a 6 hour flight from Boston to San Diego where we had an overnight layover so we stayed at an inexpensive hotel near the airport, then continued the trip with a 6 hour flight to Kauai’s Lihue Airport. 16 hours of traveling! Yowzers! We flew on Alaskan Airlines and were very happy with the flight. Well, as happy as you can be about a 12 hour flight. I’m glad we broke it up into two days so that we weren’t exhausted when we got to Kauai.
Upon arrival in Kauai, we picked up our rental car, and immediately stopped at a local market to get our first taste of Hawaii’s fresh seafood, Poke (tuna), Tako (octupus) and seaweed salad. We drove to the south side of the island and checked into our hotel, The Marriott Waiohai Beach Club. I used my Marriott points and booked the least expensive room, but was pleasantly surprised with how nice the room was and the view! There’s a nice pool with a beach bar here and the resort is located directly on the west side of Po’ipu Beach, a big beautiful beach! There was decent snorkeling right from the beach. Both sunrise and sunset were incredible from this resort’s location. On the other side of the resort is Kiahuna Beach, where the Sheraton is, another great looking beach.
On the next day, our first full day, we started off by walking along Po’ipu Beach and then onto Shipwreck Beach in front of the Hyatt. On your left when facing the ocean at Shipwreck Beach is Makawehi Point, where the wonderful cliffside Maha’ulepa Trail begins. I was tempted to cliff dive off this point but the seas were rough this day. The cliffside trail was really nice!
After our cliffside stroll, we drove back to Lihue for our helicopter tour with Jack Harter Helicopters. It was a great experience but unfortunately it was raining at the time (showers come and go quickly on the island) so our views weren’t as amazing as they could be. It was still really cool flying over all of the waterfalls throughout the island, including the giant Manawaiopuna Falls that were featured in Jurassic Park when the helicopter first lands on the island. The Na Pali coast was of course amazing to see from the air as well, as you get the best views of this iconic coastline from the air or from the sea.
After our helicopter tour, since we were on the east end of the island, we stopped at the viewpoints for Wailua Falls and Opaeka’a Falls, a couple of the many, many waterfalls we would see on our trip.
The next day, we headed west for our Napali Coast Snorkel Cruise. The boat departed from the South-west of the island and cruised around the Na Pali Coast. This boat ride was an adventure to say the least! This time of year (March) the seas were much rougher than they are in the summer and the boat was bouncing over the huge waves. We couldn’t snorkel in the rough seas but the highlight was actually seeing all of the dolphins that swam next to the boat. We saw some whales in the distance as well.
After our cruise, we headed out to Waimea Canyon, which was gorgeous and absolutely worth the trip. The canyon is huge and several waterfalls could be seen in the distance. There are several lookouts that you can drive to and several hikes as well, but we just stuck to the lookouts.
On our third day, we headed East on our way to the north side of the island where we would be staying for the next two nights. On our way, we did the 2 mile round trip hike through the forest to Ho’opi’I Falls. This was so awesome! There are actually two waterfalls to see on this hike. We didn’t swim here but you certainly could! Parking for the trailhead is in a residential area, so this is one of those places that the locals wished would remain a secret.
After our hiking adventure, we continued north and checked in to our hotel, The Hanalei Bay Resort on Puu Poa Beach in Princeville. This area is absolutely stunning, with postcard views of Bali Ha’i. The resort, unfortunately, left much to be desired. I’ve never seen a hotel look so gorgeous on their website but so disappointing in real life. Our room was old, dark and musty, the pool would’ve been gorgeous if part of it wasn’t under construction, which we were told it had been for quite some time, and it was a marathon walk down a hill to get to the beach. The resort is next door to the St. Regis Princeville, which would give you the same stunning views and a nicer hotel, but you’ll pay for it!
The next morning, we headed to Ke’e Beach, which is as far west as the road goes because this is where the rugged Na Pali coast begins. The trailhead for the multi-day Kalalau Trail is here, which is said to be one of the best hikes in the world. We didn’t do it but definitely will the next time we visit. Because of the popularity of both the beach and the trail, we found no parking here so we headed to Tunnels Beach, which was probably my favorite beach in Kauai. The snorkeling off the beach here was amazing! There are several interesting underwater tunnels, hence the name of the beach.
We ended the day at Queen’s Bath, another highlight of our trip in Kauai. The trailhead is on a residential street with very limited parking, and there were no open spaces on our first attempt, so we stopped at the viewpoint at Kilauea Lighthouse and then went to Kahili Beach, where we intended to hike to the Pools of Mokolea. However, the water was deep where we would have to cross the stream, and we were worried it would get deeper and become stranded if the tide came in, so we just hung out at the beach, which had some surfers on its huge waves. The hike sounded like it would’ve been cool, but oh well, it was still fun playing in the waves and on the rope swing on the stream.
After hanging out at Kahili Beach for a while, we tried Queen’s Bath again and this time we lucked out and got a parking spot! A short hike through the woods and over the rocks takes you to this natural pool that you can jump into off the cliffs. I didn’t expect for us to be able to swim here because the seas had been rough but to my delight it was totally swimmable. What a neat experience! As a bonus, we witnessed an incredible sunset from this spot!
On our fifth and final day in Kauai, after lounging by the pool and by the beach at the resort, we stopped at the iconic Hanalei Pier before he drove East to the airport. Just another beautiful beach with postcard views! We still had some time to kill before going to the airport so we stopped at one of the many beaches in the Kapa’a area. There’s a nice bike path along the coast here and that would be another fun thing to do, but our time was out, and it was time to head off for the next part of our trip, 4 days in Maui.