If Hawaii on your travel bucket list, have an off-the-beaten-path experience in Kauai with our picks of where to stay, what to eat, and things to do on the lush island
Known as the garden isle, this island hosts what is believed to be the rainiest place on earth – it receives around 450 inches (11430mm) of rain annually, but has been recorded to receive up to 683 inches in one year (17,300mm). That’s a lot of greenery!
Flying to Kauai (Lihue airport) from Maui or Oahu is easy-peasy. It’s about 30 minutes from Oahu and 45 minutes from Maui.
There are buses on Kauai, but very few and they don’t run frequently. Taxis are easy to find, but they don’t run late as most of the island shuts down early. It’s definitely worth renting a four wheel drive vehicle so you can off-road to hidden beaches to find Kauai’s best kept secrets.
Where to stay
Ko’a Kea resort in Poipu is a refreshingly small luxury resort that prides itself on detail and service. Their pool bar serves up some mean cocktails and there’s a place to take surf lessons or rent paddle boards, snorkel gear, and deck chairs right next to the beach.
For the north, there’s no question if you’re searching for luxury – the St. Regis Princeville trumps the competition, but most of the tours leave from the southern parts of the island, so you’ll have to be prepared for a drive if any of those are on your itinerary since you cannot access the western side of the island through the Na Pali coast, so it takes much longer than you’d expect. As with Oahu, there is always the option to rent a condo or small house via VRBO or Airbnb.
Feeds for foodies
Red Salt at Ko’a Kea resort will blow your mind. The service is exceptional and the food is outstanding for both breakfast and dinner. Tidepools at the Grand Hyatt is also another great option for fine dining and is our pick for a romantic and tranquil setting.
After a day spent in the north shore snorkelling, sometimes you just want a late and easy lunch, and Bubba’s Burgers up in Princeville was our go-to. Grab one of their ridiculously amazing chocolate shakes to slide into that genuine American diner vibe.
Expenses in Hawaii can add up quite quickly between the fine dining, activities, and posh resorts; for more fuss-free dining, head to Puka Dogs. Aside from the best fresh squeezed lemonade you may ever have, the Polish dogs (or veggie dogs, if you so choose) are nestled in incredibly light fresh Hawaiian bread. Though it may sound out there, abandon the traditional ketchup and mustard and go for one of their delicious fruit relishes: mango, coconut, pineapple, papaya, banana or star fruit – the mango is amazing! Top it off with some lilikoi mustard and it’ll be a most memorable hotdog.
For refined Hawaiian cuisine, head to Eating House 1849. The farm-to-table restaurant, helmed by award-winning chef Roy Yamaguchi, uses local ingredients for fusion-sounding plates (that’s Hawaiian for you) including a sizzled Hawaiian Kampachi sashimi, a “Kamameshi” (hot pot rice bowl), as well as a garlicky tiger shrimp piri piri.
Tunnels beach is by far the best snorkelling you’ll find on the island. It’s quite shallow, but there are heaps of turtles and very cool coral that form intricate tunnel pathways as soon as you step in the water.
As you head further Northeast, you’ll find Kilauea, Secret Beach and Kilauea lighthouse. The beaches here are also quite beautiful, though admittedly, most places you stop at on the north shore will be.
Just before the St. Regis Princeville is Queen’s Bath. It’s renowned for cliff jumping, but it can be quite life threatening and we don’t recommend it, though there are usually at least one or two people to watch take the daring plunge. There is a calm pool with a natural hot spring to relax in that reminds you just how breathtaking our world is. Even if you don’t plan to swim, the views alone are worth the small hike from the parking lot and sometimes you can see sea turtles body surfing the waves around the cliffs.
Na Pali Coast is a stretch of rugged pali (cliffs) and waterfalls that is only reachable by foot (18 km of hiking to be exact), helicopter, or boat and runs from the end of the road in the north at Ke’e Beach to where Polihale State Park beach ends in the East. It is definitely worth a helicopter ride so you can see the waterfalls and bits of coast you’d never get the opportunity to otherwise. We recommend Jack Harter tours as they completely open the doors when weather permits – it’s a photographer’s dream! If you want to travel by boat or have a snorkelling adventure, Capt’n Andy’s is the tour group to go with for their feel-good vibes and antics. There are several options from sunset dinner cruises to snorkelling adventures, but you’ll have an amazing day finding dolphin pods, whale watching (in season), and a generous feed no matter which tour you choose.
Ever been to the Grand Canyon in the U.S? Well Hawaii has its own version. Waimea Canyon may be smaller, but with the amount of rainfall this island sees, it’s quite an incredible sight. Follow the winding road around the canyon edge and stop at the Waimea lookout for panoramic views of multi-coloured wonder.
Just beyond Waimea town up the coast toward the end of the road is Polihale State park, where you can camp on the beach for a night. Be sure you have a four wheel drive – there’s a 5 mile pot-hole infested dirt road which will take you to the beach front. Bring an umbrella and lots of fluid; there aren’t any shops, petrol stations, or towns until you’re back in Waimea.
It’s true of every vacation, but for Hawaii in particular: make your holiday a personal one. Some people love the outdoors and want to get in the water and bronze up as soon as the wheels hit the landing strip, some just want fresh coconuts, butterfish, and a luxurious massage – find what is important to you because no matter what, you can’t go wrong in Hawaii with the spirit of Aloha!