Once upon a time, we were told that Kauai was the most “laid back” of the 4 most frequently-visited Hawaiian islands (Kauai, Oahu, Maui and the Big Island). Most of the sites that we read described it as a lush garden paradise with frequent rainfall and lovely flowers. But, they cautioned, there was not really too much to do there, other than relax and appreciate the beauty of the surroundings.
Having now experienced 3 visits to the island of Kauai, we would probably agree with the “laid-back” part—Kauai does seem to be its own little world—after all, there is only one main road that goes around most of the island and you can travel that in 2-3 hours, stopping several times to sightsee, shop and eat. However, we completely disagree with the “not really too much to do there,” part. Our last visit lasted 9 days, and there were still some things that we didn’t have time to do or see.
Kauai kind of resembles a big pie, or circle. We stayed at Ka ‘Eo Kai in the Princeville area, in the northern part of the circle. If you would like to read our review click here. It rains more on the northern part of the island, although we had no rain when we were there in late September/early October. On one visit we had a fair amount of rain up in the Princeville area, but drove 30 minutes south and we had clear skies.
Let’s take a quick tour of the island and point out some of the “ must see or do” activities and sights. Since we stayed in the Princeville area we will start there. Very close to our resort was the St. Regis Hotel. This is a high end hotel with fantastic views of the ocean and Bali Hai peaks. It is worth it to walk around the hotel and maybe have lunch in one of the restaurants or a drink in one of the lounges.
Driving north from the Princeville area you will follow the coast line with all kinds of beaches and places to pull off and enjoy the beauty of the ocean. You can also see the beach where the filming of South Pacific took place.
There are a couple of small towns, one being Hanalei Bay, which has some great shopping and restaurants as well as a pier and a beautiful beach. Traveling a little further north you will pass the wet caves and dry caves, which are worth a stop and some quick pictures.
Also on the north shore you will find Limahuli Garden and Preserve, which is an excellent botanical garden and has been voted as one of the best in the U.S. It is over 1,000 acres and covers some three distinct ecological zones.
At the end of your travels north you will come to Ke’e Beach in Ha’ena State Park and the beginning of the Kalalau Trail. You can take this trail and hike along the Napili Coast. This is a difficult hike, so if you do it, be prepared and plan ahead.
Travelling south from Princeville, you will come to a turn off for the Kiluaea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge. You will see some rocky cliffs and great views of the ocean. Many birds can be seen nesting and flying about. The area is a natural habitat for many Hawaiian seabirds and the Nene, the endangered Hawaiian goose. Naturalists are available to explain the area and information about the many birds. We saw a baby albatross, and whales can be spotted during their season.
Driving further south you come to the area of Kapaa and Lihue. This is where the airport is located and you flew into on your arrival to the island. You can find a shopping area called the Coconut Marketplace. Also, we visited two amazing waterfalls, Opakae and Wailua Falls. You can pretty much drive right up to these with no hiking, and the photo ops are fantastic!
Also in the area, check out the Fern Grotto tour and kayaking opportunity on the Wailua River. The Fern Grotto is a two mile boat ride back into a very dense fern grotto, and is well worth the time and money. We did not kayak, but those folks that did seemed to be having a good time.
Driving further south, you will come to the Poipu area. This is another great town where you will find a lot of resorts, hotels, shopping and restaurants and some excellent beaches. The Hyatt Hotel is well worth a stop–take a walk down to the ocean and Shipwreck Beach.
Make sure you don’t miss the Spouting Horn –amazing to watch and to photograph! Next to it is an excellent flea market with all kinds of local goods. Across the street is a botanical garden, where you can make reservations for a couple of different tours if you so desire.
Further around the island you will pass a number of towns with some great shopping and some sights to see. We enjoyed shopping at the Red Dirt Shirt Factory as well as a “ must do,” Jo Jo’s Shave Ice–yum!
In the area of Port Allen you can take boats out for snorkeling and sightseeing up the Napili Coast. There are afternoon, dinner and sunset cruises. The only way to see the coast is by boat or helicopter, and both options seem to be equally popular. We have taken two dinner/sunset cruises and they both were excellent.
Finally, you will come to Waimea Canyon, “ a must see.” This is a spectacular canyon and has been called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. It is some two miles across, ten miles in length and some 3,600 feet deep. Created by volcanic flow over centuries, it features deep brown, red and green colors. Some people say they like it better than the Grand Canyon. It is basically a driving tour with numerous stops for viewing and picture taking. The trip from the Princeville area takes a couple of hours, and you will want to plan a few hours touring. We shared a sack lunch at one of the stops. If you make a few stops coming and going, you need to plan a full day.
Also on the island are a couple of great luaus, the Smith Family Luau and Gaylord’s, which is part of Kilohana Plantation. They are awesome, and we have done both. A luau is a “must do” experience during your trip to Hawaii.
While you are in Kauai, be sure to take time to relax and enjoy the beauty of the ocean and the island, because the time passes all too quickly. After a month at home, we are more than ready to go back!