“There’s an island across the sea. Beautiful Kauai, beautiful Kauai. And it’s calling, just calling to me. Beautiful Kauai, beautiful Kauai.” These lyrics, from a song by Randy Farden titled “Beautiful Kauai,” evoke the ultimate in natural beauty, which can be found throughout the island of Kauai, known as The Garden Isle.
Kauai, the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, is one of the most beautiful islands in the world. This is not to say anything negative about Maui, Oahu or the Big Island. It’s just that all too often, Kauai comes last when travelers plan a Hawaiian vacation. But the truth is, Kauai was recently chosen as one of the top five paradises in the world by AskMen.com. The island offers hotels and resorts of all types, from bed-and-breakfasts to deluxe five-star hotels, including condos and time-shares. And there is a wide variety of activities to meet the needs of any visitor.
There are four distinct areas of Kauai, each with its own personality and offerings. The North Shore is home to the spectacular Na Pali Cliffs. This area receives the most rain of any of the major hotel areas and, therefore, is the most lush and green. The Eastern Shore, also known as the Royal Coconut Coast, has many moderately priced hotels, most of them located in the Kapaa area. The lifestyle is quite casual. This areas receives a moderate amount rain, with many days of sunshine.
The South Shore, especially the Poipu area, is home to the most hotels, both moderately and high priced. This is the most popular area for those wanting to enjoy a primarily beach vacation, because it receives the most sunny days. Western Kauai features Waimea Canyon and is the gateway to viewing Na Pali Cliffs. Most of inland Kauai is not accessible by roads.
Though you can take organized tours to many places in Kauai, a rental car is the best way to see the island. With a car, you can go where the tours do not go, stop wherever you want to, and for as long as you want. The island is rich in scenic lookouts where you can pull off the road to take pictures or just to enjoy the view.
The North Shore: The signature landmark of the North Shore is Kilauea Lighthouse, located at the northernmost point of the island. The lighthouse is no longer in service, but it is a designated national historic landmark. The lookout on the drive to the lighthouse is one of the best photo ops anywhere. The cove below the lighthouse, with its multi-hued waters lapping at the shore, guarantees a wonderful picture to remind you of your vacation.
Hanalei Bay and Lumahai Beach have been the sites for many movies, including South Pacific. Hanalei is a quaint village with a true Hawaiian atmosphere. Zodiac rafting tours are available from there along Na Pali Cliffs. You can even stop at a secluded beach that is accessible only by boat or helicopter. Driving along the road to the North Shore from the east, there are a number of fascinating places to explore and photograph. You can stop at Maniniholo Dry Cave, where you can walk into a huge cave that looks like an amphitheater. The Waikanaloa and Waikapalae Wet Caves are also very picturesque.
The East Coast: If you are flying into Kauai, you will arrive in Lihue, the largest town on the island. Driving south, you can go to Poipu, or you can drive north to Kapaa or on to the Princeville area. The Lihue Airport is the starting point for one of the most spectacular helicopter flights in the world.
A highlight of your vacation can be a helicopter flight over Kauai. You will see Na Pali Cliffs and Waimea Canyon, which can only be seen from the air. Then it’s on to Mount Waialeale, the source of majestic waterfalls, including the Wailua Falls, seen on the TV show “Fantasy Island.”
The family-owned Smith’s Tropical Paradise is on the road north toward Kapaa. The park has been run by the same extended Hawaiian family for four generations. A tram ride will take you around gardens that display a variety of tropical trees and flowers. Beautiful peacocks are likely to open their gorgeous plumage as they try to attract peahens. A variety of animals also roam the grounds. Smith’s Tropical Paradise offers one of the best luaus in the islands.
The Smith family also operates a two-mile riverboat cruise on the Wailua River, the only navigable river in Hawaii, to the beautiful Fern Grotto. You will relax while you listen to the songs and legends of Hawaii. Then you’ll take a short walk to the intriguing Fern Grotto, the most popular place in Kauai for weddings.
Just south of Lihue is Kilohana and the Kauai Plantation Railway. The Kilohana plantation house has been restored to its original splendor and is a charming museum. The Kauai Plantation Railway offers a 40-minute narrated train tour through the fruit orchards and the old sugar plantation. You will have a relaxing, enjoyable experience as you learn about Kauai’s agriculture, history and legends. You can even step down from the train and feed the goats, sheep and wild pigs on the farm during a brief stop.
As you continue south from Lihue toward the main hotel area of Poipu, you will enter the town of Koloa, with its many quaint shops and galleries. It is a perfect place to just wander around.
The South Shore: Poipu is the largest tourist area on the island. Many of the best-known hotels are located there. Poipu Beach Park also is one of the best beaches on Kauai. It is a very safe, lifeguard-protected beach that is excellent for families. World-class spa facilities are prime features at several hotels in the area.
A wonderful photo opportunity near Koloa is Spouting Horn, where waves coming to the shore are forced through a lava tube and rush upwards into the air, sounding like a horn blowing. Watching each wave as it spouts through the hole is mesmerizing. Near Spouting Horn is the Allerton Gardens, part of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens and one of several botanical gardens in Kauai. (It’s not called The Garden Isle for nothing!)
Port Allen, west of Poipu, is home to several charter boats that cruise around the West Coast of Kauai to Na Pali Cliffs. Humpback whales ply these waters from December through April.
Western Kauai: Driving past Port Allen, you will reach the town of Waimea, where Captain Cook landed when first discovering these “Sandwich Islands.” Waimea is the gateway to the spectacular Waimea Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. This canyon is one mile wide, 10 miles long and nearly 4,000 feet deep, with unbelievable vistas. There are many convenient lookouts where you can safely pull off the road to take pictures or just look at what nature has provided.
Continuing north through Waimea Canyon State Park into Kokee State Park, you will find more lookouts where you can view the ocean from atop Na Pali Cliffs. You’ll be able to see into the canyons where the early Hawaiians lived and worked the land in spite of its rugged geography. It is memorable – almost surreal – to view the cliffs from the land at these lookouts and also see these same cliffs from a boat while cruising by the North Shore. The road ends in Kokee State Park, since there is no way to drive among the cliffs. Many hiking trails have been developed for all level of experience. A small museum in Kokee State Park displays a variety of historic Hawaiian artifacts.
The scenic Na Pali Cliffs are among the most spectacular natural wonders in the world. The shoreline along the cliffs contains countless small and large caves and secluded beaches. They are ideal for travelers who like to hike, camp and explore natural environments.
Kauai is a perfect destination for those who want to adventurous experiences. They are all available there – kayaking, surfing, ziplining, hiking, camping, four-wheel-drive exploring, downhill bicycling and, of course, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving and surfing.
For more on Kauai, visit www.gohawaii.com/kauai or www.kauaidiscovery.com. --Doris & Phil Davidoff