In many ways, Kauai is different from the rest of the islands. It's almost as if you've stepped into a separate kingdom, and for many years Kauai was just that in relation to Hawaii. Kamehameha I was able to conquer all the islands by force, except Kauai. Two separate campaigns to take the island ended in failure. In the end, it took diplomacy, a royal kidnapping, and an arranged marriage to bring Kauai into the kingdom of Hawaii.
Kauai is also known as the place where the sugar cane industry in Hawaii was born. Sugar was once the industrial mainstay of the Kauai economy but in recent years has taken a back seat to tourism. In October of 2009, Gay & Robinson harvested the last sugar crop in Kauai, ending 117 years of the sugar business in Kauai.
In short, compared to [wiki=a343afea6ccf3a971c7eede62bd37505]Oahu[/wiki], [wiki=867f48e883bdb50ac9013fd5de93515a]Maui[/wiki] or the [wiki=f6d8b99a8f8cf2d6f3b9bed98362829e]Big Island[/wiki], Kauai is smaller, less populated, more rural, and more laid back. That's why it's the favorite destination for many visitors to Hawaii, and for many Hawaii residents as well. Visitors come to explore the island's beaches and natural wonders, but the multitude of resorts on white sand beaches provide ample opportunity to just sit and do nothing if you're so inclined.
Because tourist development reached Kauai considerably later than the other islands, the island has a larger proportion of timeshares, condominiums, and bed and breakfasts. Also, a strict cap on building heights (hotels can be no more than 40 feet high) prevent the development of the mega-resorts and towering skyscrapers found on the other islands. The local rule is that nothing can be built taller than a coconut tree.
One look at a map will show you an important difference between Kauai and the more populous islands of Hawaii: Due to the massive Waimea Canyon and Na Pali Coast, no roads circle the island. Once you've made the drive along the south shore to Waimea and seen the canyon, the only options are to go West on dirt roads to Polihale Beach or turn around and go back the way you came. Same story for Princeville and Na Pali on the north shore. However, the island is compact enough that both ends of the road can be seen in the same day. But the Garden Island cannot be enjoyed or appreciated if you are pressed for time.
Kauai offers a very unique experience also-from the western coast of the island on one of its piers, in the far distance travelers can see the island of Niihau, which is the forbidden island-forbidden, that is, to all but relatives of the island's owners, U.S. Navy personnel, government officials and invited guests. It is often forgotten about because of its privacy so seeing its outline in the far distance is an amazing and majestic experience!
Also know that Kauai is a place where many famous people go to get away. Since it is much less drastic of a plane ride from L.A. in California than it is from the East Coast, this island which is the most secluded, private and relaxing provides getaway homes to many stars, although the normal traveler won't see these celebrities out on the beach, probably because their beach-front properties provide their own private beaches. To get a glimpse of one of these stars, check a nook in the wall bistro. Celebrities like Beau Bridges can be found relaxing with his wife in the island's countryside restaurants.
Also visitors should beware of the fact that along many of Kauai's streets and especially their main highway that there are wild roosters and chickens everywhere! It is almost like the equivalent of seeing squirrels in more eastern parts of the United States, that is how common it is to see wild birds! Also, and quite surprisingly, stray cats are also everywhere in Kauai.
The major regions of Kaua`i can be defined by their location on the island relative to the prevailing trade winds. The north and east sides of the island are on the "windward" side of the island, where the winds blow onto the shore. These parts of the island tend to get the most rain, and as a result, are the greenest and most tropical parts of the island. The south and west sides of the island are on the "leeward" side of the island, which receive less rain since most clouds have already dropped their rain on the windward side of the island.
The word "city" might be an exaggeration for an island of 68,000 people, but here's some information on the towns of Kaua`i.
Kapa`a, on the east side, about a 20 minute drive north of Lihu`e, is the largest population center on the island. It anchors what is known as the Coconut Coast, which hosts many inexpensive to moderately priced resorts and much commercial activity with many strip malls along the highway. The corridor between Lihu`e and Kapa`a is the island's most congested.
[wiki=0d3af0c37b274f56739815341ebf3cab]Lihu`e[/wiki], on the island's southeast side, is the civic and commercial center of the island, host to the island's main airport, county offices, and largest shopping mall (Kukui Grove Center). The Kaua`i Museum [http://www.kauaimuseum.org], located in the old part of Lihu`e and is the island's best museum on the history, geography, and people of Kaua`i.
Po`ipu, on the south side, branded "the sunny side of paradise", is the major visitor destination for the island. Poipu features beautiful beaches, swimming, snorkeling and surfing, sea turtles, whales, monk seals, trade winds, palm trees, and spectacular sunsets. The Allerton and McBryde National Tropical Botanical Gardens of the Pacific are located in Poipu. The Grand Hyatt Kauai, Marriott's Waiohai Beach Club and Coastline Cottages Kauai lead the area's accommodation choices.
Princeville is a planned resort community on the north shore, consisting of homes, condo developments, the St. Regis hotel, and 2 golf courses. Kauai's impressive north shore mountains form the backdrop. Several small beaches are located within Princeville, with many more a short drive away.
Waimea, on the west side, is a small town with a flavor of old Kaua`i. Most visitors pass through town on the way to Waimea Canyon and Koke`e, but the town itself is worth a relaxing visit.
Hanalei, on the north shore, is home to a quaint little beach town and famous Hanalei Bay, a crescent shaped bay known for its sandy white beaches and world class surf. The center of town provides a young, relaxed vibe perfect for the young traveler. The burger joint in the center of town provides amazing views of one of Kauai's biggest mountains with a visible waterfall in the center.
*Haena, lies just beyond Hanalei. It is mostly made up of residential homes, but is also is the gateway to Na Pali Coast and the location of Limahuli Valley, another National Tropical Botanical Garden of the Pacific.
*Hanapepe on the south shore has a quaint downtown filled with artists' galleries and craft shops. There is also a swinging footbridge over the Hanapepe River. Be sure to check out the Banana Patch Studio for wonderful hand painted tiles and other locally made items.
*Kilauea is a small village that most people pass on the way to the Kilauea Lighthouse. The Kong Lung Center offers a few unique stores and restaurants. There is also a large fruit stand, Banana Joe's, located north of Kilauea on the mountain side of the highway.
*Lumahai Beach is a very-well photographed beach but is only accessible by a short hike through a tropical path. Located between Hanalei and Haena beaches, this secluded beach is perfect for people who want a more private experience. There are lava formations and caves to explore and low wake perfect for snorkeling. For the more adventurous traveler, there is the opportunity to cliff jump into the ocean from one of the protruding lava rock formations. Lumahai beach is a place many locals go so it gives tourists to see the special opportunity of the "real" Hawaii. However, visitors should note that Lumahai Beach is notorious for extremely strong rip currents, undertows and other hazards. The beach has been the site of multiple drownings and is almost always highly dangerous for swimming.
Lihue Airport (LIH) is Kauai's main airport, a small terminal served with inter-island flights by Hawaiian and go!. Alaska, American, Delta, United Airlines, and US Airways offer non-stop service from the U.S. West Coast.
Tip when flying into Lihue: For the best incoming view, select a window seat on the left side of the aircraft. More often than not you'll be landing to the north thanks to the trade winds. From that angle you will see a dramatic cliff view off the left side on final approach.
There is now also a deep water port at Nawiliwili for cruise ships. Norwegian Cruise Lines offers cruises between the islands that start and end in Honolulu.
Rental car is the best way to really see the island -- and the only way to get to some remote (and scenic) sites. Most major rental car companies have offices at the Lihue airport or nearby by shuttle bus. Car rentals are available in a large variety of makes and models and provide travelers flexibility and freedom to explore the island. There are numerous rental car locations right outside of the Lihue airport. One will definitely want to use a rental car to see the island--Kauai is not a vacation spot where one stays in their resort the entire time.
Most rental car companies have restricted areas, notably Polihale beach. Check before you go, or take the risk of paying yourself
out of trouble if your rental car breaks down or gets stuck. The red dirt that Kauai is so famous for is also highly concentrated around this area and adventurous travelers could track this stain-able substance into their rental cars
The Kaua`i bus [url=http://www.kauai.gov/default.aspx?tabid=208]]is perhaps the only other way to get around, but will not go to some rural attractions, such as Koke`e. Still, if you are on a budget, this bus will get you around and between the major population centers, such as Lihu`e and Kapa`a, and the major resort/beach areas.
Pono Taxi and Kauai Tours [url=http://www.ponotaxi.com[/url]]and Taxi Hanalei [http://www.taxihanalei.com[/url] are one of the few authorized airport taxi companies that are allowed to do pre-arranged pickups at Lihue Airport and take you to any destination on the island. They also offer personalized Kauai tours in one of the most comfortable taxi rides on the garden isle. A standard two hour tour is $ 120, and taxi fare is $3 per mile.
One other option for transport on the island is bicycle. The east side of the island (including Lihue and Kapa`a) has plans for a major bike path under development as of early 2005. Parts of this path exist, but the major connections between towns are still along the major highways. Eventually, the entire east side of the island will be connected by exclusive bikeways, making nonautomobile transportation a real option.
There are two main highways on Kaua`i, both starting in Lihue. Kaumualii Highway (state route 50) heads to the west, through the towns of Kalaheo, Hanapepe, Waimea, and Kekaha before ending at the Na Pali Coast. Kuhio Highway (state route 56) heads north from Lihue, through Kapa`a, Kilauea, Princeville, and Hanalei, ending at the other side of Na Pali.
Lydgate State Park is on route 56, north of the airport. There's a park with play area for kids with the usual swings, slides etc. There's an excellent swimming area for kids. The swimming area is separated by big rocks from the ocean, which helps break up the strong current.
* Old Koloa town is on route 520 on the way to Poipu. The small, rustic town has a grocery store, ice cream parlor, and some souvenir shops. There's also a small museum about the lives of the Japanese immigrants who worked on Kauai's sugar plantations. In the field across from the grocery store there's a monument to them as well.
* The Huleia National Wildlife Refuge offers stunning scenery and a great place to photograph native birds and animals.
* The elegant and pristine Wailua Falls looks like a double waterfall from the viewing area but is actually a triple waterfall, once the site of thrilling cliff diving. It's a short drive from Lihue on a dead end road.
* Opaekaa Falls are 1.3 miles from the start of Route 580. There is a vista point on Route 580 to see the falls with plenty of parking for cars. Right across from the road is another view point for the Wailua River.
* Hanalei Valley and Bay has two separate scenic overlooks. The valley overlook showcases taro fields in various stages of production. The bay overlook features the scenic bay framed by the northern edge of the Napali Coast mountains known in movies as Bali Hai. Both overlooks are between Princeville and the one-lane Hanalei Bridge.
* Kilauea Point Lighthouse and Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, on Kilauea Road off Kuhio Highway (route 56) near mile 23, (808) 828-1413. then follow the road to the end. The lighthouse was built in 1913 and had the largest lens of its kind; it guided ships between North America and Asia until its light was replaced by a beacon in the 1970s. Located in a national wildlife refuge which is a nesting ground for a diverse collection of seabirds, the only one of its kind in the islands. $3 for adults, free for children. National Park Service Golden Eagle Passports accepted and sold.
*The National Tropical Botanical Gardens on Kauai consist of three separate gardens: McBride, Allerton, and Limahuli. The spectacular gardens contain plants native to Hawaii, endangered species, and imported species. Allerton Garden and McBride Garden, on the south shore, are accessible by tour bus from the visitor's center. Allerton is a secluded valley formerly owned by Hawaiian royalty. McBride contains the largest collection of ex situ native Hawaiian plants in existence. Limahuli, on the north shore, is located in a spectacular spired valley and contains native plants as well as plants significant to early Hawaiian inhabitants. There is a reproduction of ancient taro terraces as well as a later plantation-era garden.
People come to Kauai primarily for one thing: the beaches with their great snorkeling, surfing, swimming, and sunning. But Kauai also boasts more navigable rivers than the other Hawaiian Islands making kayaking very popular. If the surf is calm you can even combine a river run with time paddling the bays and ocean shoreline. You'll find kayak rentals near the mouth of the most popular rivers. Many will also rent roof-top strap-on kayaks for travelers interested in trying one of the several smaller river runs.
Kauai has great hiking and mountain biking trails as well. Outdoor adventurers will find the guidebook Kauai Trailblazer [url=http://trailblazertravelbooks.com/kauaitrailblazer.html]]to be helpful in comparing various locations for hiking and biking (as well as snorkeling, kayaking, and surfing). The Waimea Canyon area has extensive hiking trails both into the canyon itself as well as great overlooks of the Na Pali cliffs. Check with the park office on trail conditions and weather before starting your hike. The Koke'e Museum has a listing of trails at [http://www.kokee.org/kokee-state-park/trails[/url].
* Warning: Kauai's famous red dirt is very slippery when wet, as it often is, making some trails too slippery to use, particularly those along steep drop offs.
There are many commercial tour guides that offer various land and sea adventures such as guided hikes, downhill bike tours, back-country ATV trips, river tubing adventures, and more.
Other recommended activities are listed below by region.
* North: Hanalei is a charming Hawaiian village in beautiful country on the north of the island. Hanalei has a nostalgic, romantic quality of simpler times on the Islands. An easy drive to the northwest of Hanalei is the Na Pali coast. Drive to where the road ends, park and hike the twenty-two mile round-trip journey to mythical Kalalau. The [wiki=703c7e0ca7a49c529bee39ab4e28cf83]Kalalau Trail[/wiki] is generally regarded as among the most spectacular hikes in the world, albeit incredibly painful. If you want to get a taste, hike 2 miles in to the first beach (Hanakapi'ai). Day hikes are unrestricted, but camping requires a permit from the parks department. There is a long waiting list, so signing up a year in advance is a good idea. Tour boats can also access the coast; they may be chartered out of Hanalei or other outfits on the south of the island. Snorkeling is very good. Be advised, however, that the area is effectively closed to boats in the winter due to the intense Pacific weather hitting that part of Kaua'i.
* East: [wiki=7835fba34c95f813cda899e4846cded0]Kapa'a[/wiki] is a small, cute, tourist-friendly town on the east side. It features a movie theater, an internet cafe, several restaurants, and a Birkenstock outlet. Look up from Anahola and see the mountain that faded in from the Paramount logo at the beginning of "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
* South: The South Shore has a number of great beaches such as Maha'ulepu Beach with its ancient petroglyphs and the rocky Shipwreck Beach, both perfect for snorkeling or scuba diving. Poipu Beach, often ranked as one of the world’s top beaches by travel surveys. Venture to Kipu Falls, where the opening sequences for Raiders of the Lost Ark were filmed. Kauai is a leading destination for scuba divers, with many beautiful, relatively unspoiled coral reefs and a variety of fish not found anywhere outside the Hawaiian archipelago. Dive boats leave daily from Po'ipu. Shorter trips typically involve two dives at locations off the south shore. For a once-in-a-lifetime dive choose a dive off the coast of Ni'ihau, the privately-owned island to the west of Kauai. Expect to pay from $120 and up depending on the dive-boat operator and the length of the dive. Kauai is also a destination for whale watchers; humpbacks winter in the coast off Hawaii. Dolphin pods are also a very common sight. Whale watching boats leave multiple times a day from Po'ipu and the dock at Nawiliwili in Kalapaki Bay.
An amazing service the south shore provides is Kayak rentals on their Koloa river. It is a very hidden location but this family owned kayak rental are native Hawaiians and very friendly. The kayak rental is on a historically re-created Hawaiian village ground where adventurous travelers can walk around, go inside huts and their small buildings and see live peacocks wandering the grounds. There are recreated traditional family huts like the Ancient Hawaiians used to live in and also medicine huts where you can see how medicine was made. Kayak rentals are moderately expensive but very worth it. You also get great exercise because to go to an actual stop or island there is around 20 straight minutes of rowing! A popular place for tourists and locals alike to stop at on their kayak tour is a little cove where a rope swing was built! There is also a cliff perfect for jumping off of into the deep water, but caution must be advised. The rope swing is very safe. Kayaking through the Koloa river is an amazing experience where one can truly be at peace with nature. There is lush greenery completely surrounding the river and fresh, clear water in the river. Another popular spot for kayaking is about a mile down the river. Kayak tours are available, but tourists can also discover this spot themselves and at their own pace. This spot provides around a two mile hike to one of Kauai's most beautiful waterfalls. The rocks are treacherous but once the traveler gets past them, they can even swim under the waterfall! It is truly an experience unlike any other. Kauai is clearly a place for the hiking enthusiast. Another spot is a garden tour through the fern grotto. This river makes a loop so once you've been to the waterfall and fern grotto it is only a short paddle back to the base. The fern grotto is a large bolder-looking formation covered in fern. Deeper in is a cave. The garden area is mysteriously covered with stray cats but is nonetheless beautiful and stunning. This historically education and adventurous experience is definitely a must when traveling to Kauai.
* West: A drive up to the Waimea Canyon is highly recommended or explore the Canyon and surrounding areas on a breathtaking tour.
If you rent a jeep make sure you take a trek out to Polihale Beach [http://www.kauaiexplorer.com/kauai_beaches/polihale_beach.php]. It is located at the southern end of Napali and to the north of Barking Sands. It is a wide sprawling sandy beach. The sunsets here are truly awesome and with a permit you can camp there too (it is a state park). During the winter and early spring you can also see the whales from the beach. However, the last couple of miles of the road to get to Polihale, run through an old sugar cane field. As of December 2014 the road was not maintained but in good condition as far as dirt roads go. If you have a rental car recognize that all rental car companies on the island expressly prohibit the use of their vehicles (including Jeeps!) on Polihale road. That said, a 2001 Toyota Sienna minivan can navigate the road in about 20-30 minutes on a dry day, but if you have the money and tolerance for risk, rent a fourwheel drive, as the beach can be driven on if tire air pressure is low. This beach is the most beautiful beach on the island. If you can get to Polihale - do it. You won't be sorry!
*Although this place looks a bit kitchy, it contains a really interesting collection of shell jewelry. Found on the drive to the Western part of the island, they have some stunning examples of shell leis made by master craftspeople of old, as well as more modern shell jewelry for purchase. It's easy to miss, so keep your eyes open for the big shell at the top of the driveway.
Like the rest of Hawaii, the plate lunch is ubiquitous in Kauai (see the [wiki=a85df3d66bde576d3b62caaf527f2daa#Eat]Eat[/wiki] section in the main [wiki=a85df3d66bde576d3b62caaf527f2daa]Hawaii[/wiki] article for more information). However, many of Kauai's beaches and natural attractions (like Waimea Canyon) have no amenities nearby. Pack a lunch and bring enough water for the day - then stop at the restaurants for dinner. For a tasty snack, pick up some red lychees from a roadside stand or a farmer's market. Waimea Canyon visitors can drive a few miles further up the road to the Koke'e Lodge, located in the Koke'e State Park next to the museum. It serves breakfast and lunch.[http://home.hawaii.rr.com/webguides/kokee.html#restaurant]
A great place to watch the sun set behind Bali Hai at cocktail hour is the "Library" at the St. Regis Hotel, in the Princeville Resort on the North Shore. At the end of Ka Haku Road.
* Sunset from The Point bar at the Sheraton Poipu--sit on the patio and nosh some bar food, sip a Lilikoi Lemonade, and watch the sun set behind Niihau and Spounting Horn.
*A historically interesting market which was the original area plantation store. It has remained true to its neighborhood roots as a place where you can quickly grab some breakfast cereal or vegetables and for the tourist, a place to find deli sandwiches, salads, specialty cheeses, local Kauai beef, gourmet desserts and the best wine selection on the island. The Kilauea Town Market & Deli is on the way to the Kilauea Lighthouse and is a convenient stop on the way to two of the best north shore beaches (Secrets and Rock Quarry).
*Excellent beer selection! Food is a little pricey, but they have a fabulous Lilikoi (passionfruit) ale, an IPA that's amazing, and they make very good mixed drinks as well. Nice atmosphere, especially in the summer.
Before making lodging reservations it's best to review a map of the island and plan ahead. Think about the activities and sightseeing you want to do. While it's true that you can drive to any part of the island within an hour or two you'll spend less time in the car if you book your lodging in a spot that's closest to the places you'll spend most of your time. The one main highway is only two lanes *one each way* and tends to get fairly congested at times.
The "windward" side, especially the north coast can get up to twice rain than the sunny south coast. If you come from a cold and rainy region looking for a sunny Hawaiian vacation you could be disappointed if you stay on the lush, green, tropical - and wetter - north coast. Yes, it will still be warm but more with more cloud cover and showers.
Location and setting also affects lodging prices. There can be a sizable price difference between ocean view and non-ocean view units - the so-called 'garden' or 'mountain' view rooms - all within the same resort. Also, resorts or condo properties set inland - even a block or two - can sometimes be 10-20% cheaper than properties that front or connect directly with the beach. Yes, you'll have to walk a bit or bike or even make a short drive but if helps to fit Kauai into your budget it may be worth the walk.
Make your reservations early to get the best choices for unit type, location, and price. Larger condo resorts often have multiple owners so search the Web by resort name and compare prices. Note that "by owner" listings for condos usually offer rates that a little lower than what the big agencies will charge for the same complex - although selection will be narrower (e.g. one to four units). Get a complete written quote of all expense plus the cancellation and refund policy before sending a deposit.
Another option is camping. There are many county and a state park where camping is allowed. Permits are cheap but required.
Leptospirosis - Do not swim near the outlets of streams at the beach because they are polluted. Be aware of leptospirosis [url=http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/leptospirosis_g.htm],]a serious bacterial infection. The bacteria is spread by the urine of animals and is found in all fresh water outlets as well as the muddy trails. It is more common on Kauai than other islands, and should be treated promptly with antibiotics. Symptoms are flu-like, and mainland doctors may not recognize the disease as readily. The bacteria dies in salt water after a few hours, but stream outlets should still be avoided.
Rip tides, currents, and high surf - Rip tides and ocean currents on Kauai can be treacherous. Unlike the other Hawai'ian islands, Kauai can be especially dangerous because of the lack of a protective reef around many beaches. Many popular swimming areas can be extremely dangerous. Visitors are especially cautioned to not enter any beach on the Napali Coast, which has been the site of multiple drownings.
Sunburn - The UV index in Hawaii often exceeds 12 in the summer. People with lighter complexions can receive serious sunburns in as little as 15 minutes. Always wear a good sunblock and/or UV-blocking clothes. Sunburn can easily ruin a vacation. If you get a bad sunburn, however, the Wilcox Memorial Hospital in Lihue [url=http://www.wilcoxhealth.org/wmh/maps-and-directions/wilcox-memorial-hospital.aspx[/url]]can prescribe medication to alleviate the symptoms.