Kauai, or Kaua’I, is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands. It is the fourth largest islands, spanning over an area of 562.3 square miles (1,456.4 km2). A short 20-minute flight brings you to Kauai, the northwestern most island of the archipelago. Thanks to its lush green vegetation, Kuaui is also known as the ‘garden isle’.
Many people have seen the jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery of Kauai in movies like Jurassic Park or King Kong, but it has been famous for much longer, mainly through Elvis Presley’s film Paradise, Hawaiian Style.
Visitors do not only love Kauai for its natural beauty, but also because it is much less populated than the Big Island, Maui and Oahu, and it has much more laid-back feel to it. Tourist development started much later than the other islands,which meant that building heights were strictly restricted – no building can be higher than a coconut tree. This makes Kauai absent of high-rise hotels and big resorts typical on the other islands here. Instead, there is a bigger share of condos and timeshares, B&Bs and vacation apartments. You can find Kauai rentals from Summit Pacific for example, who offer a wide range of vacation rentals.
Kauai attracts visitors for the same reasons as the more popular islands, like snorkeling, laying out on white sand beaches, hiking, swimming and of course the amazing views, but Kauai offers some unique features that make it the most popular vacation spot:
The Na Pali Coast
You might recognize the Na Pali coast from when it featured in the blockbuster Jurassic Park – and for good reason, it is by far the most scenic place on Kauai. The giant cliffs, all thousands of feet high, drop straight into several beautiful beaches, however, they are only reachable by helicopter or boat. Route 550 leads directly to the Na Pali Coast and there are several viewpoints on top of the cliffs. Very experienced hikers can hike the Na Pali Coast State Park, and the 22-mile Kalalau Trail passes several spectacular caves and some of the pristine beaches that can be seen from the top of the cliffs. The Kalalau Trail is said to be one of the most spectacular hikes in the world – it is, however, extremely difficult. To get a feel for it, it is recommended to start with the 2-mile hike to the first beach and see if you think you are able to do another 20 miles.
Referred to as the Pacific’s Grand Canyon, Waimea Canyon is 3,567 feet deep (1,087 m), over 10 miles long and one mile wide. The colors of the canyon are very similar to the colors of the Grand Canyon, but the wetter climate in Kauai added a bright green to it which makes it even more colorful. Several lookouts along the canyon, all well worth a stop for their different angles and sights. The best time to visit is in the late morning, after the clouds and morning fog have disappeared.
Follow the road beyond the canyon, to get to Koke’e State Park. Here there are 45 hiking paths, some of which lead into Waimea Canyon. Koke’e State Park is a combination of bog and rainforest and offers fantastic high mountain nature hikes.
What to see on Kauai
This is one of the most photographed beaches of all of Hawaii, and you can reach it through a short jungle hike. It tends to be less busy and more private than the other beaches. Lumahai Beach also offers great snorkeling, caves to explore and for the extremely adventurous even a cliff to jump into the ocean from – everything people dream of when they think ‘Hawaii’!
Located in a little bay at the entrance of Nawiliwli harbor, Kalapaki Beach is protected from the strong ocean surf and makes for ideal swimming conditions. The wide, golden sand beach is lined with coconut palms and offers all sorts of water sports.
Po’ipu Beach is the picture-perfect beach: a long stretch of golden sand with palm trees and perfect conditions for snorkeling, paddle boarding, surfing and other water sports.
Mahaulepu Beach (not far from Po’ipu) is the best place for whale spotting from the shore during their migration from December to April. Make sure you bring time and binoculars and make yourself comfortable at the beach!
Hanalei and Hanalei Bay
Popular with the surfing crowd, Hanalei is a picturesque little beach town on Kauai’s north shore, and world-famous for the adjacent Hanalei Bay, shaped like a crescent with a superb surf.
Hanapepe is located on the south shore and is known for its many artists’ galleries, workshops and craft shops.
Kauai is home to several stunning waterfalls, and because the island is so compact, you can easily pack a few in to one day. The stunning Wailua Waterfalls, actually a triple water fall is one of the most popular photo ops on Kauai, and the Opaekaa Falls are also a fantastic sight.
Kilauea Point Lighthouse
The historical lighthouse from 1913 is located in a national wildlife refuge which is a bird watcher’s paradise, and well worth the $3 entrance fee.
Have you visited Kuaui? Which are your must-see spots on the island?