Also called “The Garden Island”, Kauai is, in fact, more natural and less touristy. It is the oldest of the Hawaiian islands and the fourth largest.
Kauai has been used as the scenery for dozens of movies, including “Indiana Jones”, “Jurassic Park”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Six Days, Seven Nights”, the remake of “King Kong” and many many more. The reason? In only one island we find beautiful beaches, untouched rain forests and incredible rocky cliffs.
We flew Westjet from Vancouver, on a direct flight that last approximately five and a half hours. It’s a super-convenient way to get there. he?
We had previously booked a rental car from Avis.
Welcome to Hawaiian prices! For the same car model, the price for a rental during one week in Kauai was exactly the same as we paid for three weeks in Croatia last June. (both rentals from Avis). Incredible, he?
Where not to stay: Kauai Beach Resort
It’s in front of a “wild” beach that is not used by anyone (even surfers don’t go there). There’s nowhere to go on a walking distance. The elevator was broken most of the time we were there. There aren’t robes for the guests. The walls are paper thin and it’s possible to hear everything happening on the next room and along the corridor.
Best way to enjoy Kauai: Helicopter Tour
Kauai is an island that must be seen from above! On contrary of Oahu and Maui where you can drive almost anywhere, Kauai is a different story. The road that goes along the coast is not a circular route, ending at Ke’e Beach on the North shore and Kekaha on the southwest shore.
Meaning that the gorgeous Na Pali Coast can only be seen from the air or from a boat.
Unless you are a super experienced hiker and want to hike 11 miles along the very difficult and strenuous Kalalau Trail, and even though, you will not have the same views as from the top. 😀
Between the boat and the chopper, we preferred the chopper as there are several stories about people getting sick, and even hurt, during boat rides along the Na Pali Coast. Looks like the sea can get really mad there.
I recommend that as soon as you decide you are going to fly over Kauai, book your tour with a chopper company. Try to book it for the first or second day after your arrival. This way, if there’s bad weather and the trip is cancelled, you still will have available days on the island to go on a next tour.
That’s what we did and we are glad that, although the day looked pretty awful on our “flight day”, the tour was not cancelled and the weather improved considerably when we started the tour.
We loved our experience with Safari Helicopters and I highly recommend this company if you are planning to have an awesome time while visiting Kauai. Julia, a former Vancouver resident, was our pilot. She is calm, confident, informative and sweet. We had a great time in her company.
Tip: When going on a chopper tour, wear dark clothes as there will be less reflexion on the glasses, making your pictures much prettier.
Exploring Kauai gorgeous sites
The best way of fully explore Kauai is dividing it in sectors: North, East, South and West.
Each of these sectors have it’s own attractions and there’s not a lot to see between them.
I suggest you plan your day before leaving your accommodation, making it easier to fully enjoy the attractions in each sector of the island. Otherwise you will be wasting precious time driving North-South / South-North many times a day. Keep in mind that although it’s a small island, the traffic can get really busy, specially near Kapaa (on the East side).
Plan wisely your day moves and you will be fine (and save on expensive petrol as well!). 🙂
Best Beaches (during August) and Kauai’s best attractions.
*Please note that sea conditions can be totally different during winter (Sept to May)
Amazing beaches can be found everywhere. Kauai has amazing beaches with crystal clear waters and warm temperatures.
I am a “chicken” and I can’t do with surf, so we preferred to go to very calm beaches. The beaches I liked most had suggestive nicknames as “Baby Beach”. 😀
Ke’e Beach is the last beach on the North shore. You will drive all the way till the “end of the road”. Do it. It’s amazing!
Ke’e Beach has super tranquil waters (in August), with a lot of trees providing nice shadows for the inclement summer sun.
There’s an ample free parking. If the parking lot is full, wait for an available space and don’t park along the road, even if you are not “blocking” it. We saw several cars with parking tickets displayed on their windscreens.
Makua (Tunnels Beach) is great as well.
Hanalei Bay is like making your dreams come true! Great, great, great. We went there more than once and had a great time.
Anini Beach: One of my top favorites. Beautiful drive along many mansions and absolutely adorable.
While you are visiting the North Shore don’t miss:
Manini-holo Dry Cave – Located on the main road to Ha’ena State Park. Don’t miss it. It’s really amazing!
Bridges along the road. We crossed this bridge many times and never got off the car to take a good picture of it. Next time. Maybe you can take yours and send to us? 😀
Hanalei Valley Lookout: From this point you will see a beautiful landscape, with tarot plantation and other beautiful vegetation as well. This is a “must stop” while driving back from Ke’e.
Kilauea Lighthouse – This is the place to get the best views while visiting the North shore. There’s a small entrance fee to the park where the lighthouse is located.
There it’s possible to see dozens of birds from different species and also many nests. The nests are very interesting as they are not on the trees but under the soil. Keep an eye to the garden along the paved path and you will see many small birds, some of them looking like they were born not many hours ago!
Restaurants, places to eat:
There are dozens of options in Kauai’s North Shore (in fact I guess the majority of the restaurants are located there). We enjoyed all the places where we have been to.
The one we enjoyed the most was Tahiti Nui. It was cool to be in the very same spot where they filmed “The Descendants”. I guess we sat at the same table as George Clooney? 😀
Lydgate Beach – We loved this phenomenal beach. It’s the ideal beach for those who like to be in a beach as safe as a “swimming pool”.
There you will find two ponds, with man-made rocks around them. One has shallow waters and it’s ideal for small kids and babies. The second one (located at its side) is larger and better suited for adventurous children and adults.
There is no surf thanks to the man-made rocks that protect the pond.
If you enjoy snorkeling, this is an ideal place to go. There are dozens of colorful fish. I even saw one barracuda there. A guy that was nearby told there were two,swimming together, but I saw just one, and it scared the hell out of me! 😀
Kalapaki Beach – We went to visit this beach because before traveling to Kauai we considered booking Marriott and it is located there. It’s an “ok” beach, but doesn’t make my “top beaches on Kauai” list. Also, I didn’t find Marriott an attractive resort. We still need to find a great place to stay on our next visit to the island.
Restaurants and places to eat:
Verde Restaurant: This is a simple place but the food there is really delicious! If you are visiting Kauai I highly recommend you have lunch there. We went on a day with “special margaritas” and they were superb and cost only 3 dollars!. Great place. Address: 4-1101 Kuhio Hwy A-3, Kapaa
Shrimp Station: We came here because we had been to the other one in Wailea (South region). Although it should be “the same”, they are not. The one in Wailea was much better, more crispy, less oiled, and the shrimps were bigger.
Kauai’s Pasta: We came here on our last day on the island, just before getting our luggage and going to the airport. It gets crowded and it’s very good. Large portions, tasty and pasta was very well done (“al dente”, as it must be). Address: 4-939 Kuhio Hwy, Kapaa,
Wailua Shave Ice: This is the best shave ice on Kauai Island and yes, I tried many places. Most of them were away too sweet (at least for my taste). I tried Ono Ono, Jojo, Shave Ice Paradise and didn’t like any of them. After two or three sipping I threw them directly into the trash bin.
As for Wailua Shave Ice… oh… it was simply delicious! They add real coconut milk on top, and also coconut flakes. It’s something you can’t miss! Go to Wailua Shave Ice and you will thank me later! Address: 1389 Inia St, Kapaa
Po’ipu Beach is excellent! There everyone can be happy! If there are people in your party who like to surf, or body boarding, etc, go to the right hand side of the beach. If the option is for tranquil waters, go to the left hand side where rocks protects the beach from waves, forming a barrier. This is a natural swimming pool and also a nice place for snorkeling.
Poipu Beach is also an excellent place to watch green turtles arriving to the sand during the afternoon.
I enjoyed watching the turtles but I felt uncomfortable as many people don’t respect them, giving the space they deserve.
There was no one taking care of the crowds and sometimes people were forming a “human wall” around the poor animals.
When we visited Maui we were glad to see there are people taking care of the place where the turtles spend the night, prohibiting the non-educated people to get very close to them. They should have a similar volunteer program on Kauai.
Poipu Beach is also a nice place to watch the monk seal. They are endangered species, known to native Hawaiians as “Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua”, or “dog that runs in rough water.”
Poipu Beach is also an excellent place to watch sunsets. It’s magnifique, just stay on the sand close to Poi’pu Marriott Resort or better yet, go to the Marriott’s Bar and get a drink there while you enjoy the views.
Baby Beach located on Ho’ona Road is also an excellent beach. Although the sea was not specially calm at the time we visited Kauai, as hurricane Guillermo had passed few days before our arrival, the surf was small and it was easy to get in and out of the water. We saw many stingrays and one turtle while we were hanging out there.
Lawa’i Beach – This is a snorkeling paradise and we saw many vehicles bringing divers and people with snorkeling gear to spend time here. Parking is easy (across the road) and there’s a huge tree with amazing shadow for those (like me) who are not too adventurous to swim in “no protected” waters.
While driving on this region we crossed “Tree Tunnel”. This is an amazing natural “tunnel”, meaning that many trees provide the sensation of driving in a real tunnel. Super.
Spouting Horn is also located in this region and it’s an attraction that should not be missed. There are several “horns” to spot and the Spouting Horn goes up every two or three minutes, impressing the audience. There’s ample parking an a viewing platform, so if you have been to the one in Maui, I guess you will prefer this one here, as it’s stronger and easier to spot.
Besides these beaches and places we drove along a dirty road to go to Maha’ulepu Beaches but we found it a waste of time. I don’t know if it was because the sea was rough or if we didn’t find the right spot there…
We saw just “another regular beach” (with high surf) and nothing more… so we returned.
Also pay attention because I saw broken glasses on the parking lot floor, that was semi-deserted, meaning that one or more cars had their windows broken while they were parked there. Nothing happened with our rental car, but I felt unsafe to stay there for more than five / ten minutes
Restaurants and Places to Eat:
We went to Keoki’s Paradise, loved it there and returned on another day. Excellent food, service and ambiance. Address: Poipu Shopping Village, 2360 Kiahuna Plantation Dr, Koloa.
Waimea Canyon is the place to go on the West side and you absolutely must go there. It’s a real gem.
I recommend you try a beautiful day and try to get up early and be at the top no later than 9.30AM (try to make it before 9AM and it will be even better).
You will avoid the crowds, the tourism buses and, last but not least, the CLOUDS!
I read before going that the clouds move into the valley around 10AM, blocking the views to the canyon and I guess this might be really true. Looks like the clouds have a nice AppleWatch themselves!
Right near 10AM there they came!
So…. if you want to have an awesome experience, wake up early to be at the top while the sun is shinning. Don’t forget that Mount Waialeale is the wettest place on Earth, so, it will be cloudy / raining most of the time there. If you go there early, you will have a big chance to enjoy blue skies and gorgeous views.
The drive is easy, with many scenic view points along the way. I recommend you go straight to the top (to avoid the clouds) and stop in every view point along the way when you are driving down. That’s what we did and it was great!
Salt Pond Beach – We visited it after our excursion to the canyon but found it too windy to stay.
Restaurants and Places to Eat:
We ate at Shrimp Station and loved it. Address: 9652 Kaumaualii Hwy, Waimea
We also had a delicious ice cream at Super Duper Two. The ice-creams are made in Maui and sold in this tiny store. Really tasty, we loved it! Address: 9889 Waimea Rd – Waimea
Chickens: There are wild chickens running all over Kauai. They are as common as pigeons on Trafalgar Square. I read that during ’92 hurricane (called Iniki), chicken farms were destroyed and the chickens walked freely.
The ones who survived the hurricane did a great job in increasing their families and now we see chickens everywhere we go! 😀
Sugarcane: Sugarcane used to be the major industry in Kauai but now much of the land is used for coffee, soya, cacau and cattle.
Best place to fill up gas: Costco, Costco Costco! We paid 2.95 usd / gallon at Costco Gas Station. Everywhere else on the island prices started at 3.45 usd / gallon and up!