I admit it: I have a bit of a Kauai addiction.
When I drive around the island, I’m like a puppy dog with my nose pressed to the window. And I’m a sad puppy when I have to leave. It’s a visceral heartbreak each and every time I’m torn away from this island.
Just like in the rest of Hawaii, on Kauai there’s a rich culture, an aloha spirit, and warm weather (of course!). But here, the natural beauty is so stunning that it’s almost unfair.
Kauai has a lot to live up to with a nickname like the “Garden Isle.” But it definitely delivers. Though I’ve only been visiting the island for about four years, I’ve packed a lot into my trips. I wouldn’t suggest doing all of the following activities in one vacation, but try a few out and plan to return for more. Again and again and again.
Take a helicopter ride
I’m a bit afraid of heights. Tall ladders, looking over a rooftop, and standing on the edge of a cliff all can make me weak in the knees. It was therefore with some trepidation that I accepted the chance to take a helicopter ride over Kauai’s north and west coasts with Jack Harter Helicopters.
The ride was incredible; we got up close and personal with waterfalls rushing down the mountainsides along the Na Pali Coast, and we were able to fly over Waimea Canyon, the island’s miniature version of the Grand Canyon. Our helicopter had no doors, which made the experience cool but also a bit scary. At one point, the wind rushed in and we were exposed to a sprinkling of rain.
Visit Waimea Canyon State Park
Once on terra firma, consider taking a drive up to Waimea Canyon to experience this natural wonder from the ground.
On a clear day, you’ll see a variety of shades of color in the rock that comprises cliffs and crevasses. On all days, stunning greenery peeks in and out of the curves of the canyon. You might even spot one of the resident mountain goats.
It can get super windy at Waimea Canyon lookout points so, if you visit these, dress warmly. On most days you should, at the very least, wear long pants and a light jacket. If you’ve got time, there are some great hikes in the area, including the one I wrote about in this post. Definitely plan on spending a while.
Waimea Canyon from the air
Kayak the Wailua River
One of the best-known kayaking spots on Kauai is the Wailua River, just south of Kapa’a. Scenic highlights include palm trees and distant mountains, as well as lots of waterfalls.
Plan on spending up to five hours for a day’s outing with a local kayaking company such as Kayak Wailua. In most cases this will include kayaking, a 30-minute hike to a secret waterfall, a picnic lunch, and time for swimming and paddling back. Note that there are no tours available on Sundays; this is the day locals have the chance to explore the area, which is considered sacred due to the numerous archaeological sites found within a mile and a half of the river’s mouth.
Before or after your kayak trip, take a ride up to ‘Opaeka’a Falls, just a couple of miles up Route 580 from Highway 56 (the island’s main highway on the east coast). This is one of the most accessible of Kauai’s waterfalls, since it can be seen from the road.
Viewfinder Tip: For a glimpse at Kauai’s thriving artist and artisan communities, check out Hanapepe, in the southwest.
Take a beach walk
I have a special affinity for beach-walking because I love to pick up beach glass and shells as souvenirs. There are some great places on Kauai for beachcombing, but my main reason for walking the beaches here is simply for the beauty and the occasional turtle sighting.
My favorite area for beach walking is in Po’ipu, just north of the Grand Hyatt Kauai.
Why do I like it? First, you never know when you might spot turtles on the beach. Also, if you follow the trail far enough, it’ll take you up the side of a cliff with great views.
My recommendation is to stay at the Sheraton Kauai Resort in Koloa, on the island’s southeast side. This is a convenient location from which to visit Waimea Canyon in the northwest, as well as Hanalei in the north. The hotel also happens to sit right next to one of the best spots on the island if you want to learn to surf.