Hawaii, oh Hawaii. Who has not dreamt of a paradise getaway? Oahu, Kauai, Com’on you wanna lei me?
We have been fortunate enough to visit this remote part of the North Pacific previously, namely the Island of Oahu, but this time needed to be different. Whilst planning this trip, high on the list was a less developed Island where we could hike, relax and enjoy the scenery. Kauai covered all points for us and so without hesitation, we booked our flights.
Our plan included only 4 nights in Kauai and 3 nights in Honolulu (Oahu). Unfortunately, we were time-poor (and we knew this) but 1 week in paradise was better than nothing at all! We wanted to do our best to maximise the time we had. Kauai for exploring. Honolulu for shopping, beach and pool time! Hawaii is known for being one of the most beautiful spots in the world and with that comes the high price, it can be done on a budget you just need to prepare and research before going.
Kauai’s weather is generally always moderate and warm. Known as the Garden Island, Kauai is beautifully lush and green, an enviable tropical paradise. Both Jurassic Park and King Kong were filmed here and once you visit you will know why. Therefore, if you are a hiker, beach goer or a foodie you can cover all bases here. The North Shore has some beautiful hikes, you can kayak the Waimea River or surf the world-renowned break at Hanalei, there is no better escape than Kauai.
Coming into Kauai the view was stunning, the water so vibrantly blue and the mountainous backdrop provided just that something extra special. We were in for a real treat – had we planned enough though? We opted to stay in Poipu, in the south of Kauai after reading great reviews. Off the plane, in the hire car and away we went, our road trip had begun in yet another beautiful place (oh so fortunate us!). It had been a very lengthy trip thus far, with the transit through Honolulu, so we headed straight to Koloa Landing Resort to check-in and refresh. We chose this hotel as it had been recently refurbished and the pool area looked amazing (including a waterslide for kids). On a side note, unfortunately for us the bed was excessively soft (albeit a brand new mattress) and we ended up pulling out the sofa bed mattress and placing it on the floor! So there we slept, like camping in a glamorous room, for the next 4 nights. The hotel did allow us to sample three other rooms’ beds, but they were just the same. We had our little rest and jumped back in the car to check out some of the sights and sounds of Kauai.
Spouting Horn is located on the South Shore and is one of the most photographed spots on the Island. There is a powerful energy that captivates you, as the spout of water has been known to reach as high as 50 feet into the air! A Hawaiian Legend stems from the hiss and roar that is released with each burst. The sea was somewhat calm when we were there, giving us an ample 15-20 feet and more of a gentle growl than a roar. From December to May, you may be able to see some Humpback Whales from the lookout if you are lucky (not us this time around). There is ample parking but watch out for the free roaming Kauai chickens and roosters! They are scattered all over the Island and are a tourist draw card also (especially the fluffy youngsters). You will see plenty of souvenirs that glorify the chicken as an unofficial mascot of the island! Although they are wild, they are in fact descendants of the original Moa brought by the first visitors hundreds of years ago. In addition, this is a spectacular spot to stay for the sunset, trust us you will not be disappointed.
It was nearing sunset time and, as we made our way to Spouting Horn, we spotted the Beach House Restaurant. We decided this could be a great place to have a cocktail and watch the sunset. After we finished with ‘the Horn’ and ‘the Chickens’, we decided to try our luck and see if we could get a table. If not, we would simply stand on the grassy banks and admire natures goodnight kisses from there. Surprisingly enough we managed to score a table! Upon viewing the menu, we were nothing short of some mouth-watering choices that made it difficult to decide (hrmmm…whose problem you ask?) Our waiter came past rather quickly and was very helpful in explaining all the dishes, the types of fish, flavours and textures. Maybe this made it even harder to choose? However, it was an easy choice for cocktails we sat back and enjoyed the silhouettes of the palm trees framed by the golden sunset glow. Hawaiian sunsets are absolutely spectacular and easily some our favourites. Our dinner arrived and it looked amazing, from the presentation, taste and the service neither of us could complain. A great find and we would suggest you make a reservation around sunset time and request a table near the windows.
Waking up to a bright new morning it seemed the refreshing turquoise of the pool was calling us (or was that just in our heads?) Moosh went out for a jog along the beach first and then hit the pool. Needing some man-sleep, FT was a little slow getting up and about. Eventually joining in for some relaxing pool time and even awakening his inner child and getting in a few runs on the water slide! (Of course after checking with the attendant that it was OK for a 6’2” 108kg Dude). We can generally handle around 3 hours of pool time, at which point we feel the need to get out and explore. So that is what we did, we had to explore this beautiful island.
Ordered logistically to suit the few days we had, below is a brief rundown on what we did, what we saw and what we enjoyed. As the saying goes, a picture says a thousand words. So read below, but definitely take the time on the interwebs to research for yourself an itinerary that suits you best.
Day 1 – South > North Coast
Koloa Old Town / Koloa Fish Market – Head down for a leisurely wander around, and make your way to the Koloa Fish Market for some fresh, delicious (and delightful) takeaway.
Poipu Beach Park – We sat on the grassed area eating our Koloa Fish Market takeaway whilst soaking in the sun and the picturesque view. This Beach is most famous for the Hawaiian monk seals that cheekily sunbathe on the shore. They are endangered with only about 1,200 remaining and many swim in the waters of Kauai (large Honu or Hawaiian green sea turtles also grace these waters). Please, please, do not be an Instagram muppet and try getting too close to the Monk Seals. Always stay behind barricades and signs or at least 150-feet when in an unmarked area and never feed the seals (in fact never feed any wild animals for that matter, you will be doing them more harm than good!)
Kilaueu Lighthouse – A trip to Kauai is not complete without seeing the Kilauea lighthouse. Who does not love a lighthouse view? You get a wonderful view of the rugged coastline and the beautiful spectrum of turquoise and deep blue water.
Hanalei Valley lookout – A breath-taking vista that takes in the Hanalei River, distant mountains and the many a colourful taro field (greens, browns and even blues, when the sky reflects off the watered fields). Although the fields are man-made, it really gives you a feeling of Mother Nature’s patchwork quilt.
Queens Bath (near Kamamalu Loop) – Note that there is not a lot of parking as it is in a neighbourhood, so be prepared to wait for a park. Although we had seen photos of the Queens Bath, we really did not know what to expect from the trail that leads there (should’ve researched better you say?). Be sure to bring some closed toe shoes! The path down is a little treacherous. There are some steps but mainly a dirt path that can be quite muddy and slippery but the exposed tree roots help you along as ‘Natures steps’. Heed the signs! There have been 28 ‘swept away’ deaths that have occurred there. Take some photos, enjoy the view, but keep away from the edges.
Hanalei Bay – Hanalei Town and its buildings are a quaint throwback to years gone by, boasting many colourful shops and eateries. Of course let’s not forget that some of the best beaches are nearby, including Lumahai Beach and if you are looking to sunbake the day away your choice should definitely be Kee Beach.
Day 2 – South > East Coast
Mahaulepu Heritage Trail (starting at Shipwreck Beach, Ainakoa Street) – After the previous day driving around, we needed to get our sneakers on and go for a hike…and a hike we did. The Mahaulepu Coastal Trail is a significant part of the history of Kauai and it is the last stretch of coastline that has not yet been developed. They are trying their best to keep it that way, so let’s keep hoping that it stays undeveloped and pristine for us to all enjoy. This hike takes you from Shipwreck beach to Keonela Bay. Walking along the sand dunes you will see some rocky inlets, inspiring coastline and hear the roar of the ocean. Oh, and if you are lucky enough you will see some sea turtles or the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal.
Wailua Falls – The larger of the two falls, Wailua does not disappoint. The waterfall splits off into two, making for a great selfie shot with the duo of white water ribbons in the background.
Opaeka’a Falls – Although a distant waterfall, the overall vista and the surrounding greenery really make this a stunning place to stop for a look-see. There are plenty of Kauai chickens running around that add character to this place!
Keahua Arboretum – The Rainbow Eucalyptus trees are a sight to behold. Standing tall and proud in their colourful ‘jumpsuits’ they really are like nothing you have seen before. Take a hike if you have the time and immerse yourself amongst nature. She is a beauty!
Hamura Saimin, Lihue – A local cultural institution. Cheap and delicious noodles. Some love it, some don’t. We did.
Dinner that night we went to Tortilla Republic. It seems every time we go to the States we always have a hankering for Mexican. We ordered a feast, shared some Margaritas, enjoyed the sunset and finished off with a stroll and some ice-cream. So far Kauai had been nothing short of amazing!
Day 3 – South > West Coast
Makauwahi Cave Reserve – This sinkhole is considered to be one of the richest fossil sites in the Pacific. A lovely man by the name of Dr David Burney, who is a paleoecologist, manages the site and is incredibly passionate and the story he tells is worth a listen. In this sinkhole and Cave, you will find so much history, the pollen of extinct plants and stories of the flightless duck. The tour Dr Burney offers is free (donations appreciated) and he is there 4 days a week and would love to share his knowledge with each and every one of you! Nearby, Dr Burney will tell you to take a turn off on your way back and visit the Tortoise Refugee area. By now if you know us, anything involving animals we are in for! (Well…as long as it doesn’t involve harming them!). There are two ways of getting there, both via dirt roads after the Golf Course. We found the dirt road suitable for standard cars as long as it has not been raining heavily (although the car hire company might say otherwise! Just drive slowly). In saying that, we took the road towards Punahoa Point and turned left at the fork in the road at the CJM Country Stables sign (based on Forum reviews and despite what the website shows). Drove towards the coast as far as the road would let us and took the Makauwahi Cave Trail. If you don’t want the gentle hike, take the road towards Lida’s Field of Dreams route and that is where the official carpark is.
The Na Pali Coast – Consisting of a 17-mile stretch of coastline and is lined with cliffs up to 3,000-foot tall, highlighted with waterfalls and green valleys and the sea caves. The Sea Caves are inaccessible by car, so have your hiking shoes and enjoy the natural wonder. This coastline is what Kauai is best known for and once you see it, you will understand why. We did not want to leave and we guarantee you will not want to either!
Waimea Canyon lookout (Alt. 3400ft) / Kalalau lookout (Alt. 4000ft) / Pu’u O Kila lookout (Alt. 4000ft) – Waimea Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The drive here is beautiful (albeit winding wet roads), our only wish was that we drove up to the top first and stopped at the lookout points on the way back down. It was so foggy and misty by the time we got up to the top, we did not have any visibility of the awe-inspiring vista. There were a couple spots along the road back down where we managed to stop and get a reverse view of the canyon. So do yourself a favour and check the weather forecasts, perhaps plan the rest of your ‘vacay’ around this outing? Or, time permitting, there could be the possible necessity of two trips to get that clear day, as the weather can be unpredictable at these altitudes. Take a jacket!
Pu’u Hinahina viewpoint (Alt. 3640ft) – We missed out on this hike also, due to the weather turning on us. WE MUST COME BACK!!
Kauai Coffee Plantation – Take a walk through their coffee orchard and of course sample their exclusive Hawaiian Grown coffees (more than a few dozen on offer!). We did not have time, but you can opt-in for a free guided walking tour where you will learn how they grow and harvest their coffee.
By the time we got back to the hotel, it was quite late so we decided to eat in, taking some advice and grabbing a couple Poke bowls from Makai Sushi. It is located inside Kukuiula Market at 2827 Poipu Rd, Koloa (not at #2728 as per their website). Honestly, we could not go past the Gorilla Ahi bowls and they were super delicious, fresh and presented great value for money.
On a side note; the only thing that disappointed us about Hawaii is that, due to the volume of seafood that is consumed on the Island, some of the fish is caught by fishing trawlers (as highlighted in a menu we saw) and unfortunately this is not a sustainable way at all. I suppose with the small Island feel, you would like to think that the Old Fella’s down at the docks have caught the fish in their small boats. Perhaps it has been, perhaps not. This in no way reflects the entire way of the Island, just an experience we had.
We look forward to coming back here again (one day, hopefully) and exploring more of what this beautiful Island has to offer!
See our North American Itineraries