Kauai is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been – it’s SO lush and SO chilled. When a Hawaiian says you’re on “Island time,” they really mean it in Kauai. And whether you want adventure or a chilled out vibe – you can easily do both here. The island is small enough you feel like you can see most of it well in a few days, and big enough that you don’t feel like you’re in a tourist hot spot. We did 5 nights on the Island, which was just enough to feel like we’d seen and done a lot. So below are some of my tips for things you absolutely must do while you’re visiting (and a few little extras).
Kauai is most easily accessible from Oahu, with flights running daily through a couple of different operators. If you’re planning on spending time on a couple of different Islands, I’d suggest doing Kauai first or second as you can get all of the adventure seeking out of the way, and there isn’t a huge amount in terms of shopping – so you should really be leaving Waikiki to last. The flight’s a little over 30 mins and costs about $60 – $70 USD. With most operators you just need to pay an additional $20USD for your checked bag, so it’s cheap & easy to get to.
Once there you can either go north or south – the airports in the middle. And I’d 110% suggest hiring a car, because you’ll need it. There are local buses but they don’t come frequently and you don’t want to spend your time waiting around. You can do car hire on the cheap, but when I went, we hired a wrangler 4WD and it was the BEST idea ever.
The North Shore – near Princeville is nice, and has lots of condos to offer. The middle is where I stayed and is near the main hub of Lihue (near the airport). And then south houses a lot of the big resorts along Poipu Beach. So basically the island is your Oyster. I’ll shout out Kauai Beach Resort, which is where I stayed. It was reasonably priced, had a good sized pool, a couple of restaurants, and was close to everything. The beach isn’t amazing around that area, but you’ll be out and about so much we barely noticed.
OK onto the fun stuff.
Majority of these suggestions rely on you having 2 things:
- A knack for adventure
- A vehicle
1. See the Wailua River on a Kayaking Tour
This is hands down the TOP recommendation of something to do in Kauai. The Wailua River is one of the only rivers across all of the Hawaiian Islands that are accessible to the public. It’s a half day tour where you basically Kayak up the river mouth, hike up to Wailua Falls – a rainforest with a huge waterfall at the end – eat some food, swim under the waterfall and then head back. It’s the most beautiful hike I’ve ever done. We went in the afternoon so were the last tour going, which our guide said was generally better because you didn’t need to rush. It’s a group tour, so you are going with a bunch of strangers, but you can chill with your person or be super social – up to you. Price is $85USD and includes lunch. We did it with Rainbow Kayak Tours who were awesome. But try and book ahead as spots fill up fast.
2. Visit Old Koloa town on your way to Poipu
We did a LOT of driving in Kauai, but it was all totally worth it. The drive down to Poipu from Lihue is about 45 – 1hr, depending on how often you stop. It’s really easy to get around the Island –there are really only a couple of main roads. Koloa Town is about 30 mins along the drive and has the most amazing “tree tunnel” as you enter. Koloa town started as a sugar plantation back in the early 1800’s so there’s a lot of charm. Get out and wander through the town (it takes 10 minutes), stop and get a snow cone (flavoured ice – big thing in Hawaii) and some snacks on your way down to Poipu.
3. Spend the day at Poipu Beach Park
Once you’ve left Old Koloa Town, make your way down to Poipu Beach Park. It’s been voted one of the best beaches to visit in Hawaii. It’s lined with all of the best 5 star resorts, so if you’re lucky enough to be staying around that area, all the better. If not, it’s easy to park (there’s a pretty big parking area) and a lot of space along the grass or beachfront to chill. We ended up setting up shop at the Marriott’s Waiohai Beach Club for the afternoon sipping Pina Coladas & enjoying the view.
4. Hike, Hike, Hike
There are SO many hikes to do in Kauai; the island is full of them. I couldn’t even tell you the names of all of the ones we were told to go on, but because we stayed central, we ended up doing one called the “Sleeping Giant” which was close to us. It took about 1.5 hours and was super muddy (it had just rained, which it does basically everyday in Kauai) so make sure you pack good walking shoes. The view at the top was well worth the hike. Another set of amazing hikes are in the Waimea Canyon, which is southwest Kauai. Most hotels will also have a travel guide there who can give you a map and let you know the closest ones to you, and the level of difficulty.
5. Eat from a food truck
It’s amazing how popular the food truck culture is in Hawaii. At almost every turn across the whole island we saw little food trucks & juice bars waiting for people to stop by. My advice is to stop at every one you see. They all offer something different, fresh & no doubt delicious. But if you did want somewhere to stop that has a couple of different options waiting for you, then I suggest heading to Kapaa Town, just north of Lihue. We randomly stumbled across a set of 5-6 food trucks as you exit the Town heading north, and ending up staying there about an hour eating and wandering around the town.
6. Experience sunset at Hanalei Bay
Home to one of the best sunset views by the beach, Hanalei Town is a small town on the North Shore that has to be one of your stops if you’re visiting Kauai. There are a heap of restaurants to choose from along the main strip, and if you’re lucky, you can set up shop right near the Pier to watch the sunset, or jump off into the ocean if you’re there during the day.
7. Napali Coast trip
Whilst I didn’t get to do this on my trip away, it’s something I’ll be doing next time. All the research tells me you probably need a couple of days to do this if you want to truly experience it, as a lot of people Hike down to the beach. And the hike is a little difficult. There are tour companies that do the trip in a day but all the locals I spoke to recommended either doing it yourself, and staying overnight camping at Hanakoa, or doing it through a tour. If that’s too much, you can also see this world famous coastline via boat, which is probably the more time appropriate option. Prices range from $100USD – $200USD depending on what’s included – but you can do snorkel trips, sunset tours etc. So it would be well worth it. Holo Holo charters were recommended to me.
8. Go river tubing or rope swinging
Again, something I missed out on but so desperately wanted to do. There was a YouTube video that went viral on this, and now it’s basically sold out until the end of time… but if you’re lucky enough to book ahead, you might squeeze in. Go with Kauai Back Country. In the off chance you’re like me and missed out… do what the locals do, and find your own river to jump in. One of the guys on our Kayak tour told us about this amazing do-it-yourself river that all the local’s tube down. He gave us some pretty casual directions and sent us on our way. So… long story short, whilst we didn’t find the spot, we did come across another river with a little rope swing, and made our own fun instead. I’d give you directions but we got so lost, it’s better to ask around and get a local to draw it on a map.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jess is a passionate sun chaser and lover of all things travel. A self claimed corporate hippy, Jess has recently stepped away from the media world to get a life. A lover of good food and wine, being around people and a big talker, she’s happiest talking about travel, food, music and celebrity gossip.. so get in touch!
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