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Top 10 Things To Do in Kauai
Kauai - The Garden Isle of Hawaii
There's something magical about Hawaii, and Kauai in particular. Kauai is the oldest and westernmost island in the Hawaii. It is nicknamed the garden isle, and it easily lives up to its billing as the most lush and tropical place I've ever seen. This is the island to visit if you want to truly relax and enjoy the scenery. It has dramatic coastlines, beautiful beaches, and is just constantly blooming with gorgeous tropical flowers that grow wild here.
So come along as I take you on a tour of one of my favorite places on earth!
#1) Southern Hospitality - Poipu
Along the southern shores of Kauai lies Koloa town and "sunny" Poipu. One of the interesting things about Hawaii is there can be vast weather differences even on the same island. Poipu is renowned for its sunshine throughout the year, but particularly during the winter wedding season, where it can be rainy on the rest of the island. For this reason, Poipu remains the best choice for those seeking a little escape from the cold and snow back home. Poipu is really more of an area than a town, as there is no real town center, but rather just a series of condos and hotels, with the occasional strip mall across the street. What it does have is great beaches, fabulous snorkeling, surfing, seasonal whale watching, botanical gardens, golf, and some great restaurants too.
The main beach is called Poipu beach, and it offers sugary soft sand and many options for ocean activities. Poipu is regularly rated as one of the best beaches in the world, and for good reason. There are actually about four different beaches in one small area, and each one has different features that make it great for different activities. There is one area with short breaking waves that is great for boogie boards, another area with small slow breaking waves that is perfect for beginning surfers, an area with "regular" waves for more advanced surfers, and a protected lagoon perfect for smaller children and those that just want to relax or do some snorkeling. Poipu beach normally has lifeguards on duty, and there is also a large park area with picnic tables, public restrooms, and play areas. You can grab bite to eat upstairs at the local landmark, Brennekes restaurant, right across the street, or order up a sandwich to go downstairs and have a picnic in the park overlooking the beach.
The other beach is called shipwreck. It got that name for a reason, and only the most experienced swimmers and surfers should even attempt to swim there, as there is a steep shore and very strong current. So you'll have to be content to watch the locals. However, the beach itself is beautiful, with a small cliff on one side that makes it unique. A friend of ours got married on Kauai recently, and they chose to have their beach wedding right here. It's a great choice.
The best snorkeling for beginners on the whole island is on the small beach next to the beach house restaurant. I don't even think it has a name, but you can ask any of the locals or just walk or drive over there and you'll see lots of people in the water. Even if you are afraid to snorkel, there are so many you can literally stand in waist deep water and just stick your head under and you'll see so many tropical fish it's like an aquarium!
Snorkel Gear For Sale - You can also rent on the island
#2) ATV Tour
If you want to explore some of the wild wilderness of Kauai, and get a LOT dirty along the way, this one is for you. The tours leave out of Koloa, which is just 5 minutes by car from the Poipu area. They take dune buggies and four wheel ATVs back into the jungle and through plenty of mud. Kauai is famous for its red dirt, and any clothes you wear will be permanently stained, so pack an old swimsuit if you plan on taking this tour. In between splashing through mud puddles and racing along the slippery road, you'll see an old sugar plantation, stop for a swim in the river and some great snack baskets with sandwiches and junk food, and see the valley where Jurassic Park was filmed.
#3) Princeville / Bali Hai
On the north side of Kauai is perhaps the most beautiful area of all. It is area used to film the movie South Pacific, where it was called "Bali Hai." The name is still used today to describe this beautiful and picturesque area. The beaches are stunning and the mountain backdrop is unequalled. The pictures really cannot do it justice.
This is also the area where Princeville and Hanalei are located. Princeville is the home of some cliffside hotels with sweeping vistas, as well as an excellent golf course. Hanalei is down in the valley, and has a decidedly eclectic feel, but you'll find friendly locals and plenty of unique food gifts along with gourmet restaurants. No trip to Kauai would be complete without a visit to this area.
#4) Sunset cruise along the Na Pali Coast
You can't really see or appreciate the dramatic Na Pali coast from land. To see it, you've either got to take a helicopter tour, or, my personal favorite, the slower and more romantic sunset cruise. There are several tour operators for these cruises, and most leave out of Port Allen harbor on the west side. If you tend to get seasick, you'll want to take some Dramamine, as the waters off the coast can be pretty wavy. In the winter, you'll often also be rewarded with migrating humpback whales and spinner dolphins along the way. You'll cruise out to see the dramatic cliffs, then make you way back to port while watching the sunset over the water. Not a bad way to finish off your day in paradise.
#5) Lappert's Ice Cream
Some of you may be wondering how an ice cream shop is on my list of best things to do in Kauai. Well, all I can say is, it is that good, and anyone who even remotely enjoys ice cream must stop in to taste for themselves. There are gourmet flavors featuring local ingredients like coconut, macadamia nuts, kona coffee, and more. Your biggest problem will be deciding on the flavor, and how many scoops of ice cream you can eat. And they make their waffle cones fresh right in front of you. I can still smell the fresh batter baking in the store!
They have four locations in Kauai so you're bound to be near one of them. In the south near Poipu they are in Koloa town, on the east in Kapaa, and on the north side in Princeville. The original location is on the west side in Hanapepe, near Port Allen where the Na Pali cruises depart. Personally, I'd recommend you stop here early in your vacation, because you might find one visit is not enough!
Note that for those visiting Hawaii that will not make it to Kauai, there are also stores in Wailea on Maui and on Oahu in the Hilton Hawaiian Village Rainbow Bazaar.
#6) Waimea Canyon
This canyon on the west side of Kauai is truly magnificent. It is not as big as the grand canyon in Arizona, but it is still beautiful and quite a site to behold. There is an easy road along the top offering stunning views around every corner. At almost 4000 feet deep, it's a must visit for any trip to Kauai. There's no shortage of hiking options either, with 45 miles of marked trails awaiting the adventurer.
#7) Helicopter Tour
For a really unique and awe-inspiring view of the island, consider taking a helicopter tour. This will allow you to see the island in ways not possible by hiking or boating, and is a once-in-a lifetime thrill. There are tours that will go to many different areas of the island, but if you decide the take a helicopter ride, I'd recommend that you take one that includes the Na Pali coast. The other areas of the island are beautiful and worth seeing as well, but the rest you can also see easily by driving.
#8) Kayak the Wailua River
The Wailua river is a calm river on the eastern side of the island. There are kayak tours that leave from the nearby towns that will take you on a 2 hour (or longer) tour up the river. It's a great way to get to see some of the beautiful countryside of Hawaii. The current is very slow, which makes for easy kayaking, and you can go in 1 or 2 person kayaks. Many trips also combine the kayak tour with a hike through the jungle to a hidden waterfall. The Wailua is also the river where the famous waterfall was shown in the background of the TV series Fantasy Island (Opaekaa falls). The other famous attraction for this river is the fern grotto, made famous by Elvis Presley in his film South Pacific. I personally did not go to the grotto as I heard it is a real tourist trap.
#9) Botanical Gardens
Being into gardening, this was a must see on my list, but I recommend it to everyone for a chance to see some of the local tropical plants up close. You'll see bougainvillea, hibiscus, birds of paradise, banana trees, and much more. I found some great gardener gifts in the gift shop.
The botanical garden is near Poipu along the beach road, and just before the natural blow hole (spouting horn), which you should also see while you are in the neighborhood.
#10) Kilauea Lighthouse
This lighthouse on the Eastern side of Hawaii sits on a rocky outcropping and affords a great view. There is often wildlife present in the surf below, and no shortage of sea birds flying around. In my opinion, the lighthouse is not worth a trip all by itself, but it's only 5 minutes off the road between the north shore and the airport, so if you are taking a drive around the island, it's definitely worth a stop along the way.
Money Saving Tip!
The local activities guides at the hotels often have coupons for many of the popular tours.
Helpful Books on Kauai
Related Beach Wedding Information - Kauai is one of the best places to have a beach wedding!
- Hawaii Gift Baskets
Deliver your wedding or honeymoon gift direct to the couple by ordering from a local gift basket vendor or florist.
- Travel Themed Wedding Favors
Having a destination wedding? Give your guests some fun travel inspired favors like suitcase boxes filled with goodies or airplane-shaped luggage tags.