I've been going to Kauai since I was a wee little lad. My grandparents owned a condo in Poipu on the south shore of the island and if I had to guesstimate how many times I've been there it would be upwards of 25. Now I wouldn't say I've done everything there is to do on the island, but I've covered the vast majority. So, this is my post presenting my list of ten things to do in Kauai. Personally, If I'm going to a beach destination, I like to alternate between relaxation (book reading) days and active, adventurous days. I do have a little one on the way, so I reserve the right to adjust or add as we'll eventually start doing more family friendly things. Fun times ahead!
1. Kalalau Trail or at least the first two miles to Hanakapi'ai Beach
I'll write a separate post about the full Kalalau trail in the future, so for right now I'll dig into the first two miles of the trail that ends at Hanakapi'ai beach. First thing to know is to get there early... like 6-7am early, at this time you usually can find a spot to park near the trailhead at Ke'e beach or in the undeveloped parking lot a couple minute walk back along the road, plus you'll beat the heat!
The trail starts at Ke'e beach, which is the farthest point North you can drive on Kauai. The only other ways to experience the Na Pali coast is either by sea kayak, catamaran or helicopter tours. The first 1/2 mile, you'll be going up hill on large rock mostly, but don't fret, you'll get some great viewpoints at the 1/4 mile mark and 1/2 mile mark. For the next mile it's fairly easy trekking with mild undulations while crossing some slippery sections and, especially if it's the rainy season, can get a little muddy. With about a 1/2 mile to go, you'll start heading downhill. It's not nearly as rocky as the beginning, so it's not too bad on the knees. At the bottom, you'll come to a stream, which can become pretty dangerous if the water is high, there will be signs everywhere telling you this, proceed with caution. When the stream is at normal levels it can be traversed one of two ways; stepping across the rocks (easier if you have walking poles with you) or by bare-footin' it through the water. Now all you have to do is have a seat on the rocks, take out the packed snacks (and beer if you're like me and safely stowed one away in your backpack, just remember to take out what you take in) and people watch; be aware there are roaming cats at this beach.
When I was younger, Hanakapi'ai beach used to actually have sand and locals would come here and surf the waves, but now there are signs saying that it's too dangerous to go swimming there because of the undertow. Good thing there's a beach back at the trailhead where you can wade into the water, or if you're too tired after the 2 mile hike back, there's outdoor showers and bathrooms where you can change. Taking this second option, I like to drive back along the road to Hanalei and hit up Kalypso Island Bar & Grill for some lunch and a beer.
2. Canyon Trail to Waipoo Falls
Getting to Waipoo Falls starts at the parking lot for the Puu Hinahina viewpoint located at mile marker #13, this is where the new spur trail starts. It's roughly 1.5 miles long and can take about 3 hours round trip. Once again your best bet for this hike to do it early, not as early as the Kalalau, but might as well to avoid the crowd and heat. I'd recommend starting around 8-8:30am.
This new spur trail has quite the descent to it, so can be a bit rough on the way back up to your car, but it's nicely shaded and fairly easy. The trail will meet up with the main waipoo falls and cliff trails. I've never actually done the cliff trail as it's shorter and I'd rather do longer one with a better reward.
The Waipoo falls trail has some ups and downs, but the scenery once you leave the trees is magnificent. My words don't really do it justice. This part of the trail has minimal shade, so snap your pictures and continue down to the falls. Watch your footing at this part as the ground is dry and slippery. Head left at a fork and after a couple of scrambly areas, you arrive at the swimming hole. It also has a waterfall, but isn't the 80 foot drop Waipoo falls, just the smaller beginning of it. This swimming hole is freezing, but glorious after a sweaty hike and quite possibly my favourite part of the hike. So, have a swim and a snack and then head the other direction to the top of the falls and an excellent view then make your way back.
If you're like me, your car will be waiting for you with a cooler full of ice-cold beer in the trunk for that well deserved drink. While your up in the Waimea Canyon, take the time to head up to the Kalalau lookout to see the Na Pali coast from the top. After that, head down into either Kekaha, Waimea or Port Allen for some lunch. My usual plan is to head to the Kauai Brewing Co for a beer taster and a burger, but I'd also warn you that the beer and food is quite average.
3. Kayak/SUP Wailua River & Hike to Secret Falls
This activity I haven't done in a long time; I used to go all the time with my family when I was younger and my wife and I tried to go last year, but it was too late in the day to rent the kayaks. Now, with a baby on the way, It'll likely be a few years before we'll be able to try again.
However, from what I do remember, it's an easy paddle on the way back (the other way is against the flow). The hike takes about 30 minutes and it's not strenuous at all. At the end is Secret Falls where you can have some lunch and take a dip in the swimming hole. Most of the tours, I think, last about 4-5 hours and most of that is taken up by paddling the river.
The Wailua River is located in Kapaa and there are a few companies situated right at the mouth of the river. Your best bet, is to head to TripAdvisor and make your way to Kayak and Canoe section; there you'll find some Wailua River tours. I can't recommend any personally since it's been a long time, but when my wife and I tried to go, we chose Kayak Wailua.
4. Catamaran to the Forbidden Island and go Snorkelling
This is another trip that I haven't done in a while, in fact I've only done it once, but my experience of it is ingrained in my memory. The crystal clear waters located in the channel between the islands Nihau and Lehua were outstanding. It was pretty deep, so you couldn't see the bottom, but the colours of the fish were super vibrant, plus we got to swim a bit with a monk seal!
Since I've gone, the tour companies don't offer just the Forbidden Island snorkelling. It is now paired with a trip to view the Na Pali coast and some more snorkelling. So, all I can mention about the tour is that it starts very early in the morning on the Southwest part of the island in Port Allen. That's where you'll find Holoholo and Blue Dolphin charters. Also, it can get rough on the seas, especially if it gets windy and rainy, however it's definitely worth doing, if you can stomach the seas.
5. Deep Sea Fishing
I was pleasantly surprised by Captain Don's sportfishing adventure as, normally, I would've never chosen to do an activity like this. However, when my wife and I asked her parents to come to Kauai with us this was one of the activities the group chose and I was happy they did.
It is another early morning start activity and I didn't mind at all as there was excellent photography opportunities being on a boat as we head out to the ocean with the sun rising. Captain Don's is located at the port in Lihue near Nawiliwili Bay and from there he uses his fish finder gadget to locate said fish. Once we're at the spot, he drops about 7-8 fishing lines and start trolling. When one catches, the reel locks and someone starts reeling it in. The more lines catch, the more people are reeling, it's pretty exhilarating. In total, I believe, we caught 6 large tunas and in the end everyone took home equal share, a fun way to get your dinner. I will warn, that the waves were big when we went and if you go below deck, nausea starts to take affect, but super fun nonetheless.
6. Eat at Brick Oven Pizza
Mmmm... this has been a family tradition ever since I was a young lad. My parents would take us there at least once a trip and I absolutely loved it. They used to a have an old wacky scale where you'd put a penny in to get your weight, but I don't think it's there anymore. However, the pizza is still great! If you're like me, you're getting the UltiMEAT!!
There are two locations now, the original restaurant in Kalaheo and the newer one in Kapaa. Kalaheo is on the way to Port Allen, Waimea Canyon and Polihale (Which I'll get to shortly), so can be combined with a trip to the Canyon or the Catamaran. Kapaa is north of Lihue and is where you can kayak the Wailua river.
7. Mai Tai's and Eats at either Keoki's or Duke's
Another family tradition was to go for dinner at either Keoki's Paradise or Duke's. Keoki's is located in the Poipu Shopping Village on the south shore while Duke's is next to the Kauai Marriott at Kalapaki Beach. They are both run by the same family of restaurants and serve delicious food and drinks. Every night they have four fish specials served one of four ways, it's a fun way to try different types of seafood. They also make one heck of a mai tai.
8. Rum tasting with Koloa Rum Factory
This has become a new staple in my yearly trips to Kauai as we discovered it fairly recently. It's close enough to Poipu that it usually can be combined with other activities or even a trip to Costco as it's located in Lihue on the highway at the Nuhou st intersection. Their tasting room has different closing times each day, so your best bet is to head to their website. On the menu is a white, gold, dark, spiced, coconut and coffee rum. The last time I was there, we tried 4 rums, plus concocted a mini rum cocktail and they all taste great! Plus, they have a little store where you can purchase a bottle to take home, it's cheaper than anywhere else!
9. Surfing the south shore
I say south shore as it's the only place I've surfed in Kauai as there is an easier surf break for beginners just in front of the Sheraton Kauai Resort. However, there are times when the waves are larger and I see more advanced surfers further out to sea. I took lessons with Kauai Surf School and was happy with my wife's choice. They had 12 ft long boards which made it super easy to get up on the board. Their teaching method was different than I've experienced before as the process is more of a push-up step around than the typical jump to position, the luxuries of having a long board. The lesson was 2 hours long with about 1.5 hours of that in the water and cost $75USD/person. It might be a little expensive, but I felt was worth it for the different instruction. Groups lessons are limited to 4 people and ages 4 and up are allowed to partake (as long as a parent is also in class). So, you know where I'll be in four years time.
10. Catch the Sunset at Polihale State Park
Last, but certainly not least (because these aren't done in any order) is Polihale State Park. To get here, you must have a 4x4 vehicle, if you don't and try to drive on the road out there, you might end up with some extra charges from the car rental agency.
Polihale is the western most area you can travel to on Kauai and for a portion of it, you'll be driving really slow over a potholed filled dirt road, but the beach is one of the best on the island. This is mainly due to the fact that it doesn't get a lot of people heading out there, you can walk forever and see, maybe, 5 people. It's the perfect spot to capture an epic sunset!
Unfortunately, it's also a wild beach meaning that your on your own and that it's super dangerous to go swimming or snorkelling because of a nasty riptide. So, head out there for the sunset and bring along a portable stove for some eats and watch as the colours roll in!