Going to Hawaii for that long awaited tropical vacation in paradise? Looking for a few tips on what to see and do there from a former inhabitant? You’ve come to the right place. My wife and I lived on the Island of Kauai for three years. We’re not experts by any means; but we know a few tricks and tips that can help you maximize your Hawaiian vacation, and minimize the price, discomfort, and anxiety you may have about your travels to this gorgeous spot.
And it is that: Hawaii, particularly the island of Kauai, is the most beautiful spot on earth. We’ve traveled extensively, and there’s simply no prettier place than Kauai in particular, and Hawaii in general.
First, getting there. One thing main landers seem to lack is a good understanding of Hawaii and its geography. This misunderstanding can add to your trip’s length and cost. Here’s an example of this. Several airlines frequent Hawaii, of course. Many even fly directly into Lihue on Kauai, bypassing Oahu from the west coast of the U.S. One thing to avoid when going to Kauai, therefore, is an itinerary that takes you through Honolulu, which is on Oahu. There’s no need to stop there, and this typically adds to the expense and time involved in getting to Kauai. Check with your travel agent. Unless you want to see Oahu and its attractions, fly directly into Lihue Airport.
There are seven main islands in the Hawaiian chain, or at least seven that are now above water. For the geology buffs out there, the Hawaiian chain actually consists of 124 islands stretching over 1,200 miles across the central Pacific. Most of the 124 have long been submerged, having been created, then eroded by wind, water and natural forces over the preceding 100 million years. Today we have access to the islands of Hawaii (the Big Island), Molokai, Maui, Oahu, Lanai, Kauai and Niihau. Check that: Niihau (Pronounced Knee-EE-How) is inaccessible to tourists, unless permission is granted by the 400 or so natives living there. This permission is rarely if ever given, as the island is privately owned.
These seven islands span four hundred miles from the southeast coast of Hawaii, to the northwest tip of Kauai. This is roughly the distance between Columbus Ohio and Chicago. So no, we can’t see all the islands from the others, and no, we can’t drive from one to the other, sorry.
On to Kauai. This north westernmost Hawaiian Island is called The Garden Island, for a very good reason. It’s claimed that seeds dropped on the ground in Kauai’s rich volcanic soil will sprout with little attention or help, and plants will blossom in short order. This is evident from the time our plane touches down in Lihue; a riot of foliage of every size, color, dimension and shape greets us, and the aroma of tropical growth is a veritable perfume factory of scents. Temperature, too, encourages Kauai’s Edenic environment. The airport has no doors, no windows, no way, in other words to inhibit extremes of temperature. And no need. Daytime temps average a livable 83 degrees Fahrenheit, and night time temps rarely dip below 70â° F. This is year round conditions, so pack shorts and T-shirts, unless you burn easily.
Speaking of which, don’t forget to block up. Hawaiian sun is no hotter than at home in Omaha, but it’s more intense, and it lasts longer. Kauai is situated at 21 North Latitude. Sunburn is a constant possibility, and a real vacation ender.
To maximize your trip to Kauai I suggest these six items as a can’t miss agenda. These six represent my personal attractions that ought to be on everyone’s bucket list, even if it means a second mortgage on the chalet.
1 A Helicopter tour of the island. Kauai is simply stunning, and a lot of it is inaccessible by car or even on foot. Check out one of the reputable tour operators, and fly around Kauai. It’s a trip you’ll remember forever, and talk about even longer. Do not go to Kauai without taking a helicopter tour. Period. It would be like going to Paris and ignoring the Eiffel Tower. Cost of a helicopter tour – varies with operator and length of tour, but worth every single dime regardless.
2 Snorkel at Ke’e Beach. Drive to the very end of route 560 until you can’t drive any further, and you’ll be at Ke’e Beach park. Pronounced Kay-Ay, this beach at the very end of Kauai, and at the westernmost point of the U.S., by the way, is simply a snorkeler’s paradise. Rent the equipment from any vendor in nearby Hanalei Town, and spend an hour or three exploring Ke’e’s many caverns, shallows and reefs that teem with all manner of exotic, and some quite friendly marine critters. A warning though: Please don’t stand or walk on the reef! This erodes the fragile coral life found there, and causes the reef itself to shrink. Cost to snorkel Ke’e Beach – approximately $20.00 for the gear.
3 Sunset at PoliHale Beach. It’s a rather tortuous drive over poorly maintained and washboard rough dirt (and mud) road, but PoliHale Beach is worth every bump and tire-punishing pothole. Pole-EE-Hall-EE Beach, the name means House of Spirits, is at the westernmost end of the island of Kauai, and may be the most beautiful beach on earth. Polihale is seven miles of pure white sand, a constant pounding surf, and home to the famous ‘barking sands’ of Kauai. This beach is also the start of the famous NaPali coast, the most spectacular scenery in all of Hawaii. Cost of Polihale Beach – Zero.
4 Waimea Canyon. Why-May-Uh Canyon is the chasm that defines the western land mass of Kauai. Waimea, the name means Red Water, is proof that Kauai has a bit of everything from sun, sand and surf at the beaches, to jungle tropics, to lush, verdant garden landscapes to rugged mountainous terrain. Ten miles long, three miles wide and a mile deep, Waimea was caused by an earthquake over 300,000 years ago that nearly sheared Kauai in two. The resulting rust-colored cliffs and multiple waterfalls in the canyon create a view that is simply impossible to paint in words, or perhaps even in pictures. You must see Waimea to believe it. Take route 50 west from Hanapepe to the town of Waimea to mile marker #23 and climb up into the canyon. Don’t forget to gas up; there’s no station in the canyon. Hiking trails and scenic lookouts abound. If you wish to have a good look at the Kalalau Valley at the end of the canyon road, get there in the morning. The overlook often clouds over by noon. Cabins are also available by reservation in the upper reaches of Koke’e State park. Hint: Take a jacket or sweatshirt. Waimea is the only part of Kauai that may actually be chilly. Cost of a drive up into Waimea Canyon – Zero.
5 For the resident connoisseur of fine dining, Kauai can even handle that. Our suggestions include several fine restaurants in south shore PoiPu such as Roy’s, Brenneke’s, and The Beach House. In Lihue there’s Gaylord’s and Duke’s. A number of great places to eat may be found on the east shore around Kapaa Town, such as Blossoming Lotus and Kintaro for Japanese fare. Many north shore restaurants near Princeville, such as the Princeville resort and Hanalei Bay resort will leave you spellbound. In Hanalei Town, several places offer great cuisine, and terrific atmosphere. Postcards, Hanalei Dolphin, and for a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience, try Dining in Nature, unless dinner on the beach or near a waterfall seems boring or blase, then we feel sorry for you.
6 Finally, but by no means least captivating, a whale excursion. Until you’ve seen a breaching Humpback explode through an azure sea, and crash beneath the waves in a tangle of fins and flippers, playfully blasting tons of seawater every direction you haven’t really lived. The Humpbacks arrive around Kauai in early December, and leave the island environs by May first. When they’re present the whale boats leave several times a day from the south shore. Take a charter, take the camera, and go see the whales. Dolphins will accompany you. And you will see whales. And your life will be enhanced. They are spectacular creatures.
To minimize expenses, travel light and purchase lighter. That Hawaiian shirt from the souvenir shop? Back in Ohio you’ll never wear it. That hula bobble-head doll? Uh-uh, put it back. Shop for food at Costco in Lihue, or Cost-U-Less in Kapaa. Ask about group rates at the hotel, and see Kauai in Winter which is low season, believe it or not. The first week of January is likely the cheapest time to stay on Kauai. Don’t rent a big vehicle from a major rental. Kauai is sixty miles around by car. For true fiscal conservatives, try hitchhiking. Kauai may be the last place on earth where thumbing a ride is common, easy and safe. Camping on the beach is not unheard of, and shelter houses offer showers. Just a thought. There are ways to visit Kauai, and other Hawaiian islands, for very little.