Kauai: Where Adventure, or Leisure, Awaits
Hawaii’s appeal is undeniable, bringing over 8 million people to the islands in 2014, but just 17% of those make to it Kauai, according to annual visitor data. Those 17% will find a quiet respite — or a landscape prime for exploring by foot or by surfboard — truly offering something for all sorts of travelers.
I’ve been to the state several times, but I recently took my first time to Kauai as an adult, armed with the advice of many of my Travelzoo colleagues on how to have the best of both worlds, R&R plus some exploring.
For first time Kauai visitors I would recommend splitting time between the north and south sides of the island. In particular, Princeville and Poipu. This allows you to break up the trip between the tropical north noted for its gorgeous beaches and the Napali Coast, all within close proximity to Princeville. And Poipu in the south, famous for it’s breathtaking sunsets and access to Waimea Canyon.
To fully experience the island I highly recommend renting a car. This will allow you to explore at your own pace. Plus, you can discover hidden beaches at the end of that windy red, dirt road; drive across the famous one-way bridges; or venture to further out snorkel options such as Tunnels.
Princeville is for the more adventurous traveler. While there are beaches you can drive right up to, such as Hanalei Bay, I would encourage you to seek out the more remote beaches for a secluded experience. My favorite is Secret Beach, located about 15 minutes south of Princeville at the end of an unmarked dirt road. It also requires a 10-minute hike down a semi-steep cliff. But once there, this milelong stretch of sand offers an afternoon of peace and quiet.
- Favorite hike: Follow the red-dirt road down to the pools of Queen’s Bath. These unique pockets of volcanic rock allow ocean water in and out and are home to tide pools and sea turtles. You can even swim in the largest pool. Be smart, time the hike when there is no rain and swim only at low tide.
- Best view: The sunsets of Poipu are famous in Kauai. Poipu Beach is at the southern tip of Kauai, which offers uninterrupted views of the pacific with no other islands in sight.
- Best shaved ice: Shaved ice at Hee Fat General Store cannot be missed. I recommend the Lava Flow, pineapple, coconut and strawberry shaved ice atop macadamia nut ice cream. The shop is in Kapaa, eight miles north of Lihue Airport, and boasts 4.5 stars on Yelp.
- Under-the-radar attraction: Many travelers skip out on Waimea Canyon as it’s on the West Coast, about an hour’s drive from Poipu. If you have the time, I’d suggest a day trip to “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” There’s an abundance of hiking trails or you can even just stop at the Waimea Canyon Lookout for panoramic canyon views complete with waterfall sightings.
- Under-the-radar dinner: Duane’s Ono-Char Burger came highly recommended from friends, and boy were they right. This small red building is easy to miss right off the Kuhio Highway approximately halfway between Princeville and Wailua. The most popular burger is teriyaki, and don’t skip out on the onion rings.
- Staying there: Kauai has two main overnight options: resorts and condos. You can choose between a relaxing resort experience or feel more at home, with a kitchen and family-friendly furnishings in a condo.
- When to visit: The islands are an all-season destination, but I like going in the fall. September is one of the best times to visit due to temperate weather, lesser crowds and more hotel deals. This is even truer in Kauai where the number of tourists is fewer than the surrounding islands. In September, you can find a beach to spend the day and literally be the only person on the beach in Kauai.