Kauaʻi’s one and only highway circles the island’s periphery from the sleepy town of Hā‘ena to the remote sunset viewing spot of Polihale State Park. Visitors can witness high, lush mountains, cascading waterfalls and wild open beaches.
Several locations, like the visually profound Nā Pali Coast, are exclusively viewed by air, boat or foot. To access the majestic Kalalau Valley, for example, an 11-mile hike or kayak adventure is required. Kalalau Valley, tucked among the fluted ridges of the Nā Pali Coast, is a hot spot on every backpacker’s bucket list. Untouched, verdant places such as these are among the many reasons this tropical Shangri-La earns the name “Garden Isle.”
Plant life teeming with fragrant flowers and colorful perennials are watered by passing showers and streams flowing from Mount Wai‘ale‘ale, one of the wettest spots on earth. Rainfall on this peak averages more than 400 inches annually. While this means the island has a tendency to get soggy, especially from November to March, frequent showers provide the ‘āina, land, with its legendary natural beauty.
No matter the time of year, however, there are plenty of reasons to visit the geologically oldest of the eight main Hawaiian Islands. Ample activities from paddleboarding at idyllic beaches to enjoying alluring vistas satisfy visitors of all ages and walks of life.
The island is comprised of four regions — north shore, east side, south shore and west side, each host to exclusive features worth checking out.
Hanalei, a quaint picturesque town on the northern end of the island nestles against the mighty Namolokama Mountain and is home to the celebrated Hanalei Bay Beach. A short drive uphill from here is Princeville, one of the most popular spots for vacationers to stay as timeshares and vacation rentals abound. This upscale community is also the locale of the luxurious St. Regis Princeville Resort, one of only two 5-star hotels on Kaua‘i. The resort holds a traditional champagne sabering every evening for anyone interested in sipping bubbly while enjoying an exquisite sunset view. In the backdrop is the famed Mt. Makana, otherwise known as “Bali Hai” from the 1950s movie “South Pacific.”
Another opportunity to relish in gorgeous north shore scenery is at the historic Kilauea Lighthouse Wildlife Refuge. Here history buffs and bird lovers alike can delight in knowledge gained from this federally protected area. Here hundreds of Hawaiian seabirds dance in the sky, seabirds such as the Koa‘e kea or White-tailed tropicbird.
Additional wildlife encounters, dips in the ocean and lazy afternoon strolls are a trifecta of Kauaʻi activities to appreciate along the east side’s Royal Coconut Coast. Koholā, Hawaiian Humpback whales, make an annual migration to Hawai‘i from about November to April and can be witnessed with their babies from Kealia Beach. It’s an excellent place to plop down in the sand, play in the waves or stroll along the multi-use Kapa‘a Bike Path also known as Ke Ala Hele Makalae or “the path that goes along the coast.”
The sunny south shore has bragging rights to beautiful Po‘ipū Beach, voted among the best beaches in the world. This area is home to larger hotels such as the Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i Resort and Spa, the second 5-star hotel on the island. The south shore is also the location of The Shops at Kukui‘ula that sell a variety of Hawaii-made keepsakes and offer a delicious array of dining options including Merriman’s Fish House with fresh, locally caught seafood and farm-to-table dishes.
For the more adventurous traveler, meandering mountain tops and trekking through ornate jungles is a must-do as the Garden Isle’s west side has some of the most spectacular trails in the world. Waimea Canyon State Park with its red gorges and exotic flora offers sublime views even for those who would rather embark on a journey from the comfort of their vehicle. The “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” as it is lovingly dubbed is an acclaimed attraction. Scenic points can be easily accessed along the 20-mile drive to the top of Koke‘e State Park. Hiking along paths such as the Alakaʻi Swamp Trail will take you through several miles of enchanting rainforests and bring you to breathtaking vistas.
There are many gifts Kaua‘i bestows upon lucky travelers who are in on its secret. This sleepy, rural island offers something for everyone and is nature’s perfect remedy for calming a busy mind.