Kauai

The ultimate island in Hawaii that originally stole my heart. The garden isle is still my favorite island we have visited and the place that has us continue to come back to Hawaii. This island is an adventure without the guide. It has lush tropical forests, an amazing “Grand Canyon” of the pacific and still has that Hawaiian allure to it without the craziness. If you love adventure, hiking and a little bit less tourism in your Hawaii vacation, Kauai is for you.

Top 5 Things To Do

  1. Waimea Canyon – Grand Canyon of the Pacific. It is fully worth a trip to the opposite end of the island! Colorful terrain and deep canyon that will amaze you when you look out into it. Great hiking trails and picturesque spots to stop at every turn. Take the road to the end and look to the clouds beneath you on the Na Poli Coast.  
  2. Kalalau Trail – There are three parts you can take on this hike. You can do the full grueling amazing hike, stop at the first beach or turn at the beach into an amazing waterfall. Any of the options will truly be an amazing experience for you, just pack correctly and leave early! 
  3. Hanalei – Puff the magic dragon had it right, Hanalei is absolutely beautiful. Observe the taro fields outside of town, stop in for some amazing Hawaiian shaved ice or go to an amazing beach. 
  4. Island boat tour – see it from the land, air and also the ocean! Great to take a tour around the island and see the coast from the sea. Humpback whales, sea turtles, snorkeling and more only add to the trip. 
  5. Helicopter tour – One of the top islands to do a helicopter tour. You’ll be greeted by waterfalls, tropical forests and vast canyons. If you’re a Jurassic Park they filmed a lot of it here. Your jaw will drop as you take in swooping views of the Na Poli coast. 

Itinerary

It was on a whim that we decided to travel to Hawaii for our first time. The beach life, that slow moving mentality…never really has been my scene. I have to be honest, I would much rather drown myself in historical civilizations of Europe or see the next wonder of the world. Why was Kauai chosen as our first island? It was not the thought of sitting on a beach drinking Mai Tai’s, but early morning hikes and waterfall treks. Known as the “garden isle”, Kauai has many parts of the island untouched by modern civilization. It’s lush flora is in abundance everywhere you look. The island also has some top rated hiking. The Kalalau trail is consistently rated one of the best hikes that you can do in the world. THESE reasons are the ones that got us to set our compass towards Hawaii.

A couple of thoughts on the planning process. Bring 1-2 of your cliche Hawaii outfits but also bring realistic items to walk around in. Comfort is key on vacation and Hawaii has a humid climate. Bring something breathable and moisture wicking, especially if the plan is to do some hiking. With that being said, bring some comfortable footwear for whatever you will be doing. If you’re hiking, bring your gear. The last thing you need is to get there and have to buy hiking items or have something you’re uncomfortable with.

Day 1

  • Air Travel
  • Spouting Horn
  • Makai Sushi
  • Waimea Canyon
  • Hotel Check in

Air Travel: Traveling out of SFO to Hawaii is a very simple process. Especially when you fly Hawaiian airlines. It was a first time traveling with them and they are far beyond what we usually experience in US travel. It’s one of the few airlines in the US that still offers complementary meals and drinks. We had a delicious meal on the way and when we landed in Hawaii, we were also given Mai Tai’s…not too bad in comparison to the free pretzels and soda that you are offered on other airlines!

We decided as it was the first time in Hawaii, we had to get the experience right. We got a convertible so that we could really experience the beauty of the islands without the barriers. It was very easy to get from the airport to the car rental location with many buses going back and forth between the areas. We set our navigation towards the spouting horn and were whisked away on a beautiful first day of travel through the island.

Makai Sushi: As we passed through Poipu, we yelped top restaurants in the area as we really wanted to get something in our stomach after being go, go, go. What came up? Makai sushi. How did it look? Well, it really didn’t look like much at all from the outside. The restaurant is actually a little concession at the check out area of a grocery store. How did it taste? Phenomenal! This was our first experience with poke and as we have learned now from several trips, go for markets or grocery stores. They have much fresher and better tasting poke than if you sat down at a restaurant.

Water spouting out of the earth!

Spouting Horn: As we entered into the parking lot of people, we came upon the spouting water. It was a let down of an experience in my mind. Yes there is some unique island history with this and a great back story about the myths involved, but in reality, it’s water shooting through a hole in the earth. I guess unless your name is Old Faithful, I don’t really see the amazingness with this. Now you do get to see plenty of tourists and chickens EVERYWHERE, because of the easy accessibility with this. I would say that it would not be on our itinerary for the next trip to the island, but I get it if you are coming for your first time and want to experience the island history.

Gorgeous views everywhere you look. Take your time and experience it all.

Waimea Canyon: After our stop at the blowhole, we moved on to what is considered the “grand canyon” of the pacific. Waimea Canyon is a staple on this island and I can easily see why! The convertible was perfect as we snaked our way up to the viewpoint for this canyon. It is a bit of a trek for the first day and you might want to make this a full day experience, because there are a lot of hiking trails that you can do along with very picturesque views of the canyon. The colors that you see here can leave you speechless. After your first viewpoint at Puu Hinahina of Waimea Canyon, you will have several chances to stop off and see different views and make sure you look for waterfalls. Depending on rainfall, you will get some great waterfall views. Drive all the way to the last piece of road and you get an opportunity to see the Napoli coast at the Kalalau lookout. When we were there, it really didn’t seem like a lot of people took this route. What you get at the end of the trail? You get to actually look down on the clouds over the Napoli coast. It’s such a weird feeling to be looking down on cloud cover. A well worth trip and it makes the list of top things to do and see while in Kauai.

After seeing the canyon and a long plane ride, we decided to get back and check in to our hotel and get some rest for the evening. Sometimes I find myself adding too much to an itinerary and I tried my best to not let this happen.

Marriott Resort: We checked in to our Marriott resort and we were not disappointed. The hotel is huge. With an amazing courtyard next to the reception area, many pools and bars to go to and it’s own beach, we would highly recommend the Marriott if it’s your first stay on the island. We were treated extremely well here and loved the location and restaurants around us.

Day 2

  • Kalalau Trail
  • JoJo’s Shave Ice
  • Hanalei Bay
  • Hanalei Valley Lookout

Kalalau Trail: On day 2, we set out on our drive to the trail head for Kalalau trail. The drive takes a couple of hours from the Marriott so be prepared. It takes you through Hanalei and some small roads out to a small beach parking lot at Hā’ena state park. It’s fairly easy to see the trail head after you park at the beach. If you get there early enough, you should have a plethora of parking on the side of the road. The Kalalau trail is 11 miles long in total, 22 miles round trip. The full hike, requires a pass to camp on the beach at the end, as people will not be doing a 22 mile hike in one day. It’s very steep terrain and high elevation with limited trail width can make this trail a higher difficulty than normal. Make sure you know why you’re getting into before deciding to take this to the end. There are several options for side hikes you can take with that in mind. You can do just a quick 2 miles in to the first beach or veer off to the Hanakapiai falls as shorter day trip options. We decided on the waterfall trail. Being that I love waterfalls, we had to at least see this amazing waterfall.

Whether doing a simple 2 miles in or taking the long way, be prepared for the hike. We saw too many people that didn’t bring water or food and looked to be in critical conditions because of their lack of preparation. Regardless of your option, prepare adequate food, water and comfortable clothing and hiking boots. It’s a long hike and can get quite strenuous even if you are just stopping at the first beach.

The Hanakapiai waterfall trail has many, many switchbacks and has you crossing rivers and small waterfalls. I wouldn’t recommend this for a first time hiker as there is some difficult terrain, especially during the wet season. There have been several occurrences of people actually having to get airlifted off of the trail because of dehydration or injuries. Especially during rainy season when flash floods are more prevalent. The trail itself is amazing. It takes you from the rainforest area of the Napoli coast, to the beach and then even deeper into the tropical paradise. On the first leg of the trip, you start out in a bamboo forest. This quickly gives way to a river system that we had to go over several times. The trail is fairly easy to navigate and has a wonderful climax at the waterfall. When we first got to the waterfall, there were some people around the pool at the bottom, but nobody was in water. I decided to quickly jump in and swim out to the middle. I must have made quite an impression, as it didn’t take too long before several others decided to do the same. It was quite chilly, but on a warm day, it felt nice. We stayed at the waterfall, ate our lunch and made our way back to the trail head.

On our way back we came across many people that did not bring enough water and were having some very severe dehydration. I sadly didn’t bring a water straw with me which I found to be a mistake. We found ourselves giving water to several people as we walked out. This again brings me to this point, make sure that you come prepared. I have to say that this trail was the highlight of our trip in Kauai and would highly recommend taking it, even if it is just to the first beach and back.

Hanalei: As we made our way back to our hotel, we had to stop in the sleepy town of Hanalei. You have to stop at the beach that Puff the Magic dragon frolicked through correct? We were not disappointed. The beach of Hanalei is beautiful with wonderful sand and a great backdrop of mountains. Hanalei is also where we had our first experience of Hawaiian shave ice at Jo Jo’s. WOW! What an amazing dessert?! Jo Jo’s is actually known as one of the best places on the island to get Hawaiian shave ice and it is so good. If you are making your way through Hanalei, I beg you to stop here. Not far from here I would also recommend stopping at the Hanalei valley lookout to see the Taro fields. It’s such a pretty view of the number one crop that Hawaiian people have grown for so long to make Poi.

Day 3

  • Shipwreck beach
  • Kauai coffee company
  • Kauai beer company
  • Wailua falls

A great beach for bodysurfing, cliff jumping and just sunbathing.

Shipwreck beach: Poipu area was our stop on day 3 so we made the drive out towards this side of the island. As we drove past many of the trees that reminded us of Jurassic Park, it lifted our spirits for a great day. We parked in a small parking location right outside of Shipwreck beach after the golf course. We liked the beach and the fact that there were very few people on it in comparison to some other beaches. A couple of people boogie boarding and of course, cliff diving off of the rocks to the left. We stayed on the beach for a while just enjoying the sun and relaxing while people to the left of us felt the rush of jumping off of the cliffs into the water. After watching many people (plenty of people with go pro’s making sure to get their candid shot), I decided to take a look at the cliffs up close. I found a nice trail up to the top of the cliffs and walked to where the people were jumping out. The volcanic rock is very hot in the sun so make sure that you have sandals on while walking (shoes with a better grip are preferred) out to the cliffs. I looked down as I got to the top and said, nope…I’m good! Overall Shipwreck beach is a little further away from some closer beaches but also nice to have some seclusion.

Kauai coffee company: We got in the car and headed out towards the Kauai coffee company. One of my passions is coffee and I had always wanted to go to a coffee plantation, and where better than Hawaii right? We drove into the plantation and we were instantly greeted with Plumeria trees. The plantation is away from most attractions so this will be your only stop on the drive. The visitor center has free tastings of everything and they make a lot of different types of coffee. Mostly flavored coffee so it was a little disappointing for me as I usually go towards a single origin, light roast. We toured the grounds and listened in as a tour was happening. They talked about the plantation, the exchange of ownerships over the years and how this magnificent berry makes it’s delicious juice. It was a nice stop, not the best coffee I have ever had. It’s still probably worth a stop in Kauai if you are a coffee fan and you want to see the mechanics of how a coffee plantation works.

The only brewery on the island at the time. Pretty solid beer!

Kauai beer company: Driving up the coast in Kauai is beautiful, so many wonderful views of the ocean…and a convertible was worth it to get all of these views unspoiled. We made it back into town and had to stop at the largest brewery on the island. The Kauai beer company had some nice beer and we had a really tasty mac and cheese from the place. Everyone was very friendly and the theme of the brewery was of course, the cock. Did I mention that chickens are everywhere on this island?!

Easy drive off of the road and beautiful waterfall with easy access.

Wailua falls: We next drove to Wailua falls which was just a short drive away from the brewery and a nice last stop of the day before heading back to the Marriott. The falls are extremely easy to get to from the road. There are trails down to the falls from another area but we decided to stay simple today and just look at the waterfall from the roadside. It’s a good size waterfall and was used in the Fantasy Island tv show. I would recommend seeing it if you are on the island as it’s an easy drive in and shouldn’t take too much of your time. Next time I would honestly take the trail down to the falls, if I could research and find it of course!

Amazingly delicious, try the scallops…you won’t be disappointed!

Kintaro sushi: That night we were looking across at a seafood restaurant that caught our eye from the resort. We ordered our uber (which was actually the first uber driver on the island) and we headed out to the restaurant to eat. As we spoke with the driver, he actually recommended another place for us to eat called Kintaro so we went with his recommendation. He spoke about originally being from the bay area and coming out here because he always wanted to live in Hawaii. He said that the prices in Hawaii are about the same as the bay area and he’s had to take multiple jobs to afford living on the island. After our chat with the uber driver (and somewhat reassuring ourselves that maybe we shouldn’t think about moving here) we made it to Kintaro. The sushi was very good here, but my favorite dish was the raw scallops. It was a little distant from our hotel but was well worth it to have a fantastic meal for the evening. We drank a bit too much wine during dinner so we called the same uber driver again and we got our ride home for the night.

Day 4

  • Blue Dolphin Charters
  • Cafe Portofino

Blue Dolphin Charters: Waking up on day 4, we were excited for our start to the day and it was a beautiful one! We made our way over to the opposite side of the island and Blue Dolphin charters. We were headed on a tour of the island and some snorkeling. As we made our way off the dock and into the ocean, we were quickly greeted by sea life as we left the harbor. Sea turtles and dolphins were quick to greet us for the day.

The first stop on the tour was a little place right off the shore that we did our snorkeling. There was a sea turtle in the area but it almost felt like everyone was bombarding the turtle so it felt a little sad. It was ok snorkeling, but we did the tour more for the view of the Napoli coast as opposed to the snorkeling. We finished snorkeling after only around 20-30 minutes as it was also a little chilly in the ocean at the area chosen.

We toured various areas of the coastline including where many movies were filmed. It was exciting to see the cliffs of the opening scene of jurassic park when the helicopter flies into the canyon. Very neat and great trivia knowledge from the tour! As we made our way back, I was able to get a great shot of a breach from a humpback whale in the distance. It’s such a thrill to watch these whales thrust themselves out of the water and make such a large splash on the ocean. It beats those cannon balls you did as a kid right?

The tour ended back at the harbor and overall it was a great charter that I would highly recommend. The sweeping views of the Napoli coast is reason enough to see this island from the sea.

We drove past Poipu beach as we ended our day heading back to the hotel. It was packed with snorkelers! It looked like a pretty beach but we just couldn’t justify stopping and dealing with the madness. It’s a highly recommended beach for the island, but I would say to go early so you can beat the crowds or you’ll be packed in with everyone trying to get a shot of the wildlife!

Cafe Portofino: A nice restaurant right outside the hotel and a great final stop for the evening to celebrate my partners birthday. The service was great and the pasta was also fantastic. I’m not sure I would go out of the way if you aren’t at the Marriott, but if you are staying at the hotel, I would say to eat here at least one of your evenings.

Day 5

  • Island Helicopter Tour
  • Kilohana Plantation Estate

An amazing view of the entire island, and wait for it..the Jurassic park theme as you fly next to the waterfall from the movie!

Island Helicopter Tours: We decided to take one more unique view of the island. We did a helicopter tour with Island Helicopters Kauai. We now finalized seeing it by land, sea and air! This was an amazing tour and you would not be disappointed if you go. We took it early morning and they are located right outside the airport. The tour takes you through every nook and cranny of the island along with showing you the main highlight scene of Jurassic park. Manawaiopuna falls is the waterfall that they fly the helicopter into when they first get to the island in the movie. If you want to pay extra, you can work through this company and actually land at the waterfall and play out your acting career! We decided to fly over but it was very cool for them to start playing the Jurassic park theme song as we drew closer to the waterfall! For some reason it actually got my heart rising a little more as we inched closer to the waterfall. After taking this tour, you will really see why Kauai is called the Garden Isle. There is just so much that is still wild in nature on this island. The deep tropical canyons, the sharp coastlines and water everywhere!

Luau in Hawaii you say? You get both the Luau and some rum tasting with this one!

Kilohana Plantation Estate: On our last night in Kauai we decided it was time to do our cliche Luau. We went through the top rated luau’s on the island and the Kilohana plantation estate kept coming up as one of the best. We dressed in our best Hawaii shirts and made our way over to the plantation. We were a bit early so we got a chance to visit the Koloa Rum Company first. They had some very interesting rum that they made and it was an overall great tasting to do. We headed into our luau and when you first enter, you’re given your lei’s and then take that classic hawaiian picture. As you walk in, they show you where the pig is being roasted in the ground with a very unique way of cooking that the Hawaiian’s have mastered over the years.

The food was good, the Poi was a little interesting to taste of course. The poi of course is a dish that they make out of one of their largest crops, taro. The hit of the meal would easily be the pork. The pork was tender and you could really taste the work that went into preparing it.

The show was also fantastic to watch. The acting was very good and it told of an interesting love story on the island. There was a little bit of everything during the show. There were fire dancers, Hawaiian dancing, etc. It was well worth our first visit to a luau. I haven’t been to enough luau’s to tell you the difference between all of them, but this one was well worth it if you are in Kauai.