Kaua’i – The Garden Island

My preconceptions of Hawaii were based on films like ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ and the legendary Waikiki Beach; all big resorts, high-rise buildings and stunning but crowded beaches. So, I was unprepared for Kauai’s rugged and natural beauty which blew me away. When I sat down to write this I ended up spouting two pages, which is an essay, not a blog post! Basically, it was so amazing and hard to condense into a small short post. Here goes anyway…

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Day One & Two – Kapa’a
From the moment I landed on Kauai the dramatic mountain scenery and stunning coastlines made me feel as if I was on a film set. Indeed, many blockbusters have been set or filmed here, most famously Jurassic Park.

Our first two nights were spent in Kapa’a just north of the airport on the east coast, which was a perfect first stop as we arrived relatively late in the day. We had originally planned a helicopter tour for our first morning but unfortunately, it was called off due to heavy wind and rain. So what to do instead? Walking, of course, it was great weather for ducks. Not wanting to waste the day we set off to walk the Kuilau Ridge and Moalepe Trails. We only managed the Kuilau Ridge (2 miles each way) due to adverse weather conditions!

The Wailua area is a haven for people who love outdoor activities with kayaking, tubing, and zip lining on offer. Due to a video going viral of tubing in the area, this now gets booked up two months in advance! We were later assured by some other guides that the video makes the experience look much more fun than it actually is, and you also pass through a tunnel of bats, so perhaps we didn’t miss out after all. Admitting defeat, we went back to our hotel and dried off before exploring the cute little shops in Kapa’a that sell anything from Aloha shirts to tattoos. It’s worth spending some time and money here even if just passing through. Dinner at Sams Ocean View was great, especially the poke nachos.

Day Three – Princeville & Na Pali Coast
On day three we headed to the end of the road to complete the first 2 miles of the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali coast. We then ventured another 2 miles inland to see Hanakapi’ai Falls. 4 miles sounds easy, right? It’s not! This is one of the most difficult walks I’ve ever been on, involving stepping stones over rivers (my husband fell in, I did not!), sheer rock paths, 1ft wide mud trails and more. It was totally worth it though and I would recommend it to anyone in half decent shape who has a pair of hiking boots on (not so much to people wearing sketchers or their running shoes…). As we completed the final mile we were treated to a rainbow over the sea which was magical. It even made the parking fine we found attached to the windscreen when we got back to the car easier to swallow.

Shattered from the walk, we settled for an easy dinner at Bouchons Hanalei instead of going for Mai Tais at Tahiti Nui, the dive bar featured in The Descendants (the film George Clooney won an Oscar for). Although I’d wanted to go there, by chance a local man who had featured in The Descendants was having dinner in Bouchons! If you have seen the film you will recognize much of the scenery around this area, although the actual piece of land that was supposedly in dispute is further South, just past the airport in Lihue.

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Hiking the Na Pali Coast
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Rainbow on the Na Pali Coast, Kauai
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Hanakapi’ai Falls, Kauai, Hawaii
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Hiking to Hanakapi’ai Falls

Day Four & Five – Po’ipu
Speaking of the airport, the next day we headed back there to go on what turned out to be the highlight of the entire trip, a helicopter ride! I’ve never considered going in a helicopter before, I suppose it just never came up. It’s hands down one of the best (if not the best) thing I have ever done while traveling, perhaps that’s because Kauai provided the perfect backdrop. Even my husband who is usually surgically attached to his iPhone barely used it during the flight, the views and experience were so wonderful and impossible to capture in a photograph or video.

Our final stay on Kauai was at Koa Kea Resort & Spa, which is right on the waterfront at Po’ipu and a real treat to stay at. We spent a full day lounging around the pool and snorkeling off the beach, where we were lucky enough to see a Hawaiian monk seal and two sea turtles.

Day Six – Waimea Canyon
Our last activity required a 5am wake-up call, but thankfully it was worth it! We spent the morning cycling down the Waimea Canyon at sunrise which was breathtaking. If you are wondering who on earth chooses to cycle 13 miles on holiday, I will let you into a secret. It’s all downhill, so no physical effort whatsoever is required. My husband tracked the trip on Strava and apparently, we burnt a grand total 60 calories over the entire 13 miles. Afterwards, we just about had time to get a traditional ‘plate lunch’ from a café in Koloa before heading to the airport.

I would go back to Kaua’i in a heartbeat, it’s an incredible place for a holiday and for outdoor activities. Kauai is a tropical paradise, but this is still America, so expect to pay American prices. That’s the only downside!

What to do & see 

  • Hike the Na Pali Coast
  • Take a helicopter trip with Island Helicopter Tours
  • Cycle down Waipouli Canyon
  • Snorkel Po’ipu

Where to stay

What to eat & drink

Top tips for Kaua’i

  • Take mosquito spray and waterproofs!
  • Hire a car – the island is relatively small and you can see lots in 5 days
  • Be aware of dangers –  pay attention to no swim signs, Kaua’i is rugged and nature can be brutal
  • Buy a copy of The Ultimate Kauai Handbook: Kauai Revealed by Andrew Doughty. Now in its 9th edition, I found a copy of the 3rd edition by complete coincidence in a free book exchange the week before we traveled (true story).
The Ultimate Kaua'i Guidebook - 3rd edition, Cycling the Waimea Canyon
The Ultimate Kaua’i Guidebook – 3rd edition


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