Day 3: Lihue to Hanalei Bay
Day three of your 5 days in Kauai will be leisurely spent road tripping on the east coast before rounding the corner to the lush north shore of Kauai. The day mostly revolves around short stops in scenic lookouts, beach walks, and food!
Pro tip: days 3 to 5 are best explored while you’re based in the north coast. If not feasible, simply account for longer driving times when planning your day.
These twin falls cascade in perfect sync to a natural pool that only a few brave souls manage to somehow reach. There’s a small parking area near the lookout and though this is a quick stop, I’ll warn you ahead of time – staring at Wailua Falls will hypnotize you! For the best photos, don’t be shy and hop over the fence (just don’t tell anyone I recommended this).
Wailua River Lookout
A very quick stop offering nice views of the Wailua River as it bends en route to the Pacific Ocean.
Opaeka’a Falls Lookout
Less than 100m after the Wailua River Lookout on the opposite side of the road, this lookout offers views of a partially visible waterfall and the Wailua River. There are also the stone remains of a native Hawaiian structure adjacent to the parking area.
The stretch of road from Wailua to Kapa’a is the busiest in Kauai. It is here that the bulk of the island’s population resides and where package holidaymakers flock. Expect a traffic slowdown at best when nearing the town from either end and sometimes even major traffic jams (the Wailua bypass road helps with that). Kapa’s itself can be a cool stop if you need to stretch your legs or grab something fresh to drink. Unless you’re super hungry (in that case I recommend Pono Market), I advise waiting a little bit with lunch since we’ll soon make a special stop. Feel free to check out the main street, do some window shopping, and stroll along the paved promenade in Kapa’a Beach Park. Oh, and if you just happen to stroll through town on a Wednesday afternoon, visit the Kapa’a Farmers Market – one of the best farmers markets in Kauai (3-5pm).
Despite its close proximity to Kapa’a, Kealia Beach manages to retain a sense of pristine beauty. To reach the beach, you either drive or walk on the coastal paved path from Kapa’a.
As you head north past Kealia Beach and Anahola, the scenery is very inviting as the north coast’s signature peaks get closer and closer. There are a number of hiking trails in this area but we’ll leave those for day 5. Look out for “the sleeping giant” and the “hole in the mountain”. You’ll need a vivid imagination and a clear day to spot these two anomalies.
I found this to be one of the best beaches in Kauai, an off the beaten track beach that’s exposed to the elements and where you could very well be the only ones here. There’s lots of shade, plenty of secluded spots and birds love to hover over the shallow waters to catch fish. It’s a great stop for a beach stroll, picnic lunch or just to contemplate the questions of life. To get here, follow the dirt road to the parking lot and walk down the path for about 5 minutes. Unfortunately, due to camera malfunction, this is the only photo I can share.
Lunch at Kilauea Fish Market
I mentioned earlier that it is well worth fighting the lunch crave and here’s why. One of the best places to eat in Kauai, the Kilauea Fish Market whips up delicious local dishes that you don’t want to miss. While you wait for your choice to be freshly prepared, hang out in the exterior shaded dining area or check out one of the neighboring art galleries. Together with my visiting folks, we devoured a round of fish tacos and ahi (tuna) burritos. The Fish Market is closed on Sundays and if you really can’t fight the craving, they have a second branch in Kapa’a (but this is the original one!).
The Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is a no-brainer stop after lunch in the fish market. Not only are the views simply out of this world, but this rugged mini peninsula is teeming with life. You’ll feel as if you’ve entered the filming location of some award-winning BBC nature documentary right as you reach the viewing area outside the refuge. Sounds of massive waves smashing into the tall cliffs mix with those of thousands of protected birds such as albatross, boobies and frigate birds. You’ll then enter the park and continue on foot to the old-school lighthouse which dates back to 1913. The lighthouse was vital in protecting ships navigating the traitorous waters on this side of the island.
The views and the symphony are even more impressive from the lighthouse. In front of you is the tiny island of Mokuaeae – a haven for seabirds that often fly the short distance to check you out. If you’re super lucky, you might even see spinner dolphins and humpback whales to really make this a perfect day. Finally, look to your sandy left – that’s “Secrets Beach”, where we’ll head shortly.
The refuge is open Tuesday – Saturday, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Since parking is limited, there’s often a bit of a queue at the viewing area before you enter the gate (entrance is $5 per person).
Better known as “Secrets Beach”, Kauapea Beach is hands down one of the best beaches in Kauai. It’s quite tricky to reach but well worth the effort, a long stretch of soft golden sand, the bluest of waters, and the Kilauea Lighthouse in the far distance. There’s even a hidden rocky cove that pleasantly detaches you from the outside world on the western edge of the beach.
You won’t find too many tourists here, mostly locals who know a good beach when they see one, surfers, and even dolphins. Be advised that swimming can be very dangerous, especially during the winter months. However, Secrets Beach is a beautiful place to do a bit of relaxation and you can even call it a day since we’ll have another full beach day on the north coast in day #5.
To get here, Turn on Kalihiwai Road and take the first right onto the dirt road. Keep going straight all the way until you reach a makeshift parking area. Leave nothing in the car (thieves have been known to stake out) and follow the steep path down for about 10 minutes.
Hanalei Valley Lookout
Passing the resort community of Princeville, you’ll reach the Hanalei Valley Lookout before beginning the descent to what is arguably Kauai’s prettiest corner. The panoramic views from the lookout are stunning: a colorful tapestry of lush mountains, taro patches that have been cultivated for centuries, and streams meandering to the Pacific Ocean. If you needed a reminder of just how lush Kauai is, here it is!
Pro tip: there are even finer views of the Hanalei Valley just a two-minute drive from the official lookout point in the direction of Hanalei Bay. Pull over on the wide shoulder and enjoy the views.
The village of Hanalei is the stuff dreams are made of, seeming to almost be too good to be true. Perhaps this is the reason why Hollywood keeps choosing this place time and time again, most notably in the critically acclaimed drama The Descendants, with George Clooney.
Nestled between the signature peaks of the Na Pali coast and the majestic Hanalei Bay, the village itself is a tiny collection of shacks turned into million-dollar mansions, healthy dining options, and surf shops or surf related ‘whatevers’. It’s well worth a stop and a stroll either before hitting the bay or after.
If you fancy an unpretentious bite to eat, head to Hanalei Gourmet (try the grilled marlin sandwich), and for drinks (and live music), head to the Tahiti Nui restaurant & bar. Hanalei also hosts a Saturday farmers market, but we’ll come back to this later on.
Pro tip: Keep in mind that on day 5 of this itinerary, you’ll have plenty of time to come back here, grab a healthy breakfast and check out the scenery in pre-noon daylight.
Sunset in Hanalei Bay
The largest and most impressive in Kauai, Hanalei Bay is a playground for all ages. Since Hanalei Bay is so massive, it is home to a number of official and unofficial beaches, starting with the busier Black Pot Beach in the east – where the famous pier is to be found, Hanalei Beach Park and Waioli Beach Park – somewhere in the middle, and the western edges of the bay where you’ll likely not have to share the creamy sand with others.
Hanalei Bay is the type of place where you can spend the better part of a full day and that’s exactly what you’ll be able to do on day 5. On this day, however, find a nice spot and turn your head west to enjoy yet another spectacular sunset in Kauai!