Hawaii’s outdoor playground, the island of Kauai is the most stunning island in this remote chain. The oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai has been beautifully sculpted by the forces of nature to create a masterpiece that is waiting to be explored. Known as the “Garden Isle”, Kauai is the island Hollywood turns to when searching for a paradise setting. Here are the very best, the top 10 things to do in Kauai.
Visiting other Hawaiian islands? Sample itineraries, guides to the best beaches, and must-see highlights await you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!
10. Stock Up on Fresh Produce at Local Farmers’ Markets
Ice-cold coconuts, sweet papayas, Polynesian taro, and even noni. Those are some of the tropical delights that await you in one of Kauai’s farmer’s markets. Depending on the day of the week, there’s always a farmer’s market on the island. And with nutrient-filled land bathed by the heavens, it’s no wonder that the quality of local Kauai produce is unbeatable. Sure, it might be cheaper to buy imported Ecuadorian bananas at the supermarket, but what’s the fun in that?
9. Catch Awesome Views from Scenic Overlooks
If there’s something interesting to see on the side of the road in Kauai, there will be a scenic overlook to ensure that you fall in love with the “Garden Isle”. From north to south on the ‘sightseeing crescent’ running up the coast from Waimea to Ke’e Beach, the most scenic overlooks are Menehune Fishpond, Wailua Falls, and Hanalei Valley.
8. Hang Out With Bird Colonies at Kilauea Point
Do you know those BBC nature films with thousands of nesting birds in the frame? That’s exactly what it feels like at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. Home to protected colonies of albatross, frigate birds, boobies, and lots more, this bird sanctuary and historic lighthouse are located on one of the most scenic peninsulas in Hawaii. If you’re extra lucky, perhaps you might even see a few humpback whales and spinner dolphins coming to see where all the noise is coming from.
7. Hike the Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail
On an island frequented by visitors, it’s nice to know there’s one trail where you might have nature all to yourself. Running along the rugged coastline between Shipwreck and Ha’ula Beaches, the Mahaulepu Coastal Trail rewards hikers with stunning south shore views. Along the way, you’ll pass hidden coves protected by sharp limestone pinnacles, ancient Hawaiian stone structures, and maybe even schools of sea turtles coming up for air. Those who at least make it to Mahaulepu Beach can enjoy the beautiful off-the-beaten-track beach and check out Makauwahi Cave – one of the richest fossil sites in Hawaii.
6. Tahitian Dancing in Luau Kalamaku
You cannot visit Hawaii without attending at least one luau. The award-winning Luau Kalamaku in Kauai is considered the best Polynesian dance show on the island. To the beating sounds of traditional drums, dozens of dancers tell the story of a pair of Tahitian lovers separated as one departs on the long voyage to the virgin islands of Hawaii. Will they reunite in paradise? Will they survive the fury of the gods and rival chiefs? You’ll have to find out for yourself!
5. Chill in Hanalei Bay
The largest and most impressive bay in Kauai, Hanalei Bay is a playground for all age groups. It’s where George Clooney went for a morning jog in The Descendants and where you’ll simply want to park it for the day. Hanalei Bay runs from the busier Black Pot Beach and Hanalei Beach Park in the east to the more secluded and unnamed western beaches.
4. Hike the Kalalau Trail
Extending for 11 challenging miles from Ke’e to Kalalau Beach, the trail hailed as the “most incredible hike in America” would probably rank higher if it was easy to hike its second and more scenic half. Day hikers on the Kalalau Trail will enjoy stunning coastal views of the famous Na Pali coast as they traverse a series of lush valleys en route to the unforgiving Hanakapiai Beach and its towering waterfall further upstream. But the real treat is reserved for those hiking overnight to Kalalau Beach. This challenging section brings you as close to Mother Nature as possible and to the incredible jagged peaks of the Na Pali coast, sculpted for millennia by the eroding forces of water and wind.
3. Swim and Snorkel at Tunnels Beach
Without a doubt, Kauai’s best beach, Makua Beach – better known as Tunnels Beach – is as pretty as it comes. With crystal clear waters and the pyramid-shaped Makana Mountain – better known as Bali Hai – looming in the background, you can easily spend the entire day swimming and snorkeling in Tunnels Beach. And why is it called Tunnels Beach? The area is riddled with underground caves, a few of which you can check out on the scenic coastal drive en route to Ke’e Beach.
2. Admire the Grand Canyon of the Pacific
Words cannot describe the beauty and grandeur of Waimea Canyon. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, it’s hard to believe such a place exists on Earth, let alone on a small tropical island like Kauai. The canyon was formed when Kauai’s massive shield volcano collapsed, and water took over to do the rest of the fine-tuning. Dissected by the Waimea River, the canyon runs over 10 miles from north to south and is as deep as 3500ft! You will never forget this special day in Kauai, with dozens of incredible overlooks on the scenic Waimea Canyon Drive and hiking trails galore.
1. Feel on Top of the World in Koke’e State Park
Squeezed between the Na Pali coast’s signature peaks and the bizarre wonder of Waimea Canyon, Koke’e State Park offers the most stunning land-based views in Kauai. The park covers a vast expanse of high-elevation terrain and is home to delicate ecosystems of endemic plants and animals. Capture the beauty of the Na Pali cliffs from either the Kalalau or Pu’u o Kila Lookouts, where you can also embark on a hike to the wetlands of the Alaka’i Swamp trail and its overlooks. But for the “best seat in the house” (literally), hike the incredible Awa’awapuhi Trail.
There you have it, the top things to do in Kauai! Visiting other Hawaiian islands? Sample itineraries, guides to the best beaches, and must-see highlights await you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!
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