Welcome to our 6 day tour of Kauai, Hawai'i. We hope you enjoy traveling with us and are inspired to take your own trip. This trip was part of our seven month journey around the world which began in Flores, Guatemala. See a summary of the destinations we traveled to over our seven months here: link.
Kickin’ it in Kauai
From California, our next stop was the magnificent island of Hawai’i which is made up of more than 130 islands spread across 1,500 miles. Hawai’i is an amazing destination (but you already knew that). It’s only blemish is the cost to get to the islands and the cost of living once you’re there. But we factored this into our budget and we were eager to see what we could squeeze into 13 days spanning three islands: Kauai, the Island of Hawai’i (aka the Big Island), and Oahu. Our first stop was Kauai.
Why Travel to Kauai, Hawai’i?
Kauai, nicknamed the “Garden Isle”, is the northernmost island located along the Hawaiian chain and boasts the jaw-dropping scenery you would expect from Hawai’i. However, Kauai has a low-key feel that the other islands (namely O’ahu) just don’t quite have. It’s like you have your little piece of heaven.
We specifically chose Kauai to check out Waimea Canyon, which is the largest gorge in the Pacific, and hike the famous Kalalau Trail, which is a stunning walk along the Nā Pali Coast through the mountains and rainforest.
Some interesting facts about Kauai:
- Rainfalls are most common on Kauai compared to the other islands. In fact, in the center of the island lies a mountain known as one of the “Wettest Places on Earth”. It’s no wonder Kauai offers visitors some of the most magnificent lush greenery and landscapes you will see in all of Hawai’i. Don’t worry, the rain will come and go and give you plenty of sunshine and rainbows. As they say in Kauai, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes”.
- Kauai is the oldest Hawaiian islands at more than five million years old!
- There is one major road on the island that hugs the coast from the northeast circling clockwise the majority of the island to the Northwest. This drive takes less than two hours as the majority of the island is untouched mountains, rainforest, and canyons.
How Long to Stay in Kaui, Hawai’i?
We spent six nights in Kauai and had a magnificent time. We spent two separate days visiting the Waimea Canyon region. You could squeeze it in one day, but we were happy to spread it over two days so we could soak it in twice. This also gives you a chance for better views if the weather turns poor one of the days.
If you want to do the Kalalau Trail, that will definitely take one full day. If you only do a portion of it as we did, then count it for a half-day. We also did several quick trips such as the Queen’s Bath, Wailua Falls (Kauai’s Twin Falls), and a Lūʻau, which could all be completed in one day. For our purposes we could have stayed four full days and fit in all of the above but were happy to have been able to spend some extra time at the resort, relax, and visit some beaches. If we had more time and a bigger bankroll we would have considered also squeezing in a catamaran tour and a helicopter tour. There are certainly several ways to spend a whole week here.
Top Things To Do in Kaui, Hawai’i
1) Waimea Canyon State Park
This 14-mile-long, one-mile-wide, and approximately 3,600-feet-deep gorge is the largest in all of the Pacific and earns the title the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific“. This is a must-see when traveling to Kauai and is easily accessible by car with many lookout points to stop and enjoy.
One of the most famous lookout points, the Kalalau Lookout, has a great view of the Kalalau Valley. This valley has served as a backdrop for movies like “King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, Jurassic Park, and Six Days Seven Nights. As pictured below.
2) Kalalau Trail
We had high hopes of hiking the Kalalau Trail which is an 11-mile trail along the Nā Pali Coast, however, when we got there we learned that you needed a permit to hike the entire trail.
We heard from people that have completed the entire trail how amazing it was. Next time for sure! Luckily, we were able to hike the first two miles of the trail down to Hanakāpīʻai Beach without a permit. This took us less than two hours.
Did you know? Hanakāpīʻai Beach is one of the most dangerous beaches in the world due to rip currents? We stayed close to the shoreline, as we could see the sheer force of the undertow.
After spending time at Hanakāpīʻai Beach we then took a two-mile detour north up an unmaintained (though heavily-traveled) trail en route to Hanakāpīʻai Falls a 300-foot- tall waterfall.
The trail to the Falls took us less than two hours from Hanakāpīʻai Beach and here was our first glimpse of the falls:
It’s beautiful from afar but you can hike even closer and swim up to the waterfall if you want. We did however notice several loose rocks falling from the top into the pool. One was a fist sized boulder that landed pretty close to a swimmer. That would have caused some serious damage, swimmers beware.
After spending some time at the waterfall, we packed up and began our return trip. We had to retrace our steps to the beginning as it is the only path back.
Remember, we only traveled two miles of the 11-mile Kalalau Trail, so you can imagine how much more beauty there is to be seen along the Nā Pali coastline.
3) Queen’s Bath
When we researched the Queen’s bath, it was labeled as a swimmable oceanside tide pool surrounded by rocky terrain. However, when we got there it was a rocky coast with incredibly strong waves crashing against the shore with a force so strong it would lift you right off your feet and pull you into the ocean. Soooooo definitely a no-go on the swim.
Sadly several warning signs were not shy in numbering people who had died in such ways. Please be careful. But this sight is not to be missed.
We spent a couple of hours enjoying the show and sheer power of the ocean.
We imagine if it had been a less rough day, we could have swam in the “baths” but we preferred being able to see the Queen’s Bath in full force.
4) Hike Waimea Canyon Trail
Within Waimea Canyon, we hiked the 1.8-mile (one-way) Waipo’o Falls Trail. The hike through the damp forest took about two to three hours and provided us with amazing views of the luscious canyon. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day so we had to wait for the clouds to momentarily part to catch glimpses over the valley.
The gold at the end of the rainbow is a view of the top of Waipo’o Falls; the 800-foot cascading waterfall. You might prefer viewing the waterfall from a distance to see it in its totality (as shown in pictures in #1 Waimea Canyon State Park above); but this hike gives you a really cool perspective. The edge is right there! It is definitely worth the effort.
5) Wailua Falls (Kauai’s Twin Falls)
Wailua Falls is a dual 170-foot tall waterfall that was featured in the opening credits of the TV show Fantasy Island.
Wouldn’t it be even better to see the waterfalls up close? Perhaps on top of the falls? Good idea! We roamed a bit closer and saw a way in, a fence that would grant us access. After hopping a fence (that was clearly previously trampled) we cautiously trekked the trail on a steep decline towards the sounds of the rushing waterfalls. 😏
6) Lūʻau Kalamakū
When in Hawai’i, you should make sure to go to a lūʻau. First things first, getting lei’d.
A lūʻau is a traditional Hawaiian party or feast that is usually accompanied by entertainment. You can find various operators on each of Hawaii’s inhabited islands of varying quality, but you are almost always guaranteed a huge buffet of food, tropical cocktails, and a cultural show depicting old Hawaiian stories.
We thoroughly enjoyed the food and entertainment at Lūʻau Kalamakū, though it did cost $120 USD per person. Several years prior to this trip we had attended Germaine’s Lūʻau on the island of O‘ahu. Both were of similar qualities, however, Germaine’s Lūʻau was ideally located next to the ocean. So as you can imagine, the atmosphere was beautiful.
We went to Hanakāpīʻai Beach during our hike in Kalalau, but the currents were too strong for us to swim. (pictured above in #2 top things to do)
We also went to Kekaha Beach Park on the way back from one of our trips to Waimea Canyon. It was a lovely way to end a day full of hiking under the hot Hawaiian sun.
On our final day in Kauai on the way to Lihu’e Airport, we stopped off at Lydgate Beach Park, which was only 10 minutes away. Lydgate Beach has a rock enclosed pond that allows families and children to snorkel and swim without the worries of the strong waves of the open ocean. It’s also a nice place for a picnic as there are benches and plenty of spots to make a day out of it.
8) Jojo’s Shave Ice
Another staple of Hawai’i is shaved ice. These are better than your average Icee or slushie. When in Hawai’i these are a tasty treat to help cool you off.
Other Recommendations of Things to Do
These are all adventures that we unfortunately didn’t have time to do on our own but would have considered if we had more time:
- Hike the entire 16-mile Nā Pali Coast (and make sure to get the permit this time!)
- Snorkel/swim at the many beaches, such as Hanalei Beach, Ke’e Beach, or Tunnel Beach. It is said a good time to go to Ke’e Beach is around sunset time as the light sets over the amazing Nā Pali cliffs.
- Take a boat or kayak tour down the Wailua River through the rainforest and see some more waterfalls.
- Kauai would be an amazing place for a helicopter tour as there is so much of Kauai that can’t be seen via road or hiking trail.
- A catamaran or boat tour around the coast would also give amazing views that can’t be seen on foot. Companies also offer whale watching tours during certain seasons. Snorkeling tours are another option.
Where To Eat in Kaui, Hawai’i
CHICKEN IN A BARREL BBQ-KAPAA
Walk-up traditional Hawaiian fare with outdoor seating.
Where To Stay in Kaui, Hawai’i
- Club Wyndham Bali Hai Villas in Princeville: After all of our stays in hostels in the prior month we were able to indulge ourselves with our friend Jamie with a two-bedroom condo at the beautiful Club Wyndham resort for a few of the days. We highly recommend this place if it can fit in your budget.
- Airbnb: Airbnb’s can be a more inexpensive and better option for visitors to Kauai. We snagged a well-priced airbnb for three of the days we were in Kauai that had a great location. Bonus? The owner even shared her avocados from her trees, which went perfectly with our homemade dinners.
- If you are interested in hiking the entire 11-mile (one-way) Kalalau Trail (past Hanakāpīʻai Valley), you will have to obtain a permit. This trip can take you anywhere from six to ten + hours.
- The Nā Pali Coast is a magnificent series of towering sea cliffs and deep valleys. You can marvel at it either on foot, from the water, or from the air. There are no roads along the beautiful Nā Pali Coast. Hiking is the least expensive method, but it is a strenuous hike.
Questions for you
- Did you hike the Nā Pali Coast? What was your experience like?