KAUAI TRAVEL GUIDE: Where to Stay, Hike, Eat, & Adventure in 4 days
KAUAI stole my heart, hands down! It was the first of the Hawaiian Islands we visited and it was WAY more than I ever expected it to be. It's nicknamed "The Garden Isle" because of the tropical rainforest covering most of the grounds! If you are a lover of nature, like myself, this island is for you. Sharing a breakdown of how we spent our 4 days in Kauai to the fullest!
Easily tied with our top favorite activity of the entire trip! We toured up the majestic Napali Coast and across the Kaulakahi Channel to Lehua Crater off the “Forbidden Island” of Niihau — all in just one morning/afternoon! You kick off the morning by leaving Port Allen, enjoy a yummy complimentary breakfast and hit the first stop, Napali Coast. The Napali Coast has 4,000-foot cliffs, an abundance of waterfalls, lush emerald valleys, magical sea caves, rainbows, turtles, monk seals, dolphins, and so much more! Take in all of it's beauty and be sure to take LOTS PICTURES -- these are views that you literally won't find anywhere else. Next, you cruise across the 17-mile Kaulakahi Channel to Lehua Crater off Niihau’s coast where you see the State Wildlife Sanctuary, Lehua Crater’s “keyhole” rock, and plenty of native/endangered species.
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After all the views, it's time to go snorkeling!!!! The location varies depending on weather, but you can bank on being along the outside of Lehua Crater or off the coast of Niihau. Our crew tied us off, set us up with goggles and fins, and we were off! I highly recommend bringing a go pro if you have one that can go underwater! We were able to capture EVERYTHING! We swam with some of the most beautiful and unique fish, endangered monk seals, manta rays, underwater lava cathedrals, and we even saw a reef shark! We snorkeled for about an hour before they called us in for lunch and drinks. They have the best selections of beer, wine, and seltzers for you to enjoy all the way back across the Kaulakahi Channel!
This was such an unforgettable 7-hour Kauai tour by Holo Holo Charters. I purchased our experiences through the lovely Tinggly - a gift experience brand so you can give your loved one, family, or friend the experience of a lifetime anywhere in the world!
You may have seen this view on Fantasy Island (featured in the opening credits!) -- Wailua Falls is 173 foot falls right off the beaten path north of Lihue. It is "possible" to get down to the falls, but I would not recommend it as it looked pretty unsafe (and that's coming from me... I will typically go for anything). It's beautiful view and perfect photo opportunities right along the roadside! They even had the cutest fruit stand right by it with locally grown produce.
Hanalei Bay turned out to be much more MAGICAL than I had ever imagined! Drew proposed to me on our second night in Kauai, so this Beach will forever hold a special place in my heart. He had a photographer hiding while he "took me out for my birthday" and had roses with a message in a bottle (that had our saying on it that we have always said to each other since he left for boot camp years ago). I was completely surprised and had zero idea it was coming, which made it that much more special! After the proposal, he took me to celebrate at a restaurant called Palate Wine Bar, where I was thriving with my love for cheese and wine. I AM GETTING MARRIED TO MY BEST FRIEND!!!!
Hanalei is the largest Bay on the North Shore of Kauai, surrounded by mountains, and two miles long of Beach. It's a popular spot for camping, swimming, surfing, body boarding, fishing, relaxing, watching the sunset, and beach walking! Also, the pier is a must for a beautiful view or photo opp!
One of our top favorite hikes was The Queen's Bath. It is a unique tidal pool on the island of Kauai up near Princeville. It's essentially a sinkhole surrounded by igneous rock that is roughly the size of a very large swimming pool. The water is crystal clear (again, bring a go pro if you have one!! It was the BEST footage hands down!) with beautiful fish, and is often refreshed when the water spills over the lava rock.
*For safety measures, I do want to mention that Queens Bath is technically closed for the winter due to potential unsafe conditions -- so please proceed with caution. There has been numerous unfortunate events occur at Queens Bath so if you decide to go: check the weather, check the surf, bring a friend, and BE SMART! To access Queens Bath when it is closed, simply walk past the locked entrance about 100 feet and you will see the "tourist created" path. It's a tricky way down so bring appropriate shoes and clothing in case it gets muddy. Also, highly recommend getting there early for parking!
We made a pit stop by Tunnels Beach, a very low-key sand beach with picturesque views of lush jungle and mountains, tropical vegetation, and shallow reefs for snorkeling! It is known as the ultimate snorkeling and scuba divers beach.
As we were walking back to the car, we stumbled across this cave right across from the Haena Beach Park parking lot -- Manini Holo Dry Cave. This cave went back about 150 feet and had tons of old carvings, and interesting finds. If you're planning a trip to North Shore of Kauai, make a pit stop and check this cave out!
Poipu Beach is located on the sunny south shore near Koloa (this side of the island tends to be a bit more touristy)! We stopped by to visit Poipu Beach twice while in Koloa, once at night to see the Sea Turtles come up on the beach -- this was so cool to see and we even were able to catch two Seals playing around near the shoreline.& the second time was to enjoy the perfect weather that it is known for, and it did not disappoint. Poipu has easy access to plenty of resorts & hotels, vacation homes, restaurants, shops, activities and more! If you're running low on time, I would recommend going more towards sunset to catch the turtles and seals!
Also known as the "Sleeping Giant", this hike has one of the most mesmerizing 360 mountain top view looking out over the entire island. You can hear every single rooster cockadoodledooihng on the island (lol! They are EVERYWHERE and so loud haha, we loved it). This hike was slightly ascending the entire way up but not too much climbing is involved. It is a 3.4 mile out and back trail and takes roughly 2 hours to complete! This was a pretty busy hotspot for hiking, so give yourself some extra time, wear hiking shoes, and be careful! Highly recommend getting there at sunrise to 1. get parking near the trailhead and 2. Beat that strong heat! Pro Tip from experience: remember which way you came down and trust your gut so you won't have to hike back up the mountain to go down the correct way ;) There is an East and West side to hike - so remember which way you came and don't get side tracked lol.
The Kauai Backcountry Mountain Tubing Adventure was an absolute BLAST. If there is any way to request a guide, I highly recommend Cody. He made the tour even better, was hilarious, and made some stellar recommendations. To kick off the tour, you hop in the bus and tour around the former Lihue Plantation lands to make your way up the Mountain. Cody shared lots of information about the island, how the plantation came about, etc. Once we made it to the site, we hopped in our tubes and soared down the open canals and through the legendary tunnels that were hand dug by plantation owners centuries ago. This Adventure was about 3 hours long and ended with a yummy lunch. One important note, I highly recommend booking EARLY. I stalked their waitlist and got super lucky, but it was completely full weeks leading up to our trip. This was simply the best way to experience the Kauai Mountains.
Famously known for being featured in the filming of Jurassic Park -- Ho'opi'i Falls is a series of waterfalls along the Kapaʻa Stream on the east shore of Kauai. This hike was the perfect way to watch the sunset! It was a 2.4 mile out and back trail that was fairly easy unless you plan to go down to the falls like we did, then it gets a bit challenging to crawl down the mountain with the ropes -- but totally worth it so bring appropriate shoes and a swimsuit if you plan to get in the water! We were able to finish this in under an hour.
This State Park, also known as the "Grand Canyon" of the Pacific, has the most beautiful scenic drive, lookouts of the canyon, a viewpoint of Ni‘ihau Island, and challenging hiking trails into and out of the canyon! Waimea Canyon is ten miles long and up to 3,000 feet deep. This is a MUST see in Kauai & all of the locals will be sure to remind you. It's not exactly "on your route" anywhere since it's located on the western side of the island, so be sure to carve out time to make the trip. Fun fact: Waimea is Hawaiian for "reddish water", a reference to the erosion of the canyon's red soil! I highly recommend getting gas, water, and snacks before you reach the Canyon. There are not many places to stop once you begin the journey. If you have extra time on the west side, be sure to also visit the Kokee State Park! The views are BREATHTAKING.
Throughout our time in Kauai, having our rental car from Hertz was a LIFESAVER. It's a necessity in order to maximize your time on this beautiful island. There is so much to see and do, and with only one road running through the entire Island, it can be very stressful to worry about transportation each day. We loved our silver Convertible Camaro from Hertz because it was compact, amazing on gas mileage, and nothing could beat riding with the top down in the Kauai weather! Check out Hertz for all of your rental car needs no matter where your destination may be!
Club Wyndham Bali Hai Villas, was located on the north shore in Princeville, where we lucked out with an Airbnb style home that had 4 rooms! A fancy pool, on-site food truck, all the amenities you could dream of, and close access to many nearby cities to explore.
Koloa Landing Resort, nestled between the south shore and Poipu, was voted "Best Pool In America" and "Best Resort in Kauai" -- WOW! This resort was only a short walk to Poipu Beach & adjacent to the seaside shops at Kukui’ula Village. The room was so cozy and spacious with a breathtaking view of the 3 lagoon pools, and the Holo Holo Grill made the BEST Hawaiian poke bowl. These two locations were perfect for experiencing both sides of the Island!
Favorite places to eat in Kauai:
- Japanese Grandmas: the BEST sushi on the island, hands down! It's in a little hole in the wall and they also have a food truck!
- Sunrise Coffee: One of the best Acai Bowls I have ever had. It's a food truck right near Kauai Backcountry Adventure
- Palate Wine Bar: Perfect for a date night! I am still dreaming about the cheese!
- Kalypso Island Bar and Grill: AMAZING drinks & burritos! Love the atmosphere too!
*I would recommend following a local foodie if you're on the hunt for the hotspots*
FRIENDLY REMINDER WHEN VISITING HAWAII:
Be courteous and respect the privacy of the locals when visiting sites/hikes
Nature is considered sacred in Hawaii: Do not move or take anything like lava rocks, flowers, etc
Drive slow when in neighborhoods - kids often play outside
Respect the Hawaiian Culture
If you're ever unsure, ASK A LOCAL
Say Mahalo and be friendly!
I hope my Kauai travel guide was helpful to you in planning your adventure to the most spectacular place on Earth! Stay tuned for more posts on my instagram (@ambermiller9) and my Oahu Travel Guide coming soon. Mahalo!
XOXO - Amber