A few weeks ago I launched my newest series, ‘Weekends In Hawaii’ with my post on what to do with a weekend in Oahu. In case you missed the intro post, since going nomadic, I spent several of my weekends in the islands of Hawaii. Since a weekend isn’t nearly enough time to see all that these incredible Pacific islands have to offer, I had to do a lot of preparation and plan my time strategically. I’m sharing those learnings in this series, showing how to make the most of a short visit to each Hawaiian Island.
Today, I’m examining Kauai, the garden island, and the northwestern most island in the main Hawaiian chain.
Don’t Be Tied Down
Size wise, Kauai is the smallest of the four major Hawaiian Islands (Big Island, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai). But despite its small size, it can be difficult to get around the island. As the least trafficked of the four major islands, infrastructure on Kauai isn’t quite like the other islands, and ‘highway’ on Kauai might mean a twisting and turning jungle road with a speed limit of 25 mph.
Add to this the absence of a ring road (of which the other major islands all have) and this makes getting around the island difficult. If you don’t plan carefully, you can spend more time in your car getting from place to place than experiencing the island.
Instead, take advantage of Kauai’s dispersed cities and stay in different places each night. One night on the north shore in towns like Princeville or Hanalei, one night in the east coast population center of Kapa’a, and one night south on the beaches of Poipu allow visitors to use the island’s geography to their advantage. Checking in and checking out allows visitors to break the island up into smaller, more manageable chunks. I booked my nights at properties across the island on my favorite vacation rental service, FlipKey.
Plan for Rain
Kauai is one of the wettest places on earth, with some spots on the island receiving over 460 inches of rain on average in some parts of the island. Even during short stays, visitors are likely to encounter a little (or big) rain shower. There’s no doubt that Kauai and Hawaii in general are outdoor destinations. But a little rain shouldn’t damper a Hawaiian vacation – there is still plenty to do in Kauai when the sky opens up.
Many of the botanic gardens provide lush environments covered by dense forest canopy, making them perfect to explore during a light rain. Plus the flatter lighting and water droplets can make for some excellent flower pictures.
There are also plenty of unique shops and art galleries in the small towns ringing Kauai’s coast. Hanapepe is a favorite for visitors. It’s a historic sugar mill town that maintains an old fashioned Hawaiian charm. The Talk Story bookstore in Hanapepe is an excellent place to wait out the rain while browsing through books from local authors or talking to the quirky owner while scratching the resident cat under the chin.
If all other options are exhausted and the rain is still pouring, there’s always the option of surfing, snorkeling, or just playing in the waves. Might as well embrace the water.
Take to the Skies
Helicopter tours are popular on every Hawaiian island, and Kauai is no exception. During my trips to Hawaii, I knew I wanted to take a helicopter tour on one island, and to me Kauai seems like the best place to do it.
The island is small enough that you can see all the highlights in an hour, and there is plenty of dramatic scenery to behold. Plus, the famous Jurassic Park helicopter scenes were filmed on Kauai. If that’s not reason enough to do it, then I don’t know what is!
So much of the island is inaccessible through any other method of transportation, with 90% only visible by air. The chopper took us over secret beaches, mountains covered in verdant rainforest, and into the Waimea Canyon, referred to as ‘the Grand Canyon of the Pacific’. It’s amazing to see the diversity found on such a small island.
The highlight of the tour is soaring along the stunning Na’Pali Coast, a jagged series of jungle-covered ridges arching out into the Pacific Ocean.
Strut With The Locals
It’s always good to meet some of the locals when you travel and in Kauai, it’s nearly impossible not to encounter some of the noisy, feathered locals that call this island home. Wild chickens are everywhere in Kauai – pecking on the side of the road, high-stepping through the sand at the beaches, and causing noise wherever they go with the loud rooster crows that ring through Kauai.
Legend holds that when Hurricane Iniki came through in 1992, it knocked over several chicken coops setting the birds free. They have since flourished on the island and have simultaneously become a symbol of Kauai while being loathed by islanders who are kept up at night by their calls.
Rise for the Sun
Kauai is one of the few Hawaiian Islands that has relatively little development (or even access) to its west coast, which makes catching the beautiful Hawaiian sunset relatively difficult and time consuming for most visitors – especially those with a short time span in which to experience the island. But there is hope – the sunrises in Kauai are just as spectacular, and much easier to experience if you’re willing to get up a little early.
Thankfully for mainland visitors, the Hawaiian timezone is a few hours behind meaning most visitors are up before sunrise until their bodies adjust to the time change. Head out to places like Shipwreck Beach, Lydgate Park, or anywhere along the Coconut Coast to witness the spectacular colors of a Kauai sunrise.
Catch The Birds at Kilauea
An old lighthouse on the northern coast of Kauai now makes for an excellent vantage point for one of the most spectacular wildlife shows on all the Hawaiian Islands. Kilouea Point National Wildlife Refuge is the nesting site for many sea birds who fill the skies above the lighthouse, cruising the thermals out above the vast Pacific Ocean. Albatrosses, boobies, frigate birds, and shearwaters leap off of dramatic cliffs in search of their next meal from the sea below.
On the ground, the Hawaiian Goose or nene is commonly encountered. Nene were recently brought back from the brink of extinction. At their lowest point, only 30 geese remained making them the rarest goose in the world. Human hunting along with introduced predators such as mongooses and cats decimated the populations. Thankfully, a successful breeding program has reintroduced the geese. They’re still quite difficult to see, but a visit to Kauai, (and Kilauea in particular) is an almost guaranteed opportunity to see one.
I’ll be wrapping up my series with a post all about the Big Island next!