Is Kauai worth visiting? You asked, we answered…This guide runs through a whole range of reasons why the so-called Garden Isle should be on your travel radar this year. From the glorious beaches to the verdant backcountry rainforests and beyond, we’ll wax lyrical about seven various aspects of the destination that we think set it apart from the crowd.
The state of Hawaii is made up of several islands, with the main four being Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii Island. Kauai is the fourth-largest and the oldest of the bunch. Famed for its greenery and flora, it’s seriously handsome and comes with bags of biodiversity and charm. What’s more, with a population of just 75,000, you shouldn’t find it too crowded.
A trip to Kauai can be packed from beginning to end. From wide open spaces to hike in to historic plantations, the list is nothing if not varied. On top of that comes the ubiquitous Pacific surf, an intriguing cuisine that fuses East Asia with Polynesia, and – of course – beaches that will make you sigh with pleasure. Let’s begin…
Just a mention of the name Kauai is usually enough to conjure images of Robinson Crusoe beaches threaded by low-bent palm trees. And it’s true – this island has some of the most incredible beaches in the USA – nay, the world! There are just so many to choose from…
Poipu Beach reigns as one of the most popular. It was voted as the best beach in America by the Travel Channel. We can see why! It bends in a crescent shape between two small pockets of rock. They keep the bigger waves out, making the coves inside ideal for swimming and snorkeling. Behind the beach is Poipu Park, which has several good amenities. There are picnic tables, barbecues, restrooms, and a playground for children, but you’ll mainly be sitting on the perfect golden sand!
Along the coast lies Shipwreck Beach. This is a favorite with the locals and is very different to Poipu. The strong currents make it difficult for swimming, but it is a perfect spot for people watching and beachcombing. It is also the start of the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, which takes you along a craggy coastline with gorgeous views.
Other fantastic beaches lie at the north end of the island. Cue Hanalei Beach Park and Bay. Bordered by the Hanalei River to the east and the Waipa River to the west, the outer reefs here are a magnet for surfers. They rarely get too crowded, either. What’s more, you don’t need the fibreglass in tow to enjoy, because Hanalei offers up some seriously awesome views of the rugged Kauai mountains in the distance.
If you’re still in doubt: Is Kauai worth visiting for the beaches alone? Yes…Yes times a million!
The natural scenery
Almost everywhere you look on Kauai is worthy of a postcard. With mountain ranges on one side, green tropical forest on another, and paradise beaches stringing the shoreline, you won’t have to venture far for those camera-clicking images.
One of the best views has to be at the Waimea Canyon. Just a short drive from the coastal town of Waimea will take you 3,400 feet above sea level, up to a soaring canyon lookout. There, you’ll survey Hawaii’s answer to Colorado’s great gorge (the spot has even been nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific). It measures 10 miles in all, and comes with a strange red hue about the rock.
Kalalau Lookout is where you can see the much photographed saw-tooth ridges of the Kalalau Valley. They run along the edge of the Napali Coast, which we’d say is one of the most dramatic sections of shoreline in the Americas. At sunset they reflect an array of colors and look truly beautiful. You can reach this lookout by car, but the challenging hike is the most rewarding option of all!
That’s really just scratching the surface of what’s on offer here. There’s oodles more, from hidden rainforest groves to waterfalls that seem too idyllic to be true.
The rich culture of Kauai
Kauai is definitely an island of cultural discovery. It’s the oldest in the Aloha chain, after all. The local people are very proud of their long past. And with so many museums scattered around the island, it’s possible to do a holiday packed with heritage.
There’s nowhere better to start than at the acclaimed Kaua’i Museum. It’s housed in an interesting building that dates to the 1920s and currently enjoys a place on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Inside, you’ll discover collections that tell the tale of the island’s people from their earliest days, and cast light on some of the unique Polynesian traditions that are still practiced by some of the locals.
Dance on Kauai is also very important. The traditional dance of Hula is still taught in many of the schools here. It was classically practiced in a Halau, a sacred space dedicated to the worship of the god Laka. Today, Hula takes place mainly at the home, but you may still be able to see performances of the famous dance on torchlit stages around the tourist resorts of Wailua.
We’ve already seen how Kauai is steeped in heritage and culture. But there are also just so many well-preserved historical sites to visit during your stay.
Take the Kilohana Plantation. It was used as a sugar plantation back in the early 1900s. The mansion that stands in the centre of the grounds was once home to the Wilcox family and the original wooden furniture remains in all of its rooms. The Wilcox family were missionaries who settled in Kauai in 1846. They had a passion for helping the local community, and, aside from introducing plantations to the island, also built a local hospital. A railway will take you around the entire plantation, and you can end your trip with a taste of genuine island-made rum.
Also don’t miss the Mahaulepu Heritage trail. This is a four-mile-long nature walk that begins at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. It will take you over golden sand dunes, pristine beaches, and limestone rocks, many of which were formed over 300,000 years ago! Be sure to stop off for a while at the Makauwahi Cave on the way around. It is a paleontologist’s dream, with oodles of fossils from strange, long-dead creatures, counting nearly 10 millennia of sedimentary record.
Awesome hotels and accommodation
Kauai comes with a whole kaleidoscope of accommodation choices. From five-star resorts to romantic and remote countryside bed and breakfasts, you can rest assured you will be spoiled for choice.
There are three main areas to stay on the island: The North Shore, the East Coast and the South Shore. The west side of the island has a more limited range of accommodation, but it does offer some charming inns and plantation cottages is you’re willing to travel for them. The south is the most popular with visitors, largely on account of the reliable weather. Then you have the north shore…
That area is home to the most luxurious resorts. Located in the towns of Princeville and Hanelei, they’re a jet-setter’s dream. They are the sorts of places that burst with fine dining experiences, golfing, and superb spa facilities. It has been said that the spas are truly some of the best in the world but the private beaches and country clubs are also pretty special.
Hawaiian cuisine – Is Kauai worth visiting for the food?
Kauai is known for its multicultural cuisine. Its diverse flavors have derived from both its native inhabitants, and from overseas visitors who have inhabited these shores over the centuries. This has produced a wonderful mix of traditional Hawaiian, Polynesian, European, and Asian dishes alike.
Traditional Hawaiian food is generally made up of vegetables and fruits which are organically grown on the volcanic island itself. We’re talking dishes comprising mainly of sweet potatoes, yams, coconuts and pineapples, with a variety of meat and freshly caught fish. The food tends to be cooked in earth ovens, giving it a wonderful smoky taste.
In the 18th century, American and European influences came over with the missionaries. They built sugar plantations and made rum. They also brought interesting recipes from thier respective homes, most notably salted fish. On top of that, an uptick in migrant workers from the likes of Japan, China, Puerto Rico and Portugal added even more diversity into the mix.
Of course, no Hawaiian vacation is complete without a cocktail or two, and Kauai hosts some of the tastiest cocktails around. Predominantly rum based, with a blend of tropical fruit and coconut, these are best sipped right on the beachfront at sunset!
Kauai is situated close to the equator, which means it only has two seasons: Summer and winter. The summer months last from May to October, and the winter months from November to April. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the winter months are cold, though. The temperature at that time of year rarely falls below the mid 70’s! In fact, winter in Kauai is just slightly cooler than the summer.
It rains a lot on this island. The top of Mount Waialeale (the second highest point on the isle) is said to be one of the wettest spots on the planet! But it’s the rain that gives the island its name of the Garden Isle, with all its lush green foliage and strange flora.
Is Kauai worth visiting even though it rains a whole load? Don’t be deterred by the prospect of downfalls on Kauai. Rains usually come in short, heavy bursts, lasting only few minutes at a time. The North is generally the wettest part of the island, so those looking for a drier vacation can head south to Poipu and the like. What’s more, most rainfall happens during the winter months, with December being the wettest of all.
So, is Kauai worth visiting?
Is Kauai worth visiting? We’d most certainly say it is. The so-called Garden Isle of the Aloha chain is a lush and untouched place. It’s got glorious tropical weather and beaches that will blow you away, some with dramatic vistas of craggy cliffs, other with perfect soft sand and snorkeling territory. This is also a wonderful place for culture buffs looking to explore Hawaiian culture and history, what with old sugarcane plantations and other museums in the mix.