My guide to Kauai

Effortlessly combining the picturesque ‘palm trees and golden beaches’ version of Hawaii so often imaged by travellers with epic canyons, a dramatic coastline and mountains rimmed with rainclouds, the island of Kauai should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Nicknamed the ‘garden isle’, Kauai was the first stop on our Hawaiian holiday. After spending a week on the island followed by a week at Waikiki on O’ahu and seeing how different each island is I wanted to share some of my experiences. 

Kauai is much less developed than O’ahu and so it retains a lot of charm, culture and a relaxed pace. It really is the perfect place for doing as much or as little as you’d like on a tropical holiday. 

 Stay:

We spent the week at the Sheraton Kauai Resort on the south side of the island near Poipu, but extended family who also travelled to Kauai for my cousin’s wedding stayed next door at the Outrigger Kiahuna Plantation and the Koloa Landing Resort. There are other resorts along this stretch as well including the Marriott. 

All of the resorts look great and when it comes to choosing the right one for you look at price, amenities like pools, onsite restaurants and extra fees like resort taxes or mandatory cleaning fees.

Next time I visit Kauai I might consider renting a holiday house instead, because while a resort is lovely it wasn’t as essential as it is in Waikiki where you want to be in the middle of the action. You really need a car to experience Kauai anyway so you could definitely rent a place away from the resort areas without any inconvenience.  

 Explore:

There are some great drives you could do during your stay on Kauai, but it was also fun just winging it and exploring the different towns and scenery.

We regularly drove through Old Koloa Town, Kauai’s oldest plantation town, on our island adventures. It was a great spot near the resorts for supplies, food, souvenirs and fuel if you need it (although we didn’t use a full tank of fuel during our stay).

One great drive you should take is to see the majestic Waimea Canyon. Bends and curves make for fun driving and there are some great views both on the way up and back down from the mountain ranges. The red canyon seems rather an incongruous feature for a tropical island but its beauty is undeniable. 

I admit that we may have checked this next attraction out based purely on our childish reaction to its name: spouting horn. This blowhole can shoot water as high as 50ft in the air and the viewing platform is a great place to appreciate the coastline. 

 Eat: 

There were so many places we could have eaten on our holiday so you will be spoilt for choice when you visit, but these were some of our favourites. 

We treated my parents to dinner at the Plantation Gardens Restaurant and Bar early on in the trip and had a delicious three-course meal. We all chose to have fish as our main course but in three different ways, each equally delicious. The cocktails were deliciously fresh and the servings were generous. The wedding reception was actually held at this restaurant and our meals were amazing.

The entire wedding party had a recovery breakfast at Joe’s on the Green the morning after the wedding and the hot cakes seemed to defeat most of those who braved them.

The Kului’ula Shopping Centre nearby has some great dining choices. For the hens night we enjoyed dinner and margaritas in a private dining room at Tortilla Republic. On our last night on the island my husband, parents, sister and her boyfriend treated ourselves to a proper ‘American’ meal: we had amazing burgers, pickles, chilli cheese fries and onion rings at Bubba Burgers. We finished the night off with shave ice from Uncle’s Shave Ice and Smoothies at the shopping village. If you visit Hawaii you have to try the shave ice. There seems to be lots of different versions or varieties of shave ice but we tried some mixed with ice cream on fresh fruit and they were delicious.

 Experience:

One of the first things I decided to do once we booked our holiday was to try and dive with turtles. It is something I had wanted to do for years and Kauai is the perfect place to make this a reality. We went out on a boat with Kauai Sea Rider Adventure Tours led by the friendly and passionate marine biologist Captain Tara. The first snorkelling point is known as the Turtle Hotel. The turtles make themselves at home in lava tubes and emerge occasionally for air. On my very first dive with turtles I ended up swimming with more than I had ever hoped to imagine. Words can’t really do justice to how beautiful this experience was and it is something I would recommend to anyone visiting Kauai. We also explored a second site with more coral and fish species, before retuning to shore for lunch and homemade brownies. 

The other experience I can’t recommend highly enough was our helicopter flight with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. This was a spontaneous highlight of our trip which we booked only a day or two in advance after realising it wasn’t as expensive as we had thought. The hour-long flight covered most of the island and took us over Hanapepe Valley, Waimea Canyon, along the Na Pali Coast, past more waterfalls than I could count and even into the heart of the ancient volcano. It was my first time in a helicopter and is an experience that will stay with me forever.

Tips:

  • Do yourself a favour and hire a car. It is the easiest way to see the most of the island and trust me, you really want to see as much of this beautiful place as you can.
  • If you are booking at a resort on Kauai make sure to check the website for all additional fees such as resort fees or cleaning costs.
  • There are a number of Big Save supermarkets on the island and they are great for stocking up on supplies, food and cheap alcohol.
  • Be prepared for the coffee to taste unlike anything you normally drink in Australia. Most of the options seem to be percolator coffee and there aren’t little coffee shops like you might be used to. Starbucks is the main option for your caffeine hit but I found the weather was more suited for iced coffees anyway. 
  • The weather was gorgeous and fairly consistent during the entire stay. I didn’t wear a jacket, cardigan or long sleeved top once, so maybe keep that in mind when packing. I would recommend packing at least two pairs of swimmers though because you will be spending so much time in the water.

 

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