Nicknamed the “Garden Island,” the island of Kauai is generally regarded as the most beautiful of all the Hawaiian Islands – quite an accolade when you think of all the stiff competition. So it’s no wonder that Hollywood keeps on calling in its quest for paradise. Over 80 feature films and television shows have been shot on the island including Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Jurassic Park I, II & III, King Kong, Raiders of the Lost Ark, South Pacific and Fantasy Island. With a backlog of such high esteem, you know you’re in for some pretty stunning sightseeing.
On any list, Kauai is always going to be up there with the world’s very best islands. All the ingredients are there to create tropical utopia - lush sugar cane fields, some of the finest golden beaches imaginable, swaying palm trees, emerald valleys with endless shades of green and cascading waterfalls offset with unrelenting rainbows. And the creative elements of wind and water have been gifted more than six million years to shape the jaw-dropping mountains, pleated cliffs and serrated peaks.
By its very geography, Kauai lends itself to leisurely exploration. To put the island’s size into perspective, at no point will you ever find yourself more than thirteen miles from the coast and the one main road leads you effortlessly to your choice of beach and town, forest and parkland. North Kauai lies perched between the mountains and sea. A stretch of road stitched together by one-lane bridges leads to picturesque beaches, the tranquil town of Hanalei and Hawaii’s northernmost point. Known as the Royal Coconut Coast, East Kauai comes laced with tumbling waterfalls, the palm-fringed Wailua River and the golden sands of some of the island’s most notable beaches. It’s easy to see why this stunning region was once home to Kauai Royalty.
The island’s south shore includes the 10-mile, 14-stop Koloa Heritage trail – a self-guided walk, bike ride or drive, depending on your transportation of choice, taking in the area’s most important cultural, historical and geological sites. You’ll also get to experience the recurring performance of the Spouting Horn - a lava tube that shoots out water up to 60 feet high. It’s here that you’ll find the inviting waters of Poipu Beach, popular with both visitors and locals but be prepared; you can expect to share your sunbathing space with endangered Hawaiian monk seals. And during the season from December to May make sure you keep an eye out for humpback whales who call in on their migration south.
Kauai’s west side is characterised by nature and scenery on an unimaginable scale. From the laid-back, historic town of Waimea to the drama of Waimea Canyon – one of Kauai’s biggest attractions – this stretch of shore, road and forest showcases some the island’s most memorable sights. Expect exceptional panoramas headlined by the dramatic cliffs, lush forests and white-sand coves that have conspired to create the epic Napali Coast.
Things to do
The Sheraton Resort Kauai enjoys a delightful location with pretty gardens and great amenities, just steps from the beautiful sandy Poipu beach.
Top tips for visiting Kauai
1. Poipu beach & seals
• One of the most rewarding experiences you can have on the island is sharing a spot of sunbathing space on Poipu Beach with the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.
• Today there are less than 35 of these creatures in the waters and beaches of Kauai so when you do encounter one resting on the beach, remember that you are a guest in its native habitat and make sure you keep a safe distance of at least 150 feet.
• Don’t throw anything, shout for its attention or otherwise try to get one to move. You can take pictures from a respectful distance but make sure you turn the flash off.
2. Opaekaa Falls
• If viewing the beautiful Opaekaa Falls on the east side of the island, the best time to view and photograph them is mid morning.
3. Driving in Kauai
• Kauai’s residents have developed a set of traffic customs for all those one-lane bridges. Drive slowly, give way to others, no tailgating and no sounding of horns.
• The local rule is to give way to oncoming traffic. If you are the oncoming traffic and there’s a queue waiting on the other side, stop and let your neighbours cross (customarily five or six cars at a time).
• Speed limits and seatbelt laws are strictly enforced.
4. Bike rental
• With only ten percent of Kauai’s landscape accessible by road, you will need to be prepared to get out of the car to make the most of your island visit.
• Biking is very popular; you can rent bikes and go out on your own or sign up with a tour company offering guided trips.
• The Ke Ala Hele Makalae bike path begins at Lydgate Beach Park and continues north along the coast to Kealia Beach Park. The path will lead you to scenic vistas, local restaurants and beaches.
• If you consider yourself more active, how about a bike ride down Waimea Canyon with a tour company which will give you unrivalled views of the 3,500 foot deep canyon.
• Fun, challenging and glorious settings make the island of Kauai a golfer’s paradise. Top Tip – don’t get distracted by the whales and dolphins and lose sight of your ball!
• You’ll find four of Gold Magazine’s top ten courses here. For a full list of all the courses available click here: TopGolf
6. Hiking the Napali Coast
• The only land access to the stunning Napali Coast is via the Kalalau Trail, an 11-mile trail that starts at Kee Beach, crosses five different valleys and ends at secluded Kalalau Beach. However do be warned that this is one of the most challenging, and sometimes even treacherous, of all the Kauai hikes with narrow sections and muddy topsoil from rainfall.
• Many hikers choose to break the trail up into two days, setting up camp at the beach of Hanakoa, and then heading to Kalalau the next morning. Camping permits are required from the Hawaii State Parks Division office in Lihue.
• If you don’t want to attempt the entire trail, you can hike along a short section just beyond Haena State Park and then turn back when ready.
• Hiking during the winter months is discouraged.
7. Other ways to see the Napali Coast
• Boat tours depart from Port Allen on the West Side and during the summer months, guided kayaking trips can give you access to the awe-inspiring views of the iconic sea cliffs, while air tours can show you scenic Napali areas that aren't accessible by land or water.
• At the end of Waimea Canyon Drive, a 4,000-ft overlook presents the Kalalau Valley where the majestic Napali Coast rises out of the sea. The light is constantly changing so each glance is different. The Kalalau Valley is a must-see for photographers.
8. Spouting Horn blowhole
• Located near Poipu Beach on the island’s south coast, Spouting Horn is a blowhole that can shoot water up to 60 feet into the air when waves crash into it. The water is forced up when the ocean flows under the lava shelf and is shot up through a small opening on the surface.
• The best times to see this natural phenomenon is during high tide and high surf.
• If you haven’t done it before, now’s your chance! Venture deep into Kauai’s lush interior and fly over layers of forest canopy with a thrilling zipline adventure. Harnessed tightly in safety gear, you’ll get to soar like a bird in one of Hawaii’s more tropical and untouched settings.
• Several companies offer a variety of scenery and the perfect way to explore Kauai’s backcountry.
10. Hanapepe art town
• Hanapepe Town on the west side of the island is an art colony tucked away in buildings that haven’t changed in several decades.
• You’ll find several art galleries here and Friday night is Art Night when the galleries stay open for a chance to browse and buy.