By Daniel Geiger
(Kelly Hushin also contributed to this article)
Before you know it, summer will be a fleeting memory. You’ll be longing for an outdoor paradise, a beautiful secluded beach, one that you may not have been privileged to enjoy these last few months. Or maybe you’ll be yearning for a scuba diving excursion to remember, a thrilling hike that keeps your adrenaline pumping. That’s why we know you’re ready for our Adventure Traveler’s Hawaii guide, Part II. Back in March, we brought you an Adventure Traveler’s Hawaii, Part I: Oahu. We finish off the two-part series here, with a visit to the smaller, less inhabited but no less magnificent island of Kauai – the Garden Isle. Whether you simply can’t wait and must book your journey before summer’s end, or you’re a primo-planner and you’re filing this away for a winter’s escape, our tell-all guide will walk you through every bit of Kauai that you absolutely cannot miss. No matter what you may hear from skeptics, the beauty, diversity and adventure found in Hawaii, particularly Kauai, can never be underestimated.
Kauai is a smaller island than Oahu and pound for pound, is likely crammed with more natural wonders than any other in the archipelago. Because it is more condensed, visitors can confidently tack it onto a trip to Oahu without getting overwhelmed, in order to experience a more intense vision of Hawaii’s unique beauty.
Staying in the southern part of the island is advantageous as it places you at a point equidistant from the northern and western areas, each of which is a must-see. Pick the Grand Hyatt in Poipu, one of Hawaii’s most luxurious accommodations. The rooms are well appointed, comfortable and luxuriously designed with furnishings that exhibit a rich, suppleness that complement your idyllic surroundings.
Grand Hyatt Kauai in Poipu is one of your best bets on the island
The hotel’s main lobby gracefully opens up to the shore outside, making it a tranquil place to sit and have dinner or drinks and listen to the calming, melodic Hawaiian guitar that one of the hotel’s performers is usually skillfully strumming. Not to mention the hotel boasts several restaurants that appeal to all tastes from seafood to Italian. And the pool, complete with slide, is hardly a pool but rather an adult waterpark paradise.
Alternatively, at the nearby Villas at Poipu Kai, guests can experience apartment-style living and enjoy amenities like multiple bathrooms, a washer and dryer and decks and outdoor space. With a fully equipped kitchen, visitors can cook their own meals, a handy convenience on an island with a dearth of dining options compared to those on Oahu. If you’ve got more than three nights on the island and you’re longing for the comforts of home, spend two at the Grand Hyatt and the rest in your own private paradise in the villas.
Villas at Poipu Kai offer luxury accommodations perfect for longer stays or larger groups
Of all the must-see activities on the island (and perhaps the whole archipelago), none compares to a tour the Na’Pali coast. Its stunning profile, well known after serving as a backdrop to numerous Hollywood movies, including the famous helicopter arrival scene in Jurassic Park, is best viewed from the water.
Because this 11-mile stretch of soaring 3,000-foot lush green cliffs dives near vertically straight down into the water, the coast must be surveyed by boat. A number of touring options exist here, from comfortable catamarans to helicopters to motorboats. If you’re up for a little rough-riding, the best way to see this natural wonder, by far, is by way of Captain Andy’s Sailing Adventures.
Captain Danny piloted the boat we rode, and warned the group of 10 passengers that this would not be the leisurely, sipping Mai Thai ride that some options offered. This would be the bucking bronco ride, and we’d better be in for the 6-hour or more challenge. Accepting it excitedly, we boarded one of the outfit’s swift boats and flew from port at Eleele all the way up the coast to the end point at Ha Ena. The journey is physically taxing. Even in calm seas the boat careens at a rapid pace and skips wildly in the water, forcing riders to constantly grip a line of rope that runs along the flotation cylinders on the sides of the craft.
But all the exertion is worth it. The little boats can make the journey far faster than bigger boats and can get much closer to the coast, dipping in and out of sea caves like a wild animal darting from hole to hole search for prey. Danny was a superb driver, expertly piloting the craft on thrilling high speed passes through some of the coast’s stunning caves and hidden nooks that would be impossible to see even by way of the helicopter tours also available.
As if it weren’t enough on its own, the giant cliff line is not the only attraction. The boat trolled gently through a massive pod of Spinner dolphins that Danny explained were drifting in a half sleep state that allows them to get rest. The boat also makes an excursion onto one of the coastline’s small beaches, where ancient Hawaiians once had a settlement.
Another way to get a sense of the enormity and grandeur of the Na’Pali is to hike it. Lots of visitors hike all or part of the famous Kalalau Trail, an 11-mile (one-way) trail which at times meanders precariously along the coast, but offers the stunning views of mountainside and ocean that few other trails can compare to (it’s been cited as one of the top hikes in the world.) To hike the full 22 miles, you must have a permit, as the length requires you to camp at the end and return the next day. Since few visitors make the arrangements, many simply hike part way, which means the trail is clogged with slow hikers, families and too many camera-happy walkers. For the adventure seeker looking to get away from the crowds and enjoy the beauty of the island in private, we suggest another path.
Boating with Captain Andy’s and hiking some of the lesser known trails are the two best ways to see the grandeur of the Na’Pali coast
Drive up Route 550 to get to Na’Pali Coast State Park, where you can hike the Nu’alolo/Awa-’awapuhi Loop at the top of the cliffs. Be prepared for a 12-mile moderately strenuous hike – or half that if you choose to do only one leg of the trail. The work is worth it: the views are spectacular and you’ll encounter few, if any, people on your trek. A true escape. On the way in or out, be sure to stop at the Waimea Canyon lookout, which gives stunning views of what is popularly (and rightly) known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. You’ll see more folks here, but it’s a convenient pit stop.
Other sites worth visiting while on Kauai are Queens Bath, a giant tub-shaped depression in the rocky, lava-rock coastline of Princeville on the north shore, where Hawaiian royalty used to bathe and lounge. On the south shore, just west of Poipu, another natural wonder can be seen, Spouting Horn, a blow hole in the rocks that shoots a geyser of water when waves crash in and produces loud breathing sounds as the surf rushes in and out of its inner chambers.
Kauai is so beautiful it can be exhausting, so relax after a day of exploring at Keoki’s Paradise, a bar that definitely knows how to make a cocktail, finally! (We hadn’t had a good share of decent cocktails on our Hawaii trek, so this was a refreshing, pleasant surprise, worth more than one try.)
Another fun eating and entertainment venue is Luau Kalamaku. The food is tasty and the show provides an interesting glimpse of traditional Hawaiian storytelling, dancing and music with enough of a modern spin to give the night some pep. Luaus are a bit of a dime a dozen market in Hawaii and for the most part you can’t go wrong no matter which you pick, and you won’t be disappointed with Kalamaku.