Spending Time on the Water in Kauai

By: Brian Berusch

January 21, 2014

Couple kayaking at Makua beach

There may be some validity to the notion that since the interior of Kauai is mostly unreachable, so many Kauai visitors and residents spend a lot of time on the water. Could the tides on Kauai be so strong that they literally pull people into the surf? You’d think so””although we’ll leave that to the physicists.


The range of water-based activities on Kauai run the gamut from a serene upriver paddleboard jaunt to the thrill of a high-horsepowered zodiac or a gruelling 16-mile kayak odyssey.

Napali Coast | Spending Time on the Water in Kauai

Views of the dramatic Napali Coast © Tor Johnson for Hawaii Tourism Authority

If you’re thinking of booking a holiday in Kauai, you’ve probably already read about the stunning 4,000-foot cliffs and backcountry hiking along the Napali Coast. What most don’t get to see are the sea caves that form at the bottom of these cliffs, which are entirely inaccessible by land. You’ve essentially got two options””both of which should be achieved with knowledgeable guides. A sea kayak will surely test your stamina (as well as sea worthiness) while a Zodiac (rubber, inflated raft powered by twin engines) is the most exciting, exhilarating ride you’re ever likely to find.

Once inside the caves, which are no small feat to enter – sea walls consist of razor sharp reef and rock – tranquil “rooms” with varying degrees of filtered light offer a truly serene contrast to your pre-arrival jaunt. Waiahuakua Sea Cave is the largest, with a big payoff inside (spoiler alert: there’s an underground waterfall). Napali Riders, Outfitters Kauai and Captain Andy’s Sailing Adventures, will all take you there.

Outrigger Canoes | Spending Time on the Water in Kauai

Outrigger canoes off the Nawiliwili Coast at sunrise © Linda Ching for Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau

Those who wish for a slightly more tranquil, civilized excursion can sail the 17-miles west of Kauai to Niihau, the smallest of Hawaii’s inhabited islands, which is off-limits to anyone but its 200 Native Hawaiian residents. However, various charter boats will take you to the waters offshore, which teem with marine life such as green sea turtles, dolphins, and a colourful collection of fish. You can snorkel at various reefs along the way, and more than likely find a vessel that offers a tasty onboard BBQ lunch or sunset cocktails. Holo Holo Charters is one such option.

Wailua River | Spending Time on the Water in Kauai

Boating along the Wailua River © Hawaii Tourism Japan

Anyone seeking something a little less wavey can head inland, up the Wailua River, which snakes 20 miles into the island’s interior and passes numerous historic sites. On the slow, easy paddle you’ll view remnants of an ancient heiau (temple) that dates to 1000 AD, former plots inhabited by the ruling Kings and Queens of Kauai (up until 1820s), and even a rock wall and pond built by menehune (tiny, mischievous and mythical men that can be likened to Hawaii’s version of the leprechaun). Regardless, guides (such as Wailua River Guides) will have no shortage of legend and lore to share on this low-key adventure.

If you’re wondering what the long, paddled vessels with a seemingly tied-on float or arm (called the “˜ama’) are, those are outrigger canoes. Various people participate in regular outrigger canoe clubs, be they competitive, channel-traversing feats of strength, or simply an opportunity for after-work conditioning. The ties to ancient Polynesian voyagers provide a friendly link for those who reside in the islands today, regardless of their roots. Many hotels and resorts offer an outrigger experience – check with your concierge for one nearby.

Header photo: Kayaking on the aquamarine waters of Kauai © Dana Edmunds for Hawaii Tourism Authority


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What are your favourite on-the-water activities in Kauai? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Written by Brian Berusch


Brian Berusch

Brian Berusch traded in his Manhattan gym membership for a quiver of surfboards, trail running shoes and a one-way ticket to Honolulu more than a decade ago. Since then, he’s interviewed dozens of celebrities and covered the destination for more than 25 travel and lifestyle magazines. He’s an award-winning Editorial Director, a Today Show correspondent and most recently the publisher of two new magazines. He has yet to “get barreled” in the perfect wave.

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