The Garden Isle: A Beginner’s Guide to Kauai

By: Brian Berusch

January 13, 2014

Perhaps it’s the single lane, which gracefully skirts Kauai’s dramatic coastline, almost connecting at the isle’s rugged North Shore (save for an 11-mile stretch of oft-hiked and explored wonder called “The Napali Coast”). Or maybe it’s the uncertainty of predicting where a new, gushing waterfall might pop out from the canopy of trees in the mountainside view from your bedroom window. Or it could simply be that Kauai is the furthest island from any other in the Hawaiian chain, perched in the north west corner of one of the archipelago’s most populated land masses.

Regardless, there’s something different about Kauai.

The Garden Isle tends to attract the most adventuresome yet solitary of Hawaii’s annual visitors. The abundance of condo and townhouse rental properties””replete with kitchens, board games and DVD libraries””attests to the fact that that those who bed down here march to their own drum.

Kauai’s main regions comprise of somewhat bustling Kapaa, where travellers arrive off the plane and do most of their shopping, and Poipu, which starts the climb from the south to the western shore and is spotted with rolling (PGA worthy) golf courses, family-friendly resorts, and the excursion companies that service them. Moving a little further up the coast, is the tiny artist enclave of Hanapepe, and finally, Waimea””home to wide, open beaches as well as “The Grand Canyon of The Pacific”, a relatively short drive inland.

A Beginner's Guide to Kauai | Waimea Canyon

Dramatic vista of the Waimea Canyon © Tor Johnson for Hawaii Tourism Authority

At the tippy top sits the forested Kalalau Trail, which marks the end of the road (for automobiles) and the start of the most awe-inspiring vistas throughout all of Hawaii. Pristine coves, towering cliffs, waterfalls, rock formations and an abundance of near-shore wildlife (whales, dolphin, sea turtles, sharks and sea birds).

A Beginner's Guide to Kauai | Waimea Canyon

Hiking in Kalalau Valley © Tor Johnson for Hawaii Tourism Authority

Eleven miles later you’ll pop out at Ke”˜e Beach, a crystal clear (tide conditions dependent) snorkel spot, and an idyllic locale to rinse off a few days of camping or hiking grime.

Coming down the North Shore you drop into the fairytale-like town of Hanalei (inspirational home of Puff the Magic Dragon), a sleepy beach village with more than a few inspiring restaurants, a market and plenty of souvenir shops.

A Beginner's Guide to Kauai | Wailua Falls

Plunging waters at Wailua Falls © Tor Johnson for Haiwaii Tourism Authority

The well-heeled hunker down at nearby St. Regis Princeville, a cliffside resort that looks over Hanalei Bay””tranquil and sun-kissed in the summer””cloudy and churning 20-plus foot waves in the winter. There may be no better time spent here then safely clutching a cocktail on the lanai while the legendary watermen risk their lives paddling into giant swells beneath you.

In addition to the aforementioned abundance of condos, there are many luxury homes for rent, which tend to attract Hollywood types and those who can afford the litany of private “guides” to the island. Many opt for private yoga sessions at these homes or on secluded beaches; the same goes for couples massages, waterfall hikes, horseback rides, paddle board or kayak tours. Adrenaline junkies can opt for helicopter rides or the seemingly death-defying zodiac tours that will have you jetting in and out of ancient sea caves off the Napali Coast.

A Beginner's Guide to Kauai | Makua Beach

Leisurely kayaking at Makua Beach © Dana Edmunds for Hawaii Tourism Authority

Our partnership with Delta connects you to and from a range of destinations across the United States and Canada, making it easier to book flights to Kauai.

Are you one of Kauai’s adventure-seeking visitors? Where do you get out and explore when you’re on the island? Share your thoughts with us 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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