Kauai is known for its lush rainforests and dramatic mountains. Photo/Getty Images
Known as Hawaii’s Garden Island, Kauai has laid-back towns, trendy restaurants and scenery straight out of a movie set, writes Brett Atkinson
Fuel up for a Kauai kayaking adventure with coffee and a jalapeno, egg, and mozzarella breakfast sandwich at the Passion Bakery Cafe. Mornings are also the best time to pick up the cafe’s fresh-baked pastries, especially the sticky pecan rolls and cinnamon malasadas (Portuguese-style donuts).
Rent kayaks from nearby operators including Kayak Kauai and Wailua Kayak & Canoe to paddle up the Wailua River, Hawaii’s longest navigable river and a sacred royal spot for local Hawaiians. Experiences including an optional 3km forest walk to the 30m high Uluwehi Waterfalls take around four hours. Guided excursions are also available.
From the Wailua River on Kauai’s busier east coast, it’s 3 miles north to Old Town Kapa’a, with a colorful appeal of historic wooden storefronts offering great places to buy art, including wood carvings, photographs and glassware. The Mexican flavors of Al Pastor Tacos are recommended by the food truck cluster at the north end of town.
Continue north past the rugged wave-lined arch of Kealia Beach Park to Kilueua Point. Free tours atop the historic Kilueua Lighthouse are offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and the nearby Kilueua Point National Wildlife Refuge is an avian refuge for redbirds.
boobies and the large wingspan of Laysan albatrosses. During the Hawaiian winter from May to November, keep an eye out for humpback whales.
After a swim in Hanalei Bay—check with locals for the safest conditions along the 2-mile stretch of beach—explore the retro and vintage treasures for sale at the Yellowfish Trading Company. The best place in Hanalei for pau hana (literally, “finishing job”) drinks is the raffish Tahiti Nui tiki bar. Stick around for Hawaiian guitar music starting at 6:30 p.m., or venture along the road for island-influenced ramen and shared plates at Ama. Try to score a garden table with mountain and waterfall views.
Start a day exploring the westernmost part of Kauai with a coffee at Lihue’s trendy Aloha
Roasting. There’s also an on-site bakery that offers great breakfast snacks, including kougin-amann pastries and chocolate buns.
Join a self-driving ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) adventure on the ranch’s red dirt roads where scenes from the Jurassic Park movies were filmed. Tours with Kipu Ranch Adventures also include the riverbank where Harrison Ford escaped on a rope swing.
The Raiders of the Lost Ark. While you’re there, climb to the top of a hill to admire the picture-perfect beach from George Clooney’s film, The Descendants.
Be dazzled by the selection of 30 different pokes available at the long-established grocery store in Waimea’s Ishihara Market. Local favorites at the store, which first opened in 1934, include spicy ahi tuna poke and seafood salads filled with shrimp, oysters and octopus. Reserve an outdoor picnic table before setting out on one of the most beautiful routes in the South Pacific.
Negotiate the Waimea Canyon Drive, stopping at lookouts to admire waterfalls, and continue to the end of the road at Pu’u o Kila for spectacular views of the verdant cliffs that line Kaua’i’s Na Pali Coast.
Stop by the Talk Story Bookstore in the historic plantation town of Hanapepe. The westernmost bookstore in the United States carries many titles by Hawaiian authors, and relaxed browsing is encouraged. On Friday nights, the galleries of Hanapepe are open until 9 p.m. for the city’s weekly artistic nighttime street festival. If you’re staying for dinner, the cool and compact Grandma Japanese Cafe’s sushi and bento bowls are an essential diversion.
For a second run at Kauai-style pau hana, cool off with lemongrass-wasabi shrimp and island cocktails in retro-style at Mamahune’s Tiki Bar at the Hilton Garden Inn. Located on the east coast of the island, Mamahune’s funky setting includes a faux mini-volcano and stunning views of nearby Wailua Bay.
Continue 2 miles further north across the Wailua River to the elegant Hukilau Lanai. A fusion menu includes lobster with local goat cheese and macadamia nuts, or tuna confit with coffee-chipotle sauce. Highlights of the list of interesting drinks are beers from Lihue’s Kaua’i Beer Company and mead made on the island with local pineapple, limes and honey.
Getting there and getting around
Hawaiian Airlines offers direct flights from Auckland to Honolulu with frequent 40-minute flights to Lihue Airport in Kauai. Traffic is relatively smooth and the roads well marked on Kauai, and renting a car is recommended.
Where to stay
Next to the Wailua River, the self-contained cottages at the Fern Grotto Inn are ideally located for exploring all parts of Garden Island in Hawaii.
For more on Kauai, see gohawaii.com/islands/kauai