It’s very tempting to keep quiet about Kauai. I want to keep it all to myself. Just a 40 minute flight from Honolulu, but a world away in so many ways, Kauai is a place of raw beauty and laid back life. From the people to the roadside chickens, everything and everyone is pretty chilled out. And when you live somewhere so stunning, it’s easy to understand why. Here are eight reasons why Kauai takes my breath away:
1. The Nāpali Coast
From a zodiac speed boat, the Nāpali Coast seems to stretch on forever. The towering sea cliffs, dotted with waterfalls, sea caves and deserted beaches appear dramatically just as we round a peninsula on our Captain Andy rafting tour. The 27 km stretch of coast is best seen by boat or by helicopter, and we’ve zipped down the coastline on a speedboat so that we can get up close. We’re talking really close. The tides are with us today and the wind is behaving so we hold on tight as the captain backs the boat right into several of the sea caves that have been carved over time into the cliffs. We rise up with the water, which swirls and foams like the inside of a washing machine, before shooting back out on the wave. The trip has already been pretty spectacular, with pods of Spinner Dolphins accompanying us on the way down, and whales breaching left and right, but this is something else. You’ll bounce around on the boat, which many describe as a rollercoaster, but when the boat gets some air and you’ve got the wind in your hair, it’s one pretty awesome ride.
2. Jurassic Park comes to life
Much of Kauai is so remote and rugged that it can only be seen by helicopter. That means if there’s one place you’re going to tick this aero-adventure off your bucket list, make it Kauai. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters operate out of the airport and have a pretty slick operation. You’ll be checked in, given a briefing and then hopping into your helicopter in no time. It’s the ultimate birds eye view of the Garden Isle – dip into Hanapepe Valley, sidle right up to dramatic “Jurassic Park Falls” at Manawaiopuna, and hover inside Waimea Canyon, joining birds casually winging their way up to their perches on the rocks. Get a different perspective of the Nāpali Coast as you swing out to sea to look back at the sea cliffs from above.
3. Tip Top shape
Breakfast is big business in Hawaii. There are restaurants, buffets, even road side shacks that have a cult like following for their Loco Moco, but there’s one place on Kauai that’s famous for its pancakes, and trust me, it’s not what you’d expect. Tip Top Motel in Lihue looks just like an average motel from the outside. With an oddly large number of cars parked out front. And a line of people out the door. They’re not here for accommodation, they’re here for breakfast. The Tip Top Motel Bakery is legendary for its no frills, no fuss breakfasts. Head inside, wait for a table in the very casual diner-style seating, and order the macadamia nut banana pancakes. Delivered on a trolley, these pancakes are under $10 and served unadorned, but there’s syrup and butter on the table, and you won’t be leaving one bite behind.
4. Live the surfer lifestyle
If you’re after a taste of the surfer way of life, Hanalei Bay is the place for you. Famous for its dramatic headlands, and easy waves, the beach is filled with travellers trying out the sport, along with the pros who tackle the breaks further out. Best yet, the town of Hanalei has plenty of surf board rental spots. Get out there early, work up an appetite then hit Hanalei’s main street, a quaint, eclectic mix of shops, juice stands and restaurants. Order a huge smoothie from the colourful Aloha Juice stand, grab a burrito from Federico’s Mexican and settle in at a picnic table for a laid back lunch.
5. Back to the land
Kauai residents care deeply about their land, and there’s no better place to learn more about their passion, but also about the land itself than at the Waipa Foundation. Located on the northern side of the island, on the tip of Hanalei Bay, the Foundation is committed to educating its community, and its visitors. Twice a month, the Foundation’s lush farm hosts a dinner in conjunction with the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas. This stunning resort sits on the cliffs above Hanalei Bay but brings its guests down to the valley to tour the farm, and taste the fruits of its harvest. Learn about poi, native pineapples and all the different varieties of kale before sitting down to a three course feast cooked by the Westin’s award winning chefs – traditional Hawaiian hula and ukulele performances are the icing on the cake.
6. Tubing adventures
There are no ‘f words’ allowed on the Kauai Backcountry Tubing Adventure. We’re talking about “freezing”, “frigid” and “frosty”. Apparently “fresh” is allowed, but that’s it. Of course, the hilarious guides are talking about water temperature, because we’re about to go mountain tubing high in the rainforest, in canals filled with run off water from the soaring waterfalls. It turns out, with a wetsuit top and shorts on, and most of my body sitting out of the tube, it’s pretty comfortable. Or maybe it’s because I’m too distracted by the gobsmacking experience of floating through tunnels and flumes, surrounded on all sides by lush rainforest. Carved back in the 1870s, these channels were originally used to water sugar plantations, diverting the waterfalls to feed an industry that eventually petered out. The tunnels and channels remained and today see thousands of travellers float down their course. With head torches on, we shoot down dark tunnels, out into the bright sunlight, bumping into each other and the walls, and it’s all good fun, like nature’s waterslide, before ending up at a picnic lunch.
7. Guilt free dining
There’s something very special about Table 53 at RumFire Poipu Beach. Sheraton Kauai Resort’s fine dining restaurant has plenty of beautiful tables, looking out over the ocean, but this one is extra special. Not only does it have the prime spot overlooking sunset, but all of the profits from anything consumed at the table go straight to charity. That’s a pretty big commitment and one the hotel is pretty proud of. You can dine on dishes like Kona lobster and fried Brussel sprouts, sip award winning cocktails (they make a mean Mai Tai), and dig into flourless macadamia chocolate tortes for dessert, knowing you’ll be helping the Children’s Justice Center of Kauai do their good work. Now that’s a guilt free dinner!
8. Soak up the sunshine
Poipu on the Kauai’s southern side, is known for sunny days and stunning sunsets. If you’re after a few days of sun, surf and serious pool time, make a beeline for the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa. This sprawling resort has some of the most beautiful manicured grounds spread out across 50 acres, there are almost too many pools to count, with a sandy lagoon, adults pools, spa pools, kids pools, and a waterslide.