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Kauai: waterfalls, canyons and spectacular coastline

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Kauai is an island of volcanic origin that formed about 6 million years ago. This is the oldest island in the archipelago of the Hawaiian Islands and the fourth largest island (1,430 sq km; 552 square miles). The main inhabited, commercial, business and government center of the island is the small town of Lihue which is located in the south-eastern part of the island. This town also houses the main airport and also the port of the island.

The island is located about 170 km (105 miles) north-west of Oahu from which it is separated by the Kauai canal. This island is especially rich in beaches, waterfalls and other natural beauty, among these we find the splendid and wild Na Pali Coast and the Waimea Canyon. The highest mountain in Kauai is Mount Kawaikini (1,598 meters; 5,243 feet). While in the center of the island is Monte Waialeale, the second mountain of the island (1,569 meters; 5,148 feet). This mountain is known as one of the rainiest places on Earth.


Due to its lush vegetation, the island of Kauai is also known as the garden island. The island is very varied, there are areas rich in tropical vegetation and waterfalls, wild and jagged coastal areas, wide beaches, spectacular canyons, and desert areas to the west.

The north coast of Kauai is lush and mountainous full of waterfalls. While the northwest coast has one of the most beautiful wild coasts in the world: the Na’Pali Coast. On the western side of the island is the Pacific Grand Canyon: the Waimea Canyon. Other attractions of the island are: the Wailua waterfalls, the Opaekaa Falls, the Fern Grotto, the Sleeping Giant, Lydgate Beach and Kealia Beach (all these places are located in the eastern part of the island).

In the southwest of Kauai, the most important attractions are: the Spouting Horn Blowhole, the Russian Fort (Russian Fort Elizabeth), the Salt Pond Beach Park near Hanapepe, Poipu Beach, Brennecke’s Beach and Polihale Beach. In the northern part of Kauai is the town of Hanalei and the Kilauea Lighthouse (Kilauea Lighthouse), a place much loved by photographers.


The island of Kauai is served by Lihue Airport, an airport located along the southeastern coast of the island. The airport is connected to the city of Honolulu with Hawaiian Airlines and Island Air flights, there are also direct flights with some cities in the continental United States (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, etc.) and with Vancouver in Canada.

The beaches of Kauai.

Na Pali Coast: a wild and spectacular coast.

Waimea Canyon: the Pacific Grand Canyon.




Kuhio Hwy. (56) is the main thoroughfare through Kauai’s east side. Known for its famed and dense coconut groves, Kauai’s east section is comprised of Hanamaulu, Wailua and Kapaa. Two forks of the Wailua River, whose banks were the homes of Kauai’s alii (royalty) snake through the area. Stretching from Hanamaulu to Kapaa, the area boasts large, stately coconut groves that give it the nickname, “The Coconut Coast”. Known as the island’s visitor hub, there’s plenty of shopping, dining and activity opportunities.

Lihue is the island’s business and government hub. The center of Lihue is the closest thing you’ll find to an actual city on the island of Kauai, one of Kauai charms is that it has no cities. A good way to learn about Kauai is to pay a visit to the Kauai Museum, which houses rich histories of the first Polynesian and European visitors to the Garden Isle. Check out the German architectural style of the buildings on Haleko Road. Until WWI, the ethnic group owned the adjacent Lihue Plantation sugar mill.


Driving north up Kuhio Highway from Lihue, you’ll encounter two outstanding state parks: Lydgate State Park and Wailua State Park, both of them ideal for picnics. Visit Wailua Falls on Ma’alo Road; Opaeka’a Falls and the historical markers on Hwy. 580, including several heiau (temple) remains. In the same area is the Fern Grotto, which can only be reached by boat.

This popular visitor attraction, 3 miles up the Wailua River, is an ancient lava tube overhung with lush ferns. Several tours are available. From just north the river, you can look off to the ridgeline and see the long prone form of the Sleeping Giant, one pf the island’s well-known natural features. Like a king ready to awaken from a long slumber, the Sleeping Giant landmark provides a mountain backdrop for Kapaa.

Motorists can enjoy an expansive coastline view from the Hwy. 56 scenic lookout at the area’s north end of Kapaa. Nearby is St. Catherine’s Church, known for its ceramic murals and art frescoes.



North of the town of Kapaa, on Highway 56, you’ll find a scenic overlook that’s worth a stop. The Kapaa Stream also flows by in a westerly direction. Farther along the road you’ll come to Anahola Beach Park, a fine spot for some beach activity or a picnic, and also another good lookout over the ocean called Kahala Point.

Traveling north, be sure to stop and see the Kilauea Lighthouse, a Kauai landmark for over three-quarters of a century (it was originally built in 1913), it was deactivated in 1976 and is just a tourist attraction now. The lighthouse marks Kauai’s northernmost point and contains the largest clamshell lens in the world.


The Kilauea Lighthouse is the beacon to a 31 acre National Wildlife Refuge, a US government park that’s home to a large and varied group of wildlife species, plus an automated weather station. Kilauea lies between the 22 and 24 mile markers. To see the Old Stone Church, turn right at the Union 76 Station.

Kalihiwai Valley located at the 25 mile marker is the place where many visitors stop at the overlook to photograph the valley and waterfall. Two great beaches are up the road, Kilihiwai Beach Park and Anini Beach State Park, both of which are great spots for sunbathing, picnics or even as places to take a short nap in the car if you’re tired from driving.


The planned resort community of Princeville, with its condos and golf courses, overlook Hanalei Bay. Across from the Princeville center, there is an outstanding lookout over Hanalei River, you’ll cross the river itself if you stay on the Kuhio Highway (Highway 56) and its hairpin turn.

As you drive the Kuhio Highway not far from the hairpin turn, take note of the large furry animals in the pasture. Yes, they’re bison (or “buffalo”). This ranch supplies several restaurants around the island with the low-fat, low-cholesterol bison meat for “buffalo burgers”. All of this pastureland was swamp until rancher Bill Mowry drained it with a series of canals he built.


Hanalei is the North Shore’s adventure headquarters to the magnificent Na Pali Coast. The folksy village is picturesque with taro fields, historic churches and artsy shops that hang hand-painted apparel for storefronts. See sweeping vistas of the area from the lookout on Kuio Hwy. From Hanaley Bay, see the “Bali Hai” cliffs of “South Pacific. Make a stop after Hanalei Bay and park along the roadside and hike down to the famous Lumahai Beach, the Nurses’ Beach in “South Pacific”.

Hanalei Beach and its adjacent bay is one of Kauai’s most popular attractions in and around Priceville. The exceptionally fine, white sand makes this a sublime place for long strolls. If you like visiting caves as an offbeat adventure, you’ll be in your element when you stop at Maniniholo Dry Cave, Waikapalae Wet Cave or Waikanaloa Wet Cave, not far from Haena Country Park, before coming to Ke’e Beach and the end of the road, from here begin Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast.




Changing little through time, resort development has ignored Kauai’s west side, Hwy. 50 takes motorists to Kauai’s rural west side. This rural area’s climate gets progressively drier as you travel west. The Captain Cook Monument is located in the center of Waimea, it marks the spot where the British sea captain first set foot on Hawaiian soil in January 1778. Visit the remains of Fort Elizabeth, built by colonizing Russian in 1817. Next is Kekaha, where a sugar mill is still in operation.

Driving along Highway 50, you’ll probably notice a brown island in the distance, it’s Niihau, “the forbidden island”, a privately owned community where Hawaiian is the primary language and the 20th century is kept at a distance. Visitors are not permitted. A sign points out the Pacific Missile Range Facility, home of Barking Sands Beach. Walk on the sand to hear the abrupt barks. After the highway ends, unimproved roads lead to Polihale State Park.


Turn around and head back to Waimea to visit Waimea Canyon “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. Take the Highway 550 from Kekaha or Waimea Canyon Road from Waimea. Waimea Canyon Lookout offers a panoramic view of the deep, ochre-colored gorge that falls about 3,400 feet below. From the roadside lookout motorists can see as far as the Kokee Plateau. Hwy. 550 continues to Kokee State Park. There, motorists can stretch their legs on any of the 45 miles of trails.

Stop by the park’s natural history museum and the Kokee Lodge for a fireside meal. Continue up the road to the impressive Kalalau Lookout, with stunning views over the Na Pali Coast, where the ocean and valley vista has inspired many artists. Looking to the east, visitors can see Mt. Waialeale, the volcanic crater that formed the island. At 5,148 feet, this mountain top records the most rain on earth, an annual average of nearly 500 inches. The mountain collects most of water for all Kauai’s rivers, and its vertical faces abound with waterfalls.




A ride through the sweet-smelling Tree Tunnel (a mile-long tunnel formed by fragrant eucalyptus) is the entrance to Kauai’s southside.


Old Koloa Town is located on highway 520, midway between Kauai’s famous Tree Tunnel and sunny Poipu. This historic avenue is situated on slightly more than 3 acres of carefully restored buildings and grounds which house 30 shops, restaurants and services. Koloa, which means “long cane”, was Hawaii’s original plantation town.

It was established in 1835 when three New Englanders leased land from King Kamehameha III to plant and harvest sugar. Remains of the old sugar mill still stand across the street from the town. This town was the mercantile and retail center for the south side of Kauai. It serviced Koloa Landing, Kauai largest seaport. The bustling community entertained the officers and crew of ships docked at the landing, processed newcomers at its immigration station, opened Kauai’s first public school and sheltered Kauai’s first doctor.

Today, within the charming ambiance of serene Waikomo Stream, century-old monkeypod trees and lovely courtyards, Old Koloa Town’s quaint buildings have been restored to offer a potpourri of shops, services and restaurants. What was Kauai first hotel now house a goldsmith; the old medical dispensary is a real estateagency; a soda bottling plant is a broil-it-yourself plantation style steak house. Old Koloa Town is a “must see” attraction for history buffs, shoppers and diners, the whole family.


Sunny Poipu has great beaches, shopping and restaurants. Follow the Lawai Road west of Poipu, this road ends at Spouting Horn Blowhole, where a geyser of water shoots up into lava tube creating a 20 foot water spout. Stretch your legs in southenmost Lawai and take a tour at the National Tropical Botanical and Allerton Gardens. Kalaheo-Hanapepe

A visit to Hanapepe Canyon Lookout will put you in touch with Kauai’s historic past, the last battle for power between Hawaiian kings took place opposite the lookout in 1824. The village of Hanapepe is west of it, the quiet village’s name translates to “crushed bay”, and it is populated by farmers who grow and harvest much of Kauai’s produce.

In Hanapepe is the Kauai Fine Arts Museum, a restored bowling alley fashioned into a ship’s galleon complete with original art room Capt. Cook’s voyages. The Ancient Hawaiian Salt Pond is a reminder that the art of salt-making is still being practiced today, nearby Salt Pond Beach Park is an excellent spot for swimming and sunbathing.




Na Pali Coast:

Kalalau Trail: Considered by many as Kauai’s best hike. Views of the Na Pali Coast, 5 lush valleys, waterfalls, ancient Hawaiian ruins.

Rating: Difficult.

Length: 11 miles, all day. Begins from Heana State Park.

A shorter version is Ke’e Beach to Hanakapiai (Length: 2 miles)


Keahua Forestry Arboretum Trail: Outdoor nature trail classroom, picnic, stream, pool, swim.

Rating: Family.

Length: 5 miles. Begins end of Hwy. 580.

Nounou Mt. Trail: Trail to picnic shelter on chest of Sleeping Giant landmark. Vistas of ocean Wailua River, Mt Waialeale.

Rating: Hardy family.

Length: 1.75 miles. From Route 56 (Kuhio Hwy.) take Haleilio Rd. at the Sizzler Restaurant. Follow Heleilio Rd. for 2 miles and look for trail start on the right (near telephone pole #38).


Waimkea Canyon:

Iliau Nature Loop: loop on Waimea Canyon’s western edge. Native upland scrub plants identified, canyon vistas.

Rating: Family.

Length: 1/4 mi. Begins at Kukui Trail.


Na Pali Forest Reserve/Kokee:

Awaawapuhi Trail: Native, dryland plants identified, trail ends at grassy picnic spot at 2,500 elevation; valley and Na Pali Coast vistas.

Rating: Strenuous.

Length: 3.25 miles. Begins before Hwy. 550 17 mi. marker.

Halemanu-Kokee Trail: Self-guiding nature trail, native forest, birds.

Rating: Family.

Length: 1.2 miles. Begin off Halemanu Road, Kokee State Park.

Pihea Trail: Scenic views, native birds, swamp terrain, wet.

Rating: Strenuous.

Length: 3.75 miles. Begins at Puu O Kila Kokee State Park Lookout, end of Hwy. 550.


Nothing equals a bird’s eye view of the cliff-edged Na Pali Coast, a plummeting waterfall or the ochre-colored Waimea Canyon. Kauai, its lush interior virtually inaccessible to the motorist, best reveals its inner beauty to those from above, whether in helicopters or touring planes. It’s the perfect way to see the island when time is limited or in one, inclusive sightseeing trip.

With so much to explore, Kauai may be the capital of Hawaii’s flightseeing industry, with flights departing from south-east Lihue, northern Princeville and western Port Allen. Air tours even offer the only opportunity to visit the “Forbidden Island” of Niihau, Kauai’s private, offshore neighbor.

How much aerial tourists pay depends on type of craft, length of trip, itinerary and number of people. Some companies offer discount for booking directly while activity desks throw in free dinners or video. Flight features differ and may include two-way communication between pilot and passengers, stereo music specially choreographed for flight destination, window port-holes that open for non-obstructive photography, video camera hook-up, air conditioning, free hotel pickup, free flight photograph, and availability of snack and beverage.

State-of-the-art aircraft range from jet helicopters to airplanes to gliders. Helicopter pilots stress the advantage of maneuvering into craters and hovering alongside cascading waterfalls. Airplane charters typically cost half of a helicopter flight.


All year round, the Hawaiian Islands are favored for sunny beaches and warm clear waters, ideal for just about every water sport imaginable. On Kauai, the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain, this is even truer because the “Garden Isle” is internationally famous for its beaches (used in dozens of motion pictures) and its excellent diving conditions.

Snorkeling and scuba diving: The south shore of Kauai, around the Poipu area, is one of the best diving spots in the Islands because of calm waters and ancient reefs. The beach areas are safe for beginners, and the deeper waters are challenging for experienced divers. Poipu and nearby Koloa Town offer a full range of services for these water activities, including lessons, rentals and sales.

Water skiing: The Wailua River is a favorite spot for freshwater water skiing, with safe, protected waters and lots of rooms for beginners as well as hot-dogging pros. Rentals of other “water toys” include hydroslides and “skurfers”, for a sport that is a cross between water skiing and board surfing.

Kayaking: A new favorite on the Garden Isle, kayaking offers a unique look at Hanalei’s famous Wildlife Refuge on a relaxing paddle up the idyllic Hanalei River.

Sport fishing: Cruises leave from several Kauai ports including Nawiliwili and the south shores areas, offering half-day, three-quarter-day and full-day outings in search of the delicious tuna, mahimahi and marlin.

Boat cruises: Possibilities range from luxurious sunset cruises along the spectacular Na Pali Coast to sailing adventurers out to sea, as well as scenic cruises to Wailua’s famous Fern Grotto.

Zodiacs: Rafting expeditions offer sightseeing (such the Na Pali Coast), snorkeling and exploring sea caves close up. Along the way, you may run into a porpoise show, flying fish and sea turtles.



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