An Adventurer’s Guide to Kauai, Hawaii

Aloha, we started discussing a winter vacation to a paradise last summer with our very adventurous friends Pure Adirondacks. Hawaii came onboard as an idea when my hairstylist told me airfare was about half the price flying out from Toronto, Canada. After that day the ball started rolling for planning and rest is history. It’s crazy to think, even now, we found a way to make Hawaii fit into our budget!

Kaua’i really interested us as the best island to visit in Hawaii as many people had told us it was less touristy compared to Maui or Oahu. We also found when researching that this island was called “The Garden Island” due to its lush greenery throughout the island, which posed to us endless adventure opportunities.

One thing I learned as we started mapping out our trip was that many of Kauai’s attractions for adventures were actually closed down. We found the Napali Coast Trail was shut down due to flooding, Queens Bath was closed due to tourists getting injured, and many other waterfall hikes were closed too. Despite this we found there is still a lot to be seen and do on the island. If you are looking for a good source of information check out On Hawaii Time. We actually met them while we were on vacation and they gave us the warmest welcome and advise for exploring the island.

When we arrived in Hawaii it was very late and we crashed in Lihue for the first night. In the morning we made an early start as we were all surprised to wake up to roosters “cocka-doodle-dooing” every five minutes. We ate a quick breakfast and headed to Shipwreck Beach where the Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail starts. As the trail started the wind was high and waves were crashing into the shore. We made our way around the first bend and could see the whole shoreline. We thought we’d crush the trail quickly but we ended up exploring until mid afternoon!

Basaltic volcanic rocks are the black and porous rocks that line the shorelines of Kauai.
Photo credit to Evan Williams

After we finished the hike we were very hungry and headed over to Poipu Beach to grab a bite to eat. I tried a poke bowl, a traditional dish made with rice, vegetables, and raw fish, for the first time at Brennecke’s Beach Broiler! The view from the restaurant was to die for and the food was delicious.

After lunch we headed back to go grocery shopping and get settled into our Airbnb in Kapaa. We choose to stay in Kapaa because of it’s central location around the island. Kapaa is a cute little town with small town shops and has a beautiful shoreline to watch the sunrise.

Photo credit to Evan Williams

After we settled in we hopped across the street to the grocery store. We really wanted to save money on our vacation by cooking our own meals however, grocery prices here are absolutely outrageous. For example, one dozen eggs was six dollars. A week of groceries was triple the cost of what we pay at home. It was a bummer but it still cost less than going out to eat for every meal. Aka don’t plan on saving money in your vacation budget here.

The second day we took a Catamaran Tour of the Napali Coast. In the beginning of the tour we saw spinner dolphins and were able to snorkel in a cove. We were able to explore the coral, swim with a bunch of tropical fish, and Hilary saw a sea turtle! They said they would provide the snorkels on the tour but if you have your own pressurized one I would bring it. As we left our snorkel spot and approached the Napali Coast the waves started to become rough. Big waves were upon us before we knew it and I headed towards the side of the boat to face them head on or else I would have been sick. Prepare to be soaked and if you have dramamine take it before the ride! The waves our definitely worth it in order to see the Napali Coast up close and personal! On top of that on our way back we saw a glimpse of some humpback whales surfacing too. (I have no pictures from this day because my Gopro was dead…)

On our way home we stopped at a local coffee plantation to get free samples of coffee as we were all feeling it from the five hour time change. It was neat to take a tour around the plantation and see how one pound of coffee is made. It definitely makes you wonder how coffee is not more expensive as we learned one tree gives only one pound of coffee per year. Yikes.

Tip: if you are planning on going anywhere on the island double or triple the travel time. Traffic here can be very slow going during rush hour times and speed limits are also very slow at times due to terrain.

Our third day, Evan and Hilary took the airplane ride around the island in the morning. Kevin and I decided to opt out of this one. They said it was spectacular and you get a whole view of the island. They boasted on how it was worth their while and how cool it was to go in and out of the ridge lines like in Jurassic Park.

We instead took the morning to relax and take in the Ke Ala Hale Makalae Path that started right next to our Airbnb! This trail has a spectacular view as it tracks the coastline for miles. If you have a bike this is definitely a path to bike as we only made it about halfway and turned around because we were walking. The shoreline beach is fun to walk and we saw some black crabs come in and out of the rocks.

This day was also one of the only days the North Shore had an ok forecast for the week so we decided to spend the rest of the day exploring north. Keep in mind if you are going to stay on the north side of the island or visit this part of the island you will need to bring a rain coat. The peak in Kauai that gets the second highest rainfall in the world is on the North Shore. That being said this side of the Kauai was absolutely breathtaking. There were certainly times I thought throughout the drive I wish we stayed here. However, Hanalei is still recovering from the floods and all the roads leading to the pier were closed, which was a bummer. We decided to just have lunch here and search for a good beach spot afterwards.

The beach spot didn’t go as planned due to rain and wind on the shoreline so we unfortunately found ourselves back on the road. As a last stop for the day we ended up at the Kilauea Lighthouse National Wildlife Refuge. All birds are protected on the island, which is why you will see so many chickens, and this sanctuary had a whole host of birds to see. We loved the “red-footed boobies” that lined the mountain sides and the Hawaiian goose called the “Nene” (pronounced like nay-nay). The views here were also absolutely spectacular.

Photo credit to Evan Williams

On our fourth day, we decided to explore Waimea Canyon. One of the regrets of this day was not getting up and started earlier to do a hike in the canyon. It took longer than we thought to drive up the canyon and we got a late start. If I could have I would have done Waipo’o Falls Trail. Instead we just enjoyed the drive and views.

so many cairns!

As we traveled back down the mountain into town we grabbed lunch at a food truck called Porky’s. In Kauai there are a ton of good food trucks (I’ll mention more below) and we ended up eating at them often. In Kauai there is a focus on pork and that is because they have feral pigs. We saw some and they we very cute. There is a cool site that highlights all of the food trucks that is a good reference here.

We drove back to our condo and got ready for the Luau! We choose the Luau Kalamaku. It was a ton of fun and the dancing and singing was really fantastic! However, I would recommend against getting the food and drinks. There was a limited selection for drinks and the buffet just wasn’t very good in my opinion (although my husbands would differ). For fifty dollars extra per person I would have rather gone out to eat before instead.

For our fifth day we traveled back up past Waimea Canyon to Koke’e State Park where we would do a day hike to see the Napali Coast. We had read a bunch of blogs with many recommending the Awaawapuhi Trail and the pictures did look amazing but we didn’t want to fall into a tourist trap. We also had gotten the recommendation from our On Hawaii Time friends that the Nu’Alolo Trail was their favorite. We were all leaning towards that trail but that sealed the deal.

The trail is very muddy and slippery due to the mud is not mud it is CLAY! I don’t know why when I read many blogs nobody said “Hey this is clay!” but yeah that would have been very helpful. All of the hikes in Kauai are clay paths so prepare to be wet since the water does not absorb fast and prepare to slip since you don’t sink in you slide. If you can I would bring hiking polls these are very useful too. Instead we grabbed walking sticks at the beginning of the trail and made our way down. The majority of the 3.8 miles in is downhill. This is hard when it is slippery so take your time. The views are worth it trust me!

When we finally started seeing glimpses of the canyon it was just amazing. We saw feral pigs but apparently you may also run into feral goats or cows too! The long waterfall is quite lovely and and of course the coastline is breathtaking. We ate here and relaxed for about 30-45 minutes at the viewpoint.

On the way back up, it was physically challenging to say the least. We all felt more sturdy in our ability to not fall but we needed many water breaks and were huffing and puffing. I definitely was down to just my sports bra, which I never do but hey it’s 2019 and I’m all about body positivity.

It felt so good to take my boots off after this hike. We decided to catch the sunset on our way home at Salt Pond Beach Park Kauai. It was pretty but I would definitely recommend watching the sunset from Kekaha Beach Park or Polihale Beach instead.

By our sixth day we needed a breather. We started off the morning at Rainbeau Jo’s for breakfast! This place was so cute but the owners make it the place to be. Beau and Jo are husband and wife and are just the most happy go lucky, down to earth individuals I may have ever met! Their drinks were delicious and I got their homemade cinnamon raisin bagel with local honey and orange and it was a lovely combination I have never had before.

We met up with On Hawaii Time here and had a nice morning chat about our time so far. After we finished we headed to the beach. We originally spent a lot of time looking for a specific beach but that beach ended up being closed off so we went to Poipu Beach. If I could redo this day I would have definitely went to Kekaha Beach Park or Polihale Beach instead. I know I said this above but we caught glimpses of these beaches when we drove by Kekaha and went by Polihale on the boat and both were hands down the nicest beaches on Kauai. That being said we snorkeled here and saw a sleeping seal and turtle on the beach.

Side notes: Please bring reef safe sunscreen or buy your sunscreen here. Kauai is strict with sunscreen because they know certain ingredients kill their coral reef. Be warned their sunscreen does have a lot of zinc in it, which makes it hard to rub in, and will leave you looking pasty and turn your skin or hair white. While this is not ideal, just deal with it. Also Hawaii has a law that you should stay at least 15 feet back from sea life. Don’t be the dingle bat trying to get a picture next to the sea life or be prepared to be yelled at or ticketed.

We got ice cream afterwards at Lappert’s and it was seriously one of the raddest most delicious ice cream spots I’ve ever been too. I could barely order because I could not choose what to get. I would definitely recommend this place 1000 times over.

Our last day we spent kayaking the Wailua River. We rented kayaks right up the road at Wailua Kayak Adventures. They had double kayaks and everything to hook them onto your car. They even gave us a huge dry bag to take with us. We had gotten an early start but it was around 10 by the time we dropped our kayaks in the river. My advice instead of doing what we did is to rent a kayak for the week so you can put your kayak in when the sun rises. The reason for this is there are tours that run all day and bring a bunch of people on the trail and to the waterfall. Therefore, if you want to explore by yourself this is your best bet. Also, just an FYI they don’t allow kayaking on Sundays on the river.

The kayak was about 45 minutes long and a nice ride through the valley. When you arrive note your kayak number and try to pull it as far up as possible to shore just in case there is flooding. When you come back your kayak will most likely be moved.

Now the hike down to the waterfall looks short on the map but is so muddy and slippery it took almost an hour. DO NOT WEAR anything other than crocs or go barefoot. Hiking boots, shoes, water shoes, etc. will not help and can get stuck. The mud here will come up to your calves at times, trust me. Kevin and I both went barefoot instead.

The river bed following the trail probably would have been easier to navigate than the trail to be honest. The trees were so gorgeous lining the river but we found they are actually African trees that they introduced for lumber but turns out when grown in Kauai they are too soft and grow quickly. They end up being more an invasive species so there are some places where they are cutting them down. They still were pretty neat to look at.

When we got the falls there was probably 30 people there total due to tours coming in and out. The waterfall was spectacular but it definitely would have been a thousand times better being there by ourselves. The water was cool and the rocks were big under the water so watch out for big drop offs if you do go in the water.

We had a quick snack and then headed back towards the kayak. When we finished it took us about a solid four hours total. We met back up with Hilary and Evan to explore a couple more places quickly before we headed back home.

One of the places we stopped to eat on our way out of Kapaa were two food trucks everyone had raved about called Scorpacciata and Wailua Shave Ice. We had delicious brick fired pizza’s from Scorpacciata and then ended with the “lava flow” shaved ice. I would definitely recommend both of those places 100%! Shaved ice is a local Kauai dessert that everyone kept telling us to try and I’m glad we did. It was a lot like the consistency of snow with fresh pressed juice poured over the top for flavor and other natural toppings like fruits and fruit purees and coconut foam!

We were sad to leave this paradise and return back to the cold of Upstate New York. Feel free to share your favorite experiences in Kauai below!

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