The first time I ever went to Hawaii, I chose Kauai. Having done my research, I knew I would be absolutely enchanted with the beautiful garden island, and it didn’t disappoint. If you’re thinking about going to Hawaii and you haven’t decided which island you want to visit first, you should know that each one is unique and offers something different. Depending on your personality and what you want to get out of your trip, you’ll want to choose different islands. Personally, Kauai fits me like a glove.
It’s Beautiful but very Sleepy
The thing about Kauai is that it’s a nature-lovers paradise. If you’re into lush, green landscapes, cascading waterfalls, craggly mountains and beautiful hiking trails, you’re going to love Kauai. It’s a snorkeler’s dream and the perfect place for somebody who is looking for relaxation and laid-back vibes. That being said, it might not be for you if you’re interested in partying until the break of dawn. It’s a pretty sleepy island. There’s not much going on at night, so if you’re into the night life, I would suggest you check out O’ahu or Maui.
The Hiking is AMAZING
If you love to hike, every island in Hawaii has something amazing to offer you. That being said, I particularly enjoyed the hiking on Kauai. If you’re into hiking and planning on visiting Kauai, you definitely have to check out the Kalalau Trail (incredible!), but if you’ve done that one and still have time for more, you may also want to look into hikes like the Nounou East trail (otherwise known as Sleeping Giant), the Waimea Canyon trail, or the Pihea Trail. This is by no means an exhaustive list of trails in Kauai, so make sure to do your research if you’re into doing a lot of hiking while you’re on the island, it’s got something for everyone!
Kayak the Wailua River. Do it.
I love kayaking, so I of course wanted to do a little paddling while I was on the island. We decided to rent kayaks and paddle down the Wailua River, which turned out to be an incredible day. The cool thing about it is that you paddle down the river, and then you can pull up your kayak on shore and do a short hike to a waterfall, so it’s kind of the best of both worlds. I highly recommend doing this when you’re in Kauai.
Lots of Opportunities to Snorkel
The thing I remember loving about Kauai was that we had brought our snorkel gear with us and since my husband’s favorite thing in the world is to check out the fishies, we found ourselves pulling over at random places all over the island for a bit of snorkeling. I’ll say we saw some incredible fish all over the place! I highly recommend you do the same, but make sure the water conditions are safe before you dive in, and best to be wary of the North shore in the winter when the waves can be pretty strong. We went in summer, so the North Shore waters were docile and perfect.
Kauai has amazing wildlife. You’ll likely see endangered monk seals, green sea turtles, chickens (yes, there’s chickens EVERYWHERE on this island), colorful birds, geckos, and of course incredible fish when you snorkel. There are even wild boars that live in the jungle (though I didn’t see them). If you’re heading out on a boat, you may see things like whales and dolphins as well. Just remember to always give wildlife a respectful distance. One thing that disturbed me to no end when I was there was watching tourists surround and corner monk seals and sea turtles on the beach and in the shallow waters. Living in an oceanfront environment myself, I see this at home as well. It’s perfectly fine to appreciate the wildlife, but make sure to appreciate it from afar and don’t get so close that you will make the animals feel threatened or distressed.
The Landscape is Awesomely Varied
Depending on what part of the island you’re visiting, it will feel like a different world. For such a small island (it only takes about an hour to drive from one end of the main road to the other), the various areas of the island feel worlds apart.
Waimea Canyon has been nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” and for good reason: it really does look like a mini Grand Canyon! Interestingly, if you head up Waimea Canyon drive, the landscape will gradually change from desert-like to lush and tropical. Make sure to drive all the way up to the Kalalau Lookout, where you’ll be treated to some of the most incredible views of the Kalalau coast. Just slightly up the road from there, you can even hit up a small hiking trail that has more interesting views and is a lot of fun! Warning: it can get slippery and muddy on the trail sometimes, so bring proper footwear and maybe even a plastic bag to put all your filthy clothes and shoes into before you get back in the car.
One thing about Kauai is that there is no shortage of waterfalls to discover. Wailua Falls is certainly one of the most accessible (it can be viewed from a pull-off from the road), but there are many amazing waterfalls you can hike to or even swim in the pool at the bottom. My personal favorite was Hanakapiai Falls, which we discovered on our Kalalau Trail adventure. It was a gorgeous waterfall with a refreshing pool to swim in at the bottom, and it was a lovely respite in the middle of a pretty grueling hike. Others I recommend are Waipoo Falls in Waimea Canyon, Secret Falls on the East side, and Opaekaa Falls (another fairly easily accessible one for you non-exercise people). We visited Kipu Falls when we were there, which was a great spot for swimming after a short hike, but I should warn you that Kipu Falls is now closed to the public due to many injuries and a string of unfortunate drowning deaths from people who jumped into the pool. Best not to risk it with that one. Always respect the local authorities (it wasn’t closed yet when we were there).
Kona isn’t the only place with amazing coffee
Kona on the Big Island is famous for their Kona coffee, and for good reason (it’s delicious)! But I would argue that they aren’t the only game in town. When I was in Kauai, I discovered the Kauai Coffee Company first at a grocery store as I was buying some coffee to brew at our vacation rental in the morning. It was so good, I looked into it and discovered the Kauai Coffee Company was a place you could visit, so of course I had to! They had samples out to try, and you could also take a tour of the plantation. It was a delightful way to spend the afternoon and I very much enjoyed sampling all that delicious coffee.
You’re going to need to rent a car.
Sure, you could stay at a resort and use resort transportation to and from the airport as well as take tours to some of the attractions around the island, but you would be kind of missing the point. Kauai is an island for you to get lost in, to discover new delights, and to live life at a slower pace. You’re going to find some places that tempt you to linger. You’re going to want to find a quiet beach and linger in the beautiful solitude. You’re going to want to rent a car.
Have you been to Kauai? What would you say was the best thing about the island? What’s your favorite island in Hawaii?