Hike, Snorkle, and Dive on Kauai Hawaii
Kuilau Ridge TrailKuilau Ridge Trail, located on the East side of the island, is an incredibly beautiful hike with a constant but gentle incline. The trail overlooks a lush river valley and the mist enshrouded mountain rainforest. There are varieties of birds that frequent the trees on this hike and their continual song adds tranquility to the hike. Follow the trail until you reach a small circular picnic area (about 25 minutes) with a covered table
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Maha‘ulepu Heritage TrailAnother interesting and picturesque hike located on the south shore is the Maha‘ulepu Heritage Trail. This is an intermediate hike and follows the shoreline for a majority of the trail. Geological limestone formations, wildlife, caves and cliff views punctuate the gorgeous ocean views. This is a wonderful trail even if you don’t want to hike it’s entirety (about four miles). Hike this trail in the morning before the crowds hit the beaches and the heat of midday discourages a comfortable journey. The morning is peaceful and the light is perfect for photography, so make sure to bring your camera.
Snorkel and DiveThere are some excellent areas to snorkel and dive on Kauai but river runoff can stir up sediment and make for cloudy water. If you plan to spend a good deal of your visit focusing on water sports, make sure you research the best time of year for your specific activities. Rough surf and bad weather can quickly turn your Kauai visit into a land vacation.
The south shore of the island tends towards sunnier days and calmer shores. Poipu beach is a great place for families and snorkelers. Multitudes of colorful fish species swim within a hand’s reach. Divers also frequent the waters further offshore from Poipu. There are several competent and qualified dive companies on the island for all ability levels, especially beginners.
Two first-rate companies in south shore with excellent reputations and experienced divers and instructors are Seasport Divers, located in Poipu and Fathom Five Divers located in Koloa. Both companies set fair prices and provide safe, quality dive experiences all around the island. If you just want to snorkel and find secluded areas on the island, stop by Seasport Divers. They will give you free maps showing the choicest locations and provide the best time to snorkel in those locations.
A wonderful beach in calm weather for swimming, snorkeling, or just watching a slow sunset is Ha’ena State Park, located at road’s end on the north shore. Green fauna- covered pinnacles tower to the east of the beach, adding to the almost prehistoric tropical milieu. The beach is crowded during the daytime, but early evening to sunset the crowds thin out and it’s a perfect place to relax and stroll on the beach.
RestaurantsKauai has a plethora of restaurants, pizzerias, cafes, coffee shops and fruit stands. Listed are a few of the best paces by area. For upscale dinning with fabulous Hawaiian fusion cuisine, try Roy’s located in south shore’s Poipu Shopping Village. Although Roy’s is a chain, presentation of the fare is artful and perfectly prepared. The portions are small but luscious and you won’t feel bloated in that new swimsuit you just purchased. Make reservations, as Roy’s is frequently busy.
If you prefer casual family dining, visit Brennecke’s at Poipu Beach Park. Their fish is wonderful, the ocean views are stunning and your kids won’t balk at the menu.
For a fabulous breakfast, consider Joe’s on the Green for their lovely view and heavenly macadamia nut pancakes with coconut syrup. Their large and diverse menu is impressive and you won’t be disappointed. Joe’s is located just off Poipu Road by the Kiahuna Golf Course.
Ice cream is almost a necessity in hot weather and the king of all creamy concoctions is Lappert’s. There are several locations on the island, but the nicest is in Koloa on the south shore. This ice cream is handmade on the islands and you won’t find it on the main land. Try their dark roasted 100 percent Kona coffee; it’s spendy but worth it.
On the east shore, Caffe Coco is a little place off Kuhio Highway in Wailua. It’s an outdoor Bistro-style dinner cafe in a garden setting with exceptional coffee, delicious platters and a healthy creative menu. In the evening, live music is featured and if you bring your own wine or beer, there is a minimal corkage fee.
Fruit stands are exceedingly popular all over the island and a refreshing pick-me-up. The best and tastiest is Moloa’a sunrise on the northeast shore. It’s located right off Kuhio Highway on your right. There is ample parking and picnic tables in a park-like atmosphere to relax and enjoy the stand’s menu items. Moloa’a makes their smoothies with island fruit and the drinks are addictive. Try the Date with Fate for an amazing treat.
LodgingAccommodations on the island are expensive but deals are available even during the busy season with a little research. The most popular areas are the south and north beach areas. In Poipu, chain hotels dominate the beachfront and if you prefer these accommodations the Hyatt, Sheraton and the Marriott are located right on the beach. Condos are also located beach front with the Kiahuna and Poipu Kai taking top honors in the large, yet sculpted multiplexes.
The top pick for a smaller condo stay in Poipu that is right across from the ocean, is the Poipu Kapili. It is a wonderful and reasonably priced place to stay with an unobstructed ocean view. The complex features only a one medium sized swimming pool and a tennis court, but the well-maintained rooms and the grounds are kept scrupulously clean and manicured. The privately owned units are tastefully decorated and offer a multitude of amenities that the larger complexes don’t have or will charge a fortune for the same facilities. The staff is friendly, helpful and you don’t get the feeling of being lost in a sea of multiplexes. If you want an ocean view, make sure to request it up front and don’t stay in the rear units unless you want a cheaper rate and don’t plan on staying in your room during the day. Unfortunately, even Kauai is seeing development and the once open spaces along the south shore are now in the process of housing and condo developments that run behind the beach road.
The east shore features the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club hotel that you have to see to believe. Private lagoons host walking bridges festooned with ornate European sculptures and the lobby is a tropical paradise with swans floating in a tropical pond. Expensive, yes and a little on the Hollywood version of Hawaii but if you wish a sublime atmosphere with a fabulous golf course out your hotel door, visit the Marriott.
The north shore is expensive, but again, deals are afoot. The Princeville Resort is an upscale and beautiful hotel with every amenity and luxury available. The views are exquisite and the grounds are a tropical heaven.
ShoppingAt times, shopping seems incongruous on an island paradise, yet the smaller village shops can be a nice place to stroll and window browse after a long day of playing. Two small but excellent places to find the right memorabilia or a new swimsuit are the Old Koloa Town and Poipu Shopping Village.
Old Kola Town is charming and features several interesting shops, a grocery store and separate pharmacy, restaurants and a historical area that displays the town’s early sugar cane cultivation. For the best deal on sunglasses, look for the Hot Lava vendor by the outdoor museum display. This is also home of the best Lappert’s ice cream store on the island and the aromatic handmade Island Candle Works.
The Poipu Shopping Village features a few good jewelry stores, souvenir shops, restaurants (Roy’s) and clothing venues incorporated into a lovely setting. This village is a bit spendy, but the shop's goods won’t be found all over the island.
Kauai is still the most beautiful of the Hawaiian Islands and you won’t find towering buildings and a huge downtown Mecca. Nights are spent in rather low-key clubs chatting, sipping a Mai Tai and watching the sun slip beneath the ocean. It is an island to relax while exploring your connection to nature. Find a secluded trail on a hillside overlooking the ocean or valley and marvel at the incomparable beauty of the true Kauai.
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Patrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site OffbeatTravel.com and is a regular contributor on travel radio shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her articles and photographs have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger and Seattle Weekly. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author