Hawaii is a location that is on the bucket list of many world travelers and for good reason. This volcanic island chain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has long attracted tourists for its gorgeous beaches, crystal blue water, and active volcanoes. While Honolulu and Maui have created a tourist dream with countless resort and beach-side hotel options; today I would like to focus on the island of Kauai instead. This is the oldest major island in the Hawaiian island chain and is the ideal location for those who prefer a more adventurous and nature-oriented vacation as opposed to the traditional resort hotel. Kauai is filled with trails to hike, rivers to kayak, and is home to several of Hawaii’s most scenic vistas.
I had the privilege of spending a few weeks in this island paradise. What initially attracted me to this location was the Na Pali Coast and the Kaliulea Trail. This 22-mile round trip trail follows the northern coast of this island known as the Na Pali coast and is frequently ranked as one of the best hiking trails in the world. This ranking is due to incredible scenery that can be seen along the entire trail. One side of the trail is filled with tropical mountains on one side rising into the clouds and dotted with waterfalls. The other side of the trail overlooks the Pacific Ocean. The full trail is 22 miles long, but hikers can stop at any point and go back the way they came since this is an “in and out” trail. While completing the trail in one day is possible, hikers should be in peak physical condition to attempt this. There are frequent elevation gains along the trail in addition to the long length making this a strenuous day hike to take on and not recommended for inexperienced hikers. An overnight option does exist as well. At the 11-mile mark on this trail, hikers can camp out in the Na Pali valley rather than turn around and go back the way they came. This tropical valley is surrounded by trees and the valley itself extends all the way to the ocean allowing for an excellent beach camping location. For hikers who want a shorter day hike option, then they can instead take a 5 mile round off-shoot from the main trail to see Hanakapi’ai Falls. This trail takes hikers up a rain forest valley before ending at a 100-foot waterfall that empties into an excellent swimming hole. A great place to enjoy lunch and splash around before heading back to the trailhead to continue your day.
For more adventurous travelers who want a different perspective of the Na Pali Coast then there are adventure tour services that will guide you along a sea kayaking adventure that covers the entire coast. For those with the stamina and adventurous spirit, this all-day journey will take you through sea-caves, to secluded white sand beaches, among schools of dolphins, and up close and person with sea turtles. A sea-side tour of the Na Pali coast isn’t just for the adventurous, there are many guides and charter services that will offer you a guide of this breath-taking coastline from the comfort of a boat. An arial view is another choice travelers may take as helicopter charters take you through the valleys of this coastline offering a completely different perspective of this natural treasure. I would highly suggest taking the opportunity to experience the Na Pali coast from the water using whatever means you find most comfortable. The views are among the most scenic in the world. The island of Kauai also offers more leisurely aquatic adventures that allows travelers to canoe down the several rivers on the island such as the popular Walliua River that combines a canoe with a short hike to bring visitors to Sacred Falls; another waterfall that empties into an excellent swimming spot.
While everything I have described so far is on the north and east sides of the park, the island western side also holds its own treasures. Most notably, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific Ocean aka Waimea Canyon. While hiking and kayaking the Na Pali coast offers great views of rain forests and the towering mountains at the end of tropical valleys, Waimea Canyon takes you to the very top of these same mountains and allows for a bird’s eye view down into the Na Pali valleys and out into the blue waters of the pacific. The Na Pali overlook in Waimea Canyon state park remains one of the most memorable scenic overlooks I have ever personally seen. Prior to the outlook, the primary road leading through this state park that you past Waimea Canyon itself. This is one of the largest canyons in the world and its natural scenery is highlighted by the red walls of the canyon contrasted with the bright green tropical vegetation covering this canyon. Several hikes lead down into the canyon for those who want a more up close and personal view.
In addition to Waimea on the west, the Na Pali coast on the East and North; the southern portion of the island also offers its own charms in the Popui region. This part of the island has several resorts that offer visitors who want a more traditional all-inclusive experience while still enjoying this Hawaiian island. There are several very good dining options in this town such as Keoki’s Paradise. Much like the majority of Hawaii, this restaurant specializes in locally caught seafood such as big eye tuna, swordfish, and grouper. One of the most popular ways to eat seafood in Hawaii is a poke bowl. This is a bowl of either rice or local greens served with local fruits and topped with seafood and sauces. While poke on the mainland offers common variety’s such as salmon and tuna; Hawaii offers more variety than I knew existed. I was able to sample everything from octopus and squid to clam and sea snail. Delicacies such as this can be found in most grocery stores on the island. For dessert, a local favorite is shaved ice; often topped with local fruits and juices. This is a must try for anyone visiting the island for the first time and one of my favorite places that I found to enjoy some shaved ice is at Wailua Shaved ice in the town of Kappa. This is located 30 minutes north of Lihue, which is where the island’s primary airport is. The island itself is not very large. In fact, you can drive from Waimea in the southwest to the Na Pali Coast in the northeast within 2 hours while circumventing the entire island.
Between the amazing nature, beautiful beaches, small town charm, and delicious food; my time on the island of Kauia are memories I will always treasure. While I plan on returning and spending time in the rest of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauia will always hold a special place in my heart and is well worth a visit just to see the Na Pali coast again. All the islands of Hawaii offer their own unique charms and adventures. For example, the time I spent on the Big Island of Hawaii provided its own memories of walking through volcanic tunnels and swimming with giant Manta Rays. But those are stories for another day…