Kauai. Just the mere mention of the word brings a million amazing memories rushing back, and immediately makes those who have been wish they were kicked back on Poipu beach without a care in the world. It’s one of America’s wonders, and while the Garden Isle is far from being the biggest, most populated or easiest of the Hawaiian islands to get to, it’s unquestionably worth the trip. Particularly so if you’re the adventurous type. If there’s any island in the Hawaiian chain that begs for you to plop down in one spot for the week, Kauai most certainly isn’t it. This place abounds with things to do, and those who aren’t afraid to climb, jump, sweat and dive right into the wild will have no shortage of fun. I’ve compiled five of my favorite Kauai adventures here in hopes that you too will find certain thrills while visiting, so grab your untouched itinerary and read on!
This is unquestionably my favorite thrill on Kauai. Kipu Falls are conveniently located near the popular eastern side of the island, around 20 minutes or so from downtown Lihue. Ask any of the locals about Kipu, and chances are they’ll be able to guide you right to it. It’s actually fairly easy to locate via GPS (it’s off of Kipu Road), and you’ll probably see a dozen or so cars parked along the side of a road beside a massive field. Park, hike along the stream’s edge (the beaten path is private property, but the stream itself isn’t), and ten minutes later, you’ll be in paradise. A huge, freshwater pool to leap into, a massive tree swing to reenact Tarzan on, and plenty of opportunities to meet fellow tourists and locals from all over the world. If you pick the right day, you may even see locals running out of the edge of tree limbs and backflipping 70 feet into the water below. Astounding. Have a look at my experience above.
Fair warning: cliff jumping is risky. Be smart, and stay safe! If you’re in doubt, don’t jump! It’s plenty entertaining to just watch the pros who are experienced.
Tunnels Beach has grown into a real spectacle in recent years, making the parking situation somewhat of a nightmare. Not a ton of tourists flock here, but enough have come for the neighbors to turn their yard into a pay-for-parking lot. Bummer. Your best bet is to show up early and park along the sections of the road where it’s allowed — even if you have to walk half a mile, it’s worth it. Rent some snorkel gear down in Lihue or Princeville before heading out, and bring along your waterproof camera if you have one. You’ll find loads of fish here, crystal clear water, gorgeous stretches of sand, and — if you’re lucky — a giant sea turtle. I was able to swim with one for a couple of minutes on my last trip, shown above. Talk about Hawaiian hospitality!
Similar to Tunnels Beach, the only catch with this outing is the parking situation. The Queen’s Bath is a magnificent rock formation along the ocean’s coast, but it’s actually hidden behind an upscale housing community / golf course in Princeville. You’ll need to drive back into the neighborhood (found two to three miles within St. Regis Princeville) and park at the handful of public spots. If those are full, you’ll need to park wherever it’s legal nearby and hike. There’s a well-beaten path through the woods and to the ocean, and chances are, you’ll be able to follow the other tourists and locals down. The pool is formed with lava rock, and it blocks crashing waves as you sit and soak. There are also plenty of cliff jumping opportunities here for the daredevils in attendance.
The grueling, gorgeous Kalalau Trail (reached by driving as far north as you can along Highway 560) is likely Kauai’s most famous, but few people know that it takes days to complete, and to proceed beyond Hanakapiai Beach at the ~2.5 mile marker, you actually need an overnight camping permit from the state. The full ~11 mile hike has managed an incredible 9.0 out of 10 on Sierra Club’s difficulty scale, making it the most difficult trail that doesn’t require vertical scaling of a mountain. Thankfully, the first bit — which wraps around the north of the island and provides astonishing views of the Na Pali coast — isn’t so tough. You’ll need great hiking shoes, a few liters of water, a bathing suit and a towel. After you’ve hiked down, you’re treated to a waterfall that nearly runs directly into the ocean. Take a dip in the Pacific, bask on the sand, and then rinse in the waterfall before heading right back where you came from. Take a camera — the views are unmatched.
You’ve got only a few options to actually see the Na Pali Coast, and while a helicopter ride (or a ride from the highly recommended Wings Over Kauai) is just fine for some, I prefer a little more adventure. Taking Captain Joe’s zodiac tour is a great excuse to visit the vastly under-appreciated western swath of Kauai, and moreover, an amazing way to see parts of Kauai that you could never see but by boat. You’ll get a personal view of the island’s Barking Sands Pacific Missile Range Facility, schools of dolphins, and of course, the Na Pali coast. Joe also provides lunch as well as an opportunity to snorkel for an hour or so while out at sea. On the ride in, you’ll get a great view of Niihau, and feel free to ask Captain Joe anything you want — he’s a wealth of information, and the vibe on zodiac is one that’ll make you want to relocate rather than fly back home.
Any other amazing sights to see or activities to engage in while on the Garden Isle? Speak up in comments below! Aloha!