As my father reminded me recently, there is only one Hawaii. The allure and beauty of the Islands are unique unto themselves, and we’ve been lucky to have travelled to four of the Hawaiian Islands many times over the years. We’ve celebrated honeymoons, birthdays and anniversaries in Hawaii – it holds a special place in our hearts.
As spring break fever hits North America, I’m reminded about the many things to do in Kauai for families. The pictures tell the story in a thousand words, but I have 10 compelling reasons why Kauai is maika’i loa. Aloha!
1. Beautiful Beaches
Kauai has many outstanding, white sand beaches, some of which are part of well-maintained State Parks with lifeguard stations, washrooms and changing stations.
Poipu Beach Park and Salt Pond Beach are two great, younger kid-friendly beaches on the south shore, with washrooms, picnic areas, and shower facilities. These beaches have reefed off areas with calm, shallow water that is perfect for wading and staying within arms reach.
For the more adventurous, Brennecke’s in Poipu is a very good boogie boarding beach, but with powerful surf and shore breaks, especially in winter. Before running into the waves, observe the surf pattern and read any posted signage (i.e. rip currents, sudden shorebreaks), and chat with locals or other beach goers about conditions (which can change daily).
Polihale Beach (at the end of Highway 50, past Kekaha) is a spectacular 17-mile stretch of pristine sand that sits on the more arid westward side, at the southern end of the Na Pali cliffs. Its surf can be dangerous, especially in winter. The best area to swim or body board is the only slightly calmer Queen’s Pond area, ‘left of the very large tree’, about 3 miles along the dirt road. Safety in the open ocean is a serious matter: never turn your back on the water.
2. Waimea Canyon
Though Mark Twain did not visit Hawaii, he nicknamed this natural wonder ‘the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.’ The Waimea Canyon is the largest in the Pacific, at over 10 miles long, 1 mile wide and 3500ft deep. Access is easy, via a spectacular drive from Waimea, along Waimea Canyon Drive (Route 550) to the first major Lookout (at the 10 mile marker). The drive to the end of Route 500 winds through Kok’e State Park and you can choose to visit either the Kalalau or Pu’u o Kila Lookouts for amazing views to the west and the Na Pali coast – if the fog doesn’t roll in. (Pack a sweater in the car as the temperature goes down as you drive up.)
3. Shave Ice
A sweet treat in the heat – what’ not to like about shave ice? Shave ice is produced by special machines that shave the ice, onto which syrups are poured and ice cream may be added. We found two great shave ice shacks: Jojo’s Clubhouse in Waimea, and the Hee Fat General Store in Kapa’a. The latter had the bonus of real fruit syrups, which were delicious and not quite as fluorescent as the artificial syrups. I recommend getting your shave ice with macadamia nut ice cream on the bottom. SO yum!
Kauai has decent surf, even on the calm, south shore of Poipu. The locals say anyone can learn to surf. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do believe that it is easier to learn how to surf when you’re young. There are many surf schools in Kauai, and their services and prices are all pretty much in line with one another. We booked a surfing lesson with Kauai Surf School. A 2 hour lesson cost $75 per person, including a free t-shirt for the kids.
The instructor was a young and hip surfer ‘dude’, and connected well with kids. The Poipu beach where the lessons are located has decent sized swells that won’t prove too difficult to newbies – kids or adults.
5. Queen’s Bath
We visited Kauai in winter, and the surf is highest and most dangerous during those months. This meant that we weren’t able to enjoy a dip in the incredible Queen’s Bath, near the Westin Princeville Resort on the North Shore. We hiked down along a jungle trail to reach this natural hot tub, sitting in the rocks just above the surf line. But in winter, larger waves rush in and fill the Bath with churning whitewater. Anyone sitting in the Bath would be 1. seriously injured 2. washed away 3. drowned. A nearby plaque keeps track of the body count, as a quiet warning in case you didn’t think the waves looked so bad.
If you don’t mind a little sweat, the Na Pali Coast State Park is world-famous for hikes of varying length and difficulty. Older kids and adults may enjoy hiking a portion of a trail from Ke’e Beach on the north shore, or planning a longer, overnight hike if you’re properly equipped. Good footwear, equipment and water supplies are very important. Don’t attempt a Na Pali hike in your flip flops.
Tropical flowers and animals like sea turtles and monk seals make Kauai a vibrant and beautiful place to enjoy nature. The warm trade winds smell like flowers and pineapple, and if you purchase a handmade lei at a luau, you’ll enjoy the wonderful plumeria scent for days.
8. Spouting Horn
The Spouting Horn blowhole is just a 20 minute drive from the main resort area of Poipu on the south shore. The spout and resulting ‘horn-like’ sound is the vestige of an ancient lava tube that channels crashing waves to spout up through this hole. The hiss and roar has a history in Hawaiian legend and involves a trapped lizard named Kaikapu.
Every Hawaiian Island features luaus, so it’s not Kauai-specific. But for me, my very first luau after decades of visiting the Islands took place on Poipu Beach at the Sheraton Kauai resort. The beachfront Auli’i Luau was a wonderful evening of music, culture and food. Our kids in particular enjoyed the show, especially the dancing and fire-juggling.
10. The Aloha Spirit
Kauai offers visitors authenticity in its small towns and beautiful landscapes. It’s a laid-back, friendly island where no one’s in a rush and the chickens roam free (courtesy of Hurricane Iniki in 1992). While adventure travellers have many active options – from helicopter tours to scuba-diving, zip-lining, and river-kayaking – Kauai also rewards those who just want to hang loose and enjoy the beauty and tranquil nature of this Garden Island paradise.
All photos by C. Laroye.
Have you visited Kauai? What did you enjoy most? Share your comment below.