10 Ideas For A Unique Kauai Adventure
Some vacations are for walking around bustling cities taking in all the history and cultural arts. Some vacations are about having an all-inclusive, no-brainer, treat yo’self experience. Kauai vacations are about getting out there— in the sun, in the rain, and underneath the rainbows! Kauai is for the adventurous. It’s a fact– Kauai tends to attract a lot of active, adventurous people that have a strong appreciation for nature. This is a list by those people, for those people!
photography by: Kauai Photographer
With her big sandy beaches, warm, clear waters, eight distinct climate zones, and vibrant communities north to west, Kauai has hundreds of unique adventures and unforgettable experiences to offer. These are just TEN of them. We hope this helps to inspire your epic, amazing, adventurous Kauai vacation.
Ten Ideas For A Unique Kauai Adventure
- Take a mellow sunrise hike along the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail in Poipu. This trail starts at Shipwreck Beach and meanders for a couple of miles north along a stretch of sandy dunes and interesting sandstone/limestone features. There’s not much elevation gain, so this “hike” feels more like a walk, but we’d still recommend wearing full-coverage shoes, and do be sure to bring water. There are several different paths (don’t worry, they all converge eventually) and attractions to explore such as the cave, the turtles, and the heiau (Hawaiian burial site—don’t touch!) There are spectacular views of the ocean the entire way and this is also an excellent area to see breaching humpback whales during the season– roughly December through April. You can do this hike anytime of the day, but it’s hard to beat the lighting of sunrise or a napali coast sunset tour.
- Be the change you want to “sea” at a Surfrider Foundation volunteer beach cleanup. Real talk– Kauai’s beaches would look much different if it wasn’t for the dedicated work of our local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. In 2020 alone, they led 24 beach cleanups and collected 129,000 pounds of nets, marine debris, plastic, and trash off our beaches, disposing of it at the county landfill. Volunteering with them is a very satisfying experience—just a couple of hours makes a very noticeable difference as the marine debris piles up fast. Please contact Barbara Wiedner (808) 635-2593 to find out when and where to join up with nice people and spend a couple of hours helping to keep Kauai’s beaches beautiful and to protect our ocean wildlife from dangerous abandoned fishing nets and other coastal pollutants. photography by: Kauai Photographerphotography by: Kauai Photographer
- Go cruisin’ up Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park. There are numerous lookouts along the way to stop, take pics, and absorb the magnificence of the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” but do be sure to go to the very end of Highway 550 to the Pu’u o Kila Lookout for *thee* most unbelievable views of the Kalalau Valley and the Napali Coast—they saved the best for last! If you get all the way up there and it’s cloudy, wait a few minutes because often the clouds are moving through fast and there’s a decent chance that the mountains, the valley, and the ocean will break through the mist and come gloriously back into view. Break up the drive by stopping at the iconic Kokee Lodge for breakfast, lunch, coffee, cocktails, snacks, and gifts (hot tip: they have a pretty good gift shop there) in a rustic cabin setting. If you want to experience Waimea Canyon and Kokee more adventurously, know that there are many hiking trails and camping opportunities to be discovered.
- Tee ‘em up and hit the links. Kauai has plenty of course options to meet the needs of every golfer. Our island’s public course, Wailua Golf Course, is a total gem. It’s an affordable, well-maintained, nicely laid out, beautiful course with ocean views—this municipal course does not disappoint! There are several options for a more upscale golfing experience, especially in Princeville and Poipu. And there’s always the good ol’ casual and affordable 9-hole course located at Kukuiolono Park in Kalaheo. This can be a great option because, besides the golfing, the park also features a few miles of lovely walking/jogging paths as well as a Japanese garden with bonsai, a collection of Hawaiian lava artifacts, a scenic pavilion, and a mini-golf course to possibly occupy any non-golfers in your group.
- Adopt your new best friend! Yes, for the ultimate souvenir, consider adopting a pet from paradise on your Kauai vacation. Our island constantly struggles with too many shelter animals, so our local Humane Society has developed a program that makes adopting dogs and cats to take back to the mainland super easy. They coordinate the flight, give you the airline-approved kennel, arrange transportation of the animal to the airport, check the animal in for the flight, give you the health certificate and rabies vaccine, give you a collar, leash, and food—literally everything you need to start your new life together! At times, when there are just way too many animals in need of homes on the island, they offer this entire service for as low as $150— seriously! Come in, browse the animals. If a dog speaks to you, take them out to play right there at the Humane Society bark park or take them for a real test drive on a Kauai “field trip.” If the magic happens, you and your new best friend will have an adorable story to share when you get back home. Research this possibility and start manifesting your pet dreams at www.kauaihumane.org
- Be mesmerized by nature at one of Kauai’s three National Tropical Botanical Gardens. It’s true, Kauai is pretty much one big botanical garden, but our island is also home to three exceptionally fascinating tropical gardens. McBryde Garden is home to extensive collections of ancient, exotic, and endangered plant species from tropical regions around the world that are brought here to be researched, cultivated and kept from extinction. At McBryde, you’ll see intriguing plant species you’ve never seen anywhere else on earth! Explore the adjacent Allerton Garden for an artistic, romantic encounter with landscape design—it’s a botanical garden broken into expertly crafted garden “rooms” with exotic plants, sculptures, water features, and an interesting, and somewhat heart-breaking, multi-generational story of how it all came to be. Finally, visit Limahuli Garden to develop an understanding of biocultural conservation and how ancient Hawaiian practices and wisdom are being preserved and applied to address Kauai’s contemporary challenges. An experience at any or all of these gardens will leave you feeling relaxed and truly enchanted by nature.
- Rent beach cruisers in Kapaa town and pedal along the Ke Ala Hele Makalae Path— the “path that goes along the coast.” This flat, paved path runs for four miles along Kauai’s beautiful east side (following the tracks of a former pineapple railway) and is used by bikers, walkers, joggers, and rollerbladers alike. There are various lookouts and plaques along the way that point out local landmarks and history, shaded pavilions to pull over in, and bathrooms and a water fountain by Kealia Beach. No matter your age, you’ll feel like a kid again, recreating in the ocean breeze on this safe, scenic, sunny community path. Ride up an appetite? There’s something delicious for everyone at the Kapaa Food Truck Court, which is located conveniently right beside the path.
- Experience beach bliss like never before at Polihale Beach State Park. You’re going to want four-wheel drive to navigate the combination of bumps and potholes that compose the 4-mile unpaved “Road to Polihale,” but those that brave the journey are rewarded with about 15 miles of pristine, undeveloped beach. Polihale is Hawaii’s longest and widest sandy beach (by far) and legend has it that it’s the last place on earth souls go before jumping off the Napali Coast cliffs and into the afterworld. Check out the napali coast sunset tour whilethere. The vastness and wildness of Polihale certainly does conjure spiritual vibes—there’s just truly something magical about this place. There are bathrooms and freshwater showers at Polihale but that’s about it; you need to be prepared going to Polihale as there’s literally nothing for sale and no services available. Don’t go to Polihale without ample shade and plenty of cold water—it can be scorching hot, especially in the summer months. Polihale is not typically the safest area for swimming, but the beach itself is so massive and clean and remote and peaceful-yet-powerful that it’s worth going if just for the adventure of getting out there, walking the beach, searching for sunrise shells, working on your tan, basking in the vastness, and/or catching an incredible ocean sunset—Polihale is one of the best, if not *thee* best sunset viewing spot on Kauai. Unfortunately, overnight camping is illegal, but you have about an hour after sunset to be out of the park.
- Voyage to the “Forbidden Island” of Niihau with Holo Holo Charters. Yes, we’re biased on this one but honestly, this trip didn’t win us the title of #1 Best Boat Tour in America for nothing. This isn’t just any old boat ride folks– this is a once-in-a-lifetime all-day ocean adventure up Kauai’s spectacular Napali Coast and then across the 17-mile Kaulakahi Channel to the Lehua Crater Hawaii State Wildlife Sanctuary and the “Forbidden Island” of Niihau. The snorkeling conditions off Niihau are superior to those off Kauai and going offshore increases our likelihood of seeing elusive marine species such as rough-tooth dolphins, manta rays, and monk seals. With breakfast, snorkeling, lunch, and adult beverages included, this “Super Tour” is an excellent value, traveling more than 60 ocean miles in 7 hours. Our flagship 65’ power catamaran Holo Holo was designed and built specifically for this trip and will take you and your loved ones there in comfort, safety, and style. We take excellent care of absolutely everything so that you can relax, enjoy, and just take it all in without having to worry about a thing. Come adventure with us and see for yourself why we were named #1 Best Boat Tour in America by USA Today Readers Choice 10Best.
- Hike the picturesque Kalalau Trail to Hanakapiai Beach or Hanakapiai Falls from Ha’ena State Park. The Kalalau Trail is without a doubt one of the most colorful trails in all of Hawaii—red dirt below, lush fifty-shades-of-green vegetation alongside, and bright blue sparkling ocean views as far as the eye can see. The first two miles of trail will take you to Hanakapaia Stream and Hanakapaia Beach—which is gorgeous but NEVER recommended for swimming. From there, you can turn around and hike the two miles back to Ke’e Beach (which is lifeguarded) OR you can venture uphill and hike another two miles through a bamboo forest to Hanakapiai Falls, which drop 410 feet and is a most excellent place for an invigorating freshwater swim underneath the waterfall! Keep in mind that both sections of the trail are muddy and challenging, but if you’ve got the agility, the endurance, and the supplies (good shoes, water, snacks, first-aid basics) you won’t regret the trip—the views are truly magnificent for a napali coast sunset tour and it’s fun hiking through the jungle and through the streams, etc. This trail is so popular in fact that advance reservations are necessary for all vehicles, walk-in entries, and shuttle riders visiting Ha’ena State Park, as well as for day hikers accessing the Kalalau Trail. It takes a bit of planning ahead, but with the reservation system, there’s enough parking and space for everyone to have a good time. Visit dlnr.hawaii.gov for reservation information.