There are few places in the world as beautiful and diverse as the Hawaiian Islands, which is one of the reasons why so many of us keep going back. The Hawaiian archipelago is made up of eight major islands, out of which only six are opened to the visitors. When it comes to visiting Hawaii, it’s very hard to make a choice between the islands. Each one of them is beautiful in its own way and very different from the others.
Kauai is the oldest and the most northern island in the chain and more than any other island enjoys a lush tropical vegetation. Because of its green valleys, volcanic mountains covered in rainforest, beautiful rivers and white sand beaches, Kauai is the best choice for outdoor lovers. Although small, the island is jam-packed with things to do. You can hike, bike, swim, snorkel, surf, ride horses, or just relax. I visited the islands of Hawaii quite often over the years, but the Garden Island still remains my favorite one. If you are planning to visit Kauai, here are my recommendations for top 10 great spots:
Some call this deeply eroded gorge “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. Of all the islands, Kauai has been changed the most by the forces of erosion which created natural wonders such as Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast. Waimea Canyon is 10-mile-long, one mile-wide, and approximately 3,500-feet deep. The road to the canyon winds into the mountains and ends in the forests of Kokee State Park. There are several developed vista points from where you can stop and admire the panoramic views of the canyon which are absolutely stunning. This is an outing for everyone, every age group, no matter what the physical condition. You practically drive all the way to the parking lot then climb a few steps at the end of which you find yourself at the edge of the canyon, experiencing the most spectacular views that you ever imagined. But if you are in good shape and like a little adventure, Kokee State Park has many hiking trails, ranging from poor to excellently maintained and from easy to extremely difficult. The one that we mostly enjoy hiking is Alka’i Swamp Trail. So far we did it twice and every time we had a blast. It is best to visit Waimea Canyon on a sunny day. If it is rainy, the scenery won’t be as pretty and the different color shades of the canyon may not be so visible.
Alka’i Swamp Trail
Alaka’i Swamp Trail is one of the most difficult and wettest trails in Waimea Canyon. Knee-deep mud is not uncommon here when it rains and it can slow a hiker’s pace to one mile per hour through the swamp. But if the weather is good, you’ll enjoy a beautiful but strenuous hike across the Alaka’i Swamp through scrub, native rain forest and bogs. The trail ends at a vista called “Kilohana”, on the edge of Wainiha Pali. On a clear day, the views of Wainiha and Hanalei Valleys provide an unforgettable experience. The round trip is 7 miles and takes about 5:30 hours. Very difficult terrains, steep.
National Tropical Botanical Garden
There are several botanical gardens on this island, but Allerton Garden, as it is also called, is perhaps the most beautiful of all the tropical gardens on the island. This is due partly to the location of the garden which is tucked into a valley opening to the sea, on the south side of the island where it’s always sunny. Allerton Garden is a tropical paradise, transformed through time by the hands of Queen Emma of Hawaii, by a sugar plantation magnate, and by the Allertons –father and son– who purchased a small portion of the Queen’s plantation and created the gardens.
It’s a romantic and tranquil place where you ca do a self-guided tour and wander around at your own pace, while admiring bamboo and fruit trees flourish and other tropical delights.
Right next to the Allerton Garden, there is one of the most photographed spots in Kauai: the Spouting Horn, a natural blowhole that can shoot water up to 50 feet into the air. The spray of water is created by waves entering a tunnel in the rocky coast and then shoot up the water through a hole in the lava. The blow is very powerful and quite spectacular and it lasts about 10 seconds. Depending on the time of the day and the swell, the spray of water may be more or less impressive, but it will never disappoint.
Next to the Spouting Horn there are several craft booths where you can find some of the best jewelry on the island. Prices are a little high because this is a very touristy spot, but you still can make some good deals.
Na Pali Coast
Na Pali is arguably the most amazing confluence of land and sea on earth: cascading waterfalls, sheer cliffs and water worn inlets. Na Pali looks almost surreal. Na Pali can be hiked, seen from a helicopter, or from the boat. In my opinion, boating and hiking are the best ways to explore this 15-mile long pristine coast.
There are a couple of ports from where you can sail out to Na Pali: Port Allen and Hanalei Bay. Both are very rewarding, but if you start from Port Allen you’ll spend more time on the water before you reach the more spectacular parts of the coast.
Secret Falls (Uluwehi Falls) is a very popular spot in Kauai, but it requires kayaking the Wailua River to reach the trailhead. It’s an easy hike through the tropical forest, although a little long and always a little muddy. This is a beautiful day trip that involves some physical activity, but it is extremely rewarding.
Also located on the Wailua River there is a beautiful lava rock grotto covered in fern. In 2006 the grotto was closed by the Hawaii State Department for safety reasons, but it was reopened in 2007 after being reinforced. An access ramp for the grotto has also been installed. Prior to 2006 visitors were allowed to enter Fern Grotto, but today the grotto may only be seen from the observation deck.
Queen’s Bath is one of Kauai’s recently discovered gems: a turquoise and emerald pool set in black lava with views of Bali Hai, one of the most beautiful spots on the north shore. This is a beautiful place to visit in summer, when the waters are a little calmer. There have been a number of accidents and drownings here in the past because of the notorious change of moods of this spot. Most of the incidents occur in the winter, when high waves sweep over the rocks, and unaware people get swept into the ocean.
Kauai is an island of endless beauty. There are way more beautiful spots that would be worth mentioning here, but for the sake of keeping this post to the readability size I’ll stop here. I hope you’ll have a chance to visit this island someday. And if you already did, let me know what are your favorite places in Kauai. I’d love to hear from you.