Call of Kaua’i
Beyond the allure of Oahu and Maui, Hawaii’s northernmost island seduces new arrivals with amazing resorts and stunning natural beauty.
A double rainbow over the Na Pali coastline.
Photo by Peter Campbell
If you ask a seasoned traveler to Hawaii what island they most look forward to visiting again, chances are it will not be the popular Maui or Oahu but rather the pristine shores of Kaua’i. The northernmost and fourth largest of the Hawaiian islands, Kaua’i is also the oldest and wettest, creating spectacular canyons and picturesque waterfalls. Many of the island’s once rich sugar plantations have transformed into resorts and ranches, nestled between spectacular state parks and stunning vistas, such as Waimea Canyon, “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” By air, foot or kayak, Kaua’i’s unrivaled natural splendor is a feast for the senses and an ideal adventure for the exploratory visitor.
Plane hopping is a thing of the past, thanks to Lihu’e Airport on the eastern side of the island. Travelers can depart on direct flights from LAX to Kaua’i without the hassle of a connection through Honolulu. Tip: Rent a car. With the various state highways covering the island, these routes are your best bet for getting from here to there.
Pull Up a Lounge Chair
You’ll find Kaua’i’s shores scattered with amazing hotels and resorts, from traditional plantation style to super luxurious. Here are three favorites that top our list:
The urge to splurge…
St. Regis Princeville
On the northern shore of the “Garden Island,” the 9,000-acre resort in the coveted community of Princeville at Hanalei offers the first-class amenities and oceanfront ambience you’d expect from the highly rated St. Regis brand. stregisprinceville.com
Refinement on a budget…
Koa Kea Hotel & Resort
The 121-room boutique-style hotel on Poipu Beach puts you in the lap of luxury without breaking the bank. Enjoy a garden view room for less than $350 a night, book a signature spa treatment at the intimate spa, or make reservations at the on-site and oceanfront Red Salt restaurant for seafood specialties. koakea.com
Waimea Plantation Cottage
For a piece of Kaua’i history, check into a Waimea Plantation Cottage. Built in the early 1900s for sugar plantation employees and their families, these spacious cottages will host your brood in comfort and charm. With close access to the Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali coast, this former plantation is conveniently located for touring day trips. waimeaplantation.com
Weekend Well Planned
Kauai’s lush and varied landscape makes it a playground for nature enthusiasts. There’s plenty to see, so it’s wise to create an itinerary in advance to ensure that you maximize a limited stay. Narrow bridges and beautiful sites on the highway await your journey, and thankfully most GPS devices provided by the car rental companies are programmed with the attractions of interest.
Start early and head to the northwest part of the island and the Na Pali Coast. This 15-mile stretch of coastline translates to “the Cliffs,” and it’s that and much more. The rugged, color-drenched terrain often drops off sheer cliffs into turquoise blue waters below —a must-see wonder of the wild. On the way, stop at Secret Beach (should be listed on the GPS) and witness a rarely seen shore after a short hike. A nearby lighthouse offers admission for a small fee. Whale watching is at its peak now through April, and Na Pali is a great place to view the Hawaiian humpback. Visit napali.com for cruise and tour options. A word on the waters: you may see many signs around the island warning of rough seas and swimming dangers, so it’s advisable to stick to the resort beaches for dips in the ocean. Use discretion.
Another great day trip takes you to the southwestern part of the island and the Waimea Canyon National Park. At this largest canyon in the Pacific, the multicolored layers and vast expanses are breathtaking to behold. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters offers tours of both the canyon and Na Pali coast for the most unique perspective of these treasures. Island Helicopters Kauai will take you to Manawaiopuna Falls, the filming site of the film Jurassic Park, for a jungle hike and access to the base of the 400-foot waterfalls. Check out both companies at bluehawaiian.com and islandhelicopters.com.
Kaua’i on Film
Did you know the island of Kaua’i has provided the backdrop for dozens of Hollywood films, making it one of the most popular shooting sites in Hawaii? Some memorable appearances by the island include the musical South Pacific, the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, and most recently Tropic Thunder and the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. On television, the opening credits of M*A*S*H, with the helicopter coming over the mountain, was also shot here. Most famously, the 1961 Elvis film Blue Hawaii used the once popular Coco Palms as its primary setting. Sadly, the resort was badly damaged by Hurricane Iniki in 1992, but plans to revive the property are currently in the works.