If we said Tropical Paradise, what do you see? Fiery sunsets over the ocean? White sand beaches fringed by swaying palm trees, as turtles drift through clear blue waters? Waterfalls cascading down lush green mountains? Introducing Kauai, the Garden Island.
Our Top 10 things you must do:
Hike to and swim in a secret waterfall: This was our favourite day on Kauai. Independently, or with a company like the awesome Wailua Kayak Adventures, you can kayak up the Wailua river before hiking through the jungle to a hidden waterfall. 'Secret Falls' is like something out of a film, plunging 120 ft into a swimming hole at the bottom.
Hire a board and get out on the water: Whether you're an adrenaline seeking surfer or after a more chilled day on a SUP board, Kauai has it all. For waves, head to Anahole Bay, Kiahuna Beach or Polihale State Park, and for stand up paddling, Hanalei Bay is gorgeous. Calm waters, a sandy bottom if you fall off, and stunning views of mountains and waterfalls.
Spend the day at Hanalei Bay: As we just said, this stunning beach is perfect for SUP and also beginner surfers, but it's also a brilliant place to spend a day. Conveniently close to Hanalei town for food, bars and board hire, there are also beach showers and picnic beaches. Movie musical fans might recognise the historic pier from South Pacific.
Hike the Kalalau Trail: This 11 mile hiking route runs along the north coast of Kauai from Keʻe Beach to the Kalalau Valley, with jawdropping views of the ocean and the rugged Napali coast. As the trail is part of Haʻena State Park, due to limited numbers being allowed you need to reserve your place in advance to enter - you can do that here, up to 14 days before your trip. If you want to hike beyond the first 2 miles, beyond Hanakapiai Valley, you will also need a camping permit, whether you plan on camping or not. You can book that here. Bear in mind that the latter part of the trail after Hanakapiai Beach is strenuous and difficult, and not for beginner/intermediate hikers.
Eat Shave Ice: Practically a State dish, this sweet treat, soft fluffy snowy ice topped with different flavours, is an absolute must. We particularly liked JoJo's in Hanalei.
Waimea Canyon: Called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific by Mark Twain, the red rocky canyon is a stark contrast to the lush green interior of Kauai. It's also massive! 10 miles long and some 3000ft deep. There are some amazing views at overlooks at mile markers 10 and 13, and some great hiking trails in the area too.
Cruise the Napali Coast: If you've seen Jurassic Park you'll recognise the jagged folded Napali coastline - in 1993, Kauai served as the filming location for Isla Nublar. The cliffs are best viewed from the sea and several boat companies offer cruises. We booked a sunset dinner cruise with Captain Andy and couldn't recommend it more. A delicious hot buffet dinner, drinks, stunning views of the coastline and we were even joined by bottlenose dolphins as the sun went down! A honeymoon highlight.
Kilauea Lighthouse: the cliffs surrounding the lighthouse are a protective breeding ground for Hawaiian seabirds. You can see hundreds of Albatrosses, Frigate birds, tropic birds, red footed boobies and if you're lucky, humpback whales out to sea!
Hit the beach: Kauai has so many unbelievable beaches and you can't visit this tropical paradise without spending a few days relaxing on the sand. Our top picks are:
Poipu Beach - soft white sand, calm waters, nearby restaurants and bars and the chance of seeing turtles and monk seals on the beach. Nearby Brennecke's Beach is a great spot to watch surfers!
Hanalei Bay - see further up. A gorgeous sweeping 2 mile beach backed by lush green mountains.
Tunnels Beach - in our opinion the best on the island. Amazing snorkelling, turtles, and a beautiful long crescent shaped beach.
Anini Beach - very good snorkelling and soft white sand lined with palm trees.
Ke'e Beach - the reef here makes the waters very calm for snorkelling and swimming.
Try some tropical fruit at a Farmer's Market: fancy munching on a locally grown mango, pineapple or drinking an ice cold coconut? Visit one of the many farmer's markets that take place every week, selling freshly harvested produce as well as honey, nuts and sometimes local crafts. Look out for roadside signage advertising when and where the markets are taking place- they are held most days apart from Sundays, in different locations.
Where to Eat:
Brennecke's Beach Broiler, Poipu Beach: Right on the beach and beautiful ocean views. Enjoy a Lava Lava Flow cocktail traditional with Hawaiian pupus (small plates like tapas) like seared Ahi, Poke tacos and coconut shrimp.
Chicken in a Barrel BBQ, Hanalei: Melt in your mouth BBQ chicken served with rice. You can take it away to eat on the nearby beach at Hanalei Bay.
Tahiti Nui, Hanalei: Fresh caught fish and a great pizza menu, plus unbelievable Mai Tais and live ukulele music. Friendly and intimate, we spent Independence Day here in 2018 and had an amazing night!
How to get there:
Kauai's airport is Lihue Airport, on the southeast of the island. It's around 6 hours flight from many destinations along the west coast of the mainland US, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver in Canada. The island isn't big, but you'll need to hire a car from the airport in order to explore.