Kauai, the birthplace of the Hawaiian Islands, challenges the body, engages the senses and renews the spirit. It’s also a place where you can find the right accommodations to fit your taste for luxury and pampering as well as activities to satiate your hunger for adventure.
From the minute visitors deplane and are embraced by the warm, moist, flower-scented air, it’s apparent that Kauai is all about the natural world. It’s been dubbed the “Garden Island” for its lush vegetation, rugged interior, spectacular Na Pali coastline and multi-hued Waimea Canyon.
It’s the oldest and the fourth largest of the islands that make up the Hawaiian chain, and, some say, the fairest of them all. In fact, 87 percent of this natural jewel remains undeveloped. There are no high rises (local building codes prohibit buildings taller than a coconut palm), no freeways or four-lane highways, no billboards, no urban sprawl, no late night party zones or huge shopping malls. This laid-back island will appeal to nature-loving honeymooners, couples, families or girls or guys on getaway looking for natural beauty, tranquility and a place to totally unwind.
It’s also a place where visitors can challenge themselves against the forces of nature. Kauai boasts Hawaii’s longest and sandiest beaches (many of them secluded), its longest reef and its only navigable river.
The island’s elevation soars from sea level to more than 5,243 feet at the summit of Mount Waialeale , the island’s extinct volcano heart. It offers both desert and rainforests. The ancient volcano is pounded with an average of 460 inches (38 feet) of rain per year; yet on the leeward side of the Haupu Mountain range, the beaches receive a mere 20 to 30 inches, most of it in short-lived, gentle showers.
Calm, protected beaches and lagoons like Hanalai Bay are perfect for sunbathing, picnicking and leisurely swimming; while the rip-roaring surf of beaches like Kaelia Beach challenge the most skilled surfer, swimmer or diver. Your adventure-minded clients can hike, bike, snorkel, dive, surf, zipline, kayak, zodiac, sky dive or ride horses with a plethora of operators. For an awe-inspiring treat, first-time visitors should try exploring the famous Na Pali coast from the water (zodiac, catamaran, kayak).
Those who want softer adventure can tour sites where 80 Hollywood movies were filmed (think “Jurassic Park,” “South Pacific” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”); golf on some of the top courses in the world (Golf Digest calls Poipu Bay Resort’s course “one of Hawaii’s top courses” and puts Princeville’s Makai course in its list of “America’s Top 50 Golf Courses”); or learn about the island’s fascinating history and culture with hula lessons or a tour of old sugar plantations. To really appreciate the island’s inaccessible beauty, exploring the Na Pali coast, Waimea Canyon and Mt. Waialeale’s mist-shrouded crater by helicopter is a not-to-miss experience. Agents, concierges or travelers can easily book these and other activities through individual companies.
If you go…
Great places to stay
Sheraton Kauai Resort (see RFT’s full review in “Real Great Places to Stay”)
The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa
Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas
Outrigger Waipouli Beach Resort