Lihue-Central Kauai The first town that one sees upon stepping off the plane is Lihue. While it isn't nearly as industrial as Honolulu, or even Kahului, it holds the County Seat and is home of the island's main airport. It also boasts the Kaua'i Museum and the only still-active sugar mill. Upon heading inland, one quickly notices...
Lihue—Central Kauai The first town that one sees upon stepping off the plane is Lihue. While it isn't nearly as industrial as Honolulu, or even Kahului, it holds the County Seat and is home of the island's main airport. It also boasts the Kaua'i Museum and the only still-active sugar mill. Upon heading inland, one quickly notices civilization disappearing—replaced by jungle, waterfalls and finally near impenetrable mountains. But most people don't head inland from Lihue; instead they go in the opposite direction, toward the ocean.
There isn't far to go. The coast is just a few moments' drive away. From there, it's easy to get to one of the island's main resort districts.
Coconut Coast Just north of Lihue on the East Shore is the famed Coconut Coast, so named because of the hundreds of coconut palms that shade the main highway. The Wailua River runs along this coast, and a half-dozen famous natural attractions cluster around it. Fern Grotto and Sleeping Giant are two favorite sights. Kayaking down the river is a popular pastime.
Several mid-priced hotels are situated on the Coconut Coast, among them the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort Kauai and the Aston Islander on the Beach. The area also boasts several upscale bed & breakfasts, including charming Hale Tutu and the Alohilani. Most of the island's shopping is located in this area. The major mall, Coconut Marketplace, is located in Kapa'a Town, as are many major chain stores. The Coconut Coast Trolley shuttles visitors up and down the coast, from the Poipu Resort Area in the south all the way up to the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort Kauai at the Wailua River mouth.
North Shore Hot, humid and lushly landscaped, the North Shore is home to yet another of Hawaii's incomparable resort areas. Princeville, that land of perfectly manicured greens and spectacular vistas, is known for its golf as well as its other activities. The Princeville Ranch offers everything from hiking to kayaking to horse-drawn carriage rides. Fine dining, world-class health spas and plenty of shops cater to the multi-national tourists.
Just past Princeville the landscape changes and the cars on the road begin to look more and more local; this is due to the proximity of Hanalei Bay and the neighboring beaches, known to be among the world's top surf spots. In the summer a few of the beaches around Hanalei—specifically Tunnels Beach—offer great snorkeling, but when the wintertime swells begin to roll in, all beginners get out of the water, leaving it to the pros. The towns of Hanalei and Haena are small, charming and possessed of an atmosphere unlike anyplace else. They're equal parts village, surf spot and resort district. Ke'e Beach, the beach that borders the North Shore and the West Side, literally marks the border between civilization and the wild.
West Shore The West Shore might be the most famous part of Kaua'i, but it will never be the most commercially developed. About a half of the coastline belongs to the state park system. Even if it didn't, there would be no way for modern machinery to tame the wilderness. Ke'e Beach marks the beginning of the Na Pali Coast, the majestic stretch of jagged cliffs and hidden valleys that tower 4,000 feet above sea level. Imposing, stunning, ancient and almost magical, the cliffs are a must-see for any Kaua'i visitor. The method of seeing them varies, however. Some people opt for a birds-eye perspective, as seen from a helicopter or private plane. Many people choose to take a catamaran or sailing cruise along the coastline. The most rugged people try their strength against the world-famous Kalalau Trail.
Just southwest of Na Pali is Koke'e State Park, home to famous Waimea Canyon. Koke'e is another hiker's paradise, boasting a dozen trails that range from beginner-level to advanced. Further west still is Polihale State Park, known for its shifting sand dunes. Miles and miles of uninhabited coastline extend to the southernmost part of the island.
South Shore While it's hard to say which spot in Kaua'i is the most tourist-filled, trendy Poipu on the South Shore definitely claims the largest number of big-name hotels. The Hyatt Regency, the Sheraton Kauai and the Embassy Vacation Resort Poipu Point are all located in Poipu. Near the resort area is charming, funky Koloa Town, a restored old-style village that blatantly angles for Poipu tourist dollars.
But the South Shore is much more than a perfectly 'human-made' resort. The tiny towns of Hanapepe and Kalaheo are throwbacks to last generation, while the botanical gardens near Poipu are in a class by themselves (literally--three of the five National Botanical Gardens are on Kaua'i). Kauai Coffee Company in Ele'ele is a thriving coffee plantation; visitors can tour the fields and the factory. People who shun the resort scene can stay anywhere from a simple guesthouse to a luxurious bed and breakfast. Gloria's Spouting Horn B&B, located near the twin lava tubes across from the Botanical Gardens, is one of the highest-rated bed and breakfasts in the state. On the other end of the spectrum, no-frills cabins can be found at Kahili Mountain Park.
The island of Kaua'i is small; one can easily drive its circumference in a single day. In many ways it's still a sleepy little island, home to only 50,000 people. But there's a reason it is a favorite of nature lovers, jaded travelers and even Hawaiian locals. There is, quite simply, no limit to the secrets and the surprises of this island.
More Kauai descriptions
Things to Do
With 50 miles of beaches, Kauai's possibilities run the gamut, including swimming in the gentle waves at Hanalei Beach, sunning on the golden sands at the wild Polihale State Park, or riding the waves on the North Shore. Inland, Hawaiian history unfolds at Kauai Museum and the archaeological sites at Wailua...