With Luke being an adopted local to Oahu we were both so excited to explore another island together with mutual fresh eyes and anticipation. The choice came down to Maui or Kauai, and after much debate we set our sights on Kauai, a place we knew little about but had heard was the most beautiful of all the Hawaiian islands. It is, after all, called the ‘Garden Isle’. I always take peoples recommendations with a pinch of salt, as each person has their own experience whether positive or negative which will always be different to how you personally experience or perceive it, but I can confidently say that I had never heard a negative review of Kauai and for very good reason – there was nothing really to fault.
Even with rain welcoming us on some of our days spent in Kauai, Luke and I found beauty hiding around every single corner and lived for those magical moments hiking along the Napali Coast or flying above it by helicopter – a visual treat I like to indulge in at only a handful of places.We had no idea what to expect, and although I loved my time spent along the North Shore in Oahu, I found my experience in Kauai to be more intimate with a deeper connection to the nature surrounding us. Whether it was hiking the Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast or peacefully watching the sunset from Ke’e Beach, I quickly fell in love with how much beautiful scenery was awaiting us on such a small island.
Most areas of Kauai are only accessible by air or sea, so as we were visiting during their winter there was little to no boat tours operating. I realised most photos I had referenced for Kauai were during the calmer summer months, so I’m wildly excited to return to Kauai in the summertime to take full advantage of its idyllic destinations such as The Blue Hole Sea Caves and Queens Bath in Princeville.
So, here are my tips on what to do when visiting Kauai (in the winter):
– Spend a day (or two and camp overnight if you’re an experienced hiker) hiking the Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast. You can do a quick and very easy 2 hour round-trip day hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach, which is what we did without really breaking a sweat, or delve further into the coastline on a 4 hour round-trip hike to Hanakapiai Falls (this is a mid to difficult hike recommended for experienced hikers).
– Book a helicopter ride and experience Kauai by air. This was truly an unforgettable experience and by far the most visually inspiring and memorable helicopter trip I’ve ever done so far in the world. We flew through Waimea Canyon, visited the wettest part of the world deep within Kauai’s rain forests and finished by flying along the Na Pali Coastline – a truly magical sight that is the only way to put the large scale of its rugged and dwarfing mountain ranges into perspective.
– Pack a picnic and watch the sunset from Ke’e Beach. For us, this was the most beautiful beach on the island to watch the sunset from but also the most visited. It’s the last beach accessible by car and the best place to chase those last moments of light. With the sight of waves crashing upon the base of the Na Pali Coast, it makes for a beautiful photo opportunity when the golden light fills the depths of the mountains and shimmers through the crashing waves. You can see more images here.
– Immerse yourself in Hanalei Beach or experience a 360 degree experience by walking on Hanalei Pier. We didn’t spend much time at Hanalei Beach as we were busy chasing the waves and light at Ke’e beach most afternoons, but if we had more time in Kauai I would have happily spent a whole day reading a book here. The bay feels protected and an ideal place to unwind with a blank notebook and head full of new ideas.
– Spend your days lazing or snorkelling at Tunnels Beach or Hideaways Beach. Tunnels Beach was one of Luke’s favourites to shoot the surf. This is where we shot this Zimmermann Bikini Post and the mountain range quietly sitting behind the beach provided a surreal and jaw dropping backdrop.
– Make the time to stop at Hanalei Valley Overlook during your road trip into Hanalei Beach (the first and last photos in my travel journal). It’s a nice scenic change from the incredible beaches you’ll find here or the cascading waterfalls or mountain ranges drenched in tropical rain forests. It makes the taro paddocks below look like a green patchwork quilt covering the Hanalei River below.
– Visit Wailau Falls and view from above or and spend the afternoon hiking there from below. We saw people swimming below and sitting underneath the falls, so after asking some other tourists we were told there was apparently a hiking trail from our viewing platform above. Unfortunately Luke and I couldn’t manage to find it and gave up after following what we thought was a trail but was instead managed to get ourselves lost. After researching online I’ve found it’s not encouraged to do the hike from above, so I would recommend accessing these waterfalls from the valley below. It’s a long hiker but far safer.
– If you have kids t hen Poipu Beach is the one for you. We spent an afternoon here and realised immediately it was more friendly for families and children. This beach felt more commercial and densely populated than others we’d visited, but it was stunning all the same.
– Hire a car and explore the island freely. I say this for a lot of places I visit but there really is no other better means of transport. The roads are safe and it’s not overwhelming.
– Book an apartment or house rather than a hotel. We stayed at – in Princeville, which was a short 5 minute car ride over to Hanalei Bay which is the main area for cafes and restaurants. You can find amazing rates and the house we booked had 3 bedrooms with more than enough room to fit 8 people.
Most sites will suggest you spend a day driving out to experience Waimea Canyon. To be honest, Luke and I found it a little underwhelming but that’s based off being more inclined to appreciate sights of the surf and the sand. I will, however, thoroughly recommend experiencing Waimea Canyon from above by helicopter as it doesn’t compare to seeing it from the various viewing platforms below on the ground.
We also drove to Polihale Beach after various sites recommending it as a must do. Again, I can only speak on behalf of Luke and I’s experience, but it felt like just another beach. Perhaps it was its sheer vastnesses of its stretching coastline that made it appealing to others, but as we have these at home in Australia we much preferred the smaller and intimate beaches that embodied the romantic atmosphere of Kauai.
No matter what you decide to do when visiting Kauai, I’m more than certain you’ll walk away feeling refreshed and inspired. There’s an undeniable charm and calmness about this island, whether you’re visiting by yourself, with your partner or with your friends. Its appeal spans all ages and I can’t wait to hear about how you experienced Kauai.
Photographer: Luke Shadbolt