Every frequent Kauai visitor has his or her own list of “must dos” while visiting the island. I am no exception. Here is my list of things to do in Kauai a slightly prioritized order
- See the Na Pali Coast. The Na Pali Coast is the one feature that is unmatched by any other place on earth. The best way to take it in is by boat or by helicopter. The coast is so expansive that it must be viewed from a distance. You can hike it and it is an amazing hike, but the real beauty is to view it from afar. Unfortunately, the boat rides are not cheap and the helicopter rides are even more expensive. If you cannot afford either, then you can view it from the Pu’u o Kila lookout at the top of Waimea Canyon.
- Take a helicopter tour. The numbers vary depending on the source, but anywhere from 80% to 90% of Kauai is inaccessible by car. And most of the most beautiful parts of the island are in that inaccessible region. The way to take it in is from the air. By taking a helicopter tour, you can see the Na Pali Coast and you will see Waimea Canyon (which you can see by other means). But Waimea Canyon from the air is a whole different story. When you view the Na Pali Coast by air, you see the sheer ruggedness and the razor thin land masses. But the crown jewel of the tour will be the Wai’ ale’ale Crater at the wettest place on earth. There you will witness waterfalls over 3,000 feet high and you will understand why Kauai is called the ‘Emerald Island of the Pacific’-not to be confused with all the other places called Emerald Isle.
- Go snorkeling. Snorkeling is another “must do” just because of the sheer variety of tropical fish you will see. There are places all over the island to snorkel, but I would suggest that you do not leave Kauai without snorkeling on Ke’e Beach or Tunnels Beach. If you are learning to snorkel for the first time or have some young ones travelling with you, visit Lydgate State Park. It has a closed-in area protected from the wild surf and is a great place to start your snorkeling career.
- Take in a tropical sunset. Finding the best sunset spots on Kauai are a little harder than on Maui, that doesn’t mean that the sunsets are any less spectacular. In fact, if you are a sunset snob and must have your ocean sunsets unobstructed by any other island on the horizon, then Kauai is your best bet. Top destinations for killer sunsets include Polihale Beach, Ke’e Beach, Hanalei Bay and Pu’u o Kila lookout.
- Visit Queen’s Bath. Queen’s Bath is one of the more popular places to visit near Princeville. It is a larger than normal, deeper than normal tide pool situated right next to the crashing ocean waves. You can swim in this natural pool with fish from the ocean. It is located in a long expanse of lava rock along the north shore. I have been there when we were the only folks there and I have been there when we had to wait our turn. While this can be a fun destination, it can also be dangerous. People have been killed here so if it looks the least bit dangerous, do not go. Even if it looks calm, make sure you are visiting the true Queen’s bath. One of the first tidepools along the trail is called the Whirlpool and is not as closed off to the ocean as the Queens bath further down the trails. Use good judgement.
- Go kayaking. There are two main options for kayaking in Kauai: the rivers and the shoreline. The most famous shoreline to kayak would be along the Na Pali Coast. This is for the more adventurous. The most popular river destination is the Wailua River. You can kayak up to one of the most visited waterfalls on the island, ironically titled Secret Falls, and then paddle further up the river to the fern grotto.
- Visit the Gorgeous Beaches. It would be a shame to visit Kauai and not spend plenty of time at the amazing beaches-even if you just went to lay there and do nothing. Visit Ke’e Beach or Tunnels Beach. Polihale is one of my favorite beaches, but is often too rough for swimming. Polihale Beach is over 15 miles of uninterrupted beach and is absolutely gorgeous.
- View the waterfalls. There are beautiful waterfalls all over the island. Probably the two most accessible are ‘Opaeka’a Falls and Wailua Falls. The latter was featured in the opening sequence of the 70’s television show Fantasy Island. Both islands are accessible by car and within 20 minutes of each other.
Following this list of things to do in Kauai will ensure a lifetime of valuable vacation memories.
- Drive up Waimea Canyon. Mark Twain called Waimea Canyon the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. What I have found is that the older you are, the more you will appreciate Waimea Canyon. I think it is spectacular.
- Visit the Kilauea lighthouse. The lighthouse itself is great to visit but the wildlife and the views of the ocean are even better. Folks come to the lighthouse to watch the humpback whales migrate. There is also quite a variety of birds for those ornithologists in your life. If you are a photographer, you will have plenty of photo opportunities of the lighthouse, the visitors, the ocean, and all the wildlife all around.