A First Timer's Guide to the Island of Kauai

Have you ever visited a place and it instantly felt like home? Some places have a special energy that resonates with our hearts. Hawaii is that kind of place to me. A few weeks ago I returned to Kauai for the third time with my daughter for a vacation. I have been to the Hawaiian Islands twelve times. Each island is special and offers unique beauty and opportunities. If you have never been to Hawaii, Maui will give you the quintessential island and beach experience. If, however, you really want to kick back and chill out, Kauai may be the place for you...

 Sunset at the St. Regis Princeville Resort is incredible. Photography by Paul Garrett

Sunset at the St. Regis Princeville Resort is incredible. Photography by Paul Garrett

Kauai offers a slower pace of life than Maui or Oahu. Perhaps it’s because there are fewer big resort hotels and a smaller population on this island. Kauai is also the wettest of all of the islands, which can be an issue if you vacation here during the autumn, winter or spring. The upside of the rain, however, is fewer people and the amazing lush plant life on the north shore of the island that will make you think of Jurassic Park. Don't be turned away by the chance of rain. Poipu and the western end of the island receive plenty of sunshine throughout the year.

If you read my last post, you know that I booked my vacation through Costco Travel and stayed at the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas. My daughter and I loved the relaxing vibe of this wonderful resort. It’s a beautiful place that is upscale without being formal. In other words, nobody minds if you wear shorts and flip-flops to the restaurant for breakfast. I have a rule when I land in Hawaii, no shoes if I can help it while I am there, lol.

  The Westin Princeville Ocean Villas Resort photographed by Paul Garrett

The Westin Princeville Ocean Villas Resort photographed by Paul Garrett

My Favorite Beaches

Let’s talk about my favorite things, beaches, food and activities. About a week before we arrived, the north shore of Kauai suffered a devastating flood that left the small town of Hanalei under two feet of water, destroyed some homes and swept away vehicles. The good news is that Hanalei was looking pretty good by the time that we arrived and the restaurants and shops were back in business. Unfortunately the road from Hanalei to the Na Pali Coast was still closed due to landslides. My daughter and I were looking forward to hiking the Kalalau Trail and to snorkeling at Ke’e Beach and Tunnels Beach, but we were not able to access these beautiful places. I have been there in the past and I highly recommend them. 

  Flood Damage in Hanalei. Photography by Paul Garrett

Flood Damage in Hanalei. Photography by Paul Garrett

Hideaway Beach

One of the lesser known gems that we enjoyed is called Hideaway Beach in Princeville. The trailhead to this secluded beach is located just before the gatehouse to the St. Regis Princeville Resort. It is rarely crowed because there are only around eight public parking spaces for it, plus you have to hike down a steep muddy trail to get to this beach. Once you are there you will enjoy the solitude of this small strip of soft sand and the beautiful view across Hanalei Bay. There was only one other couple there during our visit and they were snorkeling the entire time. Remember to arrive here early if you want to get a coveted parking space. You will also want to wear shoes, because you will otherwise slip out of your flip-flops on the way down. To get to the trail walk between the fence that faces the parking lot and the fenced in tennis court.

Secret Beach

My next favorite beach on this trip is aptly named, Secret Beach. It is also located on the north shore. The turn off for it is Kalihiwai Road between the Kilauea Lighthouse and Anini Beach Park. Once you turn off of route 56 onto Kilihiwai Road, take a right onto the first dirt road (not driveway) that you come to. Drive to the end of the dirt road and park off to the side. There is a public trial that will lead you between two houses and down to the beach. It’s a 10 to 15 minute hike and we were able to do in wearing our Locals (flip-flops). The beach is beautiful and has wonderful sand. Be careful, however, because the waves and undercurrents are strong here. I only saw experienced swimmers and surfers go into the water. Most people were just soaking up the sun and the beauty of this location from the safety of  the beach.

  Secret Beach Photographed by Paul Garrett

Secret Beach Photographed by Paul Garrett

Poipu Beach

Another wonderful beach is Poipu Beach on the south side of the island. This beach has something for everyone, including a semi protected area for kids and a lifeguard station. You can also take surfing lessons from local businesses such as Nukumoi Surf Shop, which is across the street from Poipu Beach Park. This is a very popular beach and there is plenty of public parking in the area.

  PoiPu Beach photographed by Paul Garrett

PoiPu Beach photographed by Paul Garrett

Another notable beach in the area is called Shipwreck Beach. Drive east of Poipu on Poipu Road and turn right at the first road on the far side of the Grand Hyatt Resort and Spa. There is a public parking lot at the end of this road by the beach. You will see lots of surfers here if the waves are good. Beware, however, there are lots of rocks at the shoreline where you access the beach. To avoid the rocks, go to the beach in front of the Hyatt. After your swim there is an outdoor shower near the parking lot where you can rinse off.

  Shipwreck Beach Photographed by Paul Garrett

Shipwreck Beach Photographed by Paul Garrett

Favorite Eats on a Budget

The food scene has grown a lot since my first visit to Kauai and this is great news. Thanks to the advent of food carts, there are now many new and yummy places to eat on a budget.

Budget Food in Hanalei

There are two food cart areas that we visited in Hanalei. Our first full day on the island we went to Fresh Bite for wraps. They feature a fresh and original combination organic ingredients and flavors, and the service was super friendly. I had the Buddha wrap and enjoyed the crispness of the veggies. This wrap was so filling that I saved half of it to eat later that day.

We also enjoyed shave ice from Wishing Well Shave Ice (notice there is no “d” in shave). They offer organic syrups and are very generous with their flavors. If you have never had shave ice before, it is created by shaving a block of ice. Unlike snow cones, which are course, shave ice is very fine and melts easily in your mouth. There are many options for flavors and toppings and some places serve it over ice cream. This treat can be very refreshing on a hot day. As I mentioned before, this place was very generous with their syrup, which melted the shave ice faster than I could eat it on a hot afternoon. Wishing Well Shave Ice is also very popular.

Budget Food in Kapa’a

Kapa’a is located on the east side of the island and it is the one place where you are likely to run into a traffic jam on your way up to Princeville from the airport. My favorite place to eat in this beachside town is Tiki Taco. It is located in a small shopping mall along the main route through town. The prices here are great and so is the friendly service. I had a delicious fish taco and it only cost $7. It was served in a fresh homemade tortilla with local fish, shredded cabbage and a delicious sauce. I added their special hot sauce and it was totally TBO (tastebud orgasm)!!!

After lunch we headed up the road to Kauai Juice Co. It is located off the main drag on the north end of Kapa’a behind Java Kai near Kukui Street. My daughter was feeling a touch of a cold coming on so we stopped in for a shot of their famous “Ginger Snap” to boost her immunity system. This drink has a real kick to it that delightfully burns your throat as it is going down. The ladies who run this shop were super enthusiastic and gave us a bonus shot of a dark green drink that they said, “tastes like swamp water.” Now who would refuse such an offer... lol.     

  Photography by Paul Garrett

Photography by Paul Garrett

Budget Food in Lihui

As I mentioned in my previous blog, there is a Costco on the west side of Lihui close to Highway 50 and the Kukui Grove Shopping Center. This is a great place to load up on affordable food supplies and beverages (including wine, beer and hard alcohol). It’s also home to one of the biggest food bargains on the island, their freshly baked 18 inch pizzas for around $11. This pizza is so large and filling that it provided three meals for us. There is also a Walmart in Lihui where you can buy flip-flops (Locals is our favorite brand), sunblock and food basics for cheap. Note that Hawaii is banning the use of certain sunblocks to protect the coral reefs from toxic chemicals. This is why it is a good idea to buy your sunblock on the island when you arrive. Also beware that the sun is very strong in Hawaii. Protect your skin and be patient. It takes several days for your suntan to show up. We used Hawaiian Tropic with an SPF of 30 most of the time and did not burn our skin.

Shave Ice in Lawai

On the south side of the island we indulged in more shave ice. On the way to Poipu we made a side trip to the small town of Lawai to check out The Fresh Shave. This place had to be designed with Instagram in mind with its cute hipster trailer and mustache theme. The Fresh Shave offers organic flavors and local ingredients. I enjoyed The Fu Manchu, which is flavored with strawberry, banana and cream. The banana bits on the top were a nice touch, but the strawberry syrup only made it halfway down into the ice. A little more syrup and this would have been perfect. And for all of you Oregon Ducks fans, I was told that the owners of The Fresh Shave went to the University of Oregon.

  Photography by Paul Garrett

Photography by Paul Garrett

Shave Ice in Waimea

By now you must think that I am crazy for shave ice… but after an adventure up to Waimea Canyon, you too will be ready for a cold treat to cool you down. JoJo’s Shave Ice in the town of Waimea is top rated on this island. They have tons of flavors and their servings are HUGE. Two people could split their smallest offering, and then there is the Big Kahuna, which is around 40 ounces. What I enjoyed most is the macadamia nut ice cream that you can get in the bottom of your cup. It is a delightfully creamy and nutty treat by the time you consume the giant mound of shave ice on top of it. This place is super popular with families. Especially with their keikis (kids).

  PHotography by Paul Garrett

PHotography by Paul Garrett

Special Places and Activities

In addition to visiting beaches, boat and helicopter tours of the Na Pali Coast are very popular. I have yet to do a helicopter tour, but it is on my bucket list for a future visit.

  Photography by Paul Garrett

Photography by Paul Garrett

When it comes to boat tours, there are many options. We chose to sail with Capt Andy’s out of Port Allen on the southwest side of the island. Their catamaran’s are spacious and their crews are super friendly. If you take a morning tour, you will also be treated to breakfast, lunch and an ample supply of wine and beer. During our sailing adventure we encountered several pods of spinner dolphins that swam just feet away from us at the bow of the boat. This was completely awesome! We also saw sea turtles and plenty of fish when we stopped to go snorkeling.

  Photography on an Iphone by Paul Garrett

Photography on an Iphone by Paul Garrett

Waimea Canyon

After sailing, we drove up to Waimea Canyon. Waimea Canyon is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and you will agree that it has earned this title. There are multiple places to pull off the main road and view the canyon from different perspectives.

  Photography of Waimea Canyon by Paul Garrett

Photography of Waimea Canyon by Paul Garrett

Kalalau Lookout

Continuing up the road, we stopped at the Kalalau Lookout. This is one of the most amazing views that you will find on the island as you look out over the lush valley below down to the ocean and up at the towering green cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. To the left of the fenced viewing area is the unofficial trailhead for a potentially dangerous trail that goes along a ridgeline. This trail can be muddy and slippery. It is also dangerous in places and is not a good idea to attempt if you are afraid of heights. There are great views along this trail, but attempt it at your own risk.

  PHotography of The Kalalau Lookout  by Paul Garrett

PHotography of The Kalalau Lookout  by Paul Garrett

There are a lot of other trails in this area for intrepid hikers. I recommend that you bring a good pair of hiking boots if hiking is going to be one of your major activities. I wore my Nike running shoes and they did not give me a good enough grip on these slippery trails. I also recommend that you pick up a copy of The Ultimate Kauai Guide Book. It not only reveals great places to hike, it is the most comprehensive guidebook that I have found for Kauai.

Aloha Also Means Goodbye

Saying goodbye to Hawaii is never easy. I always wish that I could stay longer or visit another island or two while I am there. Like I mentioned at the beginning, each island is unique and special. If you love to hike, explore beaches or just chill out, Kauai may be the perfect island for you. It is also possible to keep the price of your trip down by dining at food carts for lunch and by preparing dinner in your condo. There is a really great Foodland grocery store in Princeville that has a nice deli and really decent prices for being in such an upscale community. Also make sure that you buy gas at Costco if you want the best price on the island. 

The spirit of Aloha is alive and well on the the Island of Kauai. The people are so friendly and they really made us feel at home. Let me know if you have any questions about Kauai, or any of the other Hawaiian Islands. Also be sure to hit the “Likes” button below if you found this post to be helpful.

Aloha,

Paul


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