Kaua’i (Kauai, Hawaii) is a special place. Travel tips on why to go and what to do

Kaua’i has a lot of beaches and decent fish* but to justify the long flight you have to appreciate its strengths: unrivaled natural beauty and great surf. It’s not a cheap trip, nor easy to plan, so here are my suggestions on how to do it right. Unbiased, uncompensated.

To get ample time to hike, surf, and beach, I would dedicate one well-scheduled week but you could easily spend two here. Because it takes ~90 minutes to get from the north side to the west side of the island, consider breaking up the trip by staying in two locations. Identify what you want to do and then determine the number of days you require on each end.

*generally, I was not impressed with the fish. A grocery store worker mentioned to me that their fishermen were coming up empty over the past two months.

This map is a good start to planning your adventure.

Activities

SurfIt’s so much easier to learn to surf on real waves. We spent a couple days with two-hour lessons. Chave runs Aloha Surf on Poipou Beach. He’s entertaining, fairly priced ($75 pp), a good coach and tour guide. I don’t think they’re related but we were able to get a same-day lesson at Aloha Surf in Hanalei (north side). The instructor was less attentive but the conditions (in November) were better. Waves on the south side of the island are weak in the winter.
Boat ride Take a tour of the Na Pali Coast with Captain Andy’s Raft Day Expedition. This is one of the most beautiful coast lines I’ve ever seen. The 12-person center counsel rigid inflatable boats allowed us to pop into some small caves and cruise next to a pod of Hawaii’s famous spinner dolphins. The boxed lunch portion is small but one of the best turkey sandwiches I’ve had.
The operator says not to ride if you have back problems. Mine indeed hurt for days.  
Kayak/SUP the Rivers 
https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/hawaii/kauai/uluwehi-secret-falls-via-wailua-river?u=i
kayak or paddleboard 2 miles up the Wailua River that eventually brings you to shore. Here, you’ll embark on a 30 minute, moderate but muddy hike up to Secret Falls. Watershoes are best but Vin and I made the trek without them. You can have Kayak’s delivered via Bring Me a Kayak or pick up both Kayaks and SUP from Kayak Kauai. These options are better than tours because you can rent for a whole day and see more rivers.  On the North side, the Kalihiwai Beach is the start of a ~1 mile track to a triple-decker waterfall here.
 
Tours launch between 8:30 and 10:30 and at 12:30 so stay away during those times.
Hiking / CampingThe pinnacle of my trip was going to be the overnight, 22-mile Na Pali Coast Hike. Unfortunately, my 12 y/o backed out on me the night prior so I did 16 miles and 4300′ of vertical on a day trip. It’s a beautiful bruiser. Tons of verticality amongst one of the greatest sights. The reward is a beautiful beach with waterfalls that we saw from our Capt Andy excursion. A 15′ portion known as the “crawler’s ledge” is well discussed on AllTrails. On a wet, windy day, it would be technical but there are ample holds on the 15′ where it’s narrow so it’s “probably” doable.
A more attainable day hike (but still a nice challenge) is the Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail. They share the same route to a beautiful river that empties into the ocean.

Another can’t-miss hike is Waimea Canyon, accessible from the south side.

Dining

We split our time between Poipou Beach (south) and Princeville (north). The Grand Hyatt had a decent sushi restaurant (Stevenson’s Library) and a just-average seafood (Tidepools) and breakfast buffet. Lunches were spent at food-truck level quality and none compared to the Cocovan Airstream Lounge food truck in Turks & Caicos or those found in Austin, TX. Generally, the food is woefully unimpressive for the price. Our best meal was The Bistro in Kilaeau (near Princeville) but during holidays, you will need to be proactive with reservations. We had much difficulty booking last minute.

Incidentally, we had a long layover in Maui en route home. They had ~8 food trucks under a shared tent within five minutes of the airport. A nice selection of decent food.

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