Kauai Beaches & Activities
Kaua'i has more sandy beaches per mile of coastline than any other Hawaiian island, and if you've seen one, you certainly haven't seen them all. Each beach is unique unto itself, for that day, that hour. Conditions, scenery, and intrigue can change throughout the day and certainly throughout the year, transforming, say, a tranquil lakelike ocean setting in summer into monstrous waves drawing internationally ranked surfers from around the world in winter.
Kaua'i is encircled by a variety of beaches. There are sandy beaches, rocky beaches, wide beaches, narrow beaches, skinny beaches, and alcoves. Generally speaking, surf kicks up on the North Shore in winter and the South Side in summer, although summer's southern swells aren't nearly as frequent or big as the northern winter swells.
All beaches are public, but their accessibility varies greatly. Some require an easy half-mile stroll, some require a four-wheel-drive vehicle, others require boulder-hopping, and one takes an entire day of serious hiking. And then there are those "drive-in" beaches onto which you can literally pull up and park your car. Kaua'i is not Disneyland, so don't expect much signage to help you along the way. One of the top-ranked beaches in all the world -- -Hanalei -- -doesn't have a single sign in town directing you to the beach.
We've divided the island's best beaches into four sections in clockwise order: North, East, South, and West. We'll take you from the road's end on the North Shore to the road's end on the West Side, and a bit beyond. If you think of the island as a clock, the North Shore beaches start at about 11; the East Side beaches start around 2, the South Side beaches at 5, and the West Side beaches around 7.
The North Shore
If you've ever dreamed of Hawai'i -- and who hasn't -- you've dreamed of Kaua'i's North Shore. Lush, tropical, abundant are just a few words to describe this rugged and dramatic area. And the views to sea aren't the only attraction -- the inland views of velvety green valley folds and carved mountain peaks will take your breath away. Rain is the reason for all the greenery on the North Shore and winter is the rainy season. Not to worry though, it rarely rains everywhere on the island at one time. The rule of thumb is to head south or west when it rains in the north.
The waves on the North Shore can be big -- and we mean huge -- in winter, drawing crowds to witness nature's spectacle. By contrast, in summer the waters can be completely serene. The beaches below are listed in order -- west to east -- from Hanakapi'ai to Kalihi Wai. Remember to gear up before you head to the beach. Try one-stop shopping at Ching Young Village in Hanalei, which has several stores that will fill your trunk with goodies such as snorkel gear, surf and body boards, beach chairs, umbrellas, snacks, coolers, and more.
Ke'e Beach. Highway 560 on the North Shore literally dead ends at this beach, which is also the trailhead for the famous Kalalau Trail and the site of an ancient heiau (a stone platform used as a place of worship) dedicated to hula. The beach is protected by an offshore reef -- except during high surf -- creating a small, sandy bottom lagoon and making it a popular snorkel destination. If there's a current, it's usually found on the western edge of the beach as the incoming tide ebbs back out to sea. Makana (a prominent peak also known as Bali Hai after the blockbuster musical South Pacific) is so artfully arranged, it feels like a movie backdrop, so don't forget your camera. The popularity of this beach makes parking difficult; but, it's worth a stop. Just start extra early or, better yet, arrive at the end of the day, in time to witness otherworldly sunsets sidelighting Na Pali Coast. End of Rte. 560, 7 mi west of Hanalei, HI, USA.
Ha'ena Beach Park. This is a drive-up beach park popular with campers year-round. The wide bay here -- named Makua and commonly known as Tunnels -- is bordered by two large reef systems creating quite favorable waves for surfing during peak winter conditions. In July and August this same beach is usually transformed into lakelike conditions and snorkelers enjoy the variety of fish life found in a hook-shape reef made up of underwater lava tubes, on the east end of the bay. During the summer months only, this is the premier snorkel site on Kaua'i. Near end of Rte. 560, across from lava tube sea caves, after stream crossing, HI, USA.
Lumaha'i Beach. Famous because it's the beach where Nurse Nellie washed that man out of her hair in South Pacific, Lumaha'i Beach's setting is all you've ever dreamed Hawai'i to be. That's the drawing card; however, there are drawbacks. First, it's hard to find. Second, there's little parking. Third, there's a steep hike in. Most importantly, however, too many people misjudge the waves here, even those never intending to step foot in the water. There's a year-round surge of onshore waves, massive sand movements (especially around the river mouth), and a steep foreshore assaulted by strong currents. Like the mythical creature from the deep, rogue waves have actually washed up on lava rock outcroppings and pulled sightseers out to sea. Lumaha'i Beach has the second highest drowning rate on Kaua'i, behind Hanakapi'ai. Our advice: look from the safety of the scenic overlook and play at another beach. On winding section of Rte. 560 west of Hanalei, east of mile marker 5. Park on makai side of road and walk down steep path to beach, HI, USA.
Hanalei Bay Beach Park. This 2-mi, crescent-shape beach surrounds a spacious bay that is quintessential Hawai'i. After gazing out to sea and realizing you have truly arrived in paradise, look landward. The site of the mountains, ribboned with waterfalls, will take your breath away. In winter, Hanalei Bay boasts some of the biggest onshore surf breaks in the state, attracting world-class caliber surfers. Luckily, the beach is wide enough to have safe real estate for your beach towel even in winter. In summer the bay is transformed -- calm waters lap the beach, sailboats moor in the bay, and outrigger canoe paddlers ply the sea. Pack the cooler, haul out the beach umbrellas, and don't forget the beach toys, Hanalei Bay is definitely worth scheduling for an entire day, maybe two. In Hanalei, turn makai at Aku Rd. and drive 1 block to Weli Weli Rd. Parking areas are on makai side of Weli Weli Rd., HI, USA.
'Anini Beach Park. A great family park, 'Anini is unique in that it features one of the longest and widest fringing reefs in all Hawai'i creating a shallow lagoon that is good for snorkeling and quite safe in all but the highest of winter surf. The reef follows the shoreline for some 2 mi and extends 1,600 feet offshore at its widest point. During times of low tide -- usually occurring around the full moon of the summer months -- much of the reef is exposed. 'Anini is unarguably the windsurfing mecca on Kaua'i, even for beginners, and it's also attracting the newest athletes of wave riding: kiteboarders. On Sunday afternoons in summer, polo matches in the fields behind the beach park draw a sizeable crowd. Turn makai off Rte. 56 onto Kalihi Wai Rd., on Hanalei side of Kalihi Wai Bridge; follow road left to reach 'Anini Rd. and beach, HI, USA.
Kalihiwai Beach. A winding road leads down a cliff face to this picture-perfect beach. A jewel of the North Shore, Kalihiwai Beach is on par with Hanalei, just without the waterfall-ribbon backdrop. It's another one of those drive-up beaches, so it's very accessible. Most people park on the sand under the grove of ironwood trees. Families set up camp for the day at the west end of the beach, near the stream, where young kids like to splash and older kids like to boogie board. This is also a good spot to disembark for a kayaking adventure up the stream. It's not a long paddle but it is calm, so it's perfect for beginning paddlers. (Haul in your own; there's none for rent on the beach.) On the eastern edge of the beach, from which the road descends, there's a locals' favorite surf spot during winter's high surf. The onshore break can be dangerous during this time. During the calmer months of summer, Kalihi Wai Beach is a good choice for beginning board riders and swimmers. Turn makai off Rte. 56 onto Kalihi Wai Rd., on Kilauea side of Kalihi Wai Bridge, HI, USA.
The East Side
The East Side of the island is considered the "windward" side, a term you'll often hear in weather forecasts. It simply means the side of the island receiving onshore winds. The wind helps break down rock into sand, so there are plenty of beaches here. Unfortunately, only a few of those beaches are protected, so many are not ideal for beginning oceangoers, though they are perfect for long sunrise ambles. On super windy days, kite boarders sail along the east shore, sometimes jumping waves and performing acrobatic maneuvers in the air.
The beaches below are listed in order from 'Aliomanu in the north to Kalapaki in the south. Fill your cooler with sandwiches and drinks at Safeway or Foodland in Kapa'a before you hit the sand. Snorkel and other beach gear is available at Seasport Divers, Snorkel Bob's, and Play Dirty, among others.
Kealia Beach. You can't miss this beach. A half-mile long and adjacent to the highway heading north out of Kapa'a, Kealia Beach attracts body boarders and surfers year-round (possibly because the local high school is just up the hill). Kealia is not generally a great beach for swimming or snorkeling, the waters are usually rough and the waves crumbly due to an onshore break (no protecting reef) and northeasterly trade winds. A scenic lookout on the southern end, accessed off the highway, is a superb location for saluting the morning sunrise or spotting whales during winter. A level dirt road follows the coastline north and is one of the most scenic coastal trails on the island for walking, running, and biking. At mile marker 10 on Rte. 56, HI, USA.
Wailua Beach. Surfers, body boarders, and body surfers alike enjoy this beach year-round thanks to its dependable waves (usually on the north end). Many families spend the day with their portable grills and beach chairs under the Wailua Bridge at the river mouth where the water is calmest. During summer months, outrigger canoe races are often held on the river, which happens to be the largest in all Hawai'i. Numerous tour outfitters offer kayaking and hiking expeditions up the river. There are even boats to hire for waterskiing as well as the popular tour boats to the Fern Grotto. From south, cross Wailua River in right-hand lane and turn makai into parking lot at 1st stoplight. From north, cross Wailua River and make u-turn back over bridge; turn makai into parking lot at first stoplight, HI, USA.
Lydgate State Park. This is hands-down the best family beach park on Kaua'i. The waters off the beach are protected by a hand-built breakwater creating two boulder-enclosed saltwater pools for safe swimming and snorkeling just about year-round. The smaller of the two is perfect for keiki (children). Behind the beach is Kamalani Playground -- designed by the children of Kaua'i and built by the community. Children of all ages, that includes you, enjoy the swings, lava-tube slides, tree house, and more. Picnic tables abound in the park and a large covered pavilion is available by permit for celebrations. Recently, Kamalani Bridge was built, again by the community and again based on the children's design, as a second playground south of the original. (The two are united by a walking path that will some day go all the way to Anahola Beach Park.) A second, smaller pavilion is the newest addition to the park -- built near the bridge -- and is surrounded by campsites, perfect for group outings. This park is perennially popular; the quietest times to visit are early mornings and weekdays. Just south of Wailua River, turn makai off Rte. 56 onto Lehu Dr. and left onto Nalu Rd., HI, USA.
Kalapaki Beach. Five minutes south of the airport in Lihu'e, you'll find this wide, sandy-bottom beach fronting the Kaua'i Marriott. One of the big attractions is that this beach is almost always safe from rip currents and undertow because it's situated around the backside of a peninsula, in its own cove. There are tons of activities here, including all the usual water sports -- beginning and intermediate surfing, body boarding, body surfing, and swimming -- plus, there are two outrigger canoe clubs paddling in the bay and the Nawiliwili Yacht Club's boats sailing around the harbor. Kalapaki is the only place on Kaua'i where sailboats -- in this case Hobe Cats -- are available for rent (at Kaua'i Beach Boys, which fronts the beach next to Duke's Canoe Club restaurant). Visitors can also rent snorkel gear, surfboards, body boards, and kayaks from Kaua'i Beach Boys. A volleyball court on the beach is often used by a loosely organized group of local players; visitors are always welcome. Off Wapa'a Rd., which runs from Lihu'e to Nawiliwili, HI, USA.
The South Side
The South Side's primary access road is Highway 520, a tree-lined, two-lane, windy road. As you drive along it, there's a sense of tunneling down a rabbit hole into another world, à la Alice. And the South Side is certainly a wonderland. On average, it only rains 30 inches per year, so if you're looking for fun in the sun, this is a good place to start. The beaches with their powdery-fine sand are consistently good year-round, except during high surf, which, if it hits at all, will be in the summer. If you want solitude, this isn't it; if you want excitement -- well, as much excitement as quiet Kaua'i offers -- this is the place for you.
The beaches below are listed in order from Maha'ulepu west to Po'ipu Beach Park. The best places to gear up for the beach are Nukumoi Surf Co. across from Po'ipu Beach, and Seasport Divers at the junction to Spouting Horn on Po'ipu Road.
Maha'ulepu Beach. This 2-mi stretch of coast with its sand dunes, limestone hills, sinkholes, and caves is unlike any other on Kaua'i. Remains of a large, ancient settlement, evidence of great battles, and the discovery of a now underwater petroglyph field indicate Hawaiians lived in this area as early as 700 AD.Maha'ulepu's coastline is unprotected and rocky, which makes venturing into the ocean hazardous. There are three beach areas with bits of sandy-bottom swimming; however, we think the best way to experience Maha'ulepu is simply by roaming, especially at sunrise. Continue on Po'ipu Rd. past Hyatt Regency, (it turns into dirt road) to T-intersection and turn makai; road ends at beach parking area, HI, USA.
Brennecke Beach. Pending surf and tides, there's little beach here on the eastern end of Po'ipu Beach Park; however, Brennecke Beach is synonymous on the island with board and body surfing, thanks to its shallow sand bar and reliable shore break. Because the beach is small and often congested, surf boards are prohibited near shore. The water on the rocky, eastern edge of the beach is a good place to see the endangered green sea turtles noshing on plants growing on the rocks. Turn makai off Po'ipu Rd. onto Ho'owili Rd., then left onto Ho'one Rd. ; beach is at intersection with Kuai Rd., HI, USA.
FPo'ipu Beach Park. The most popular beach on the South Side, and perhaps on all of Kaua'i, is Po'ipu Beach Park. The snorkeling's good, the body boarding's good, the surfing's good, the swimming's good, and because the sun is almost always shining, that's good, too. The beach can be crowded at times, especially on weekends and holidays, but that just makes people-watching that much more fun. You'll see keiki (kids) experiencing the ocean for the first time; snorkelers trying to walk with their flippers on; 'ukulele players; birthday party revelers; young and old; visitors and locals. Even the endangered Hawaiian monk seal may make an appearance. From Po'ipu Rd., turn right on Ho'one Rd., HI, USA.
The West Side
While Kaua'i's North Shore is characterized by the color green, the West Side's coloring is red. When you look closer, you'll see the red is dirt, which happens to have a high iron content. With little vegetation on the West Side, the red dirt is everywhere -- in the air, a thin layer on the car, even in the river. In fact, the only river on the West Side is named "Waimea" which means "reddish water." The West Side of the island receives hardly enough rainfall year-round to water a cactus, and because it's also the leeward side, there are hardly any tropical breezes. That translates to sunny and hot with long, languorous, and practically deserted beaches. You'd think the leeward waters -- untouched by wind -- would be calm; but there's no offshore reef system, so the waters are not as inviting as one would like.
The best place to gear up for the beaches on the West Side is on the south or east shores. While there's some catering to visitors here, there's not much!
Salt Pond Beach Park. A great family spot, Salt Pond Beach Park features a naturally made, shallow swimming pond behind a curling finger of rock where keiki (children) splash and snorkel. This pool is generally safe except during a large south swell, which usually occurs in summer, if at all. The center and western edge of the beach is popular with body boarders and body surfers. On a cultural note, the flat stretch of land to the east of the beach is the last spot in Hawai'i where ponds are utilized to harvest salt in the dry heat of summer. The beach park is popular with locals and can get crowded on weekends and holidays. From Rte. 50 in Hanapepe, turn makai onto Lele Rd., Rte. 543, HI, USA.
Polihale State Park. The longest stretch of beach in Hawai'i starts in Kekaha and ends about 15 mi away at the start of the Na Pali Coast. The Na Pali end of the beach is the 5-mi-long, 140-acre Polihale State Park. In addition to being long, this beach is 300-feet-wide in places and backed by sand dunes 50 to 100 feet tall. Polihale is a remote beach (be sure to start the day with a full tank of gas and a cooler filled with food and drink) accessed via a 5-mi haul cane road (4WD preferred, not required) at the end of Route 50 in Kekaha. It's also a hot beach, so don't leave your shoes in the car. Many locals wheel their 4WD vehicles up and over the sand dunes right onto the beach; but don't try this in a rental car, you're sure to get stuck and found in violation of your rental car agreement.
On weekends and holidays Polihale is a popular locals' camping location, but even on "busy" days this beach is never crowded. On days of high surf, experts only surf the waves. In general, the water here is extremely rough and not recommended for recreation; however, there's one small fringing reef, called Queen's Pond, where swimming is usually safe. Neighboring Polihale Beach is the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF), operated by the U.S. Navy. Since September 11, 2001, access to the beaches fronting PMRF is restricted to military personnel. Drive to end of Rte. 50 and continue on dirt road; several access points along the way, HI, USA.
Listed below are an array of fun-filled adventurous activities for everyone to enjoy. Enclosed in your welcome envelope will be a list of these activities and their updated prices. We have quoted some rates here for our most popular activities, but prices may change at any time.
From the air, the Garden Isle blossoms with views you cannot see by land, on foot, or from the sea. In an hour you can see waterfalls, craters, and other places that are inaccessible even by hiking trails (some say that 70% of the island is inaccessible). The majority of flights depart from the Lihu'e airport and follow a clockwise pattern around the island. If you plan to take an aerial tour, it's a good idea to fly when you first arrive, rather than saving it for the end of your trip. It will help you visualize what's where on the island and it may help you decide what you want to see from a closer vantage point during your stay.
Inter-Island Helicopters. This company flies a four-seater Hughes 500 helicopter with the doors off. It can get chilly at higher elevations, so bring a sweater. They offer a spectacular tour that includes landing by a waterfall for a picnic and swim. Tours depart from Hanapepe's Port Allen Airport. Prices range from $185 to $250 per person. From Rte. 50, turn makai onto Rte. 543 in Hanapepe, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/335-5009 or 800/656-5009. www.interislandhelicopters.com.
Island Helicopters. Family-owned and -operated, this company gives 60-minute tours out of the Lihu'e Airport. The pilots are generally bubbly and extremely knowledgeable, and headsets allow passengers to ask questions along the way. The chopper's movements are impressively choreographed to an eclectic soundtrack. A free video of the tour is included in the price. Lihu'e Airport, Lihu'e, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/245-8588 or 800/829-5999. www.islandhelicopters.com.
Safari Helicopters. This is the only company to include a video of your actual flight -- the entire length. Two-way microphones allow passengers to converse with the pilot. Prices start at $179. 3225 Akahi St., Lihu'e, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/246-0136 or 800/326-3356. www.safariair.com.
Will Squyres Helicopter Tours. The majority of this company's pilots were born and raised in Hawai'i, making them excellent tour guides. In an interesting move, Will Squyres removed its two-way microphones, eliminating the possibility of one passenger hogging the airwaves. Prices start at $199. 3222 Kuhio Hwy., Lihu'e, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/245-8881 or 888/245-4354. www.helicopters-hawaii.com.
Many companies advertise a low-price 30- or 40-minute tour, which they rarely fly, so don't expect to book a flight at the advertised rate. The most popular flight is the 60-minute flight.
Kaua'i Aero Tours. This tour is really a flying lesson in a Citabria tail dragger that was designed specifically for aerobatics. You can take the stick or let your pilot handle the controls. The aerobatics roll on until you say stop. The plane can only take one passenger at a time. Tours last 30 to 60 minutes; prices range from $125 to $165. Lihu'e Airport, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/639-9893.
Tropical Bi-Planes. This company flies a bright red Waco biplane, built in 2002 based on a 1936 design. An open cockpit and staggered wing design means there's nothing between you and the sights. The plane can carry two passengers in front and flies at an altitude of 1,000 feet, at about 85 mph. The hourly rate is $356 for two people. Lihu'e Airport Commuter Terminal, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/246-9123. www.tropicalbiplanes.com.
Although all the beaches on the island are public, much of the interior land -- once sugar and pineapple plantations -- is privately owned. This is really a shame, because the valleys and mountains that make up the vast interior of the island easily rival the beaches in sheer beauty. The good news is some tour operators have agreements with landowners making exploration possible, albeit a bit bumpy, and unless you have back troubles, that's half the fun.
Aloha Kaua'i Tours. You get way off the beaten track on Aloha Kaua'i Tours' 4WD van excursions. There's the half-day Backroads Tour (which could also be called the Sugar Tour; it's a good primer on the sugar industry) covering 33 mi of what is mostly haul cane roads behind the locked gates of Grove Farm Plantation. The full-day Aloha Kaua'i Tour starts with the Backroads tour and then spends the other half of the day covering the public roads along the Waimea Canyon. These are roads you can traverse on your own; however, the tour will teach you a lot about the many rare and endangered plants and birds in the Waimea Canyon and Koke'e State Park. Another half-day tour, the Rainforest Tour, follows the Wailua River to its source, Mt. Wai'ale'ale. This tour includes a 3-mi easy walk to the basin of the crater and the unofficial start of the river. We cannot say enough about the expert guides with Aloha Kaua'i Tours. They are some of the absolute best on the island. Rates are $63, $120, and $68, respectively. Check in at Kilohana Plantation on Rte. 50 in Puhi, Lihu'e, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/245-6400 or 800/452-1113. www.alohakauaitours.com.
Kaua'i ATV Tours. This is the thing to do when it rains on Kaua'i. Consider it an extreme mud bath. Kaua'i ATV in Koloa is the originator of the all-terrain-vehicle tours on Kaua'i. Their $99 three-hour jaunt takes you through a private sugar plantation and historic cane-haul tunnel. The $145 four-hour tour visits secluded waterfalls and includes a picnic lunch. The more popular longer excursion includes a hike through a bamboo forest and a swim in a freshwater pool at the base of the falls -- to rinse off all that mud. You must be 16 or older to operate your own ATV, but Kaua'i ATV also offers its six-passenger, dune-buggy "Mud Hog" vehicle and its two-passenger "Mud Bug" to accommodate families with kids age five and older. 5330 Koloa Rd., Koloa, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/742-2734 or 877/707-7088. www.kauaiatv.com.
Kaua'i Backcountry Adventures. This ATV operator has a 3½-hour Hali'i Falls tour that traverses Lihu'e Plantation -- land that just happens to be tucked beneath one of the wettest spots on earth, Mt. Wai'ale'ale, increasing the mud quotient. (Remember mud means fun on an ATV.) In winter the waterfall can rise to dangerous levels, meaning the usual dip in the waterfall pool is bypassed. You must be 16 or older to operate your own ATV; however, Kaua'i Backcountry Adventures offers its souped-up, golf-cart-looking "Ranger" for kids age five and older and nondrivers. Prices start at $145. 3-4131 Kuhio Hwy., across from gas station, Hanama'ulu, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/245-2506 or 888/270-0555. www.kauaibackcountry.com.
Kaua'i is a labyrinth of cane haul roads, which are fun for exploring on two wheels. The challenge is to find the roads where biking is allowed and then to not get lost in the maze. Maybe that explains why Kaua'i is not a hub for the sport…yet. Still, there are some epic rides for those who are interested -- both the adrenaline-rushing and the mellower beach cruiser kinds. If you want to grind out some mileage, the main highway that skirts the coastal areas is perfectly safe, though there are only a few designated bike lanes. It's hilly, but you'll find that keeping your eyes on the road and not the scenery is the biggest challenge. You can rent bikes (with helmets) from the activities desks of certain hotels, but these are not the best quality. You're better off renting from either Kaua'i Cycle in Kapa'a, or Outfitters Kaua'i in Po'ipu. If you're headed for the dirt tracks, be sure your bike is in top condition, take plenty of water and energy bars, and let someone know when and where you're going. If you're venturing into the unknown, explain what you've got in mind to someone who knows the area and heed any advice offered. And be sure to get explicit directions; don't expect signage.
For the cruiser, Kealia Coastal Road (Trailhead: 1 mi north of Kapa'a; park at north end of Kealia Beach, HI, USA.), a dirt haul cane road, is easy to follow along the coastline to Donkey Beach. From here, the trail splinters into numerous, narrower trails through fallow sugarcane fields where dirt bikers now roam, especially on weekends. It's easy to get lost here, but eventually all trails lead to Anahola Beach Park, some 4 mi from Kealia. If you're not sure how to find your way back the way you came, follow Anahola Road inland to Route 56 and return to Kealia via the highway.
For those wanting a road workout, climb Waimea Canyon Road (Road turns mauka off Rte. 50 just after grocery store in downtown Waimea, HI, USA.), also known as Route 550. After a 3,000-foot climb, the road tops out at mile 12 adjacent to the Waimea Canyon, which will pop in and out of view on your right as you ascend. From here it continues several miles (mostly level) past the Koke'e Museum and ends at the Kalalau Lookout. It's paved the entire way, uphill 100%, and curvy. There's not much of a shoulder -- sometimes none -- so be extra cautious. The road gets busier as the day wears on, so you may want to consider a sunrise ride.
For the novice mountain biker, the Wailua Forest Management Road is an easy ride and is easy to find. From Route 56 in Wailua, turn mauka on Kuamo'o Road and continue 6 mi to the picnic area, known as Keahua Arboretum; park here. The potholed 4WD road includes some stream crossings -- stay away during heavy rains as the streams flood -- and continues for 2 mi to a T-stop, where you should turn right. Stay on the road for about 3 mi until you reach a gate; this is the spot where the gates to the movie Jurassic Park were filmed, though it looks nothing like the movie. Go around the gate and down the road for another mile to a confluence of streams at the base of Mt. Wai'ale'ale. Be sure to bring your camera.
Advanced riders should try Powerline Trail (Trailhead is mauka just past stream crossing at Keahua Arboretum; see directions for Wailua Forest Management Rd. above, HI, USA.). The trail is actually a service road for the electric company that splits the island. It's 13 mi in length; the first 5 mi goes from 620 feet in elevation to almost 2,000. The remaining 8 mi is a gradual descent over a variety of terrain, some technical. Some sections will require carrying your bike. The views will stay with you forever.
Bike Rentals & Guided Trips
Kaua'i Adventure Trek. This 4½-hour bike, hike, and beach adventure follows an old cane road through Grove Farm Plantation, stops for a tour of the island's first sugar mill, then heads for Maha'ulepu Beach, where a picnic lunch is served. After lunch there's a short hike to a hidden beach. Trips are geared to novice and intermediate-level bikers and cost $96. Check in at Kilohana Plantation on Rte. 50, Puhi, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/245-6400 or 808/635-8735. www.kauaiadventuretrek.com.
Kaua'i Cycle. This reliable, full-service bike shop rents, sells, and repairs bikes. Mountain bikes and road bikes are available for $20 to $35 per day and $95 to $150 per week with directions to trails. Across from Beezers Old Fashioned Ice Cream, 1379 Kuhio Hwy., Kapa'a, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/821-2115. www.bikehawaii.com/kauaicycle.
Outfitters Kaua'i. Beach cruisers and mountain bikes are available at this shop in Po'ipu. You can ride right out the door to tour Po'ipu, or get information on how to do a self-guided tour of Koe'e State Park and Waimea Canyon. The company also leads sunrise coasting tours (under the name Bicycle Downhill) from Waimea Canyon (100% downhill for 12 mi) to the island's West Side beaches. Rentals cost $20 to $45 per day. Tours cost $90. 2827-A Po'ipu Rd., Po'ipu, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/742-9667 or 888/742-9887. www.outfitterskauai.com.
Pedal 'n' Paddle. This company rents beach cruisers and mountain bicycles for $10 to $20 per day; $40 to $80 per week. Ching Young Village, Rte. 560, Hanalei, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/826-9069. www.pedalnpaddle.com.
The best way to experience the 'aina -- the land -- on Kaua'i is to step off the beach and into the remote interior. The best way to do that is by hiking. The rewards are waterfalls so tall you'll strain your neck looking, pools of crystal cool water for swimming, tropical forests teeming with plant life, and ocean vistas that will make you wish you could stay forever.
For your safety, wear sturdy shoes, bring plenty of water, never hike alone, stay on the trail, and avoid hiking when it's wet and slippery. All hiking trails on Kaua'i are free, so far. There is a rumor that the Waimea Cayon and Koke'e state parks will some day charge an admission fee. Whatever it may be, it will be worth it.
Waimea Canyon and Koke'e State Parks. The parks contain a 50-mi network of hiking trails of varying difficulty that take you through acres of native forests, across the highest-elevation swamp in the world, to the river at the base of the canyon, and onto pinnacles of land sticking their necks out over Na Pali Coast. All hikers should register at Koke'e Natural History Museum, where you'll find trail maps, current trail information, and specific directions. All mileage mentioned here is one-way.
The Kukui Trail descends 2½ mi and 2,200 feet into Waimea Canyon to the edge of the Waimea River -- it's a steep climb. The Awa'awapuhi Trail, with 1,600 feet of elevation gains and losses over 3¼ mi, feels more gentle than the Kukui Trail; but, it offers its own huffing-and-puffing sections in its descent along a spiny ridge to a perch overlooking the ocean.
The 3½-mi Alaka'i Swamp Trail is accessed via the Pihea Trail or a 4WD road. There's one strenuous valley section, otherwise, it's a pretty level trail -- once you access it. This trail is a birder's delight and includes a painterly view of Wainiha and Hanalei valleys at the trail's end. The trail traverses the purported highest-elevation swamp in the world on a boardwalk so as not to disturb the fragile wildlife.
The Canyon Trail offers much in its short 2 mi trek: spectacular vistas of the canyon and the only dependable waterfall in Waimea Canyon. The easy, 2-mi hike can be cut in half if you have a 4WD vehicle. Outfitted with a head lamp, this would be a great hike at sunset as the sun's light sets the canyon walls awash in color. Koke'e Natural History Museum: Koke'e Rd., Rte. 550, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/335-9975 for trail conditions.
Sleeping Giant Trail. An easy and easily accessible trail practically in the heart of Kapa'a, the Sleeping Giant Trail -- or simply "Sleeping Giant" -- gains 1,000 feet over 2 mi. We prefer an early-morning -- say, sunrise -- hike, with sparkling blue-water vistas, up the east-side trailhead. At the top you can see a grassy grove with a picnic table; don't stop here. Continue carefully along the narrow trail toward the Giant's nose and chin. From here there are 360-degree views of the island. In Wailua, turn mauka off Rte. 56 onto Haleilio Rd.; proceed 1 mi to small parking area on right, HI, USA.
Most of the horseback riding tours on Kaua'i are primarily walking tours with very little trotting and no cantering or galloping, so there's no experience required. Zip. Zilch. Nada. If you're interested, most of the stables offer private lessons. The most popular tours are the ones including a picnic lunch by the water. Your only dilemma may be deciding what kind of water you want -- waterfalls or ocean. You may want to make your decision based on where you're staying. The "waterfall picnic" tours are on the wetter North Shore, and the "beach picnic" tours take place on the South Side.
CJM Country Stables. Just past the Hyatt in Po'ipu, CJM Stables offers breakfast and lunch rides with noshing on the beach. Shorter rides are available. The landscapes here are rugged and beautiful, featuring sand dunes and limestone bluffs. Guides are real paniolo. CJM sponsors seasonal rodeo events that are free and open to the public. Prices range from $90 to $125. 1.6 mi from Hyatt Regency Kaua'i off Po'ipu Rd., Koloa, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/742-6096. www.cjmstables.com.
Esprit de Corps. If you ride, this is the company for you. Esprit de Corps has two- to eight-hour rides and allows some trotting and cantering based on the rider's experience and comfort with the horse. There are also pony parties and half-day horse camps for kids. Weddings on horseback can be arranged, and custom rides for less-experienced and younger riders are available, as well as private lessons. Rates range from $120 to $350. End of Kualapa Pl., Kapa'a, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/822-4688. www.kauaihorses.com.
Princeville Ranch Stables. A longtime kama'aina (resident) family operates Princeville Ranch. They originated the waterfall picnic tour, which runs three to four hours and includes a short but steep hike down to Kalihi Wai Falls, a dramatic three-tier waterfall, for swimming and picnicking. Princeville also has shorter, straight riding tours, and if they're moving cattle while you're visiting, you can sign up for a cattle drive. Prices range from $65 to $125. Just west of Princeville Airport mauka between mile markers 27 and 28, Princeville, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/826-6777. www.princevilleranch.com.
Mountain Tubing Tours
Kaua'i Backcountry Adventures. Very popular with all ages, this laid-back adventure can book up two weeks in advance in busy summer months. Here's how it works: you recline in an inner tube and float down fern-lined irrigation ditches that were built more than a century ago -- the engineering is impressive -- to divert water from Mt. Wai'ale'ale to sugar and pineapple fields around the island. Simple as that. They'll even give you a headlamp so you can see as you float through one stretch of covered tunnel. The scenery from the island's interior at the base of Mt. Wai'ale'ale on Lihu'e Plantation land is superb. Ages five and up are welcome. The tour takes about three hours and includes a picnic lunch and a swim in a swimming hole. In winter or after the rain, the water can be chilly; some people wear a surfer's rash guard over their swimsuit. You'll definitely want to pack water-friendly shoes (or rent some from the outfitter), sunscreen, a hat, bug repellent, and a beach towel. Tours cost $92 per person and are offered twice a day, Monday through Saturday. In summer, additional tours may be available. 3-4131 Kuhio Hwy., across from gas station, Hanama'ulu, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/245-2506 or 888/270-0555. www.kauaibackcountry.com.
If you're interested in booking some court time on Kaua'i, there are public tennis courts in Waimea, Kekaha, Koloa, Kalaheo, Lihu'e, Wailua Homesteads, Wailua Houselots, and Kapa'a New Park. For specific directions or more information, call the County of Kaua'i Parks and Recreation Office (PHONE: 808/241-4463). Many hotels and resorts have tennis courts on property; even if you're not staying there, you can still rent court time. Rates range from $10 to $20 per person per hour. On the South Side, try the Hyatt Regency Kaua'i Resort and Spa (PHONE: 808/742-1234) and Kiahuna Swim and Tennis Club (PHONE: 808/742-9533). On the North Shore try the Princeville Tennis Center (PHONE: 808/826-1230).
The latest adventure on Kaua'i is "zipping" or "zip lining." It's so new that the vernacular is still catching up with it, but regardless of what you call it, chances are you'll scream like a rock star fan while trying it. Strap on a harness, clip onto a cable running from one side of a river or valley to the other and zip across. The step off is the scariest part. Pack knee-length shorts or pants, athletic shoes, and courage for this adventure.
Outfitters Kaua'i. This company offers a half-day adventure of multiple zips, along with rope-swinging off a cliff adjacent to Kipu Falls. There's only one zipline involved, so you'll be making the same crossing several times, but it's a Swiss Family Robinson-like setting with a tree-house launching pad and a swinging bridge. Outfitters Kaua'i also has a zipline stream crossing as part of their Kipu Safari tour. 2827-A Po'ipu Rd., Po'ipu, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/742-9667 or 888/742-9887. www.outfitterskauai.com.
Princeville Ranch Adventures. The North Shore's answer to ziplining is an eight zipline course with a bit of hiking, waterfall crossing, and swimming thrown in for a half-day adventure. This is as close as it gets to flying; just watch out for the albatross. Prices start at $115. Just west of Princeville Airport on Rte. 56., between mile markers 27 and 28, Princeville, HI, USA. PHONE: 808/826-7669. www.adventureskauai.com.