Experiencing true 'aloha' on Kauai - best things to do in Kauai
Updated: 5 days ago
Our trip to Hawaii was a special one with a blissful few weeks spent relaxing, exploring and spending time together. There are high expectations when visiting such an iconic tourist destination but for us we had an even bigger mission - how could we experience the true 'aloha spirit'.
Not to confuse this with the greeting of "aloha" you receive as your travel around the Hawaiian islands, the true meaning of aloha for Hawaiians is to live with a spirit of love, peace and compassion. What better way to attempt to travel and experience a new place.
If you want some fantastic inspiration for Hawaii activities with kids then make sure you check out my article published on Where's Sharon - 11 amazing things to do with kids in Hawaii.
We had already visited Oahu (Waikiki) pre-kids and although we stopped over this time around to let the kids rest and catch up on some sleep after the long haul flight from Australia, our mission to explore the true beauty of Hawaii and to live like a local meant that we opted to jump back on a plane to head for Kauai just a short forty minute flight away.
Much to our delight our choice of island was rewarded before we even touched down as we watched the amazing scenery unfold from the plane window. Known as the Garden Isle, Kauai is the filming location for many movies due its dense tropical forests and stunning mountains and coastline. Kauai is also jam packed full of adventures and things to do for all types of travellers.
Kauai Accommodation - where to stay
The first piece of advice when visiting Kauai is to ditch the idea of staying in hotels unless you have a large bank account or a strong desire to stay as part of a packaged deal with full hotel services. The hotels in Kauai are super expensive and compared to other five star destinations in the world I found them to be below par and generally quite dated for what you are paying.
Hawaii is a mecca for private vacation rentals and there are a plethora of beautiful private villas and homes that you can rent for reasonable prices (below was our 2br home for a large part of our Kauai stay). There are many agents on Kauai but this time around we booked with http://www.kauaivacationrentals.com and also another place privately through vrbo.com.
Choosing this option really made us feel like we had all the comforts of home. Places we stayed on both the South and North Shore had lovely resort pools, pretty tropical gardens and serene views (check out the view in the next photo taken from our back garden in Princeville). We lost nothing in opting to rent privately and had the cost saving benefit of self catering combined with the space and privacy of a whole villa.
Getting about Kauai
If you come to Kauai you really do need to rent your own car as well. The island is small with very limited public transport options and to experience all the little nooks and crannies having your own car is the best bet.
If travelling with young kiddies I also suggest bringing your own car seats if you can deal with the hassle of moving them through your transfer points. Hiring them was going to cost us over $300 AUD for two seats so having our own made sense to keep our costs down. Nearly all airlines will include them in your checked luggage for no extra charge.
If you are the sort of person who worries about driving overseas Kauai really was as simple as it gets with single lane country roads and a really laid back vibe which transferred to the way people drive. Okay, so if I am honest with you there might have been one bad turn into a car park on the wrong side of the road. And you need to adjust to the slightly oversized proportions of American vehicles and subsequently watch out for the guard rails on narrow mountain roads - gotta love the no excess insurance!
Having a car meant that at every turn we could take in the stunning vistas and stop to take our time at favourite places.
What part of Kauai should I stay?
A common question for Kauai is what part of the island is best to stay. Essentially there are 3 main areas - the South Shore (Poipu), the East Coast and the North Shore (Hanalei/Princeville). We split our two weeks equally between Poipu and the North Shore and in all honesty I wouldn't have changed a thing. We spent relatively little time on the east coast as it was the more commercial area and in my opinion the least scenic part.
The South Shore has a lot less rain so the landscape is drier and sunnier which is perfect for beach activities but the big bonus on this part of the island is the abundance of wildlife that finds you as you go about your lazy beach mornings. The South Shore is also nice and close to Waimea Canyon if you love hiking.
The North Shore receives a lot more rain which is the reason for the dramatic jaw dropping scenery. Hawaiian beaches back-dropped by soaring mountains and the bonus of rain bringing multitudes of spectacular waterfalls and rainbows to add to the effect.
Whilst there is a lot of rain at this end of the island it doesn't detract from the holiday at all. There was still plenty of warm sunshine during the days we were there (in late May) and the rainfall only added to the beauty so you generally were happy to find shelter for a bit and then get back to your day of fun. On the one day where the rain stuck around we hopped in the car for the quick drive to the South Shore where we found the sunshine again.
So what are the highlights of Kauai and what can you do as a family to make your trip truly memorable? I have broken this into a few key activities but in all honesty this only tips the surface of fabulous things you can do in Kauai. We wish we could have spent another whole week!
Best Things to do in Kauai
A massive highlight for the whole family was the wildlife that we came across on our trip to Kauai. And you really didn't have to search hard to find them. I have long had a fascination with green sea turtles so this place was seriously rewarding as a holiday destination with Poipu and nearby beaches on the South Shore being the hot spot for sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals.
Our morning ritual involved wandering down through the tropical gardens from our villa to one of the nearby beaches where we would spend hours snorkelling and swimming whilst turtles and seals would swim in for a rest on the warm sandy shores.
Two large sea turtles swam straight past as I was snorkelling one morning - it is crazy to believe you can get so close to them.
Of course both the turtles and seals are protected species and you aren't able to touch or go near them (unless they swim straight past unknowingly) but my girls found it amazingly cool to have turtles come up for a sleep beside them as they built their sand castles....
My afternoon routine consisted of a run always finishing down on the edge of the rocky beaches where you could stand and watch the huge amount of turtles feed on the fish as the waves crashed onto the rocks. It was hot so any excuse to finish my run early was a good one. ;-)
There was plenty of other aquatic wildlife which was amazing to see during our stay. Large pods of spinner dolphins could be found off the NaPali coast which are best seen from one of the boat tour companies and snorkelling on Kauai was pretty amazing with some beautiful tropical fish which goes without saying.
Make sure you snap up some amazing holiday memories and capture all the action in Kauai with this selection of cameras and gopros.
Get Active - Hike Kauai
Kauai really is the active travellers haven. There is so much to do on this island if you love outdoor adventures, and as a family the door is wide open as to what your family wants to achieve.
Famously the Kalalau Trail is one of the worlds most treacherous hikes which has claimed many lives. Of course with kids this was off the books for us, and after seeing parts of the trail from the water with the combination of sheer cliffs and narrow trails I have to honestly say that my lack of confidence with heights would rule this one out for good. Happy to leave that one to braver souls.
Nonetheless there are heaps of other trails all over the island which are perfect for those after something less scary. We did a few shorter hikes at Waimea Canyon and the area around the Wailua river also has some beautiful options. Without event getting off the beaten path just walking and wandering around Princeville and Hanalei provided some really special sights.
Waimea Canyon is a definite spot to visit if you make it to Kauai. Known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific you can easily spend a whole day visiting this National Park and exploring the lookouts, beauty and taking in some lovely hikes.
It is well catered for self touring by car and there are plenty of photo opportunities and places to relax for a picnic. Best to pack everything you need for the day as there are no shops through the park.
The road through the canyon is windy and take heed if your kids start complaining about a sore tummy. We discovered all too late that our oldest daughter wasn't just having the whinge of the century and was actually not feeling well resulting in a car and sister completely covered in her entire stomach contents..... If only we could tell what were genuine whinges!
I wanted to visit some of the more remote inland parts of the island and chose to take a tour with local kayak crew Ali'i Kayaks with my oldest daughter.
I have to be honest that I was a little concerned about whether at five years old she would be able to cope with the day as it involved a long kayak, hiking through muddy forest and wading through rivers using guide ropes to reach our destination - a beautiful hidden waterfall/swimming hole.
Turned out I had nothing to worry about as she soldiered through the whole experience and had a blast. She became our guides little side kick and I was proud to see her tough it out as well as any adult on the trip.
I highly recommend this trip if you want to get a little off the beaten path and to instil some resilience and adventure in your kids. Be ready to paddle hard on the way home though as you battle back against the current....especially if your five year old is a little pooped by this stage and not doing much paddling.
A helicopter ride over the island is a sure way to take in the grandeur of the place. This was out of the budget as a whole of family activity for us but hubby did take the trip and was super excited when he jumped out at the end. He definitely recommends this as a special way to experience the islands' grandeur.
It was pouring rain the morning he went up but with some miraculous timing the sun came out just after take off which meant he got to see everything with the bonus of thousands of waterfalls over the mountains.
Na Pali Coast
Of course no visit to Kauai is complete without witnessing the beauty of the Na Pali coast.
Departing from Hanalai Bay I opted for a NaPali snorkel trip with HoloHolo charters which was on a rigid inflatable speed boat which was great to avoid sea sickness and make the trip more adventurous.
The tours to NaPali I found to be very expensive but really the views and wildlife you see from the boat made the experience worthwhile for me. I just don't quite understand the pressure for tipping at the end of the tour when a four hour trip had already cost almost $300 Australian dollars - just my one little gripe.
Best scenery and places to visit
Ultimately people want to travel to Kauai to be immersed in the natural beauty of the place. If you are a shopaholic, city slicker then this is not the place for you. But if you crave green open spaces and pristine beaches to find your own adventures then Kauai should be top of your bucket list. Although the whole island is pretty picture postcard perfect, there are a couple of particularly special spots that you should endeavour to visit.
For the most perfect of little beaches my pick would be Ke'e which is easily found by following the road all the way to where it ends on the North Shore. Ke'e is super popular as it is the starting point for the Kalalau trail and the final reachable beach before the Na Pali cliffs. It is a small stretch of idyllic golden sand fringing the blue ocean and is a haven for snorkelling and swimming. Be prepared to be organised for this beach though as parking is very restricted and without being there early in the morning you miss out for the day. It does mean that the beach doesn't get overly crowded which is nice.
More accessible and more famous is Hanalei Bay located just north of Princeville. Here you can walk in the same grains of sand as George Clooney did in The Descendants and sneak a peek over the sand dunes at the houses which featured in the movie as well. The beach itself is not the the most amazing you will find in the world but is super beautiful thanks to the towering forest covered mountains that backdrop the view.
Hanalei Bay is a great swimming spot for families with gentle waves and long sand banks and has a pretty jetty that makes for a nice walk and photo spot. If you are looking for the best sunset location in Kauai then Hanalei Bay also has to be close to the top of the list.
Whilst the North Shore hogs a lot of the photo memories it is worth mentioning that in Poipu there is a fabulous evening walk that you can take through the green belt from Poipu Beach heading throug the Poipu Kai resort area and continuing on until you reach the end of the path in front of the Grand Hyatt Kauai. This resort is situated in some seriously gorgeous gardens on the waters edge but for free you can walk along the trail in front of the resort and watch the sun setting or watch all the turtles feeding against the rocks.
This walk was really enjoyable each evening as it followed the lushest green lawns the whole way where our kids loved running, doing gymnastics and wrestling the whole way. We definitely had no dramas at all getting them to fall asleep each night!
So what are you waiting for? Kauai has moved towards the top of our list as a favourite place to travel with kids. By leaving Waikiki behind we really got to experience the absolute serenity and beauty of Hawaii and having our own car and private holiday rentals meant travelling with kids really had never been as easy.
With the combination of great flight deals, excellent standards of health and medical support and a tolerable ten hour flight time Hawaii is a great option for your family's next holiday. If you are ready
We loved Hawaii so much we are keen to head back over and try out one of the other islands!
If you are ready to book your Hawaiian holiday get started with Helloworld now -
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