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  • Writer's pictureKaren Buffier

Things to do with Kids in Kauai, Hawaii

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

Snorkeling at Poipu, hiking Waimea Canyon and kayaking the Wailua River are just some of the family friendly activities that can be enjoyed in Kauai Hawaii. Our trip to Kauai was a blissful few weeks spent relaxing, exploring and spending time together enjoying the adventures and beauty of this amazing island. Kauai with kids is pretty close to a perfect family destination.

Napali Coast, Kauai Hawaii
Napali Coast, Kauai Hawaii

We had a bigger mission for our family trip to Kauai to try and experience the 'real' Hawaiian Islands by getting beyond the regular tourist trail. Whilst Oahu can be fun we found that it lacked some authentic culture and was too commercially focused so on our visit to Kauai we wanted to try and 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. We specifically chose Kauai to attempt to live like a local and find the chilled vibe and soul of this beautiful island.

Hanalei Bay Jetty
Hanalei Bay Jetty

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 a true nature lovers destination but is also jam packed full of adventures and things to do for families. Whether your family is chasing adrenaline packed activities or simply looking to find the best beaches in Kauai to lay back and watch the perfect sunset I have outlined some of the great things to do in Kauai below.

Best Part of Kauai to Stay - Accommodation in Kauai

A common question for Kauai is what isi the best part of Kauai to stay. Essentially there are 3 main areas, the South Shore (Poipu), the East Coast predominantly close to the town centre of Lihue and the North Shore made up of Hanalei and Princeville. We split our two weeks in Kauai equally between Poipu and Princeville 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 weather on the South Shore produces less rain so the landscape is drier and sunnier which is perfect for beach activities. If your family loves spending endless hours on the beach this is potentially your better choice. The big bonus of staying in Poipu is the abundance of wildlife that finds you as you go about your lazy beach mornings. Seals and turtles are a daily occurence on Poipu Beach and the clear waters are fantastic for snorkeling.

The South Shore is also nice and close to Waimea Canyon if you love hiking and exploring with your kids.

Weather in Princeville and Hanalei on the North Shore will see you receiving a lot more rain and overcast days. Hanalei in May when we visited did involve some heavy days of rain but there are some good points to this. The rain is a major reason that the Kauai North Shore is so stunningly beautiful with it's lush greenery and tumbling waterfalls. Hanalei Bay in the rain back-dropped by the soaring mountains and multitudes of spectacular waterfalls and rainbows is a beautiful sight.

Whilst there is a lot of rain on the North Shore of Kauai it doesn't detract from your holiday at all. There are still plenty of warm sunny days (in late May) and if the rain does stuck around for too long it is easy enough to hop in the car for the quick drive to the South Shore where you will more than likely find the sunshine again.

Best Place to Stay in Kauai for Families

I highly recommend checking out Kauai condo rentals for great accommodation options in Kauai. This will allow families to stay in homes with 2 or 3 bedrooms instead of a hotel room and you there are literally thousands of Kauai condo rentals on the island that are full of Hawaiian character and located in the most stunning parts of the Island.

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.

Kauai holiday rentals

Princeville Vacation Rentals

Pictured here is our 2 bedroom vacation rental in Princeville where we stayed in the Plantations at Princeville complex. This condo was really roomy with two large bedrooms with super comfy beds, 2 bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, onsite parking and access to a well maintained resort pool complex, gym and manicured tropical gardens.

Many of these condos offer amazing views across the golf course towards the Hanalei mountains.

View from Plantations at Princeville #512
View from Plantations at Princeville #512

If this place is unavailable a number of other condos in the same complex such as this one - Plantations at Princeville #322 may be available. All are beautifully appointed, modern and comfortable.

If you like the idea of sea views from your Princeville condo then check out the Cliffs at Princeville. Roomy, homely and with picture perfect seaviews the Cliffs at Princeville #7302 may be what you are looking for.

Poipu Vacation Rentals

The vacation rental we stayed in unfortunately doesn't seem to be available for rent anymore but you could take a look at these top rating Poipu vacation rentals.

For a splurge consider a condo in the Marriott's Waiohai Beach Club. With a beautiful pool and recreation spaces along with spacious 2 bedroom villas for families this will be a favourite for kids and parents.

For the more budget conscious the Kiahuna Plantation Resort Kauai by Outrigger is packed full of family friendly features and also offers 1 and 2 bedroom condos.

Getting about Kauai

If you come to Kauai you really do need to rent your own car to explore and visit the island to its full potential. 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 kids I 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 is as simple as it gets with single lane roads and a really laid back vibe which is how the majority of people drive in Kauai. Just keep an eye out for the odd stray chicken on the road!

Best Things to do with Kids in Kauai

So what are the highlights of Kauai and what can you do as a family to make your trip truly memorable? There are so many things to see and do in Kauai so let's get started

Hawaiian Wildlife

A massive highlight for the whole family and a free family activity is visiting the wildlife in Kauai. I have long had a fascination with green sea turtles and Kauai is the number one place in the world to see sea turtles on mass. There is a well known spot to visit in Kauai called Turtle Cove which is located on the North Shore and has up to 100 sea turtles visit each day. The best and safest time to visit Turtle Cove is at low tide but be warned there is a lot of concern that the degree of human traffic is impacting on the natural habitat in this location. Please be mindful not to leave any rubbish behind and stay well clear of the turtles to allow them to naturally behave as they would.

Turtle cove is not the only place to see turtles on Kauai. If you stay in Poipu area there are literally thousands of sea turtles that feed off the rocky outcrops on this part of the coastline. It is a regular occurrence for them to come on shore at Poipu and other nearby beaches to sun themselves for an hour or two before heading back into the water. During our stay there was a turtle or two every day that we were there.

Also on Poipu Beach you will regularly get visits from these interesting locals - the Hawaiian monk seals. They will glide past you in the shallows, take a nap on the beach and then head back out once more.

Hawaiian Monk Seals on Poipu Beach, Kauai
Hawaiian Monk Seals on Poipu Beach, Kauai

Our morning ritual involved wandering down through the tropical gardens from our villa to one of the South Shore 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. My kids were absolutely mesmerised by how close these beautiful creatures come to them and found it pretty amazing to build sandcastles beside sleeping giant turtles and seals.

Of course both the turtles and seals are protected species so you should never touch them. Please respect that they are wild animals so that we can preserve them for future generations.

Poipu Beach sea turtles and seals
Poipu Beach with 2 sea turtles (foreground) and two seals (background)
Poipu sea turtles

If you want to witness the turtles in action just head to the rocky foreshores where you can watch a huge number of turtles feed on the fish as the waves crashed onto the rocks.

There was plenty of other aquatic wildlife which was amazing to see during our stay. Large pods of spinner dolphins can 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.

Best Kauai Snorkelling

From our experience the best and simplest place to snorkel in Kauai was just off the beach at Poipu. The array of fish here is good with a nice mix of tropical fish combined with the coming and going of the turtles and seals. The water at Poipu Beach is nice and clear and the waves are usually pretty gentle making it a safe spot to teach kids how to snorkel.

We found the water at Hanalei Bay not suited to snorkelling due to the amount of rainfall during our visit making the water a lot murkier. Some of the other beaches we gave a try as well but the waves made it trickier for the kids. When the weather is more settled though you can take a fabulous combined kayaking and snorkelling trip from Hanalei Bay - click here to find out more.

A magical evening at a Hawaiian Luau is a right of passage to visiting Hawaii. Not only do you get to sample delicious local foods and watch the traditional entertainments but the kids will love the festivity of the evening as well. Sit back, watch the setting sun and bask in the loveliness of being on holidays in Hawaii.

Easy Hikes Kauai for Families

Kauai really is an active travellers haven. There is so much to do on this island if you love outdoor adventures, and hiking in Kauai can take you to some of the most pristine and amazing places.

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 means I will leave this one to braver souls.

Nonetheless there are heaps of other easy hikes on Kauai which are suitable for those travelling with kids. And even heading out from your accommodation in either the North or South Shore will allow you to find some beautiful places and views.

Three Easy Hikes on Kauai for kids:

Waimea Canyon Cliff Hike - taking in the vistas from the elevation of the Cliff Hike this is a good short 30 minute trail that is great for families. Alternately just taking the short walks to each of the lookouts in the park is a great option if you have very young kids.

Ho'opi'i Falls - is a short round trip hike that takes you to two super pretty waterfall. Great with kids as this walk is flat and shady.

Kuilau Ridge Trail - this one is best for older kids being approximately 4 miles return but provides stunning vistas over Kauai's interior.

In Poipu there is a fabulous evening walk that you can take through the green belt from Poipu Beach heading through 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 the turtles feeding against the rocks. Caps of a perfect Hawaiian day.

View from the Grand Hyatt Kauai
View from the Grand Hyatt Kauai

Day Trip to Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon is a definite spot to visit on Kauai. Known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific you can easily spend a whole day visiting this National Park exploring the deep gorges and waterfalls, having a picnic and taking in some short hikes.

The visit here can get particularly hot so make sure you take in plenty of water, food and options to keep cool as there are minimal facilities within the park. Importantly there is no gas or petrol so ensure the car is filled prior.

Waimwa Canyon is well suited to self touring by car and there are plenty of photo opportunities that are marked along the way including three lookouts.

Waimea Canyon Kauai
Waimea Canyon Kauai

The road through the canyon is bendy so take heed if your kids start complaining about a sore tummy. We discovered all too late that our oldest daughter was not feeling well when she completely covered her little sister in her entire stomach contents..... if only we could tell what were genuine complaints!

If you would prefer to visit Waimea Canyon on an organised tour check this option to visit Waimea Canyon, the Wailua River and Fern Grotto.

Care to see the Hawaiian forests from above and at speed?

Then make sure you check out ziplining options on Kauai. Soaring high above the trees ziplining is a super adrenaline rush and kids find it super fun.

The platforms at the Poipu Ziplines are as high as 61m above the ground so beware if you have a fear of heights but as I did sometimes pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is great for confidence building. Book your ziplining adventure here.

Wailua Falls

Accessible by driving directly to them stop in at the Wailua Falls for a quick Hawaiian Waterfall hit.

Wailua Falls Kauai
Wailua Falls Kauai

I wanted to visit some of the more remote parts of the island and chose to take a tour with a local kayak crew 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 which was a beautiful hidden waterfall/swimming hole.

kayaking wailea

Turned out I had nothing to worry about as she soldiered through the whole experience and had a blast. She became the 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. The waterfall at the end point was spectacular. Be ready to paddle hard on the way home as you battle back against the current....especially if your five year old is a little tired by this stage and not doing much paddling.

helicopter Kauai

A helicopter ride over the island of Kauai 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 could not rave highly enough about the experience. 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.

Best Na Pali Coast Boat Tours

Of course no visit to Kauai is complete without witnessing the beauty of the Na Pali coast .

Departing from Hanalei Bay I opted for a Na Pali snorkel trip with Holo Holo charters which was on a rigid inflatable speed boat which was great to avoid sea sickness and make the trip more adventurous. I highly recommend this trip for a more intimate and exciting day trip to see the Na Pali coastline.

The tours to NaPali I found to be very expensive but really the views and wildlife you see from the boat along with the awesome hour spent snorkelling made the experience worthwhile for me.

The outbound trip showcases the sheer grandness of the coastal cliffs and deserted beaches. After a stop for snorkelling where you will be surrounded by brightly coloured fish, turtles and all sorts of marine species you board the boat and head back towards Hanalei Bay. Fortunately for us we were trailed by a huge pod of spinner dolphins that were darting and diving from all directions around the boat. A great day and well worth the experience.

Best Kauai Beaches

In addition to Poipu my pick for the most perfect little beach on Kauai is Ke'e which is reached following the main 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.

Another best beach of Kauai that is 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 Kauai
Hanalei Bay

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.

Hanalei Bay Kauai sunset
Hanalei Bay Kauai sunset

If you are looking for something a little quirky and fun to do in Kauai then perhaps check out this Kauai Movie Sights Adventure Tour. Visit all the famous sights of Hollywood films that have been shot in Kauai and see if you can watch them all before you arrive.

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 serenity and beauty of Hawaii and having our own car and private vacation rentals meant travelling with kids really had never been so easy.

With the combination of great flight deals, excellent standards of health and medical support Kauai is a great option for your family's next holiday.

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