a large mountain in the background: Rainbow over the Na Pali Coast

© Tony DiBona
Rainbow over the Na Pali Coast

Paradise found

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting all the beautiful islands of Hawaii. Each island in the emerald chain has its own distinctive landscape and offers a palette of adventures, activities and cultural experiences for every age and taste.  

That being said, the first Hawaiian island I visited decades ago, Kauai, is the island my mind and heart always return to when I recall some of my most memorable vacation experiences. One of the most iconic and photogenic views of Kauai’s majestic Na Pali Coast can be seen from the Kalalau Lookout.

If you’re lucky, as we were, nature will treat you to a majestic rainbow as you soak in the astounding beauty from this viewpoint.

a group of people standing next to a body of water: Poipu Beach Park

© Tony DiBona
Poipu Beach Park

Family fun

If you’re looking for a beach vacation, especially for families with small children, consider a stay in Kauai’s south shore where rainfall is less frequent and sunshine more abundant than on the rest of the island. The shores of Poipu Beach Park offer a lovely protected area for swimming and snorkeling.

A bit down the road, be sure to check out the island’s famous Spouting Horn, a blowhole that not only produces a dramatic cloud of water, but also a loud moaning sound that is always a hit with the kids.

a person walking next to a body of water: Trail towards Hanakapi’ai Beach

© Joanne DiBona
Trail towards Hanakapi’ai Beach

A trail to remember

Kauai is a paradise for hikers, no matter what your skill level. Beautiful trails crisscross the island, but if you’re looking for the ultimate hike when you visit, the Kalalau Trail is the most famous on Kauai (and arguably in all of Hawaii).

While the full 11-mile trail is only for seasoned hikers and requires camping overnight, casual hikers can opt for the magnificently picturesque 2-mile trail to the pristine Hanakapi’ai Beach. The trail can be slippery because of bursts of rainfall (nearby Mount Wai’ale’ale is one of the wettest spots on earth), so make sure to wear good hiking shoes!

a person standing in front of a fireplace: Luau Kalamaku at Kilohana

© Joanne DiBona
Luau Kalamaku at Kilohana

A taste of culture

No doubt during your visit to Kauai, you’ll want to experience a traditional Hawaiian luau, complete with local cuisine and a moving cultural experience. The Luau Kalamaku at Kilohana, one of the largest luaus in the state, delivers both.  This luau experience shines for its after-dinner show, which relates the history of Kauai’s culture in dramatic detail.

a canyon with Waimea Canyon State Park in the background

© Joanne DiBona
Waimea Canyon State Park

Kauai’s Grand Canyon

Often touted as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Kauai’s Waimea Canyon is a not-to-be-missed destination when you visit the island. The Waimea Canyon Lookout is one of several vantage points along the canyon rim, and offers an incredible vista over this natural wonder.

a group of people sitting in front of a mountain: Riding an ATV through Kauai

© Tony DiBona
Riding an ATV through Kauai

Adrenaline rush

Need to get your adrenaline running? ATV tours are the rage in many a destination, but in Kauai, the experience with Kipu Ranch Adventures provides the thrill of a Jurassic Park backdrop (much of the movie was filmed on Kauai) coupled with maneuvering your vehicle up hills and down valleys, and even through muddy streams!

a group of people rowing a boat in the water: Kayaking the Hanalei River

© Joanne DiBona
Kayaking the Hanalei River

Rollin’ down the river

To many, the peaceful nature of gliding down a river or bay in a kayak is the ultimate way to enjoy the beauty of this island. There are four rivers in Kauai you can kayak, and one of the most peaceful is the Hanalei River, with its lush vegetation and serene water.

You can ocean kayak, too, if a more adventurous kayak experience is your preference. You’ll easily find rental companies across the island, so go explore!

a plate of food: Shrimp salad

© Tony DiBona
Shrimp salad

Seafood heaven

Kauai offers a wide range of cuisine, but if you’re a lover of seafood, you’ll be in heaven when you visit here. The fresh shrimp, culled daily from the deep ocean waters, are a culinary delight. You can also enjoy the local fish catches, such as the succulent ono, indigenous to the islands, as well as mahi-mahi and tuna, among other fruits of the sea.

Tip: Should you be cooking on your own, in addition to the local fish markets that dot the island, the Costco store in Lihue carries an incredible variety of sustainably caught fish, including shrimp harvested from local waters.

a group of people on a rocky beach: Lydgate Beach Park

© Joanne DiBona
Lydgate Beach Park

Snorkeling wonderland

If you’ve never snorkeled and are apprehensive about it, join the club! My first snorkeling experience took place in Kauai’s Lydgate Beach Park, and for a good reason. It has a boulder-enclosed pool that allows sea water and colorful fish in, but keeps out the ocean waves.

You can snorkel peacefully for hours here. My most vivid memory of this experience was swimming through schools of beautiful blue fish, as well as having a family of sea turtles glide by me!

a pink flower on a plant: Plumeria on Kauai

© Joanne DiBona
Plumeria on Kauai

Flower power

Everyone gushes over the flowering plants of Kauai – and no wonder. There’s a good reason Kauai is known as the “Garden Isle.” Everywhere you look, be it in formal gardens or hiking on the trails, you’ll see tropical blooms that will take your breath away.

The delicate plumeria, source of the traditional Hawaiian lei, is in bloom everywhere on this fertile island.

a herd of cattle grazing on a lush green field: Golfing in Princeville

© Tony DiBona
Golfing in Princeville

A golfer’s paradise

Can you imagine teeing off with such a view?  Kauai’s northern community of Princeville is renowned for its luxury ocean bluff resorts, as well as its outstanding golf courses. You’ll have to take care to keep your eyes on the ball – and not on the truly spectacular views – while playing a round at the Princeville Makai Golf Club.

a rocky shore next to a body of water: Kilauea Lighthouse

© Joanne DiBona
Kilauea Lighthouse

Historic lighthouse

Located on the north shore near Princeville, the Kilauea Lighthouse, built in 1913, is perched at the northernmost tip of Kauai on a windswept bluff. Bird watchers will delight in the amazing numbers of bird species that congregate here, thanks to a sanctuary located directly offshore.

a group of people in a forest: Zip line over Kauai

© Tony DiBona
Zip line over Kauai

Zip above tropical forests

If you’re a zip line enthusiast, there are quite a few options available from outfitters around Kauai. Swing through paradise over lush tropical forests, enjoy amazing ocean views, and get your heart pumping during this exhilarating ride.

a man riding a bicycle with a mountain in the background: Bike the beautiful byways of Kauai

© Tony DiBona
Bike the beautiful byways of Kauai

A biker’s kingdom

For an ultimate adventure, consider renting a bike to take you on roads and trails through some of the most spectacular scenery you can imagine. Ride through miles of the Waimea Canyon for a fabulous work-out featuring heart-stopping views. Several outfitters throughout the island offer rentals.

a group of people on a raft in a body of water: Tubing in Kauai

© Tony DiBona
Tubing in Kauai

Tube down a vintage waterway

If you’re looking for a unique, relaxing adventure suitable for the entire family (from age 5 to 95!), consider booking a tubing experience with Kauai Backcountry Adventures. You’ll slowly drift downhill along an old sugar cane irrigation ditch, through five tunnels, past tropical vegetation, and enjoy a picnic lunch at the end of your adventure.

a group of clouds in the sky over a body of water: Hanalei Bay

© Joanne DiBona
Hanalei Bay

A photographer’s dream

Kauai is a photographer’s dream, owing not only to the magnificent scenery, but also to the dramatic lighting that seems to change each minute. For example, while walking around Hanalei Bay on a cloudy day, the sun burst out suddenly to create this dramatic image. I had less than a minute to photograph this scene before black clouds and heavy rain rolled in off the ocean.

a group of people riding on the back of a horse: Horseback riding on Kauai's South Shore

© Joanne DiBona
Horseback riding on Kauai’s South Shore

In the saddle

Another unique way to view Kauai’s natural beauty is on horseback. Several companies on the island offer this service, with designated riding trails that will take you to vistas you wouldn’t normally see on foot. The scenic ride along Kauai’s magnificent (and sunny) South Shore with CJM Country Stables brought us past spectacular mountain scenery, hidden valleys and secluded beaches.

a group of people on a rocky beach: Queen's Bath

© Joanne DiBone
Queen’s Bath

A royal pool

Queen’s Bath, on Kauai’s North Shore, is a marvel of nature;  it’s a large pool carved into a lava shelf, fed by fresh seawater thanks to an inlet from the ocean. While swimming is allowed when the surf is low, your best bet is to admire it from the cliffs above.

Kauai’s beaches and pools, while some of the most beautiful on earth, can be deceptively deadly. Always read the official warnings, surf reports, etc. posted along all the island’s beaches, and pay attention to these advisories.

a sign on the side of a mountain: Hanalei Valley

© Tony DiBona
Hanalei Valley

View on Hanalei Valley

On your way to Hanalei on Kauai’s North Shore, you’ll want to make a requisite stop at the Hanalei Valley Lookout (purportedly one of the most photographed lookouts in all of Hawaii), to view verdant mountains sprinkled with waterfalls, endless fields of taro, and a rainbow or two if luck allows.

a person sitting at a fruit stand: Luau Kalamaku at Kilohana

© Tony DiBona
Luau Kalamaku at Kilohana

Kauai’s cornucopia

Fresh produce is available at farmers markets that seem to be on every street corner or roadside in Kauai. You’ll never taste fruits and vegetables as delicious as these, so definitely indulge.

While driving around the island, you’ll come across country stands offering the farm’s fresh produce on an honor system. Just put in your money and collect your produce – how cool is that?

a man standing on a beach with a sunset in the background: Sunset at Poipu Beach

© Joanne DiBona
Sunset at Poipu Beach

Aloha to a perfect day in paradise

Finding your zen is never so easy than on the magical, and mystical, island of Kauai – especially while on the beach contemplating a glorious sunset.

10Best is a part of the USA TODAY Network, providing an authentically local point of view on destinations around the world, in addition to travel and lifestyle advice.

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