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Kauai is called the GARDEN ISLAND for a good reason. It is the oldest of the eight major islands and therefore has had more time to mature (6 million years). Kauai is one of the best spots to see the natural beauty of Hawaii. The island is more or less round, and the main road around the island is horse-shoe shaped and does not go all the way around the island. The Na Pali coastline (opening scene to Fantasy Island) lies on the northwestern coast of Kauai and is not accessible by roads. If you head to the west side of the island (Waimea), the road will fork allowing you to continue along by the ocean to Polihale Beach. I recommend going to this beach in the late afternoon to see the sunset over the ocean. It is incredible! The sun will set just to the right of Ni'ihau which can be seen clearly. The beach is a huge expanse of sand with very few people on it (usually).
Now back to the highway. If you take the road up into the hills, it will take you to the majestic Waimea Canyon. Samuel Clemens described Waimea Canyon as "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific". It is truly amazing, and if you like to hike, there are many trails throughout the area. Further up the road, you will find Koke'e Lodge where there is a quaint museum and a little restaraunt. Look out for the ferral chickens running around the parking lot! From the lodge, you can drive up to the Kalalau Valley Lookout where you will undoubtably find at least one rainbow. If the valley is socked in with clouds, just hang out ten minutes and it should clear up.
On your way back to Lihue, you will pass through the towns of Kalaheo and Hanapepe which have many great places for lunch. I recommend sampling the local cuisine to get the full affect of the islands.
On the south shore you'll find Poipu Beach. This shore has the most number of Hotels and hence the most number of tourists. There are some great spots to visit however. Spouting Horn, a lava tube that funnels sea water through a tapered spout is always fun to see. The Hyatt Hotel also has nice facilities in which to mingle. They have a water slide, and lots of priceless artwork just hanging around. The hotel lies on one of the most popular surfing beaches on the south shore, Shipwrecks Beach. The south shore also has an easy scuba shore dive at Koloa Landing. Check with a local dive shop for sea conditions.
The industrial town into which your airplane lands is Lihue. There are lots of great eateries here, and again, if you are willing to try a bit of local food, check out Hamura's Saimin Shop. They are on Kress Street off of Rice Street in downtown Lihue. The Kauai museum is also in Lihue along with the county building (where you can pick up free camping permits). You will also find Kukui Grove Shopping Center in Lihue. There are movie theaters there as well as the Kauai Fitness Center and oodles of small shops. From Lihue, if you head east towards the ocean, you will reach Kalapaki Beach and Nawiliwili Harbor, the site of the brand new Kauai Marriott. There are some pricy restaraunts in this hotel. My favorite is Dukes Canoe Club. Tell the bar tender (Mark) that Kimo the scuba diver says "HI". Above Nawiliwili Harbor is the famous Menehune Fish Pond which is believed to have been built by an ancient Leprechaun-like race of Hawaiians. Just up the road from Lihue, you will come to the small town of Hanamaulu (where I was raised). There is a great restaraunt here called the Hanamaulu Cafe. It is fine Japanese cuisine and prices range from $15.00 per plate up to... well, what ever you want it to be. I recommend going for the Sunday All-You-Can-Eat sushi buffet. The chef makes fresh sushi, sashimi, poki, tempura, etc., etc., etc. Two thumbs up. Hanamaulu is also home to the famous Wailua Falls. These breathtaking twin falls were featured in the opening scenes to Fantasy Island. The falls are located 4 miles off the main highway between Lihue and Hanamaulu through the sugarcane fields.
On the east side of the island, you will find the major towns of Wailua and Kapa'a. The Wailua River is worth visiting. It is the only navigable river in Hawaii and you can charter a boat up the river to the Fern Grotto through Smith Tropical Paradaise. They also put together a great Luau which is a MUST for any visitor. The beautiful Opaekaa Falls is above Wailua along with the Sleeping Giant Mountain. If you wish to have a bit more freedom, you can also rent kayaks and paddle up the river yourself. Paddling up is easy, but coming back against the wind is tough. There are a fair number of good places to eat in these two towns. First, there is the restaraunt at the Smith Tropical Paradise, I think it is called the Smith House. In Kapa'a there is the Ono Family Restaurant, which is very reasonably priced and is right off the highway. By far the most intense casual dining experience on Kauai (and the most expensive) is A Pacific Cafe in the Whale Tower Shopping Center. They have a reputation for having good food and good service. There is also a Wyland Gallery right across the parking lot from A Pacific Cafe where you can spend some time if you arrive earlier than your dinner reservations (which are a must). The last restaraunt worth talking about is the Kapa'a Chowder House on the north end of town. Dishes range from $15.00 to $25.00 per plate. Request to sit in the Green Room, and you will be surrounded by a forest of lush ferns while you dine.
Now to the famous wet north shore. The scenery here is unbelievable! The first town you will come to is Kilauea where there is a lighthouse and bird sanctuary that is worth visiting. There is also a Guava Plantation which features beautiful open gardens. Soon after Kilauea, you will come to the Hanalei Valley Lookout just past the town of Princeville. In the valley, you can see all the taro patches that are still cultivated in the ancient Hawaiian way. The next towns will be Hanalei and Haena. Both of these towns are tiny, so if you plan to eat beyond these places, PACK A LUNCH. The road weaves in and out for a couple of miles and passes numerous Hollywood movie sites. There have been more movies and TV programs filmed on Kauai than anywhere in the state. Just to name a few - Raiders of the Lost Ark, Uncommon Valor, Thornbirds, South Pacific, North, Jurrasic Park, Outbreak, Fantasy Island, Magnum PI, King Kong, Blue Hawaii, Honeymoon in Vegas and many others. Keep your eyes open, and you might recognize some of the scenery. Towards the end of the road, you will pass Haena Beach Park right across from the Dry Cave. The Wet Cave is almost to the end of the road at Ke'e Beach (excellent snorkeling spot for beginners). At the end of the road, there is a hiking trail that takes you along the Na Pali Coastline. The trail is 11 miles long, but there are many beaches along the way to stop at. The first stop is 2.2 miles at Hanakapiai Beach. Expect to take a good hour or so to hike to this beach. You should wear shoes since it is rocky and can be wet and slippery in places. From this beach, you can hike inland 2 more miles to the Hanakapiai Waterfall. This hike is slightly more strenuous, but worth it! You can swim beneath the falls which drops down into a narrow valley. From the beach, the trail continues up the coastline to the ultimate destination, Kalalau Beach. This is the same beach you see from Kalalau Lookout past Waimea Canyon! If you plan to do this hike, expect to take one day to hike in, and one day to hike out. Camping permits can be obtained free at the Kauai County building in Lihue, but you must apply early since permit numbers are limited. Kalalau Beach boasts the ultimate in secluded Kauai scenery. At this beach, clothing is optional...