For a Hawaiian vacation without the bustling crowds of Oahu and Maui, look to Kauai, the oldest island in the American state.
While Kauai doesn’t attract the tourist numbers of its larger neighboring islands, travelers are still well catered for as tourism is the isle’s main industry. Visitors looking to save cash and enjoy the island’s natural beauty can camp in the forest reserves, and county and state parks with a permit. County park and forest reserve permits cost only a few dollars, while state park permits are free.
The island location is ideal for enjoying the great outdoors, both in the water and on land. Anglers fish for large and smallmouth bass in the island’s inland reservoirs, and find marlin, ono, ahi, and aku off the south and east coasts. If you’ve got bigger targets in mind, charter a boat to secluded Niihau Island to fish for marlin and giant tuna.
Windsurfers flock to the waves of Kalapaki Beach and Anini Beach Park. For more of a challenge, look to the big swell of Haena Beach on the north shore.
And if you want to get up close and personal with the island’s underwater occupants, the calm clear water along the southern coast is the place to do it. Scuba divers will enjoy the abundant sea life and average visibility of around 50 feet.
The locals of Kauai know how to have just as much fun on dry land as in the water. The island is home to some of Hawaii’s best, and arguably most challenging, golf courses. Many of them are found in Kauai’s resorts, but others are open to the public. While you’re playing a few holes make sure you stop to admire the awe-inspiring ocean views.
Many locals say that the best way to discover Kauai is on horseback. There are many scenic trails in the largely undisturbed Hanalei Valley, the rugged Waimea Canyon, and the coastal Haupu Valley.
If you’d prefer to set out on foot, you won’t be disappointed by the island’s hiking trails. The swimming hole at the bottom of the Waimea Canyon is a great reward for hiking The Kukui Trail. For something a bit shorter, but no less spectacular, look to The Kuilau Ridge Trail. During the 4.2 mile round trip you’ll enjoy views of small waterfalls and plenty of the flora which gives Kauai its nickname of the Garden Isle. Only the most experienced hikers should tackle the challenging Kalalau Trail. The camp ground at Hanakapiai makes a great overnight destination for trekkers looking to discover this beautiful, but demanding, terrain.
There are many other tourist attractions on Kauai designed for travelers who don’t want to conquer the great outdoors. A tour of the island’s historical sites and museums is a great way to learn about what makes Kauai so unique.
The island’s largest collection of artifacts is housed at the Kauai Museum in Lihue. Historical relics from the time before Europeans arrived, and the missionary and plantation periods are on show alongside exhibitions of local geology, flora, and fauna.
Old Kapaa Town on the Coconut Coast has remained largely unchanged since the plantation days of the 19th century. Today its quaint buildings are filled with quirky arts and craft stores and restaurants serving up delicious local cuisine. A stroll around the streets is a great way to spend a day, and find unusual souvenirs of your stay in Kauai.
While native Kauai people have adopted Western customs, you can see the descendants of ancient salt makers making salt as they have for generations at the salt ponds near Hanapepe on Kauai’s Western side. It’s fascinating to watch the craftsman make salt in earthen pans, but make sure you ask the salt makers before entering the salt-making area.
Like the rest of Hawaii, Kauai has a real appeal to sun lovers dreaming of pristine beaches and cool waves. However its rich history and areas untouched by human developers help to set it apart.