There's plenty of things to do in south and east Kauai. I spent three days in the “Garden Isle” of Kauai, as they call it. I traveled there on a short 45 minutes plane ride from Honolulu, Oahu; it is just northwest of there.
South and East Kauai
This post is divided into two parts: one for the south and another for the east.
(why-a-may-a) <— these are my best Hawaiian, educated guesses of pronunciation from having visited and said the names!
- Drive to Waimea Canyon, which is about an hour drive up to view it but worth it. It's big, it's beautiful, it's impressive. If you're going to do a helicopter ride you could potentially skip it (since you see it from above) but I'm glad we did it. We were able to stay a little while to enjoy the views and had fun stopping periodically on the drive up.
TIP: if you do the drive stop at a 7-Eleven first. Make sure you have snacks, drinks, whatever you want to keep yourself entertained.
While it's a beautiful drive it gets redundant really quickly and we found ourselves asking each other “Are we there yet?” more than once. It's worth the journey to reach the destination but the drive to get there isn't memorable.
Sail Na Pali Coast
Though the Na Pali Coast is technically in the northwest area of Hawaii, you have to start to sail from the south coast of Kauai to get there. The best way to see it is in a boat even though some brave souls hike it.
If you wish to hike, it's called the Kalalau trail and it's about 11 miles and takes a full day. Read more about it here.
I LOVED this boat trip. (As we love all our excursions on the water and extensively write about our small format cruise trips on our sister site, Sometimes Sailing.)
We enjoyed a morning boat ride and opted for one with booze and lunch. It's a little on the pricey side at over $100, per person but it's worth it. I mean, check out these photos!
My favorite portion was a place they call “The Cathedrals.” It's simply breathtaking.
One of the highlights was a little dolphin show we were lucky to witness. I got a pretty fun video of it:
I made all my reservations ahead of time, via email. It's not inexpensive at over $200 per person, not including getting there (I drove in my rental car).
But it was certainly money well spent for what I consider, perhaps, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Just a little video of the helicopters all ready to go!
When you arrive they weigh you. This is not some self-esteem tactic – it's because they seat you in the helicopter according to weight so the small flying device you're about to get into is well balanced.
I was very lucky, and grateful, I coincidentally got what I consider the best seat in the house: the right side of the front row. (Think of the helicopter as having two rows, one row of three in front including the pilot on the left and another elevated row of three in the back, sort of like stadium seating.)
We flew all over the island and though it's a bit cheesy, they have some pre-recorded music and information to compliment what the pilot has to say too. Think “Jurassic Park” music as you fly past Jurassic Falls. Kauai is the setting for many famous film scenes, from Indiana Jones to King Kong, to Pirates of the Caribbean.
The tour is an hour and you are glad to safely land back on terra firma 🙂 after. It's truly amazing – if you can afford it, do it.
TIP: all helicopter tours I could see depart from an area near the airport, which is in east Kauai, near a town called Lihue. If you are taking a flight out and can manage a helicopter ride before you have to go to the airport, do it then. It just makes geographical sense and I'm all about efficiency.
Kilohana Estate for Lunch or Dinner
We Yelped where to eat on our drive from the airport north to our hotel, in the east. We are so glad we saw Gaylord's restaurant at Kilohana Estate come up.
It was so tranquil and provided not just a gorgeous setting to enjoy a truly delicious, pretty meal but also had a craft shop on site we enjoyed visiting. I can still taste how delicious the fish was and the coconut and passion fruit flavors infused in the whole meal.
Waterfalls are a-plenty in Kauai but the one I chose to quickly visit (due to time constraints) were Wailua Falls. There are two waterfalls next to each other so I thought it was like getting two for the “price” of one! (They don't cost anything to see, by the way.)
It was really neat to see them from an aerial view in the morning on the helicopter tour (see photos above) and then close up in the afternoon.
A great area of the south of Kauai is Koloa. There's two quick things to note here: the south end beaches and the Koloa Heritage Trail.
If you set out on the heritage trail pack water, sunscreen and some sunglasses and enjoy the beauty of the sandy coast and foliage along the trail for a few hours.
We were lucky and got to see a turtle close up on the beach. (I hope he was okay!)
Kauai truly is beautiful and even if you lounge and relax at your hotel you can't go wrong…but they make it super easy to hike, enjoy water sports, and the incredible food of the region (especially fish!) if you simply venture out just a bit. It's not a big island but it's mighty…
Cheers to sand between your toes, sunshine all around, and the rainbows that come after the Hawaiian rainy showers.