Ask anyone their top holiday destinations and you will likely hear Hawaii. When a good deal on a flight came up, we decided to go for it. We started on the Island of Kauai. The flight from Phoenix was a long six hours, but luckily it was direct!
Kauai, also known as the Garden Island, is one of the eight major islands that make up Hawaii. Its home to a lush tropical rainforest, the stunning Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon.
Hawaii is a fun, unique state, however, it doesn’t quite live up to its hype. Don’t get me wrong, its beautiful, but I think it’s much more commercialized than I expected and it is insanely expensive. That being said, we had a great time and I think its worth a visit if its on your list!
2-DAYS IN KAUAI, HAWAII
THINGS TO KNOW
For being a small island, Kauai is very spread out. We rented a Jeep for the entirety of our trip. Unless you plan to hang out at your resort exclusively, you WILL need a car… and nothing is more fun (or popular) than a soft-top Jeep!
Hawaii is quite expensive. I don’t think we had a meal for under $50. Although probably expected, gas is also much higher on the island. You can definitely make your experience more affordable if needed, but its good to note that most things are pricier in Hawaii than mainland U.S.
A fun fact… the island is full of roosters. Yes, roosters 🐓. Rumor has it, a hurricane hit the islands back in the 80s and damaged many of the chicken coops, thus releasing them into the wild. They fled into the rainforest and began to repopulate. Today, wild roosters are everywhere! They’re really funny but also super loud. The cockadoodledoo-ing starts WELL before sunrise. So if you’re a light sleeper I recommend brining earplugs.
WHERE TO STAY
Unlike most of our trips, we didn’t do a ton of research before heading to Hawaii. That said, I think we did a great job picking a location. We stayed in the Wailua area and it was really centrally located between the northern and southern parts of the island.
The Na Pali Coast takes up almost the entire western part of the island and that area is essentially unaccessible by car. I think if you’re looking to stay up north, the Princeville area is a good option and for the southern part of the island I recommend the Poipu Beach area.
WHAT TO PACK
I have an entire guide of what I packed for our trip. Now that the trip is over, I can confidently stand by my selections. I wore almost everything (sans the espadrilles) and the items I brought worked perfect for the activities we planned. You can check out that guide here!
First things first, we took the top down on the Jeep, its the only way to ride! Until of course, you get sunburned like I did later that afternoon😂.
We stopped for brekkie at Lava Lava Beach Club. I had the mangomosa (fresh mango juice & champagne) and an avocado sandwich. They also brought us banana macadamia nut muffin and it was SO good. Paul has a severe nut allergy, so he couldn’t try it, but I took one for the team! It’s located along the beach with nice ocean views and plenty of vegetarian friendly options.
After breakfast, we hopped back in our ‘whip to drive around the island. We started by heading up north towards Hanalei Bay. The drive was so relaxing and fun. There was a great local radio station playing Hawaiian hits. The warm breeze and the fresh ocean air was unbeatable.
As I mentioned earlier, the Na Pali Coast takes up a large part of the island and the roads don’t go all the way around. After reaching the end of the northern road, we stopped in Hanalei Bay. I was desperate to try a shave ice so we stopped at Shave Ice Paradise. If you decide to get shave ice (which you should), you must try it with a “snowcap”. The snowcap is sweet condensed milk they drizzle over the top of the shave ice and it is amazing. Seriously, it makes the shave ice so much better. Theres also an option to get a scoop of ice cream at the bottom.
This was my first shave ice experience and it was amazing! I couldn’t wait to eat it for breakfast lunch and dinner, but sadly, no other place compared to Shave Ice Paradise – not even the popular spots that came so highly recommended. Shave Ice Paradise’s was so smooth and refreshing and their snow cap was the perfect sweet & creamy topping. Some of the other spots we tried were very watery and icy.
Heading towards the south of the island you’ll find Waimea Canyon. Its often called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” and it’s easy to see why. The canyon has a red soil reminiscent to the rocks in northern Arizona, but it’s much smaller, only about 10 miles long (the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long in some parts!). Waimea Canyon offers endless hiking options. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to take advantage of the trails. There is a park you can drive to for some great views of the canyons if hiking doesn’t work for you.
Technically lunch was shave ice 🤪, so we opted for an early dinner at Olympic Cafe in Wailua. The food is good but nothing special, however the location is great. It’s upstairs in an open-air space on the main street. It’s great for people watching and its right next to a lot of little shops.
We ended the day at our hotels tiki bar. An acoustic guitar player performed a lot of Hawaiian classics while we sipped on Mai Tais. It was a relaxing spot to watch the sun set and listen to the roosters… errr, the guitar!
Let me start with a big thanks to Megan from Moderately Excited for this recommendation (she has a very extensive guide to Kauai so check it out)! We took her advise and started our day with a sunrise hike at Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail. Parking can be hard to find as the day goes on – there is street parking or a public parking lot located at the end of Ainakoa St (only 30 spaces). If you’d like to park in the lot, make sure you get there early, it fills up fast. We got there right at sunrise and there were only about a dozen spots left.
The hike is SO beautiful. The trail is a mixture of sand & rocks along a cliff right alongside the ocean. Sunrise will take place straight out in the ocean and its stunning. It took us about 1 hour 15 mins to walk to the golf course at the end of the trail and back to Poipu Beach. You could definitely spend more time here watching the sunrise and enjoying the fresh ocean air. It’s an easy hike… more of a walking trail than a traditional hike. I think most healthy/active adults & children would find it pretty simple.
For lunch we decided to go to the Beach House restaurant in Poipu Beach. It came highly recommended by a lot of people. It’s located on the ocean with fantastic views of the beach and the surfers. I ordered a White Walker, a drink made of gin, cream of coconut, cardamom & lime. Its probably the best drink I’ve ever had! Overall, the food was good and the view was great, but the Beach House is slightly overrated.
CATAMARAN TO NA PALI COAST
We ended our day in one of my favorite ways… on a boat! We booked a four hour catamaran tour with Caption Andy. The catamaran was a 65ft boat with leather seats, traditional netted trampolines and a small enclosed seating area. The cost was $165pp including a 3-course meal (vegetarian & allergy friendly) and unlimited beer, tiki drinks and non-alcoholic beverages. There are many cruise companies to choose from but I highly recommend Andy’s. The crew was fantastic and the cruise was the highlight of our Kauai trip.
The Na Pali Coast is SO stunning. Its essentially untouched, as the only ways to access it are a multi-day hike, a helicopter or a boat tour. The lush green mountainsides give glimpses of lush, deep canyons. Our guide told us the coast used to be covered in waterfalls. You can see where the water carved out its path in the mountainside. Apparently when sugarcane farming was at its height, the farmers diverted the water from the falls for their crop. Even though sugarcane farming has subsided, the farmers have land rights to the water, meaning, we will probably never see water falling along the cliffs. Quite sad.
Pro tip: The Starboard side (right side) gives you more shade and you’re on the coast-view side on the way up. On the way back to dock, the Starboard side puts you next to the sunset. Also, if you’re susceptible to motion sickness, take a Bonine/Dramamine one hour before your boat departs, stay in the open air and keep your eyes on the horizon, if possible!
Kauai is a great place to visit for outdoor enthusiasts. It offers hiking, water activities and a lot of natural wonders. I recommend spending between two-five days in Kauai depending on your agenda. We would like to go back and try camping on one of the secluded beaches near the Na Pali Coast.
Fall is a great time to visit because the weather is still very warm but not too hot and its also not the rainy season. October (when we visited) is one of their busiest months, so if you have flexible dates, look at November or April.