Explore Kauai, Hawaii by Air, Land and Sea

In January 2020, my mom and I went on a trip to celebrate my graduation from the University of Tennessee. We decided on Australia and New Zealand since New Zealand was my mom’s favorite location she had traveled to for business. When planning our trip, we wanted to find somewhere to stop to break up the long flight. Hawaii ended up being the perfect stop since it was almost exactly halfway between New York and Sydney. We decided to make it a leg of our trip on the way back. When deciding which island to visit, we had narrowed it down to Maui and Kauai. After hours of research and asking other bloggers for advice, I decided on Kauai. Looking at pictures of the Na Pali Coast and Waimea canyon, the decision was made for us. The majority of the island looked remarkably untouched with not a single building in sight. When we got there we spent the first two days exploring the island both by helicopter and boat. The second two days, we spent relaxing, snorkeling, and preparing to return to winter back in New York. Below I talk about the highlights of our trip, where we stayed and ate and what I would do if I went back to the island again soon.

Highlights

Helicopter – The first full day in Kauai we had our first excursion of that leg of the trip which was a helicopter ride around the island. If you have read my work on traveling with anxiety you might know that helicopters are pretty much my biggest fear but it happened to be the best way to see the island so my FOMO won over my extreme anxiety of being away from a bathroom. The volcanic island is covered with cliffs, canyons and valleys that you can’t see from the road, especially in a day. We booked our helicopter trip through a company called Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. This was our most expensive excursion of the trip but it was 100% worth it (it came out to about $250 per person). We got some really amazing photos of the island from the air. The ride felt extremely safe and our pilot was friendly and very knowledgable about the island and everything we were seeing. It was only about 50 minutes but while we were in the air saw whales along the Na Pali coasts and waterfalls that you are unable to see from the ground. We road over the Waimea Canyon and a dormant volcano and were able to see locations where they shot a bunch of movies including Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean. Honestly it is the best way to see the island and it worth the price just for the view of the Na Pali Coast alone.

Na Pali Coast

Na Pali Coast – The Na Pali Coast is one of the most famous, beautiful locations of not only Kauai but Hawaii in general. It is on almost every list I have seen of the most beautiful places in the United States in general and I definitely agree. It like many of the other places we saw in Kauai looked untouched and prehistoric. There are trails that you can hike along the ridges and through the Na Pali Coast but they are EXTREMELY difficult and some of them are very dangerous (1,000 drops down a cliffside) so I wouldn’t recommend seeing them by foot unless you are a very experienced hiker and have packed camping gear to stay through the night. The two best ways to see them are by helicopter and boat. Much less chance of becoming stranded or falling to your death that way.

Spinner Dolphins on Our Boat Trip

Boat Ride – The “sea” portion of our trip was a catamaran sail and snorkel trip. We booked a the trip through a company called Captain Andy’s before we arrived in Kauai. The trip was supposed to go up the Na Pali but unfortunately the day that we went was really rough, there were swells of 30 feet. So instead they took us in the other direction along the Southern Coast to another area of the island which also had cliffs that just weren’t as large Na Pali. We got the chance to see a ton of wildlife while riding to our snorkeling location. We saw some turtles, whales and even some dolphins as we were approaching the stop. Unfortunately the snorkeling place was not the best. There were very few fish and the water was pretty cold but the views and wildlife sightings made the trip worth it. The people on the tour with us were very friendly and the people working on the tour were really great. They made the trip so much better since we all got to relax and have some fun. They served us lunch on the boat and provided us beers and wine for the ride back.

Night Turtles – The hotel that we stayed in while we were in Kauai was great. It was right next to Poipu Beach which had some great beginners snorkeling (you didn’t need to go out far to see fish). The really amazing thing, however, was turtles that came on shore to sleep for the night. One night we walked over to the beach after dinner to see what it looked like, we had heard rumors about turtles but we weren’t sure. When we arrived we started walking along the shore to see if we could spot any. We got about half way down the beach and still hadn’t seen anything and were considering turning around but first we asked a nearby family that was hunting for crabs. They told us to continue walking and we wouldn’t be sorry and they were 100% right. Another 5 minutes later we saw a large black shape on the beach we shined our phone light near it to see if we were finally seeing what we had walked so far to see and it was! There was a large sea turtle sleeping not 5 feet from us. We took a quick photo trying our best not to disturb the turtle. The further we walked the more we saw. First it was one or two and then it was groups of 6 just hanging out getting in some Z’s.

Disclaimer: If you decide to do this please be respectful of the turtles. You are there to observe them not to get a reaction or touch them. Just take the time to admire how amazing the nature is and see something you likely wouldn’t be able to see many other places in the world.

Where we stayed:

Sheraton Kauai Resort – If we returned we would probably stay in the same place it was a beautiful hotel that wasn’t crazy expensive and was in a great location. We would probably consider leaving the hotel more often to eat and try some of the local food. On our ride there our taxi driver told us about a shopping center not far from our hotel that had a bunch of really great, local restaurants. We probably would’ve gone there if we had more time.

Where we ate:

We ate most of our meals at our hotel one of the restaurants we enjoyed the others were okay, but it probably would’ve been better if we had brought some food for breakfast or explored more restaurants in the area.

RumFire – Two out of the three nights we were there, we ate dinner at the restaurant at our hotel called Rum Fire. It was great. It had an excellent wine selection, and we were able to have a variety of great foods with a Hawaiian twist. If we went back, we would probably eat there again. The food was excellent, and I trusted them to be careful when it came to my allergies.

Plantation Gardens – We ate here our last night in Hawaii before heading back to the continental US. We were looking for something different than RumFire, so I looked into places in the area. I found Plantation Gardens, which was only a 5-minute walk from our hotel, and it was so great we wish we had the chance to go back. It is a relatively small restaurant located on a plantation of some sort with beautiful gardens all around it.

Pineapple – if you are going anywhere in Hawaii and don’t eat pineapple, you have made an enormous mistake. It is by far the best pineapple we’ve had in our lives. My mother would get up earlier than me each day and go down to the Poipu beach and get some. It was so delicious if you like pineapple, it’s just something you need to experience in person.

Transportation

RENT A CAR! Getting around Kauai is not easy if you do not rent a car. We thought it would be easy to just take Uber’s and taxis but we were 100% wrong. Getting a taxi or Uber on our side of the island took a very long time and was unreliable. We really regretted not renting a car even though we didn’t go that many places it would have been worth it just to avoid having to rely on unreliable and expensive transportation.

Review

Before going to Hawaii, I had honestly forgotten that there were places this amazingly beautiful inside the US. We were delighted we chose Kauai over some of the other islands. We were only there for a short period, which was perfect since we could see all of the sites in the short amount of time we were there. We would have loved to take the boat trip of the Na Pali coast and see some of the snorkeling on that side of the island. The turtles and wildlife honestly made the trip so much better. I have always loved marine life; aquariums were my favorite as a child. Kauai was almost like a live aquarium; it was terrific.

One quirky thing you will notice about Kauai is that it is covered with chickens and One quirky thing you will notice about Kauai is that it is covered with chickens and roosters. They are everywhere. We saw them by the marina where we took off on the boat trip, all around our hotel and on the road the entire time. If you are a light sleeper, you will hear them as they begin to crow at about 5 or 6 am. They continue to make themselves known all through the morning and early into the afternoon. It is like clockwork as you are walking through the island. You hear one crow and then another and another.

If we went back

If we went back the first thing we would do is that sailing tour again. It was such a fun trip If we went back, the first thing we would do is that sailing tour again. It was such a fun trip we honestly would be willing to do it again without the Na Pali Coast, but hopefully, we wouldn’t have to. Another thing I would love to do would be a hike in Waimea Canyon State Park. You can get great views of the canyon and the rest of the island from there. You don’t need to hike too far or too dangerously to get to the beautiful lookouts.

One thing that I would have loved to do is experience some of the Hawaiian cultures. Our hotel offered a Luau one of the nights we were there, but we didn’t have enough time to go to it. We watched the very end, and it was amazing there were fire dances and chants and other showcases of the indigenous people. Hawaii is one of the rare places in the US that truly embraces its amazing indigenous culture. I wish we had the time while we were there to partake in a Luau. If we went back, that would be high on my list.

There were a few other places we would go if we had more time and a car. On the north side, we would look into going to Queens Bath. On the South Shore, we would go to Waimea Canyon and Koke’ e State Park Overlook. From this overlook, you can get a beautiful view of none other than the Na Pali Coast. We would also go to Spouting Horn, which is within walking distance of the Sheraton and Poipu Beach. This is a rock structure where water shoots up through lava tubes into the air every time a wave comes by.

Other Things to Do

  • Tunnels Beach (snorkeling)
  • Hanalei Bay (beautiful sunset)
  • Hike to the top of Sleeping Giant
  • Tubing down the Sugar Cane Irrigation Canals
  • Kayaking up Wailua River
  • Queens Bath (lava rock pool)
  • Kalalau Trail (11 mile trail along the Na Pali Coast)
  • Wet and Dry Caves (North Shore)
  • Princeville
  • Kilauea Lighthouse
  • Wailua Falls
  • Opaekaa Falls
  • Princeville Ranch (horseback riding, ATV and zip line)
  • Explore a Coffee Plantation

Places to Eat

  • Wailua Shaved Ice
  • Dolphin Fish Market (best Poke on the Island)
  • Lava Lava Beach Club
  • Moloa’a Sunrise Juice Bar
  • Al Pastor Tacos
  • Brennecke’s Beach Broiler
  • Kauai Pasta
  • Hanalei Gourmet (fish & chips)
  • Chicken In A Barrell

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