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Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide
Last Updated: Jul-03-2014, Hits: 20,517, Rating: 5.00, Reviews: 1, Votes: 1 Bookmark and Share
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Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide Restaurants (113)
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Location: North America
Geography: Island, Beach, Mountains, Jungle/Rainforest
Vacation Type: Family, Romantic, Relaxation, Adventure
Popularity: Moderate Tourism
Costs: Moderate, Expensive
Attractions: Golfing, Surfing, Spa & Wellness, Scuba & Snorkeling, Hiking, Fishing, Ecotourism, Cultural Attractions, Scenery, Gardens

Facts and Stats:
Nickname: The Garden Isle
Population: 67,091
Land Area: 552.3 square miles
Government: Constitution-based federal republic
Telephone Area Code: 808
Country Dialing Code: +1
Languages: English, Hawaiian
Electricity: 120v
Time Zone: HST/UTC-10
Current Time:

Lush and exotic, Kauai is known as "The Garden State". It certainly earns its nickname. Kauai is a symphony of greens and boasts the wettest spot on earth, at the center of the island on Mount Wai'ale'ale (rippling waters). It has an average of 440.22 inches of rain per year. Not all of Kauai is wet and green - the southern part remains much hotter and drier. Kauai is the oldest and the fourth largest of the Hawaiian Islands, approximately 552 square miles. Kauai has been the backdrop to many Hollywood films because of its lush beauty. Jurassic Park, Fantasy Island, South Pacific, King Kong and many others have used Kauai to depict an exotic location.

The Hawaiian Islands consist of a chain of 132 volcanic islands. They are the northern extension of the Polynesian Islands in the south and central Pacific Ocean. The chain of 132 islands occupies about two thousand miles. There are 8 main inhabited islands: Nihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and Hawaii. Kauai is the oldest of these islands. It was formed over 5 million years ago from a single shield volcano that became deeply eroded with time. Time and erosion have created Hawaii's only navigable rivers, carved a deep canyon, and formed the face of the Na Pali cliffs, all of which are utterly unforgettable.

Brief History:
Hawaii is believed to be settled sometime between 500 and 600 AD by the people of the Marqueseas Islands, and later by Tahitian and possibly other Polynesian explorers sometime around 1000 AD. These people became collectively known as the Kanaka Maoli, or the native Hawaiians. They lived in an organized and self-sufficient society with communal land. Sometimes at peace and sometimes at war, they expanded their territory over the 8 main islands. In the 1800's the entire island group was consolidated into one kingdom, The Kingdom of Hawaii, with Kamehameha as the first ruler.

Explorer James Cook arrived here in 1778 and this marked the first of many western explorers to come. They arrived to whale, to harvest sandalwood trees, pineapples, macadamia nuts, etc. Missionaries came to "save" the native people and also helped to establish a very lucrative sugarcane industry. As Hawaii's sugarcane industry grew so did the United States' interest in Hawaii, although the interest in the territory was also in part to having a strategic sea location for military operations. A temporary and provisional government was established by the United States to regulate the booming sugarcane industry, which brought into place the "Great Mahele" in 1848. This was an act that divided the land between the King and the people, and permitted private ownership of land. In a very short time, most native Hawaiians no longer had access to land, which had previously been communal. The temporary government was also responsible for the overthrow of the royal family and the establishment of Hawaii as an official territory to the United States of America. Hawaii became an official state of the United States of America on August 21st, 1959.

Kauai is separated by what the locals refer to as "shores". The North Shore (Princeville to Hanelei) is the most lush and green, and has resisted commercial development. It remains small, charming, and beautiful. The East shore is called the Coconut Coast, (Kapaa to Lihue) because of the ancient groves of palm trees. The South Shore (Lihue to Kekaha) is sunnier and drier, and many of the resorts and condominiums reside here, to maximize vacationers sun soaking. The West Shore is the Na Pali coastline, and is only accessible by boat, helicopter or a 12-mile hike.

Hawaii is abundant in natural beauty and has one of the world's most extreme natural playgrounds. There would be little point to traveling to Hawaii without seeing some of its amazing land and seascapes. There are a variety of things to get outside and do - some on your own, some in tours.

Snorkeling and Scuba diving is as easy as renting some gear at a shop and getting in the water (You will need to be certified to dive, though). Shops will usually provide you with a map of good snorkel spots, as well as places to be avoided. You can also do tours if you want extra information, or to go out on a boat to see places not accessible from the beaches. There are a variety of tours that will cater most desires whether they be seeing turtles and dolphins, locating good dive spots, kayaking, coral reef exploration, etc.

Kauai has some excellent snorkeling that is very easy to access from the shore. Tunnels and Ke'e beaches are two places that have very shallow sand channels right off shore, and good opportunities to see green sea turtles and a variety of fish and coral. Diving isn't quite as popular here as in Maui or the Big Island, but still there are some really nice dive places here. Bubbles Below is a good place for boat dives; they know where the good spots are. Diving off Niihau is renown for large marine life - sharks and monk seals to name a few. "The Hole" near the Princeville Hotel is a hole in the reef that offers an interesting dive spot. People dive at Tunnels, but it might be better to go with a shore dive company that knows the area, it is pretty hard to know where to go and a lot of the reef is very shallow. In addition to regular dives, Sunrise Diving does scooter dives (DPVS), which are, guided underwater tours where you can access a lot more area since the DPV does most of the work for you.

Hiking is a huge recreational activity in Kauai, and there is no shortage of hikes to take on the island. There are hikes for any skill level with an amazing variety of landscapes. Popular hikes run through swamps, jungles, canyons, bamboo groves, or the famous Kalalau trail- which is 11 miles long and takes you over the valley into the Na Pali Coastline. The only other way to access the beautiful coastline is by boat or kayak, which is another popular activity on Kauai. There are 4 rivers on Kauai in addition to the Na Pali coastline and the open ocean. River kayaking is a peaceful way to see Kauai. The Wailua River is the most popular as it is both serene and scenic. The Kalihawai River is a short kayak trip but it has really lovely scenery. You can do the rivers yourself, or go on a tour. Kayak Kauai will take kayakers on guided tours. Ocean kayaking is also popular here, and there are more guided tours available. Outfitters Kauai does Na Pali coast trips and other ocean destinations. June through August are the calm months where ocean kayaking is permitted. If you aren't up for the kayaking, there are a variety of catamaran or zodiac boats to take you to see the Na Pali Coast.

Humpback whales migrate through the Hawaiian Islands December through May. It is more common to see the humpbacks in Maui, but it isn't uncommon to see them in Kauai in March, April or May. It is pretty common, however, to see the green sea turtle. If you aren't diving or snorkeling, there are a few places where you can see them from the shore- Queen's Bath is such a place. They come in to feed on the algae rich rocks right off shore and you can see them bobbing and grazing.

Then there are the beaches. Kauai has more sand beaches per mile of shoreline than the rest of the islands. There are many beaches on Kauai, and definitely a beach for every type. Some very good beaches include: Ke'e Beach- it offers great snorkeling, and decent swimming, and if you walk north as far as you can go, there are amazing views of the Na Pali coastline. Tunnels beach has a huge reef-, but not so great for swimming as the reef comes in very close to the shoreline. As mentioned before, Queens Bath is a really cool place. There are holes in the lava making several little swimming holes that are pretty, and fish and turtles come into the little inlets. If the turtles don't come into the inlets, they are often right off shore feeding. Lydgate State Park has enclosed pond areas that are nice for beginning snorkelers or kids. These are only several out of hundreds of beaches so there are sure to be several beaches to please you whether it be snorkeling, sunbathing, kid friendly, surfing, beachcombing, boogie boarding or seclusion.

Kauai has the reputation of being the friendliest in all of the state. Perhaps it is because they really are happier living in such a beautiful place. Kauai is the only island not to be conquered by King Kamehameha, they joined the Kingdom willingly in its own best interest. Perhaps this is why Kauai residents march to a slightly different beat than the rest of the islands. They don't want developments taller than the coconut trees and they have resisted expansion preferring instead to keep the pristine beauty of the island as intact as possible. Residents of Kauai are very progressive and involved. There is more active volunteering in Kauai than any state on the mainland. Kauai is an oasis of healing - holistic medicines, yoga, spiritual wellness are all very popular on the island. As with the rest of the Hawaiian Islands, there is a very laid back pace. Schedules are not strict so be prepared to "go with the flow". When you allow yourself to fall in step with the more relaxed attitude, you may find yourself smiling a lot more and frowning a lot less.

The food in Hawaii is a mixed bag, pulling in recipes and ingredients from many different cultures. You might go into a restaurant and find kim chee, saimin, chili and Spam all on the menu. Tasting the local Hawaiian food ("grinds") can be quite a treat. Luau meals are very tasty featuring lau lau (fish and pork wrapped in taro leaves), kalua pig (smoked pork cooked in an underground oven called an imu), lomi lomi salmon (a tomato and onion relish with smoked salmon) and of course, poi (cooked and mashed taro root). Be sure to get a plate lunch complete with two scoops of rice and macaroni salad, and your choice of teriyaki beef or chicken. Also good are the kalbi ribs, a Korean style bbq cross rib that is sweet, sticky, and very good. For the sweet tooth, malasadas and shave ice are sure to please. Kauai also has a strong organic and natural foods presence. Where it might not be "native Hawaiian" food per se, you are likely to find restaurants striving to use local and organic ingredients - a lot of fresh fish, vegetables, smoothies, and foods prepared with care.

Nearly everything in Hawaii is expensive. A gallon of milk can cost $5. There is a Costco near the airport; it is probably the cheapest way to get groceries or amenities. Another tip is to go to Wal-Mart for any souvenirs or gifts for family and friends back home. The prices are cheap and they offer a large variety of Hawaiian fare for a few bucks. There are several farmers and fish markets to pick up fish or vegetables that will be cheaper than the grocery stores as well. Lodging is on the expensive side, but you will have a range of choices available to fit your budget. House or Condominium rentals can be a good choice if you are traveling with a group of people. Make sure you book well in advance as there aren't enough rentals on the island for the demand.

Getting There and Around:
Obviously, most people get to Hawaii by plane. Most flights land in Oahu or Maui, from where you will need to take a short flight to Kauai. There are several places that run direct flights to Kauai, but the airport is pretty small, so more than likely you will stop at another island first. There is a lot to see on Kauai and it is about 55 miles long, so really, you should rent a car. It is a good idea to make car reservations in advance. Most rental car companies are stationed at Lihue airport, so you can pick up your car when you come in. Car rentals are pretty reasonably priced. If you don't want to rent a car, most major hotels offer free shuttle service to and from the airport. There are taxis as well, but this can get expensive. Other options include renting a bicycle or a scooter but this isn't a good idea if you would like to check out the whole island. Pedal and Paddle rents both bicycles and scooters. You can certainly get a taxi to and from the airport, and some taxi services offer island tours as well (North Shore Cab is one), but this will be an expensive way to see the island. There are some places to visit that require 4wd to access, and the island takes about 2 hours to drive from top to bottom, so bear in mind what you want to do while you stay on Kauai and rent accordingly.

There is an inter-island Superferry that was in operation, however, in 2009 the courts ruled that the law that allowed Superferry to operate was unconstitutional and the ferry service is grounded for now.

Local flights are available through Hawaiian Airlines and Aloha Airlines and several other carriers. It is tempting to want to see more than one island on your travels, but unless you can stay for 2 nights, we don't recommend it. Via plane, it just takes too long to get in and out of the airport, return and rent cars, check in and check out. When the Super ferry is up and running it may be much easier to check out the other islands.

Entry Requirements:
If you are a US citizen, traveling to Hawaii is like traveling between states. You are not required to bring a passport, and the paperwork you will need to fill out is required by the US and Hawaii State Departments of Agriculture to prevent harmful plant pests and diseases from coming into Hawaii. If you are not a US resident, you will be required to have a passport.

The current weather conditions for Lihue, Kauai are shown below:

High season in Kauai runs from mid-December to mid-April when the temperatures are a little more mild. However, these aren't the months with the lowest rainfall. Keep in mind that, like many mountainous islands, Kauai has micro-climates. The table below shows the average highs, lows, and rainfall for Lihue.

Month Avg High Avg Low Average Rainfall
January 78 65 4.59"
February 78 66 3.26"
March 78 67 1.03"
April 79 69 3.00"
May 81 70 2.87"
June 83 73 1.82"
July 84 74 2.12"
August 85 74 1.91"
September 85 74 2.69"
October 83 73 4.25"
November 81 71 4.70"
December 79 68 4.78"

You might be interested to know that Mount Wai'ale'ale is considered by many to be the wettest place on earth with over 460 inches of rain and up to 350 rainy days every year.

Kauai Visitors Bureau: 800-262-1400

Camping Permits
State: (808) 274-3444
County: (808) 241-4463

Kauai Bus: (808) 241-6410
Lihue Airport: (808) 246-1448
Weather: (808) 245-6001
Police: (808) 241-1642

Travel Tips:
  • As tempting as it may be to swim in the various freshwater pools and rivers, all of Kauai's rivers have been found to contain Leptospirosis which is a serious bacteria that can cause renal failure, liver failure, and even death. Do not allow the water to touch any of your mucous membranes or open wounds.

  • It is considered very impolite to refer to the U.S. mainland as "the States" or to otherwise imply that Hawaii is not part of the U.S. Asking, "Do you accept American money?" or "How do you like the United States?" is probably considered both rude and ignorant.

  • Theft is a minor problem in cities, beaches and parks. Just be smart, don't leave your valuables out in the open on the beach or in your car and you should be okay.

  • Hawaii has a reputation for shark attacks, but really this is because there are so many people in the water year round. In fact, given the thousands of people in the water everyday, and given that there is an average of only 2 shark attacks per year, your chances of being attacked are extremely unlikely. Just be intelligent about your choices. Don't swim alone, be cautious in deep and murky water, and if you are bleeding, get out of the water. For more information on shark attacks, see the article in the Additional Articles section of this guide.

  • Do get an underwater camera - you can buy cheap disposable ones that take decent pictures. The water is clear and there are so many lovely underwater scenes, you will regret not having one.

  • If you plan to snorkel a lot, you may want to pick up some tropical gloves as there are shallow areas of the reef. This way you won't run the risk of cutting your hands- coral can cause a nasty infection.

  • You may want some reef shoes that can fit inside your fins as well. In some areas the reef comes almost all the way to the shore. You can put your fins on when you are still on the sand, but it is rather annoying to walk down the beach in your fins.

  • Make sure you bring enough water when you are hiking as dehydration is very common.

  • Kauai recycles nearly everything, so please take a moment of your time to not throw plastic, aluminum, paper, etc. away and find a recycling receptacle.

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User Reviews (1)

Reviewed by: sloshed
Review date: Aug-13-2007

We were in Kauai during May of 2007. We had been to Maui once before and were there again the week before heading to Kauai. We were pretty disappointed in Maui on this trip - too crowded, too many strip malls, etc.. We prefer to get away from the crowds and Kauai was perfect. We rented the Anini Beach House from Clover and Dylan on Anini Beach, just south of Hanalei Bay. The town of Hanalei is quaint, and the bay has a great beach. There are many other great beaches in the area, several of which are not crowded at all and have good snorkeling. We loved the northern end of the island for the lush jungle and the people were laid back surfer types. We enjoyed our visits to the southern end, but wouldn't want to stay there - too dry and too many resorts and people. The island itself is amazingly beautiful. There are great hikes in the Waimea Canyon and you have to take a boat trip to see the Napali coastline - it will blow your mind.. Overall, Kauai is a great place to relax and see some incredibly beautiful sights... 

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