It is one thing to explore Kauai by road and a totally different experience to grab a kayak and paddle around the island. Kayaking reveals much of the hidden beauty of the Garden Isle, available only to the intrepid travelers who dare to access them.
The island gives you both sea kayaking and inland river kayaking options to choose based on your desired experience. Kauai is famous for its navigable rivers, that facilitate a smooth paddling experience while you bask in the glorious setting.
Sea kayaking can get rough and strenuous, depending on the ocean conditions, and is recommended only if you are confident in your physical abilities and have a guide by your side. However, the views in the end are nothing short of magical.
Here are some of the best kayaking spots on Kauai you should explore during your vacation on the island:
Wailua River Kayak and Hike to Secret Falls
Wailua River is Kauai’s largest navigable river and the most sacred one too. It is located to the north of Lihue, on Kauai’s east side.
By paddling along the Wailua River, you get to course through dense rainforests, swim beneath a hidden waterfall and access the numerous Heiau sites that were once revered by the royalty.
The most popular activity here is a kayak tour to Secret falls. On this tour, you’ll be kayaking upstream for a couple of miles followed by a mile long moderate hike through a rainforest. The tour ends at the 100ft waterfall with a beautiful pool at the bottom, where playful tourists are often found swimming and taking photographs.
The kayak tour also gives you access to the Fern grotto, a lava cave covered with ferns, and Kamokila Hawaiian Village.
There are kayak rentals in the region to assist you with the necessary equipment and guidance. If you’re looking to explore a tranquil and scenic location combined with a short hike, Wailua River Kayak is your best bet.
Huleia River Kayak Tour
Huleia river kayak tour starts from the Nawiliwili harbor and is another option worth exploring if you are near Lihue. Although the itinerary seems similar to that of Wailua River Kayak tour, the experience is entirely different.
You’ll be paddling through the 238 acre wide Huleia Wildlife Refuge, which is now a habitat for many endangered bird and plant species.
On the way, you get to see the 1000 year old Menehune fishpond, which is only a few minutes away from Nawiliwili harbor. Ancient Hawaiian legend has it that this pond was built overnight by the Menehune.
The 2.5 mile kayak trip, turns into a hike or drive through the Huleia wildlife refuge, coursing through tropical fruit and bamboo trees. Eventually you’ll reach the Papakolea or Dundee falls, as the locals call it, and end the hike with a refreshing dip in the Blue Pool.
Hanalei River and Bay Kayak Tour
Looking for a mix of inland river and sea water kayaking? Then head over to Hanalei Bay, the Jewel of north shore, for the best of both worlds.
Hanalei kayak tours usually start from the Hanalei pier. You’ll be paddling upstream along the Hanalei River and pass by taro fields and tropical rainforests before joining the Hanalei Bay.
As you join the bay, the spectacular Mount Makana (or the Bali Hai) will be waiting to greet you. Mount Makana is associated with many ancient Hawaiian traditions, such as the popular flame throwing festival.
After a few hours of strenuous paddling, get ready to soothe yourself with a refreshing snorkel at Hanalei Bay and explore it’s beautiful reef system and aquatic life.
Kayaking the Napali Coast
In 2000, National Geographic deemed kayaking the Napali Coast as the second best adventure in the country.
Kayaking to Kauai’s most prized possession, the Napali coast, is a physically demanding option when compared to boat tours. But the trade off is amazing as it is a magical experience to traverse the entire mountainous coastline, pierce cascading waterfalls and explore the sea caves like never before.
You can start kayaking either from Haena beach or Polihale beach. The 17 mile paddle from Haena ends at Polihale beach with a relaxing stop at Milolii in between. On the other hand, the 12 mile Polihale route is calmer and easier on your muscles. The kayak tour can be combined with a refreshing snorkeling break at Nualolo Kai or the Honopu Valley.
Kayaking is best enjoyed during the summer months, from May through September. It is best that you start your kayak trip early in the morning as the conditions can get windy in the afternoon and make your return difficult.
Whether you’re up for a solo adventure or join a rental company, it’s good practise to plan and book your kayak trip two weeks prior to your visit. If you’re a beginner paddler, it is advisable to join a reputed tour company. They train you on the fundamentals of kayaking, handling upstream and downstream currents, and how to stay away from other kayakers and boats to have a safe experience. An experienced and knowledgeable guide by your side can enhance your experience of the adventure that is waiting to unfold.