A road-trip is a great way to explore the lush-green valleys, scenic coastlines, local food and culture of Kauai at your own pace. The element of surprise involved in discovering new things when you head out on your own, will give you the necessary dopamine rush to make your trip memorable.
It’s one thing to relax in the comforting resorts of Kauai and a totally different thing to get out on the streets and explore the island by road. Though the circumference of the island can be covered in less than 4 hours, it is better to do it at your own pace and get the most out of your road trip.
Since you will be driving along the coast most of the time, the fact that there is easy accommodation available at most of the beaches, makes your road trip easy and hassle-free.
Following is a list of 12 must-do activities on your road trip in Kauai which will help you plan your road trip and spend more time at the places that resonate with you:
Kauai Road Trip: 12 Best Activities
1. Spouting Horn
Located in the Kola district on the southern coast of Kauai, this unique blowhole shoots a huge spout of water into the air with a hissing sound. The water sometimes goes as high as 30 to 50 ft. The blowhole cavity was formed as a result of the ocean waves crashing against the rocks for many years. Unlike the beaches, the shore is made out of lava rocks and is a great place to enjoy the ocean view and sunset.
It is easy to find a parking space at any time of the year. During day time you can find vendor stalls selling local goods such as arts, crafts and souvenirs. Spouting horn is close to Poipu and you can fix your itinerary accordingly.
2. Witnessing the Waterfalls
If scenery is your top priority, the Wailua falls should be on the top of your list. Unlike most of the waterfalls in Kauai, the Wailua Falls is easily accessible by car. The view is close to the parking lot and makes this a good side trip. The splendid scenery of the twin waterfalls is the reason why tourists flock to this place. The parking space is limited and can be crowded during peak hours.
A few miles away from Wailua falls is the Opaekaa falls. As per the locals this is the most easily accessible waterfall on the island with ample parking space. Since both these waterfalls belong to the eastern part of the island, you can plan for a quick stop on your way to the north shore or on your way back to the south.
3. Explore the State Parks
Kauai is home to a plethora of state parks. You can explore any one of the state parks or visit all of them based on the amount of time you have. Most of the state parks have basic amenities like restrooms, showers and picnic tables.
The Haena beach park on the north shore has beautiful beaches, coral reefs, hiking trails and sea caves that date back to more than 4000 years. The calm waters of the coral reef make the place ideal for swimming and snorkelling.
The Koke’e state park on the north-western shore is a paradise for hikers as it has 7 hiking trails. Do visit the Koke’e Natural History Museum for its exhibits, maps, guides and souvenirs.
Visit the Waimea Canyon State Park for a splendid view of the Waimea Canyon, often referred to as the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’.
4. Snorkelling in Lydgate Beach Park
If you are in the mood for snorkelling, there are plenty of places in Kauai to fulfil your craving. But there is something unique about Lydgate Beach Park that makes it special. On the shore, there is a giant pool protected from the ocean waters by boulders. The pool is designed in such a way that the fish can enter into it through the cervices. The calm water, different varieties of tropical fish and lifeguard facility on the beach makes this place an ideal snorkelling spot.
The beach park also has playgrounds and picnic spots making it a perfect family holiday spot.
5. Camping on the Beach
What can be better than relaxing on the soothing beaches sipping a glass of Mai Tai? Camping is a way to do just that. This is the reason why you can see a lot of tents springing up when you visit the beaches. Most of the beach parks in Kauai provide camping access.
The Haena beach on the north shore is a favourite camping spot among locals and tourists alike. The beach boasts of a splendid view of the gorgeous Napali cliffs. Moreover, the place is close to Tunnels beach and Hanalei Bay which are great spots for camping as well.
With valid camping permits, you can access the campsites in some of the state parks, following a hike through the nature. The Black pot beach park, Lydgate state compound, Salt pond beach park and Anini beach park are also popular camping grounds on the island.
6. Try the Local Food
Food is always in abundance in Kauai. Out of the many delicious foods available, the poke bowls, acai fruit bowls and shave ice are a must try on your road trip. You can find ample destinations to have quick stops and recharge yourself.
Poke (pronounced as Po-Keh) is a local favourite made with chunks of cubed fish seasoned with sea salt, onions and sea weed and a sauce topping of your choice. Poke bowls are available almost everywhere on the island. It is more prominent on the southern coast with popular spots like Fish Express in Lihue and the Koloa Fish Market.
The Acai (pronounced as Ah-sigh-ee) fruit bowl is the local superfood as it will instantly recharge you with its nutritious elements. It is a prepared with a base of Acai berries and a combination of tropical fruits, crunchy Granola, a dash of honey and topping of your choice. The Kalalea Juice Hale on the east shore, serves king-sized acai fruit bowls. Other popular spots are The Aloha juice bar the north shore and Anake’s juice bar in Kukuila market in Koloa.
If you are mad about desserts, Kauai’s local sensation called the Shave Ice will blow you away. As the name suggests, it is made of shaved ice and is served with different toppings. The nature of toppings vary in different parts of the island. There is no end to the number of variations of shave you can try here.
A road trip is an excellent opportunity to try different recipes as you travel across the island. Don’t be surprised if you put on a few pounds during your trip.
7. Kilauea Light House
This historic monument located on the Kilauea point, towards the northern shore of Kauai, is home to breath-taking scenery and wildlife. Every year, thousands of seabirds, of different varieties, come to this point for nesting, laying and resting. The entry-fee in inexpensive. Do carry a binocular with you as you have a good chance of spotting humpback whales, dolphins and sea turtles.
8. Hanalei Bay
This is arguably the largest bay in Kauai. The best thing about Hanalei bay is that it is located on the north shore, with a picturesque mountain background. The beach is decorated with palm trees and is an ideal sunset spot. This crescent shaped bay has high tides towards the right and is a heaven for surfers. The calm waters on the other side is ideal for swimming and snorkelling.
Hanalei Bay has 3 beach parks namely Black Pot beach park, Hanalei Pavilion Beach Park and Waioli Beach Park. Since this is the highlight of North shore, one full day of your road trip can be dedicated to exploring Hanalei bay and the town.
9. Explores Dry and Wet Caves
Along with beautiful coastlines and rugged cliffs, Kauai also has some fascinating caves. The Makauwahi cave, situated in the Mahaulepu valley on the southern coast of Kauai, is the island’s largest limestone cave. The cave is reached through a giant sinkhole and is worth checking out.
While driving along the north shore, you can explore the Maniniholo dry cave, located right across the Haena beach. The nature of the cave is intriguing with its sandy floor and low ceilings. If you like the eeriness inside, do explore till the end with the help of a torchlight.
10. Hike the Kalalau Trail
This is one of the most incredible and challenging experiences you can have in Kauai. The Kalalau Trail resides along the NaPali coast. The trail stretches 11 miles on the north shore of the island and connects Ke’e beach to the Kalalau valley.
Average hikers will require two days to complete the trail. If time is not on your side, you can choose to hike the initial 3 mile stretch which leads to the Hanakapiai stream and beach. However, if you have a camping permit and can manage to reach the end of the Kalalau trail, you will be treated to magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean, beaches and Valleys.
11. Explore the Towns
Kauai is well known for its calm and history-rich towns. With prior planning, you can dedicate chunks of time to explore the popular towns in the island.
The Southern shore of the island is home to popular towns like Hanapepe, Poipu and Kapaa. They look charming at night, as you take a stroll along the street. Have dinner at an ocean front hotel to taste the local recipes while you take-in the breeze. Other popular towns on the south shore are Old Koloa town, Kalaheo and Omao. With shopping, restaurants, sightseeing and beaches , every second of your time will be well spent.
If you choose to explore the north shore, visiting Hanalei town is a worthwhile experience. Apart from the Hanalei Bay and its adrenaline filled water activities, Hanalei is home to taro fields, which are key contributors for Hawaii’s staple food ‘Poi’. Visit the local art galleries to get a glimpse of the history associated with the town. Other popular towns on the north shore include Kiluaea, Anini, Haena and Princeville.
Doing a bit of research on the events hosted by some of the towns, will help you get the most out of your visit.
12. Kayaking the Hanalei river
This will compliment your visit to Hanalei Bay as the bay is surrounded by Hanalei river. The calm waters of the river are excellent for Kayaking. With an element of adventure involved, kayaking through the rain forests is a good chance to spot the wild-life of the island. The Kayak rentals and tours in Hanalei will service all your needs for a memorable kayaking experience.
Kayaking the Wailua River is another popular activity among tourists. It is advisable to start early in the morning as the winds get stronger later on during the day.
Note: This post was first published on Nov 14, 2017. It has since been updated regularly for freshness and relevance.