Kauai is an excellent spot for a dream island vacation. The idyllic beaches, mountainous terrain, and island culture together give way for an unforgettable experience.
Once you’ve zeroed in on the plan to visit Kauai, comes the next important question- what do you do once you land in Kauai? Should you explore the sunny south shore or relish in the mountainous north shore? If you ask any person who has visited Kauai, you’ll find opinions endorsing both sides of the island.
The south and northern shores have characteristics of their own. Where you choose to stay depends on your preferences and the kind of vacation experience you are looking for.
Although it is an important decision to make, there is no need to worry too much about it either. Kauai is a small island and you can drive from one tip to the other in less than an hour.
On the whole, Kauai has so much to offer that it is not possible to cover everything one side has to offer, in a day. This article will help you make an informed decision whether to choose the South or North shore, especially if you are short on time.
Here are some important factors that distinguish the south and north shores of Kauai:
Which Time of the Year Is It?
Kauai is a rainy island. Rain is one thing you cannot complain about once you are here.
Owing to its geography, The Garden Isle experiences gentle showers throughout the year. The drizzles are often short and don’t last more than a few minutes. However, the frequency of rain varies between the south and north shores.
The north shore receives more rain than the south. If you’re a beach lover visiting post October, your beach days on the north will be limited and it’s best you head towards the drier south side during that time of the year.
Kauai is adored for its moderate climate, which doesn’t change much throughout the year. However, during winter (November to February) the north shore experiences strong ocean currents, known as winter swells. As much as the surfing enthusiasts like it, the rest prefer to stay away and head towards calmer conditions in the south.
Kauai winter is famous for the Whale Watching Season as Humpback whales migrate to the island for nursing their young ones. Both North and south shores have scenic whale watching points to spot the giant humpback whales in all their glory.
So, If you’re in for the beaches, spending more time on the south will serve your purpose. But, if you are inclined towards nature and don’t mind the rain, the lush green, mountainous north shore is where you should head towards.
Proximity to the Beach
Who doesn’t love beaches? Beaches form an integral part of Kauai vacation for most people. If you are a beach lover, there are plenty of them on the island.
Although the North and South Shores boast of beautiful beaches, they are not similar in terms of beach accessibility. South shore places like Poipu, Koloa and Lawai have ample beachfront resorts, condos and rental properties for tourists. Whenever you’re in the mood for swimming, snorkeling or bodyboarding, the beach is just a short walk away.
On the contrary, there are not many beachfront properties on the north shore due to its mountainous terrain. To compensate for it, resorts like Princeville Kauai, offer breathtaking ocean and mountain views combined with a rejuvenating ambience.
While the south shore is preferable in terms of beach proximity, the north shore is for people who prefer “hidden” beaches and gorgeous views.
The south shore is Kauai’s poster child for a glamorous vacation. This part of the island is teeming with tourists and families and is noisier compared to the peaceful north shore.
Poipu, on the south shore, has witnessed considerable commercial development and, thus, attracts plenty of tourists. The Grand Hyatt Kauai, is an elegant example that boasts of a huge property delivering value worth every penny.
Poipu is also known for world class zip lining making the south shore a great place for adrenaline lovers.
The touristy atmosphere and commercial development slowly fade away as you head towards the north. The north shore is the epitome of a typical island life. The lush greenery, mountains, waterfalls and laid back lifestyle, evoke a feeling of Old Hawaii. This makes it perfect for lovers and honeymooners as there’s tons of privacy.
Princeville is the north shore’s resort town as many of the condos and resorts are found here.
Head to the south shore for its beaches, adventure and busy life. If you prefer seclusion and resonate with nature, the North shore will provide the relaxation you desire.
Scenic attractions are scattered all over the island. So, where you choose to stay depends on what attractions and activities you would like to indulge in.
Your first contact point in Kauai is Lihue, as it hosts the airport and the Nawiliwili harbour. This is the commercial hub of the island and is the place to fill up on gas (if you are renting a car) or essential supplies for your vacation.
Waimea Canyon, popularly called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, is a must visit for its grandeur, scenic hiking trails and lookout points. It is located on the west side of Kauai and is easily accessible from the south shore, which is conveniently close to the airport.
Poipu beach park, Allerton Garden, Spouting Horn and Old Koloa Sugar Mill are other popular attractions nearby.
Princeville, in the north, is an hour’s drive from Lihue. This is where you’d want to stay to explore the world famous Napali Coastline. Some Napali Coast boat tour operators depart from Hanalei Bay while others use the kekaha harbour in the West. The land journey to Napali Coast starts at Keé beach via the Kalalau trail, which is considered one of the most dangerous trails on earth.
While you are in the north, you should also see the Kilauea Lighthouse, explore the dry/wet caves, take a refreshing dip in Queen’s bath and watch the beautiful sunset from Hanalei pier.
- The north shore of Kauai sees more rain, whereas the south shore is comparatively dry most of the year. Winter swells on the north can be dangerous and it is advisable to check the surf reports before indulging in water activities.
- South shore wins in terms of beach proximity, whereas the north provides unbeatable views.
- South shore gets a lot of tourist traffic and is more commercialised. The north shore remains mostly untouched and is best for nature lovers and honeymooners.
- South shore is the best access point for visiting Waimea Canyon and is close to the airport. The north is the gateway to the world famous Napali Coast.
Note: In light of the global crisis we are facing due to the coronavirus outbreak, we encourage adventurers to stay healthy and prioritize safety by avoiding outdoor activities in the mean time. While we work together to make the situation better, Kauai and all the beauty it has to offer will be waiting for you. Put your health first, and we’ll see you in paradise soon!