The Many Faces of Kauai

Photo by Photo by Damon Moss, Kauai Visitors Bureau

The Garden Isle is a one-of-a-kind destination with something for everyone.

By Kathy Chin Leong

It’s no wonder that Wailua Falls was featured in the opening credits of Fantasy Island. The stunning twin cascades plunging 80 feet into a pristine pool are the stuff of fantasy. A must-see for any Kaua‘i excursion.

hickens here. Chickens there. Chickens, chickens everywhere! During Hurricane Iniki in 1992, chicken coops in Kaua‘i spun into the air like Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz. The freed fowl bred so much that feral chickens now strut through airports and shopping centers like they own the place. While a sore spot for locals, the feathered ambassadors are part of what makes Kaua‘i so distinctive, and also so alluring.

Receiving over one million visitors annually, the Garden Isle enchants with bucket-list natural wonders, history and high-octane adventure. Simultaneously, Kaua‘i evokes a small town ease, bringing time to a standstill.

No new building can be erected taller than the highest palm tree. With the exception of a Walmart and Costco, enterprises are comprised of mom-and-pop businesses. Some are quirky, such as The Right Slice, which sells whole fresh pies via vending machine at Harbor Mall. The watering hole for breakfast and lunch is the no-frills Tip Top Cafe, found inside the two-star Tip Top Motel. But at night, Tip Top hangs out a few lanterns to morph into Sushi Katsu Japanese Restaurant.

Lodging abounds, from high-end resorts to budget condos. Book a room for less than $150 a night, or spread out in luxury at the Grand Hyatt Kauai, the Sheraton Kaua‘i Resort or Kaua‘i Marriott Resort. Couples can renew vows at a bed and breakfast inn while multi-generational families congregate in a large rental home.

A pantheon of activities await, many free. Hiking remains a chief pursuit for hoofers from beginners to advanced. The easy 5.1-mile Poipu Beach hike, on the south side of the island, leads visitors up a hill which reveals crystalline ocean vistas and pummeling waves. Westside, families can tackle trails at Waimea Canyon State Park, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. This free-of-charge treasure features gorges, canopy trees and postcard waterfalls. Scenic lookout points provide handicapped wheelchair access.

On the northeastern side sits the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, home to the Kīlauea Point Lighthouse. The white Laysan albatross nests on the cliffs as monk seals sunbathe below. A $10 entrance fee gets the curious inside the lighthouse for a docent tour.

Adventure tours run the gamut on the island, for the lush landscape makes each outing incredibly inviting. Outfitters Kauai boasts a zipline extravaganza where participants leap off treehouse platforms to soar over rivers, waterfalls and rainforests. Or zip the FlyLine, the island’s longest zipline at over 0.75 miles long. The brave channel their inner Superman with arms outstretched as they lay tummy down in a harness.

Kaua‘i’s epic panorama of land and water leaves one breathless. For the journey of a lifetime, put aside fears and embark on a helicopter ride to take in aerial vistas. Experienced pilots at Island Helicopters offer the island’s only Jurassic Falls Landing Adventure. Visitors gently touch down in front of the same waterfall featured in the movie Jurassic Park. The pilot also lifts guests over a volcano crater, cliffs and turquoise shoreline.

For those adverse to heights, kayaking yields calmer charms. Water lovers can rent their own vessel to ply along the Wailua River, on Kaua‘i’s east side. Kayak Kaua‘i serves up excursions such as the five-hour Wailua Sacred Falls tour with kayaking, hiking and swimming.

One of the most unique activities is the inner tube float by Kauai Backcountry Adventures, which follows a historic ditch and tunnel system once used to irrigate the sugar cane crops of Lihue Plantation. Girded with helmets and headlamps, guests sit atop an inflatable inner tube and meander down the water-filled ditch through pitch-black caves.

What to do when someone in the party shuns outdoor adventure? Sign up for the comfortable Roberts Hawaii Movie Tour. This bus ride takes visitors to spots where The Amazing RaceFantasy IslandGilligan’s Island and other shows were filmed. Movie clips shown inside the bus prepare passengers for each stop.

For landscape-design lovers, try a trek to Allerton Garden. The 80-acre oasis features manmade pools, garden rooms, a swaying bamboo grove and manicured paths. The highlight is the sight of the giant Moreton Bay fig trees (also called the Australian banyan) filmed in Pirates of the Caribbean and Jurassic Park.

Another unexpected treasure is the Kilohana Plantation, a former sugar cane estate. Built in 1935, it opened to the public in 1986 after production was shuttered. The place is a popular destination with a train ride that encircles the property and a luau with cultural performances. Dine at the elegant indoor/outdoor Gaylord’s Restaurant, or indulge in a free rum tasting at Koloa Rum.

Foodies should head to the farmers’ market at Kaua‘i Community College every Saturday from 9:30-1 p.m. It’s the perfect venue to “talk story” with growers and pig out on plate lunches, Hawaiian treats and produce. Try the Sugarloaf pineapple, a white variety which takes longer to grow and tastes sweeter and less acidic than its yellow counterpart.

Eastside, Kapa‘a represents a shopper’s paradise with plant shops, art galleries, coffee haunts and clothing boutiques. Don’t miss Wailua Shave Ice, co-owned by Brandon Baptiste, an up-and-coming chef who wanted to come back to his island roots. Sold out of a food truck, the snow cone-like treat is made with local juice with no dyes or preservatives, and topped off with a fluffy coconut whip.

While in Kapa‘a, active travelers should take advantage of the eight-mile bike trail that runs along the ocean. Simply known as the Kapa‘a Path, it is one of the area’s best kept secrets that will take about one hour to bike and two hours to walk.

Meanwhile, Hanapepe, known as the island’s art town, features its own gallery walk every Friday night, rain or shine. Come before the sun goes down and take advantage of the indigenous food offerings from the local restaurants and food trucks lining the main artery. Lit galleries pride themselves on the quality of Hawaiian art found in the sculpture, paintings, tilework, pottery and photography.

Indeed, Kaua‘i is the isle of choice for the adventure junkie, the foodie, the shopping maven and everyone in between. It’s no wonder those chickens never really wanted to fly beyond the island coop. They were in paradise all along.


Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
2 miles north of Kilauea, on the northernmost
tip of the island

Waimea Canyon State Park

Allerton Garden
4425 Lawai Road, Koloa

Kilohana Plantation
3-2087 Kaumualii Highway, Lihue

Kaua‘i Community Market
Front lawn and parking lot of Kaua‘i
Community College
3-1901 Kaumualii Highway, Lihue

Outfitters Kauai
2827a Poipu Road, Koloa

Island Helicopters
Ahukini Road at the Lihue Airport

Kayak Kaua‘i 
3-5971 Kuhio Highway, Kapa‘a

Kauai Backcountry Adventures
3-4131 Kuhio Highway, Lihue

Roberts Hawaii Movie Tour

Tip Top Cafe
3173 Akahi St., Lihue

The Right Slice

Wailua Shave Ice
4-1306 Kuhio Highway, Kapa‘a


No matter what kind of vacation you want, Kaua‘i delivers. Chill out in an oceanview cabana (top) at the Kauai Marriott Resort in Lihue, where golden sands beckon and beautiful Kalapaki Bay enchants.
Photo courtesy of Kauai Marriott Resort

For a more active outing, kayak amidst palm trees and lush hillsides on the Wailua River

Bike along the coast on the eight-mile Kapa’a Path.
Photos by Kicka Witte, Kauai Visitors Bureau