Adventures under the sea, in the forest, and along the coast of Hawaii’s Garden Isle.
Paddling calm waters of Hanalei Bay, Kauai
Photo by Ben Davidson
Kauai is a small island—only 552 square miles—and most of it is impenetrable rainforest and privately-owned farmland. Despite this fact (or perhaps because of it), Kauai is a haven for active travelers, offering almost unlimited opportunities for off-the-beaten track adventures.
Under the Kauaian Sea
Set in the pristine South Pacific, Kauai is a snorkeling and diving nirvana. Some of the island’s best places to snorkel and see small reef fish among coral formations—along with occasional sea turtles and monk seals—include Lawai Beach on the south shore and Ke'e and Tunnels beaches on the north shore. For certified divers, local companies offer half-day excursions to underwater hotspots such as Sheraton Caverns, frequented by sea turtles who frolic amid sea arches and lava tubes, and Mana Crack, a wall dive known for its abundant fish, octopus, and coral. Day trips to world-class diving off nearby Ni'ihau, Hawaii’s “forbidden” island, where divers commonly encounter sharks and manta rays amid the vibrant pastel-colored coral formations are also available.
Kayak and Hike to a Sacred Polynesian Waterfall
The tranquil Wailua River, steeped in ancient Polynesian lore, flows some 20 miles from lush Mount Waialeale to its mouth near Lydgate State Park on Kauai's east coast. And the three navigable miles of the river border some of the most sacred areas in the Hawaiian Islands—places where the ali'i or Hawaiian royalty once lived and worshipped. Two of these spots are the Malae heiau, a huge rectangular stone structure hundreds of feet long and Holoholoku heiau, where human sacrifices were once performed.
An unmatched way to see the river is on a guided kayak and waterfall hike. The setting for this unhurried five-hour adventure is tranquil and tropical as you paddle up the gently flowing river, whose upper layer remarkably flows upstream due to ocean tides. After pulling to shore after about an hour, you trek one mile into the jungle (water shoes recommended), following a well-trodden though often muddy trail through dense jungle graced with exotic tropical flowers and fruits such as ginger, mango, java plum, kukui (whose oily nuts are used in necklaces and were burned by ancient Hawaiians for light), hau (a hibiscus whose branches were used to make canoe outriggers), and ti (an Asparagus-like plant known as the Hawaiian good luck charm). Rock walls and terraces partially hidden in dense foliage serve as reminders that you're literally walking in the footsteps of ancient islanders. At the 120-foot-high Uluwehi waterfall, considered sacred to the ancient Polynesians, you pause for lunch and a swim while taking in the tropical splendor of this hidden jungle gem.
Kayak Kauai, (800) 437-3507, kayakkauai.com.
Cruise the Coconut Coast
Kauai’s scenic coastline is the island’s main attraction and a favorite place for vacationers. Now a year-old paved bike path, Ke Ala Hele Makalae (the path that goes by the coast), makes it easy to ride along the white sand beaches of the Garden Island. Rent a bike in Kapa'a, right on the path, and head out for a memorable three-mile spin. The route is almost entirely level and heads past beautiful Kapa’a Beach, Kapa’a Lookout, and Kealia Beach, a popular spot for surfing.
Coconut Coasters, (808) 822-7368, coconutcoasters.com.