Kauai: Hawaii's Untouched Paradise
With endless undeveloped beaches and fewer crowds than its neighboring islands, Kauai is an outdoor adventure lover's paradise and a welcome reprieve from the more tourist-trodden Hawaiian Islands.
The Lush Na Pali CoastOn Kauai’s northwest side lies the 17-mile Na Pali Coast, a jaw-dropping sight whether you are taking in its panoramic views from a helicopter, boat or on foot along the famed Kalalau Trail (a challenging 11-mile trek for experienced hikers only). With 3,000-foot towering cliffs plunging into white-sand beaches along the emerald Pacific Ocean, Na Pali Coast is definitely a must-see on Kauai. 960 1280
Untamed KauaiThe fourth largest of the main Hawaiian Islands, Kauai, also known as the Garden Isle, has developed only 3% of the island for commercial and residential use. Since most of Kauai’s 69,000 residents live along the coastline, the island’s interior remains an untouched paradise. And the locals want to keep it that way—no structure can be built taller than a palm tree (that's about four stories high). 960 1280
The Grand (Waimea) CanyonDubbed "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific," the 3, 567-feet-deep Waimea Canyon is one of Kauai’s most breathtaking natural wonders. Extending 14 miles across the western end of the island, Waimea Canyon is filled with numerous hiking trails for beginners to expert trekkers alike. If you aren’t a hiker, you can still experience the spectacular views from the main road, Waimea Canyon Drive, which takes you to Waimea Canyon Overlook, where you’ll be wowed with sweeping panoramas of the deep gorges and craggy cliffs. 960 1280
Wet and Wonderful Mount WaialealeJust as the landscapes are diverse on the island, Kauai’s weather is likely to be dramatically different depending on the location. So while beachgoers might be basking in the sunshine on the shore, mountains hikers will be trekking through a downpour. In fact, Kauai is home to Mount Waialeale, one of the wettest areas on Earth, which receives about 450 inches of rain per year. Usually shrouded in mist, Mount Waialeale is best viewed on a helicopter tour, much like most of Kauai’s natural wonders you’ll find. 960 1280
Wailua Falls: Drive-By WonderKauai is known for its beautiful waterfalls, but many of its falls can be viewed only by helicopter or by hiking miles deep into the rainforests. While it is one of the easiest cascades to get to, Wailua Falls is just as awe-inspiring as some of the more hidden waterfalls in Kauai. Even though you can view Wailua Falls from the road, take the more adventurous route and hike the steep but short path down to the waterfalls where you can marvel at the rushing 80-foot cascades. 960 1280
Hanalei BayOne of Kauai’s must-sees is Hanalei Bay, a half-moon bay on the North Shore with almost 2 miles of palm-tree lined beaches framed by lush green mountains. Also worth a stop, Hanalei Town is dotted with art galleries and surf shops and is so beachy-cool that it looks like it came right off a movie set, much like the rest of Kauai. 960 1280
Manawaiopuna Falls/Jurassic FallsManawaiopuna Falls, or Jurassic Falls as it’s now known after it was featured in Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, plunges 360 feet into a lush valley. The best way to see this colossal cascade is on a helicopter tour as the falls are on private property—and not Steven Spielberg’s, if you’re wondering. 960 1280
Movies Filmed on KauaiIt’s not just travelers that are inspired by Kauai’s picture-perfect paradise. Hollywood is so taken with the Garden Isle’s scenery that it has filmed over 65 movies here, including South Pacific, Blue Hawaii, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Tropic Thunder, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Descendants and Jurassic World. Polynesian Adventure Tours offers a six-hour cinematic tour of Kauai’s most famous movie sites. 960 1280
Helicopter Tour of the IslandOnly 10% of Kauai is accessible by car, so the best way to see the rest of the island is on an aerial tour. Jack Harter Helicopters was the pioneer in helicopter tours on Kauai (now a thriving industry) when Jack Harter starting offering tours of Kauai’s inaccessible terrain in 1962. For maximum thrills, take the no-doors helicopter tour. Not only will you get well-earned bragging rights for this high-adrenaline ride, you won’t have to deal with window glare interfering with your jaw-dropping photos. 960 1280
Endless White-Sand BeachesWith 50 miles of golden strands, Kauai has a seemingly endless amount of beautiful beaches—more beach per mile than any other island in Hawaii. Some of the most popular beaches include Hanalei Bay and snorkeling favorite Tunnels Beach, both on the North Shore, and the sun-drenched Poipu Beach on the South Shore. But the beauty of Kauai is that you’ll likely stumble upon a hidden beach all your own that will rival any of the more well-known beaches. 960 1280
Kauai's Wild WatersVisitors must keep in mind that Mother Nature calls the shots in Kauai. No matter how peaceful and inviting the water looks in Kauai, the island is notorious for its strong currents and dramatically changing conditions. So it is strongly advised to only swim in lifeguard-protected areas and to take beach safety warnings seriously. 960 1280
Fly Straight to ParadiseYou can reach Kauai via a short 25-minute flight from Honolulu; Hawaiian Airlines has more than 30 daily flights into Kauai’s Lihue Airport. Due to rising demand, Hawaiian Airlines also has non-stop service between Los Angeles and Lihue throughout the year, with an increased schedule around the holiday season. This is another indication that the island’s popularity is growing, so now is the time to plan your vacation to Kauai, while it’s still not as touristy as the other islands. 960 1280
From the air, the Hana Highway looks like a zigzag line drawn by a three year old. It twists and turns for 52 miles and takes anywhere from two to four hours to traverse depending on how many cars you meet on the one-way bridges. In fact, there are 54 bridges and 600 curves to make sure you're paying attention. And please do, because in addition to the traffic, the flowing waterfalls, plunging pools, scenic rainforests and the town of Hana are well worth the drive. 960 1280
There are rewards in life that are all the sweeter because of the effort it took to get there. Hana is such a place. Separated from the rest of Maui, you'll feel as if you stumbled upon the land that time forgot. Spend a few nights in Hana and soon you'll have trouble remembering where you came from and wondering why you'd ever go back. 960 1280
Every evening on the northernmost cliffs of Maui's Kaanapali Beach, a cliff diver lights the torches then dives off Puu Kekaa, or Black Rock. This dramatic show is a reenactment of a feat performed by Maui's revered King Kahekili. Surrounded by restaurants, the ceremony also takes on a modern twist, signaling the end of the day and the start of your own private celebration. 960 1280
Maui has always been a magnet for those who love the sea, from Hawaiian voyagers to whaling ships and modern-day catamarans that glide upon the water. Complete your Maui vacation with a few hours offshore, tacking up and down the coastline with the West Maui Mountains in your view. Add a splash of champagne or a frosty mai tai and there's nothing else like it. 960 1280
It doesn't matter how old you are when you walk through an ocean, the little kid in you comes out to play. Fantasy mixes with reality as you come nose to nose with wide-eyed tuna and white-tip reef sharks. Yellow butterfly fishes flutter like leaves around coral, while slick stingrays glide by without a care in the world. 960 1280
Molokini is a small, crescent moon-shaped atoll off the coast of Maui. It's in a State Marine Life and Bird Conservation District, which means fishing is prohibited, so it's teeming with life. Take a snorkel or scuba tour and you'll be treated to a kaleidoscope of over 250 colorful varieties of tropical fish. Tours are available out of Maalaea Harbor and Lahaina. Insider tip: Early morning is best because the water is clear. 960 1280
Maui might be for lovers, but it's also for golfers. And if you love golf, that's even better still. There are 14 courses on Maui, with several ranked at or near the top of the 'world's best' list. The PGA TOUR's Hyundai's Tournament of Champions is held here each year, so you never know who you might see on the course. 960 1280
Wanderlust Festival in O'ahuWelcome to Wanderlust O'ahu. Yogis take their practice to the crystal clear Hawaiian ocean for standup paddleboard yoga – the ultimate test of balance. Hawaii was the birthplace for standup paddleboarding, after all, so it's no surprise SUP yoga has taken off here, too. 960 1280
Hands Up for O'ahuWanderlust festival is the largest multi-day yoga event in the world, with annual events in Squaw Valley, Calif., Stratton Mountain, Vt., Copper Mountain, Colo., and Whistler, British Columbia. In 2013, it has expanded to Chile and O’ahu. 960 1280
Explore Hawaii's Turtle Bay ResortTurtle Bay Resort, which hosted this year’s Wanderlust O’ahu, is a 880-acre paradise that sits on the northernmost tip of the North Shore with 5 miles of remote beachfront. 960 1280
Surfing for All LevelsYogis take to the waves for surf lessons on O'ahu's North Shore, where big wave surfing was born. Luckily, there are smaller waves for beginners, too. 960 1280
Shipwreck BeachTake a 4-wheel drive about a half an hour north of Lanai City and you will discover Kaiolohia, also known as Shipwreck beach. This windy 8-mile stretch of beach has broken many a ship with its shallow, rocky channel, including a 1940s tanker that lay rusting as a ghostly reminder to mariners to stay away. The rough water also makes for poor swimming, but the views of Molokai and Maui and wide stretch of open sand make this a great place for beachcombing.
Shark's Cove is not a good place to swim, but you’d be hard pressed to find a beach that is more visually stunning. Iron-rich rocks give the cliffs a deep, red color that contrasts sharply with the turquoise water. The area has strong currents, so we recommend picnics, hikes and sunbathing instead. 960 1280
SnorkelingBefore you head out to snorkel at Hulopoe Beach Park and Marine Preserve, pick up a laminated fish guide at one of the local stores, then get ready for your own version of show and tell. The bay is rich with fish, from striped Moorish idols to our state fish the humuhumunukunukuapuaa. (Try to say that three times.) Once in a while, a friendly green sea turtle might even stop on by to say hello.
KayakingFor most of the year, Hulopoe Bay, which fronts the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay, is the best place for kayaking, swimming and snorkeling on the island. Rent a kayak or bring your own and soon you'll find yourself torn between paddling and stopping to take photos.
PetroglyphsHawaiians came to Lanai as early as the 15th Century and left evidence of their existence in rock carvings called petroglyphs. If you like scavenger hunts, Luahiwa Petroglyphs are a challenge to find, but for the determined traveler, they offer a fascinating glimpse into the island’s past.