Talk to enough people who have been to Hawaii and chances are the majority of them will tell you that they’ve been to Oahu (click here to read about our Oahu trip last year) or Maui, which are both certainly very popular travel destinations. Kauai definitely flies under the radar a bit, as it’s the fourth largest of the main Hawaiian islands, and only has a population of around 66,000 (by contrast, Oahu has a population of nearly a million). Kauai is the oldest island geologically, and it is known as the “Garden Isle”. It won’t take you very long to realize that it really does live up to its nickname. We began our trip on the south side and over our 6-day visit, we would make our way around the island all the way up to the north side.
Whenever we travel, we always try to explore different areas of a city, unless our intention is to stay put at a resort. But even then, we’ll usually sneak out and explore the city for a day. Something we had never thought of doing on our travels is staying at a few different hotels. Not only does it give you a greater sense of your surroundings on an island like Kauai, but you can also easily coordinate activities near your hotel. Since gas is relatively expensive in Hawaii, we really appreciated not having to drive around the island for several hours each day.
If you’re visiting Kauai, it’s definitely a good idea to rent a car, as taxis can be quite scarce and expensive (it’ll cost you around $75 for a 30+ minute commute). When you land at the Lihue Airport, there are shuttle buses across the street from the terminal that will take you to various car rental shops. For Canadian travellers in the US, we also recommend getting your voice and data plans through Roam Mobility. Although we found the cellular coverage on the south side of Kauai to be spotty at best, it was actually quite reliable on the north side. Click here to read about our adventures on the north side of Kauai.
While you’re near the airport, you might want to consider checking out Wailua Falls, which is only a short 15-minute drive away. This pristine 113-foot waterfall was featured on the opening credits of the 80’s TV series Fantasy Island.
Waimea Plantation Cottages
We spent our first 2 nights at the Waimea Plantation Cottages, which is located on the island’s west coast. In the early 1900s, the Waimea Sugar Mill Company built these homes for their workers and their families. The carefully restored cottages all have their own unique personality and decor, and range in size from 1 to 5 bedrooms. Our cottage had 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, a full kitchen, and a spacious living room. It was quaint, and I couldn’t help but imagine what life was like in these homes 70 years ago. These days, we find comfort in hot temperatures with air conditioning, but back then, people had to rely on screen doors and windows, and if they were lucky, a ceiling fan. Because our cottage was right by the beach, it was soothing falling asleep to the sound of the crashing waves. And the screen doors helped to keep the bugs out too. This resort is quite serene and there are fragrant flowers and shady trees scattered all throughout the property. One can spend their entire day just relaxing on the porch in a wicker chair, nap in a hammock, take a swim in their beachside pool, or go for a walk along the black sand beach.
Aqua Kauai Beach Resort
If you’re flying to Kauai via Lihue Airport, paradise is really just a short drive away. After a couple nights at Waimea Plantation Resorts, we checked into Aqua Kauai Beach Resort, a contemporary luxury resort located on the southeast side of Kauai. Our room had a great view of the outdoor lagoon pools and waterfalls. Walk past the pool area and you’ll find a private beach, a great spot for evening stargazing. Without the glare of city lights, we were even able to see a few shooting stars. During the day, one can relax by the pool on one of their many lounge chairs, and enjoy poolside drinks from their outdoor bar. There are also a couple of cafes and a restaurant at this resort for those who are happy to stay in and enjoy the property’s many amenities.
Attractions & Activities
If you’re into the great outdoors, there’s no shortage of things to do while in Kauai. Po’ipu Beach Park is a popular public beach that attracts tourists and locals, who might come here to swim, surf, snorkel, and chase sunsets. We were able to catch a sunset just before meeting up with our group for dinner.
Just a few minutes away from Po’ipu Beach is the Spouting Horn State Park, well-known for its great natural blowhole that is one of the most photographed spots on Kauai. When the ocean waves go under the naturally formed lava shelf, it shoots the sea water up through an opening in the rocky coast. The water may spout as high as 50 feet into the air, and is usually accompanied by a loud hiss. If you’re observant, you might even spot some whales and turtles too. After a visit to Po’ipu Beach and Spouting Horn, you can get your shop on at the nearby The Shops at Kukui’ula. While the shopping plaza has some smaller shops and boutiques, you can also find some larger chain stores there, mostly catering to tourists. You can also find some unique galleries, an indoor gourmet farmers market, and several restaurants. In Koloa, we visited CJM Country Stables for a horseback riding adventure. For 2 hours, we explored the Maha’ulepu wilderness area, a popular area amongst beachgoers, windsurfers, and local fisherman. Our guide took us across a variety of sceneries and terrains, ranging from pasture lands and farms to coastal and mountain vistas. We crossed over a sandbar and stream on our horses, and traveled past beaches and bays. It was my first time on a horse, but CJM has horses for riders of all skill levels. My horse (Ringo Starr) was gentle and steady, and stopped frequently to graze on grass.
Morning horseback ride at Maha’ulepu beach. From beaches to ranch land and mountain vistas, this was such a surreal experience. #kauaisocial A photo posted by Dennis Pang (@dennispang) on
No trip to Hawaii is complete without a luau. While we experienced a luau at the Polynesian Cultural Centre during our trip to Oahu, when you’re in Kauai, you’ll definitely want to check out the Smith Family Garden Luau. It’s a complete evening event which starts with an imu ceremony, which involves unearthing a Kalua pig that’s wrapped in ti leaves and baked in an underground earthen oven. Drinks are then served before the start of the delicious buffet dinner. After dinner, we made our way to the outdoor torch-lit amphitheatre, where we would enjoy their “Rhythm of Aloha Show”, which included performances from Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, Philippines, New Zealand, China and Japan. While the performances weren’t as over the top and explosive as the one at Polynesian Cultural Centre, it was still thoroughly entertaining and we both really enjoyed the show.
Food & Dining
On our first night, we enjoyed a reception dinner at Keoki’s Paradise in Koloa. It belongs to the TS Restaurants group, which also operates the more notable Duke’s chain of restaurants that are located throughout the state. We were treated to fancy cocktails and a delicious buffet that included lobster tails and tuna poke. What’s unique about this place is the lively atmosphere and that it’s styled like a dockside boathouse and it even has a lagoon running through the restaurant.
At The Shops at Kukui’ula, Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill in Po’ipu has an interesting take on tapas plates, and accommodated our large party with lots of delicious dishes. Their sangrias are tasty, but they also have a great selection of wines, beer, and cocktails.
Dinner at @jtapasbar. Clockwise top left: 36-hour braised pork belly with pear kimchi, rosemary, orange, Lehua honey; Kabocha pumpkin ravioli with brown butter vinaigrette; Seared diver scallops with saffron risotto, tarragon beurre monte; Slow cooked butterfish with stir fried bok choy and soy mirin reduction; Macadamia nut profiteroles with pistachio gelatin, warm Valrhona chocolate sauce. #kauaisocial
A photo posted by Dennis Pang (@dennispang) on
Bubba’s Burger is a popular burger chain with 3 locations on the island. They pride themselves on serving Kauai grass-fed beef burgers that are juicy but not greasy.
For lunch in Lihue, we stopped at Hamura Saimin for a bowl of Hawaiian noodle soup. Similar to Japanese ramen that comes with rationed toppings, it has a taste that is uniquely Hawaiian. We ordered the Speciality Saimin, which came with roasted pork, wontons, fish cakes, hard-boiled egg, and veggies. Make sure to order some Lillikoi Chiffon Pie to share after the noodles. It’s a light dessert that’s not overly sweet, so it’s great for those who don’t have too big of a sweet tooth.
This concludes our coverage of the south side of Kauai. Click here to read part 2 of our Kauai coverage, all about our adventures up north.
Disclaimer: Our accommodations and activities were complimentary, however all thoughts and opinions are our own and we were not compensated in any way.