We just got back from a wonderful week in Kauai. I am so happy that we chose Kauai as the first island to visit in Hawaii. After researching a lot on Oahu, Maui, Big Island and Kauai - everything that has been written about Kauai that enticed us to choose this - the lushness, the vibe, the beauty - are all true.
Heeding the advice of many TripAdvisors, we booked a place at the North first (HBR) and then the South Shore (Grand Hyatt - I know!)
Day 1 - Saturday
Touch down Lihue: 1230PM. Happy the moment I saw the blue ocean from the airplane window. Picked up our rental car from Dollar (easy process) and looked for places to eat. Chicken in a Barrel had a lot of great reviews so we headed over there. A hole in a wall resto - open for the 2nd day after being closed for renovation. It was very tasty and a nice welcome to Kauai.
Taking the advice of many, we decided to stop by Foodland in Lihue (or was it Kapaa) instead of Princeville (because it is more expensive there) to get our groceries (FYI - we had to drive back down after eating). We bought very basic stuff to get us by: bread, water, cooking oil, breakfast food and sandwich stuff (one thing I wasn't excited about - cooking on my vacation! But glad we saved money eating in as we were able to splurge on good meals in the South Shore - but more on that later). I remember one contributor here saying to take packets of ketchup and mustard from restos when you can. I wish I remembered this as it would have saved us from buying bottles of condiments.
The drive to the North Shore was absolutely amazing. You start to see more of the beach as you drive past the east shore (traffic in Kapaa but bearable)... and then you are greeted by the lushness as you start entering the North. My goodness. I can't get over how the colors just pop out. Green is much greener, red is much redder... lush lush lush. It was like driving through a jungle but with good roads!
We missed our turn to HBR which turned out to be a happy accident as it led us to the Hanalei Valley Lookout. It was a serene and peaceful sight and a very nice welcome to the North Shore.
While initially, I wanted to stay away from resorts and have an off the beaten path experience at the North shore - I ended up appreciating what Hanalei Bay Resort had to offer: free rides down to the beach and back, the nice saltwater pool that we could dip in after a day of adventure, and the free cups of coffee at the lobby which I had easy access to thanks to the close proximity of the unit. Having these little luxuries after a day of hiking and other off the beaten path activities was very much appreciated.
The beauty of the north shore is unbelievable, and to have a piece of that beauty from the lanai of our unit (1306) every morning is priceless and breathtaking. Morning coffee while looking at the bay AND the mountains was unreal and unforgettable.
Day 2 - Sunday
We drive back to Lihue for our 11am Wings Over Kauai appointment. We meet Bruce and Ellen, the owners of the company who were both very welcoming and friendly. It was a cloudy morning and I could tell that Bruce and Ellen were a little disappointed about that and gave us the option to move it to a sunnier day if we wanted. But I am glad we pushed through – the overcast made way for some great shots anyway and strangely – it was cloudy in Poipu and sunny at the Na Pali Coast! It was a very lovely way to start our trip and it gave us a good idea of what beaches and sights we wanted to check out. Great information from Bruce about the places and spots we were looking at.
We head back to the North Shore (happy to be doing that drive up again!) while eating our home made sandwiches. We decide to hit the beach and start at the very end – Ke’e beach. The drive to Ke’e introduces us to Hanalei and Haena and this is where I make a mental note to seriously consider staying at Haena the next time.
Oh Ke’e. How perfectly imperfect is this beach? There’s that marvelous backdrop of the mountains, the warm waters and the magnificent sunset. We stayed further to the right of the beach. There is a reef that makes the water ankle deep for the most part. The waves seem a bit rougher, you can feel the wind, but never to the point where you feel unsafe. Either way, we were silenced by the beauty, so swimming at the beach wasn’t a huge priority for us at that point as much as savoring what we were seeing.
Day 3 - Monday
Woke up at 430 am to drive ALL THE WAY to Waimea to hike with Eric (Hike Kauai with Me). Glad to have met a real trail blazer! Very lucky to have gone hiking on a nice quiet morning with a guide who knew what he was doing, on a trail that he made himself! He was able to offer a lot of good information about Kauai and what other things to do on the trip (I also have a separate review for him). He suggested that after our hike we drive all the way up to the very end and hike to the Pu’uokila Lookout. Boy are we glad we did that as we were treated to an even more majestic view!!! This was really the high of the day for us! Words can’t do justice. Pictures can’t do justice.
Day 4 - Tuesday
Had a long morning breakfast at the lanai. Decided to buy snorkeling gear so drove all the way to Walmart to do so. Also bought some souvenirs. At this point we’ve been back to the east/south side a couple of times that we were starting to get familiar with the East side – which we charged to experience (instead of wasting time arguing about driving back and forth…. Haha). On the way back to the north, we decide to stop by the Wailua Falls. Took some pictures and felt lucky to have captured a rainbow while at it.
We decided to snorkel at Anini beach. Not much people there, the waters were calm but the current and wind was a bit strong. Stayed for an hour or so until it was close to sunset.
The high of the day: Queen’s bath. It was a slippery hike down as it just drizzled but when we got there it was exactly what we pictured. We made sure to be careful and not do anything stupid to tempt fate. Read about rogue waves and all that but we did jump into the pool. It was exhilarating. As it was getting close to sunset, majority of the people started to head back which meant that we were lucky enough to have the pool empty for some great shots with fantastic lighting. Of course there was a sense of urgency to wrap things up so that we wouldn’t have to hike in the dark. It was only back home that we really fully understood just what exactly we saw and experienced. Queen’s Bath – you have to respect
Day 5 - Wednesday
Tunnels beach for snorkeling - glad we did that. Currents were a bit strong but I felt safe knowing that there were people around. While there was much more to see here than Anini, I agree that snorkeling here in general is not going to be THE main highlight of the trip (therefore I’m glad we saved our money instead of booking a boat tour to go snorkeling). I have snorkeled in other places before where I have seen much more colorful reefs teeming with life. Not to say that we didn’t see any colorful fishes because we did – just that the coral reef isn’t as vibrant as other places known for snorkeling.
We make one final stop to Ke’e beach to capture the sunset. It was a nice peaceful way to close our North Shore visit. I think this is fast becoming one of my favorite beaches.
Day 6 – Thursday
We say good bye to the North and head to the South. We saved up enough money to treat ourselves to 2 nights at the Grand Hyatt. WOW. This is definitely a resort and a beautiful resort at that. I can feel the difference in climate already. It’s much muggier and humid but it’s okay because it’s still beautiful. Our room is on the first floor which peeks into the ocean – not bad at all. We walk down to the beach – Shipwreck beach. It’s much rougher, waves are bigger and surfers and body boarders are taking advantage. We walk to the cliffs beside the beach and get treated to a great show where waves crash into the cliffs.
We head back and get ready for our first NICE dinner at Tidepools. This is when I appreciate our frugality on the North Shore because the place IS expensive. But good. We got the Ahi and lobster tail which was really amazing.
We take a stroll around the hotel which in itself is a treat and a wonder. 5 acres of swimming pools?! WOW.
Day 7 – Friday
Everything we really love, we do twice it seems, so we head back to Pu’uokila Lookout to take more pictures. There is something really magical and magnetic about the place. I can’t get it out of my head nor can I stop looking at the pictures that we have. We hike even further than the first time (since we are now better prepared with water and the right shoes) and get treated to an even better view. After savoring the views, we say our final good bye to the mountains and head back down.
We decide to pass by Sprouting Horn. Nothing really much to say about this. It wasn’t really “sprouting” when we were there. At this point I realize that we have not tried Shaved Ice yet! I turn to Yelp to look for anything close by (or something in Koloa). A place called Uncles comes up with great reviews not for their shaved ice, but shaved snow. So we head there anyway – I am a bit wary as we find out it’s in a very mall-ish type of place, not a hole in a wall. But anyway, I get both shaved ice and snow. Goodness gracious, the shaved snow is really something. It is soooooo good!!!! Definitely a must try if you are in the South.
Anyway, at this point we remember that we’re checked in a beautiful hotel! After kicking ourselves for spending time away from it, we change to our suits and take a swim. A long swim because its a huge pool. By the time we covered everything, we earned enough appetite for another nice dinner.
Tonight its Dondero’s (Italian). I get their catch of the day which is Mahi Mahi. It was a pleasant experience but not as amazing as Tidepools.
Day 8 – Saturday
Our final day. My boyfriend manages to convince me to let him jump off the cliff at Shipwreck beach. Before I can change my mind he’s already up there and all I can really say is a quick prayer for his safety. Before y’all think we are these crazy adrenaline junkies – stop right there.
He made the decision to jump after asking around, getting advice from as much people as he could, and knowing as much as he could about the dangers before jumping. I encourage everyone to do their research as well before doing this at all.
But he did do the jump! He did mention that the currents were very strong and the best way for him to get back to shore was to let the waves carry him back.
Before heading back to the airport, we make one final stop for some shaved snow at Uncles.
To sum it up:
I personally enjoyed my stay at the North Shore. It may be because I am used to sunshine weather already coming from Los Angeles so sunny South Shore did not create as much of an impact on me as the North Shore did. There's really a LOT to do as well. We really enjoyed all the free things as much as we did the tours.
All in all, we really enjoyed our first stay at Kauai. So much so that yes – we tried to extend our stay, almost missed our flight back and even flirted with the idea of moving there.
Kauai has been the most gracious host to us and we are really grateful. I can’t keep myself from gushing about it like a new lover. She is perfectly imperfect, rough and untamed but wise. My boyfriend and I are truly grateful to have experienced this at this stage in our lives, wide-eyed and not jaded by familiarity or very high expectations. Wishing the same travel experience for everyone else, be it in Kauai or where ever you are lucky to be in!