The rain beat down as our ship docked in Kauai, an island that is one of nature’s most exquisite masterpieces regardless of the weather. We were ready to see the highlights. We hadn’t prebooked one of the ships Kauai excursions, and we were not going to let the weather slow us down.
The fourth largest (and the oldest) of the eight main Hawaiian islands, Kauai is called the Garden Isle for good reason. Lush green forests and jagged cliff edges, it is paradise, even in a drizzle. Some would say we were unlucky, as it rained on our one day in Kauai, but in reality, it is this mist that keeps the island’s vegetation growing so well.
For us, Kauai was a cruise port as we sailed from Los Angeles, USA to Auckland, New Zealand with Princess Cruises. Rather than one of the ship’s Kauai excursions, we organized one on our own. We knew we had enough time to see what we wanted and make it back to the ship. (When time is tight we often opt for ship excursions).
Our options included group tours, private tours, the public bus, or renting a car. We wanted the details that come from the personal knowledge that only one who lives on the island can have. We opted for a private tour so we could be flexible as the day progressed. For us, it was a great choice especially as our guide immediately recommended changes to our plan based on the weather. We rebuilt our itinerary together and off we went.
Kauai excursions booked independently generally offer tours of similar quality to the ship with smaller groups and lower cost. Viator now offers a worry-free shore excursion guarantee on many of their tours, removing the big advantage the ship had, which is getting you to the next port should something go wrong and the tour returns late. (Read the details of your tour to be sure it is included.)
Check out these independent Kauai shore excursions:
|Waimea Canyon and River||Hike up Waimea Canyon
See Spouting Horn and learn about Kauai history
Cruise down Wailua River to Opaekaa Falls and Fern Grotto
|Ultimate Private Tour of Kauai||Private chauffeur
See waterfalls, a lighthouse, Waimea Canyon, Spouting Horn, and the Coffee Plantation
Picnic lunch at one of Kauai’s beautiful beaches
|Sightseeing Flight over Napali Coast & Waimea Canyon||Light plane flight over Napali Coastline and the Hanalei Bay’s white crescent sand beach
See azure blue waters and Waimea Canyon
|Helicopter Adventure Flight||Fly over Manawaiopuna Falls, Olokele Canyon and Waimea Canyon
See the National Tropical Botanical Garden, Bali Hai and the Na Pali Coast
Visit Mt. Waialeale (weather dependent) and waterfalls
Highlights of Kauai
With so many wonderful things to do on Kauai, whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong. Below are some of the not to be missed highlights of Kauai.
If you are from my generation, you will recognize these falls from the old television series Fantasy Island. The Wailua River that they flow into is the only navigable river in the state of Hawaii. A two-mile float will bring you to a fern grotto so beautiful, it was once reserved only for Hawaiian royalty.
The sound of a ‘dragon’ caught my attention before the spout reached up to the sky. It has hit heights of up to 50 feet. And like everywhere on the island, colourful Kauai roosters and hens are abundant in the area.
Located on the sunny south side of the island, Poipu Beach is one of the world’s top beaches and was named as the number one beach in the USA by The Travel Channel. It is one of many Kauai beaches offering both a protected family swim area as well as a surf beach. In fact, nearly half of the island’s 111 miles of coastline are beaches. There are several fabulous Kauai hikes near Poipu.
As we were driving away from here, we noticed a monk seal basking on the rocks.
Shipwreck Point and Beach
The hike up to the top of Shipwreck Point is easy and takes only about 10 minutes. The views are well worth the minimal effort. It’s a scene recognizable from movies, like when the stars of Six Days Seven Nights were being chased by pirates and leapt off the cliff. To our surprise, a brave group of tourist followed in their footsteps.
One look at the image and you know why this 3,567-foot deep, 12-mile long canyon is nicknamed the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific.’ Waimea Canyon was originally on our list. We opted not to visit as our driver advised that with the rainy weather came heavy fog and she felt we would see nothing. It’s a popular Kauai excursion destination.
Visiting Kauai is different than islands like Rarotonga, as there is no outer rim road on Kauai. In fact, the beautiful Napali Coast can only be accessed by plane, helicopter, or boat. We didn’t get here on this visit as the weather was not favourable.
Kauai Tree Tunnel
It may not look it in the photo, but this 150-year old tunnel of eucalyptus trees runs for nearly a mile. It was originally planted next to sugar cane fields and offered a place for cattle to get some shade.
Old Ahukini Harbor and ruins of a sugarcane dock
The normally massive views seen beyond the old Ahukini Harbor were limited by the fog, but along with the bad weather came the bigger waves and sea spray. A highlight of the Ahukini Harbor are the ruins of a former train dock used by the sugarcane plantations. While sugarcane isn’t currently commercially grown on the island, it does have a long history dating back to 1835. At its peak, 70,000 acres of Kauai farmland grew sugarcane.
Viewed from a lookout point, Opeaka’a Falls is often called a rolling waterfall as the water seems to roll down rather than fall.
The village used in the movie “Outbreak”
If you visit Opaeka’a Falls, be sure to walk to the end of the path and cross the street. Here, we overlooked the camp where the movie “Outbreak” was filmed. If you allocate time, you can walk down to the village on one of the many Kauai hiking trails.
Outbreak is one of several movies filmed on the island including Blue Hawaii, Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, Six Days Seven Nights, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Descendants, South Pacific, and Donovan’s Reef, to name a few.
Derelict Coco Palms Resort
The once flourishing Coco Palms Resort has over 200 coconut trees on its property, and in 1961 was the filming location of Blue Hawaii starring Elvis Presley. Unfortunately, the property was damaged in 1981 by Hurricane Eva, and then more seriously impacted by Hurricane Iniki in 1992, and has been left to become derelict, a much different story than the sordid tale of the derelict Sheraton on Rarotonga.
Saturday farmer’s market in Lihu’e
One of the big advantages of having a private guide is the flexibility to make changes on the spot. The Saturday morning farmer’s market in Lihu’e was an unplanned stop offering us samples of a variety of Hawaiin tropical fruits like Sugarloaf pineapple and Hayden papaya.
Koloa Historic Town
I love stopping in old historic towns like Koloa. Here we found a tiny (one room) museum that highlighted the former sugar cane industry that once dominated this area. There is also a fancy nut roastery, a coffee shop, and public restrooms.
The Menehune are an ancient race of Kauaians, who legend tell us settled the island hundreds of years before it was discovered by Captian Cook in 1778. According to legend, they built this brick-lined fish pond in just one full-mooned night. Today, plants and pond water hide the bricks. In days gone by, the fish from the pond could only be eaten by royalty.
Kauai Cruise Port
Kauai is an easy port to visit via cruise ship, as we can walk off the ship and be in the port of Nawiliwili. For us, it was one of only five ports as we sailed from Los Angeles in the USA to Auckland in New Zealand on the Golden Princess. The other ports were Honolulu (Hawaii), Papeete, (Tahiti), Moorea (French Polynesia), and Pago Pago (American Samoa). Kauai is one of the most beautiful islands we have visited via cruise.
Practical Information and Fun Facts on Visiting Kauai
- Hawaii is part of the United States, therefore; the currency is US Dollars. However, Hawaii is the only state to have two official languages: English and Hawaiian.
- Driving in Kauai is like being in slow motion. While the speed limit through major towns like Lihue is only 35 mph (56 km), locals tend to drive even slower. According to our guide, it is only the tourists that seem to be in a hurry.
- Like the rest of the United States, tipping on Kauai is typically 15% to 20%.
- Hiring a taxi driver at the port to act as a tour guide will typically run $60 per hour, however; this rate is negotiable.
- Kauai has over 300 waterfalls (up to 2,000 when it rains heavily), but most are on private land. In fact, only the two shown above are public waterfalls.
- It is believed that the hula originated on the island of Kauai.
- If you are planning to stay longer than just a Kauai excursion from a ship, there are plenty of accommodation options. We always start our search at Booking.com for great selection and prices.
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