An August 2004 trip
to Kauai by ggflier
Quote: White-sand beaches, snorkeling, waterfalls, and the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific"... read what all the fuss is about for this Hawaiian "hot spot" by following along on our first visit to the Garden Isle. Discover how to explore Kauai’s lush tropical beauty and the North Shore without breaking the bank.
Kauai is the picture-perfect setting for those who want to explore, experience adventure, or do nothing at all. Follow along in this trip report as we cover all of those and more during our summer vacation on the famed North Shore, known for its majestic green mountains, cascading waterfalls, and dramatic coastline.
Though Kauai is often regarded as one of the pricier Hawaiian Islands to visit, there are plenty of bargains to be had with the many choices in accommodations and dining. This trip report includes plenty of tips on stretching your budget to experience most of what Kauai has to offer, from helicopter tours of the majestic Na Pali Coast to taking a dip in a Queen’s Bath to visiting what Mark Twain nicknamed the Little Grand Canyon.
GETTING TO HAWAII
From the West Coast, a roundtrip plane ticket to Hawaii can cost as little as a couple of hundred dollars at the right time. The best deals we've found have been through the Hawaiian Air website and are usually lowest for travel in either mid-winter, spring or early fall. Sign up for email specials with the all the major carriers to Hawaii to stay clued in on the latest fares.
FOR THOSE ON A BUDGET– Booking a condo rather than staying at a hotel gives you more options and control in ensuring you’ll get exactly what you want. This is also a great way to watch your budget, because you can cook meals yourself and pack lunches to go instead of dining out all the time. Plan your meals ahead of time and you'll be surprised at how much you save!
*We found our Princeville studio rental at VRBO. Hundreds of vacation rental options in Kauai were available to fit all types of travelers.
There is only one major highway connecting the northern part of the island to the western part, and to see most of the major sights, you’ll probably be driving the entire route at least once. As many have attested, Kauai Revealed is probably the best source for maps and driving directions for the island.
Many car rental agencies offer great deals on last-minute upgrades, so if a convertible was out of your price range when reserving your car rental, ask about upgrade specials at the airport.
Hotel | "Princeville Studio"
On check-in, we were greeted by our helpful and friendly host Tessie, who actually lives next door to the studio. She immediately took time to give us an overview of the area and recommendations for dining and shopping. Later in our stay, she even took time to give us a quick tour to a few of the popular Princeville trails, like Queens Bath and Turtle Cove, all only minutes away. It was like having our own personal concierge.
The studio had many thoughtful touches, including plenty of Hawaiian tourism, cultural, and history books and tropical decor. The king-size bed was more comfortable than many hotels we’ve stayed at, and the pool, Jacuzzi, and barbeque were just across the walkway. The studio didn't have a kitchen, but it was equipped with a mini fridge, microwave, and toaster. We also had everything we needed to pack up and head for the beach, including beach mats and towels, an igloo, a snorkel mask, and more.
The surrounding Princeville area has a shopping center with a grocery store, gift shops, and a few dining options, which are less than 5 minutes away from most of the condo rentals. The two major hotels in Princeville, the Hanalei Bay Resort and the Princeville Resort, were just a short drive down the road from our complex. On Tessie's suggestion, we enjoyed a memorable sunset dinner our first night at the Bali Hai Restaurant at the Hanalei Bay Resort.
More dining and shopping can be found in nearby Hanalei, most notably the fish market at Hanalei Dolphin. There we bought fresh ahi, teriyaki steak kabobs, potato salad, and a sushi roll for only $20 and took it back to our condo to barbeque. This turned out to be one of the best meals of the trip!
**Princeville is a very popular tourist area, especially in the summertime. You don't have to spend a fortune to stay there, though, as a simple search on the Internet will bring up hundreds of condo and home rentals to fit just about any budget.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 3, 2005
4770 Pepelani Loop
Princeville, Hawaii 96722
The servings were small considering the cost. Even with a coupon for a free soda, a corn dog and onion rings added up to $6. The hamburgers were your average, tasty burgers, but again, fairly small in size. The best deal was the frings, a combination of onion rings and french fries. Overall, it was pleasant little stop, but if you’re really hungry, you’re going to have to order a couple of Bubba's Burgers to get the job done.
Operating hours are 10:30am to 8:00pm, and there is a small lot for parking.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on May 3, 2005
4-1421 Kuhio Highway
Kapa'a, Hawaii 96746
+1 808 823 0069
We heard the restaurant was popular for sunset dining, so we called for reservations earlier in the day. At that time, we were offered the opportunity to attend a 90-minute timeshare presentation in exchange for a $100 voucher towards our meal, and though it was a great offer to save on our budget, we passed.
We looked around as our hostess seated us and couldn't help but agree, "This was the exotic, tropical Hawaii," we had been expecting. The large dining room was surrounded in a near valley of greenery of tropical plants and flora and sounds of the creatures of nature. Music from the nearby Happy Talk Lounge also complemented the setting.
We began our meal with the Bali Hai crab cake appetizers, served with the standard (yet surprisingly tasty savory) house bread and butter. The spicy crab and Kauai sweet corn cake was warm and well complemented with spicy butter sauce and mango papaya relish.
The lowest-priced entrée was pasta with chicken for $21, with the rest of the dinner choices $28 and up. The Hukilau (fresh catch of the day) is another offering, and this evening it happened to be ahi. It was prepared four different ways, and I chose Tropical Breeze, which means it was sautéed with papaya and pineapple salsa and served with garlic mashed potatoes. The meals were fair, but honestly, the bread and butter and crab cake appetizers were the tastiest part of the evening.
The service was good and the wait staff was friendly and attentive, but the true star of the night was the spectacular sunset we enjoyed from our dinner table of blues and golden yellows cascading over the ocean and mountains. As soon as the sun began to set, the cameras came out and our waiter was more than happy to take our photo against the back drop of the Bali Hai peak amidst the colorful sky and swaying palm trees. Remember your camera, because you'll definitely get a photo to showcase on the mantle here!
Overall, though the dinner was expensive, this was our only splurge meal of the trip and definitely worth the $80 price tag, for 1 night at least.
Dinner hours are from 5:30pm to 9:30pm, and reservations are necessary.**Ask for the tables along the rail, which offer the best views. To see a sample menu, click here
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 3, 2005
5380 Honoiki Road
Princeville, Hawaii 96722
+1 808 826 6522
Restaurant | "Zelo's Beach House"
There were several shops and other eateries in the area, so plenty of parking was available in the shopping center lot behind the restaurant. Once inside, a few TV sets were tuned to the sports channels, and the restaurant walls were lined with photos and memorabilia of Kauai beaches and surfers. This quickly set the mood for some casual beachtown fun.
Our friendly server quickly came over to inform us of the specials and chatted with us for a few minutes. The happy hour offered $2 tacos, $2 tostados, $2 beer, and discounted cocktails. We started off with a couple of each and were pleased with our choice. The flavorful fish tacos were especially tasty and were complimented with the Hawaiian lager we chose. Other items on the lunch menu included casual dishes like hamburgers and nachos. A glance around the restaurant at the other diners' meals had us tempted to try the huge platter of nachos, topped with mounds of cheese, meat, sour cream, and guacamole, but we opted to share a burger instead. The charbroiled burger was hearty enough and easy on the tastebuds, but even with fries, it was not worth the $12 price tag.
Overall, The tostados and tacos were a big hit, and the rest of the food was good, but as mentioned, slightly overpriced. We enjoyed our food here, but we enjoyed the happy hour bargains even more.
**Happy Hour is 3:30pm-5:30pm. For dessert, walk across the street for some shave ice--it's a really "cool" treat!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 3, 2005
5-5190 Kuhio Ave.
Kauai, Hawaii 96714
Restaurant | "The Shack"
As luck would have it for our appetites and budget, we happened upon The Shack while sifting through the few entertainment coupon books on our way back to the airport. Once inside, the large restaurant had your usual sports-bar feel and was decorated with a mix of sports, Hawaiiana, and tropical memorabilia. There was also another room with two levels and a few pinball and pool tables, so a good guess is that this is one of the few places to hit for some nightlife on the island. The place was casual (as was the slow pace of the servers), and we sat ourselves at a table next to the large windows, with a partial ocean view across the busy highway.
Items on the menu included hamburgers, sandwiches, fish and chips, and more. Our meals, a chicken cheddar sandwich and a guacamole burger with curly fries and a side salad, were great. The food was served fresh, piping hot, and flavorful, and the servings were so hearty that we took half of our sandwiches to go (a nice snack for our wait back at the airport). We used an Entertainment Book coupon for buy-one, get-one-free, and the total tab, including the salad and drinks, was under $25. We've heard there are more Shack restaurants on a couple of other islands, and if we ever return, this is definitely a stop we'll make.
Serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Attraction | "Snorkeling on the North Shore"
Both beaches are reachable from Highway 560. Tunnels (Makua) Beach is in Ha’ena, about a 15- to 20-minute drive past Hanalei and Princeville. It’s a beautiful stretch that runs about 2 miles long, keeping it from feeling too crowded, and there are lots of trees and shady spots that offer a nice break from the beating heat of the summer sun. There were lots of fish and unique tunnel-like coral formations to explore among here. Parking is available by Mile Marker 8, but if that’s full, just continue to the Ha’ena Beach parking lot (where there are bathrooms and shower facilities) and take a short hike along the beach to Tunnels.
Though we enjoyed Tunnels, it was the spectacular snorkeling at Ke’e that surprised us. Ke’e isn’t too far from Tunnels. Just continue on Highway 560, past the Dry Cave, to the end of the road. The road leads into a forest-like setting with lots of parking. Even so, due to its popularity, if you don’t arrive by 9am, you’ll have a tough time finding a spot. The tropical, jungle-like setting surrounding the lagoon at Ke'e was very surreal. This was a beautiful beach, our favorite of the trip, and it’s no wonder it’s so popular with both locals and tourists.
The minute we stepped into the tranquil water, only a few feet deep, we were surrounded by a school of a dozen fish over 1-foot long swimming alongside us. Like all the beaches we had been to on Kauai during our trip, there were many colorful fish, only in greater numbers and with better visibility at Ke’e. We saw butterfly fish, trumpet fish, and parrot fish, and we even saw a large crab scurrying on the floor of the ocean, being chased by what looked like a flounder fish, camouflaged in the sand. Every few steps, it would pause for a few seconds, then continue on, just like a scene out of a Disney movie.
**Whether it’s your first time or you’re a longtime pro, snorkeling in Kauai is a must. Because you never know when the opportunity will arise, be sure to rent snorkel equipment early in your trip. Weekly rentals are available at water-sport shops such as Snorkel Bobs or Hanalei Surf Company. Good quality, affordable gear can also be found at superstores like Costco in the spring and summertime, so you may even consider buying your own. And don't forget an disposable underwater camera.
North Shore Divers
P.O. Box 853
Koloa, Hawaii 96756
(808) 828 1223
Tucked away on Kauai’s North Shore coastline, this natural, large ocean water "pool" is only accessible from a short hike in the neighborhood of Princeville. The pool is made of lava rock and at the right time of year, is a wonderful retreat where you can enjoy swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing while viewing the gorgeous coastline.
The trail to Queen’s Bath is slightly muddy and leads from the cliffside down 120 feet to the shoreline. It may look intimidating at first glance, and when we were there, a few travelers turned around and decided against the trek. Don’t be steered away because it’s actually a short and fairly easy hike and the rewards are well worth it. On the way down, take note of the waterfall to the right, a perfect resting point to cool off on the return climb back up.
Down below, continue left over the lava rocks to the pool. The views of the coast to the north and south are a stunning mix of black rock, gradient blue seas and white powdery clouds. Nearby, we saw a Hawaiian Monk Seal gliding through the ocean. Surf (along with fish) flow into Queen’s Bath from an inlet and allow for cool, refreshing waters. After a hike in the summer heat, this makes the dip all the more exhilarating! Unfortunately, during our visit in August, the calm ocean only trickled in, leaving the pool slightly murky. Even so, it was clear enough to see several saltwater fish swimming at our sides. For the more adventurous, large rock formations overhanging the area tempted a few daring travelers to jump in. It looked like a lot of fun, but use caution, because the rocky surface was sprinkled with sea spray, leaving it wet and slippery.
If you like exploring, the Queen’s Bath is definitely a "must!" It's not a crowded place, but it’s a popular spot with tourists and locals so you probably won’t have this little gem to yourself. To get there from Princeville take Ka Haku Road to Kapiolani and follow till you see the small parking lot and trail head.
**Because of the location and the inlet into the ocean, stay away from Queen’s Bath during rough waters or high tide. Wear a good pair of tennis shoes or reef walkers because they’ll help for an easier hike down the dirt path and bring plenty of sunblock. The trail is closed October – May.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 9, 2005
North Shore, near Kapiolani Road
There are many heli tour companies to choose from, and all offer different tour choices, ranging from a 30-minute teaser to a 2-hour tour, with a stop for lunch at a waterfall. The prices also vary from $100 to over $250, and you can book with a helicopter company directly or at an activity center. Because of the high cost, we debated whether to take the tour or not, but after being warned that this was the "must" activity on Kauai, I hit the Net and began to search for our best pricing options. Ultimately, we purchased discounted tickets from Activity World (no timeshare tour necessary) for $100 per person for a 45-minute tour with Bali Hai Helicopter Tours.
Our flight was scheduled to depart at Port Allen on the South Shore, which was over a 1-hour drive from Princeville, so we decided to fit it in with a day trip touring the west and south shores (see my review of the self-guided driving tour). The helicopter, a Bell Jet-Ranger, seated three in the back and one in front, along with the pilot. Small openings in the windows opened up to bring in fresh air and allow for glare-free photos. We had heard that the lightest people are seated in front, but actually, the seating is all based on weights and balances. On our tour, four of us (including the pilot), appeared to be in the same weight range, so two were in front and the other two were in back, with the fifth and lightest person seated in the back middle seat.
The tour began by soaring into the air, where views of the coast and the island of Niihau could be seen. Then we approached the spectacular red-and-brown expansive valleys and cliffs of Waimea Canyon while en route to the contrasting lush greenery of the Na Pali coastline. The sights of The Na Pali and its splendor were indescribable (luckily, we have the pictures to speak for themselves!). We were treated to aerial views of Ke'e beach and Hanalei. Then it was onto the magical Mount Waialeale, known as one of the "wettest places on earth" with its sprawling waterfalls cascading down thousands of feet.
Throughout the tour, the pilot narrated only when necessary, and he made a point to slowly swing the helicopter around with each site so that passengers on both the left and right sides got great views and pictures. The overall ride was smooth, but the switching viewpoints caused one of the passengers to become slightly dizzy from motion sickness. If you're even a bit prone to motion sickness, call the heli tour company you book with for their recommendations on an over-the-counter tablet to ensure you concentrate on the sights and not keeping your food down. Regardless, everyone aboard (including the lightheaded passenger) agreed the tour was the experience of a lifetime.
**Because the weather on Kauai is unpredictable, reserve your tour early during your stay. Then, if cancelled, you’ll still have time to reschedule for another day. And DO NOT forget your camera, as just about every sight on your aerial tour of Kauai will be picture-perfect!
Get an early start from Princeville on Hwy. 56 (Kuhio Highway) for a scenic (approximately 40-minute) drive towards Kapa’a to Ma’alo Road. Fantasy Island. Go back to the highway, continuing on as it turns into Hwy. 50 and on to the West Shore and Hanapepe. Those who enjoy small shops and galleries might like a stop in this little town. If you get the munchies, stop at any of the mini-marts along the way for some warm malasadas (a Portuguese donut).
To get to the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," continue on Hwy. 50 to Waimea Canyon Road. The scenic drive from the sea level to the lookouts will take you 40 miles roundtrip and up 4,000 feet. The 10-mile canyon is 1 mile wide, the result of volcano eruptions and lava flows. There are trails for hiking, a ranger station and lookouts. For a change of view on your return from the canyon, take Koke’e Road, and you’ll see the island of Ni’ihau in the distance.
For a tasty lunch or snack, the Shrimp Station in Waimea serves up coconut fried shrimp and fries for $11 a plate. One hearty serving is filling enough for two and is worth every penny. From there, take the 50 back towards the South Shore to the 530 (Koloa Road) and then Po’ipu Road. At the fork, veer right on Lawa’i Road, leading to Spouting Horn, the popular blow hole. If you’ve been holding out for souvenirs, you’ll find a little flea market with vendors selling typical (and somewhat pricey) Hawaiiana items.
Here’s your chance for a breather. The touristy Po’ipu area offers shopping, resorts, and some wonderful sunbathing and swimming opportunities at the beachfront hotels. Though you may not be able to lounge in the jaw-dropping pool area at the Hyatt, you’ll definitely be able to use the public Shipwreck Beach--it fronts on the nearby Sheraton beach for some fun in the sun.
Top off your day with a beautiful sunset dinner at one of the popular restaurants in the area, such as Tidepools (at the Hyatt) or The Beach House.
**This itinerary is only meant to give you a glimpse into the wealth of beauty and culture that Kauai offers. Research your options, plan your journey, arm yourself with a map, and explore what interests YOU most.
Los Angeles, California