Discover the Garden Oasis in the Vast Pacific

Visit this gem on the other side of the ever-popular Hawaii before everyone else does.
Monday 27 May 2019
It's lesser-known but every bit as beautiful, if not more. Photo: iStock

Moments off the plane and mere metres onto Maluhia Road one easily slips into the tranquillity and calm that is Kauai. Overhead, the eucalyptus canopy sways gently in the soft blowing Hawaiian wind or makani. These tall majestic trees line both sides of Highway 520, which feels more like a back road than a highway, like a row of wooden soldiers, guiding the way to the magnificent Poipu Beach.

Kauai is the northernmost island in Hawaii, one of eight islands that comprise the most isolated land mass in the world. It is 3,846km from California, 6,196km from Japan and 10,771km from Kuala Lumpur. It is believed to have been first inhabited by the Polynesians around 400-500 A.D. The weather is a perfect 24 to 29 degrees Celsius all year.

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Beautiful aerial view of spectacular Na Pali coast, Kauai, Hawaii. Photo: iStock

Home to the wettest spot on earth, Mt. Waialeale is drenched with 1,143cm of rain per year, which feed eight of the most exalted waterfalls on the island. The largest fall is Waipoo in Waimea, with a breathtaking drop.

Covered in luscious hibiscus and plumeria this stunning garden island has it all – with just enough to feel satiated but not overdone. It’s a chill vibe where things move a bit slower and are more relaxed and less crowded than the main island Hawaii or the ever-popular Maui. Maybe that’s because it’s the oldest of the Hawaiian archipelago. After a few sublime days breathing in its sweet salty air infused by the effervescent plumeria, one is lulled into a peaceful euphoria.

The island of Kauai feels like the Hawaii of yesteryear, preserved from overdevelopment which in turn helps to reduce the number of tourists. Construction codes dictate that buildings to be no taller than the coconut palm trees; how lovely is that? 40km long and at its widest point, the mountainous island boasts panoramic views, deep gorges, emerald hillsides, cliffs and of course, the deep blue sea. The island is commonly referred to by its two halves – the North, or the wet side, and the South, the sunny side.

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Looking towards the mountains of Kauai from Hanalei Bay. Photo: iStock

Unlike the Big Island, which is covered in hard black lava, Kauai’s topography is covered in gorgeous red dirt, which in some places seems to flow endlessly, providing yet another tranquil bliss. The red is due to the high amounts of iron oxide infused from Kauai’s mature foundation of rusted rock transformed into dirt over millions of years. Take a day to explore Waimea known as “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. It boasts some charming coffee shops and a bohemian village which has an old Polynesian feel. Then head into Waimea State Park for some modest hiking and views of sweeping red rock formations that are definitely Insta-worthy.

For the truly adventurous, stay a few days in Kalalau Valley with deserted mystical hard-to-reach beaches on the Na Pali coast. Best to try this in the summer when the weather is dry and the ocean is calm. The Na Pali hike is almost 18km into the Kalalau Valley which is as challenging as it is breathtaking. You will need a camping permit to go beyond Hanakoa Valley, and while not for beginners, the arduous journey boasts awe-inspiring mountains, pristine secluded beaches and seaside caves. Beware the precarious narrow footpaths along steep sea cliffs and when navigating fast-moving streams. Highlights include Hanakapi’ai Beach about 3.2km in, a 90-metre waterfall and Crawler’s Ledge (at 11km), which is infamously scary and precarious – not for the faint of heart.

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The Na Pali hike is not for beginners but the arduous journey boasts awe-inspiring mountains, pristine secluded beaches, and seaside caves. Photo: iStock

Upon landing in Lihue swing by Duke’s for some ribs or seafood and watch the sunset on Kalapaki Beach which is great for water sports. Kapaa on your way up to the North Shore has great little cafes and shops which make a perfect pitstop. Try some soothing matcha lattes and scrumptious gluten-free cookies at Java Kai (Love Aloha Kauai). Pop next door to Shipwrecked Kauai and scoop up some Boys + Arrows colourful swimsuits with interesting patterns and Oshan Essentials such as delicious-smelling body scrubs and oils. Around the corner, you will find my personal favourite, Matcha-Ya, which carries traditional Japanese matcha and melt-in-your-mouth matcha butter mochi, amazing smoothies, frappes, and creative lattes.

A trip to Kauai isn’t complete without a round of golf. Our favourite is The Club at Kukuiula a stunning private course in Koloa. Others include; Hokuala Kauai and the Ocean Course in Lihue, the Kiahuna Golf Club and Poipu Bay Golf Course in Koloa. On the North end, Princeville’s Makai Golf Club will test your handicap while lowering your stress with some incredible views of the nearby mountains and cobalt blue Pacific.

For all you movie buffs, an astonishing 60 movies and television shows have been filmed throughout the island. Elvis’ Blue Hawaii was filmed in Coco Palms while Fantasy Island and Raiders of the Lost Ark were filmed in Wailua Falls. Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow sauntered across the Honopu Arch at the Na Pali Coast State Park during Pirates of the Caribbean while Tyrannosaurus Rex preyed for lunch on Mount Waialeale and Olokele Valley in Jurassic World. If you loved George Clooney’s The Descendants go be mesmerised by Mt. Namolokama waterfalls or head to Hanalei for lunch at Tahiti Nui, the authentic restaurant from the movie.

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Taro fields in beautiful Hanalei Valley on Kauai island, Hawaii. Photo: iStock

Kauai is a perfect mix of old and new. Attend a traditional luau where you can test your hula skills, try some delectable local recipes and learn about the Polynesian culture ingrained throughout the island. For island history head over to the Kauai Museum in Lihue where volunteers tell tales of Russia’s failed attempt to control the island in the early 19th century. See 2-metre tall Hawaiian kings and my favourite of all, the Menehune. According to legend, the Menehune were tiny people living in the forests and hidden valleys who performed incredible feats of engineering before the island was inhabited by the physically larger Tahitian invaders.

Whether it’s sailing on a magnificent whale-watching cruise (December to May) or taking an exciting helicopter ride over the breathtaking Na Pali coast, Kauai will send you home feeling calm, and counting the days until your blissful return to this idyllic garden paradise.

This article is an excerpt from UNRESERVED’s May 2019 issue from the article ALOHA KAUAI!

Related: A Traveller’s Guide to The Most Beautiful Places in The World