Kauai, Hawaii – The Garden Island

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A Very Popular Holiday Vacation Destination

By Don and Ann Jackson

A few years ago we read about a majority poll of California residents that listed Hawaii as their most preferred dream vacation and we have to agree. Its always been our favorite destination and we try to go each year by alternating between the four major islands. Last year we went during the December holidays, which is one of Hawaii’s busiest tourism seasons. Not that we’d consider doing it every year, like some folks do, but admittedly found it a delightful escape from the holiday crush of activities and responsibilities. And if you really need to relax and rejuvenate, you definitely need to head to Kauai, possessing the most relaxing pace of the four major islands; Perfect for just laying back and chilling out. Although the island provides most of the similar water activities, championship golf courses, and outdoor adventures as other islands it definitely provides many less of those options-yet enough to satisfy most thrill seekers and activity junkies.

So let’s explore Kauai, well known for its lush jungle landscapes, majestic waterfalls, magnificent crescent shaped beaches, and the locale for many movies such as Jurassic Park, The Descendants, Pirates of the Caribbean, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and scores of others. Remember no matter which area you end up reserving accommodations, the island is small enough that you can get to all the things we’ll be suggesting. To fully experience the entire isle you’d probably need a two-week stay. For links to everything we mention in this article and much more info on events, festivals, and activities go to: KauaiDiscovery.com

The South Shore and Gateway to the Island’s Westside Hallmarks:

FlyinKauaianSMLPoipu Beach area is one of the two most upscale destinations on Kauai and if you choose to make it your vacation headquarters we recommend not missing these highlights: drive, hike or bike up and through the gorgeous and colorful Waimea Canyon-long referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and the island’s premier natural attraction. Choose a clear day so you’ll easily see the colorfully vibrant awe-inspiring vistas from each overlook; stroll through old Koloa Town and browse the quaint shops; visit the Spouting Horn where blustery days can yield high shooting blowhole waters; trek through the Russian Fort Elizabeth State Park to learn about Russia’s connection to Hawaii; sign the release of ALL liability and do the epitome of zip-line thrills by taking the Flyin’ Kaua’ian- you’re hooked up inverted to the cable above so you fly horizontal above mother-earth hands free rather than in a seated position holding on to a linked handle to that cable. You really feel like you’re flying but when you dive off the platform at over 400 feet above the ground-that’s over 40 stories-it’s definitely a heart pounding moment some may refuse to take. What a thrill! KoloaZipLine.com.

Where to Stay and Dine: Our recent stay at the Sheraton Kauai Resort, directly on the beach, was especially enjoyable and our dinner at RumFire, their signature restaurant, was beyond exceptional. Accommodations were tastefully decorated and our breakfasts at Lava’s restaurant and the resort’s Luau both provided lavish buffets. Sheraton-Kauai.com. For the ultimate upscale exquisite condo stay look no further than the Villas at Poipu Kai where island chic decor prevails. VillasAtPoipukai.com. For a modestly priced condo lodging choice we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Outrigger’s Kiahuna Plantation Resort and home to the award winning Plantation Gardens restaurant. Outrigger.com. Other highly recommended restaurants: Merriman’s Fish House-another gastronomical winner in this group of diverse Hawaii dining gems; and The Beach House, a quintessential five star oceanfront dining experience. And by the way, the western shore area is largely under military control without any resorts and unlike the rest of the garden island’s lush landscape it has a very dry desert terrain.

The North Shore

This area is the other more upscale location on Kauai and here are our favorites: take a guided kayak trip from the Hanalei River though Hanalei Bay and out into the ocean for excellent snorkeling. KayakKauai.com; visit Kilauea Pt. Lighthouse; hike into the Limahuli Preserve, a National Tropical Botanical Garden. Ntbg.org; amble around the quaint Hanalei Town; and finally be sure to explore the famous Napali Coast on one of the small boat excursions.

Property of the National Tropical Botanical Garden
Property of the National Tropical Botanical Garden

Where to stay and dine: On our more recent stay we checked into the very popular Hanalei Colony Resort in Ha’ena featuring well appointed condo accommodations, full kitchens, and a stunning oceanfront setting. This property has a very Hawaiian vibe and is really ‘unplugged’ (no air conditioning, phones or televisions), although complimentary Wi-Fi exists for those who want at least a minimal ‘plugged-in-connection’. Be sure to dine at the resort’s onsite Méditerranéen Gourmet restaurant offering creative family recipes and occasional entertainment. Hcr.com

If wanting a more luxurious ‘plugged in’ lodging experience on the North Shore, consider Princeville’s very upmarket Westin or St.Regis resorts. Both are cliff side located and home to the world class Makai Golf Club. Romantics and non-golfers should consider the club’s unique Sunset Golf Cart Tour. MakaiGolf.com

The East Shore:

This area, including the towns of Lihu’e, Wailua and Kapa’a, is the most convenient to the island’s airport and lodging prices are usually more modest than on the northern and southern shores. Our personal choices to see and do: don’t miss the awesome overlooks at both Wailua and Opaeka’a waterfalls; tour the historic Kilohana Plantation estate by train or a guided hike for family fun. Kilohana’s estate shops and Koloa Rum Company’s complimentary tasting room are fascinating options. KilohanaKauai.com; visit the Hindu Monastery and Temple, one of the globes’s most revered Hindu sites open to the public; sign-on for the boat trip up the scenic Wailua River to see the renowned Fern Grotto, formerly an exclusive site for Hawaii’s royal visitors. SmithsKauai.com; and stop by to see the Kauai Museum in Lihu’e for interesting insight on island history.

920x920Where to Stay and Dine: Our most recent trip found us staying on the East Shore in Kapa’a Town for the first time and we thoroughly enjoyed Outrigger’s Waipouli Beach Resort & Spa offering residential style condos plus a waterslide, cascading waterfalls, and a meandering pool that children and families love. OutRigger.com Another Kapaa Town lodging recommendation is Aston’s Islander resort, a delightful condo choice and their restaurant, Oasis on the Beach, was a culinary surprise with a very young chef creating imaginative dishes. AstonHotels.com . Foodies should definitely opt for a Tasting Kauai food tour. Our tour included highlight visits to the Kealia Farm for homegrown lunch offerings and JO2 Restaurant where a local legendary chef works his culinary magic. TastingKauai.com

Bottom line: keep in mind there is very limited nightlife compared to Oahu or Maui so be prepared to just enjoy laying out on a beautiful beach watching sunsets or catching up on reading. That always sounds like a very nice change for us since our trips usually entail experiencing a ton of activities to write about. Special tips if interested in saving money: Are you renting a car? If yes, be sure to check out DiscountHawaiiCarRental.com. This amazing company almost always beats the best car rental rate we can find online or through an agency. When buying gas check out the Lihu’i Costco station near the airport-usually fifty cents or more savings per gallon. For many more lodging and dining choices to fit any budget go to: KauaiDiscovery.com. Most photos with this article were provided by the Kauai Visitors Bureau.

Publisher’s Note: Next month our travel team will be bringing our readers their insight on the big changes that have taken place the last few years in Las Vegas as it continues to reinvent itself and expand its focus.