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The Garden Island of Kauai, Hawaii

Pauline Kenny

We love to go to Kauai in the winter, to get a break from the Santa Fe snow, or in the summer/fall when the weather is hotter and you get more good weather days (you can get a lot of cooler, rainy days in the winter). We always stay in Poipu, on the south end of the island, where you get the best weather. The north end is beautiful and has interesting towns, but it rains more up there in the winter.

Another area that we are looking at as Poipu gets more built up, is the western end of the Island; Hanapepe, Waimea, Kakaha. These are charming towns and there is a good beach at Kekaha. In the winter, it is sunnier on this part of the island.

View from terrace bar at the Hyatt in Poipu

> Telephone: Hawaii is area code 808 (used for all islands)

Poipu is under construction!

In summer 2007, several large constructions projects started in the western end of Poipu. These projects will add 4,500 homes and apartments to this area. Construction has started on the large project of homes along the road to Spouting Horn. Several other large condo/resort projects, just west of the Sheraton have started. They are redoing the intersection of main Poipu road where it meets the road to Spouting Horn, so you have to detour.

If you are staying at the Hyatt end of Poipu (Pe'e Road, Poipu Kau, Poipu Beach Park) you will not notice the construction, but if you are staying in the Spouting Horn side (Ho'ona Road, road to Spouting Horn) you will be in the middle of this dirt and noise. These projects are expected to last for five years and will greatly increase the traffic to this area. Development projects affecting Garden Isle style - Poipu Construction FAQ

Guide Books

The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook, by Andrew Doughty, Harriett Friedman, Wizard Publications, 5th edition, 2005

This is the best guide book for Kauai. It has excellent descriptions of the beaches and things to do, plus detailed restaurant reviews. You can pick up a copy on Kauai (at Borders or at hotel gift shops).

Order from Amazon

When to Go

Kauai is the northern most Hawaiian island and gets a bit more rain than the other islands, but they all get rain at some time. The wettest place on earth is on Kauai (so they say), but that is in the very middle of the island, where there are no roads. You can run into rain from November through to March. Summer weather is a bit hotter (better for swimming), with less chance of rain.

We usually go to Hawaii in February for a break from our winter. Frequently when we are on Kauai in February, we get a week of rain. On our 2003 and 2004 trips we had only a few days of rain in the month, but in February 2005, we had 10 days of rain or heavy clouds, and in 2006 the weather was unseasonably cold (more like December weather) and we got a few days of rain. In 2007, we decided to go in September instead of during the winter. We got a good two weeks of hot weather, with some evening showers.

Flights

Many airlines fly direct to Honolulu from several mainland cities (Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Dallas, etc.). Some airlines fly direct from the mainland to Kauai (United, American). On our recent trip we flew on United from Albuquerque to Los Angeles to Kauai. This was our first time flying direct to Kauai from the mainland and it made the trip over easier. Hawaiian Airlines flies from several mainland cities direct to Honolulu. Their prices are good and they have frequent sales.

Be aware that many return flights are overnight. If the return flight leaves Honolulu near midnight, you will have to spend several hours in the airport since the inter-island flights stop around 7pm. The flights to the mainland from Kauai are all overnight flights.

I wish it were easy for people not on the west coast to fly to Hawaii, but it isn't (you west coast people have easy daytime flights both ways). We fly from Albuquerque and have tried many different ways to make it better, but have not had great success. We end up with a very early morning flight (7:30am) from Albuquerque to Salt Lake to Honolulu (on Delta) to get us into Honolulu in time for the inter-island flight to Kauai. On return, we can either do an overnight flight (ugh) or a daytime flight to Los Angeles, spend a night or two there, then fly home. I was pleased with our recent United flight from the mainland to Kauai, but on the way back we can either do an overnight flight, or do a daytime flight and spend a night in Los Angeles.

Flying Business/First Class

We usually fly first class to Hawaii, using frequent flyer miles to purchase or upgrade on Delta. We sometimes purchase first class seats on Hawaiian; their prices are good. First class to Hawaii is not that luxurious on Delta or Hawaiian. (Remember the days on Delta when the seats were large and they served ice cream sundaes? Those days are over.) I avoid the overnight flights home because of this - it is not comfortable for sleeping. The first class section is not as comfortable as those going to Europe, but is more like the typical US first class (just a bit better than coach).

Inter Island Flights

From Honolulu airport, fly one of two local airlines to Kauai: Hawaiian Airlines or Aloha Airlines. When booking your ticket from the mainland, try to book the portion from Honolulu to Kauai as part of the same booking. If you are using frequent flyer miles for your ticket, this may not include the Honolulu to Kauai portion. You can book this yourself on their websites. Compare prices between the airlines - sometimes I am surprised at the difference (on our 2006 trip, the cost for Aloha - $150 each return - was half the cost for Hawaiian).

Allow at least one hour to change planes in Honolulu. When you check in for your original flight on the mainland, tell them you have an inter-island flight booked (they may want to see the ticket or e-ticket) and they will check your luggage straight through to Kauai. You can do the same when returning. You do not have to pickup bags in Honolulu.

The inter-island flights leave from a separate terminal, but you do not have to go outside the secure area to reach it. When you exit your plane, go into the main terminal and look for signs to the shuttle bus for the Inter-Island Terminal (Wiki-Wiki Shuttle). You go up an escalator (to the left of the security entrance) to a waiting area where the shuttle bus departs. It is possible to walk - and it is not that long of a walk - but be sure you do not go out of the security area.

In the Inter-Island Terminal, find the desk for your airline and get your boarding pass. If you are in time for an earlier flight, they may put you on it (ask if they do not offer). Sometimes there is a charge, sometimes there isn't. Don't worry about your luggage, it is usually put on the next available flight. If it does not appear when you land, talk to the luggage guys; they sometimes keep it in the back and then put it out when the flight it was scheduled for arrives.

It is expensive to fly between the islands - in 2006 the cheapest flights I got were $150 round trip each - so it is not always easy to "island hop".

Airport

It is a 30 minute drive from the airport in Lihue to Poipu.

Restaurants

Most of our recommendations are for the south part of the island, where we usually stay, but we have a few favorite places on other parts of the island. These are our favorite places (but the Ultimate Kauai Guidebook has more complete listings and reviews). Keep in mind that we are mostly vegetarian (Steve eats fish), so that influences our choices.

Breakfast

Eggberts, In the Coconut Plantation Marketplace
The best breakfast on the island. They serve breakfast until 3pm, but you really need to be there by 2pm. A 35 minute drive from Poipu.

You can get a casual breakfast in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt in Poipu. We usually get coffee and a muffin and sit on their lovely terrace, looking onto Shipwreck beach.

Lunch

Hanapepe Espresso Bar and Cafe, on the main street in Hanapepe
They are open for lunch Monday to Thursday and also have dinner on Friday. It is a vegetarian restaurant and the food is good quality. A 15 minute drive from Poipu.

Casa Blanca at Kiahuna, off the Poipu Road at the Tennis and Swim club
The restaurant is beside the tennis club with pretty surroundings and is open air. They offer lunch, tapas and dinner. We have only had breakfast here (which they no longer offer), but I think it would be good for lunch or dinner.

Dinner

Brenneckes Beach Broiler, Poipu
At Poipu Beach Park, www.brenneckes.com, open for lunch and dinner (and all afternoon), casual
Fresh fish (fresh fish burgers and fish dinners). For vegetarians they have veggie burgers and a good grilled vegetable dish. Good Mai Tais. Reserve a table for an hour before sunset (sunset is around 6:30 - 7:00pm in the winter). The restaurant is across from the beach and is on the second floor. It is open air, so you have the ocean breezes and a wonderful view of the sunset. We go here once a week when we are on Kauai. It is a bit too expensive for what you get, but the location is great.

Brick Oven Pizza, Kaleheo
Pretty good pizza in a nice local place. 10 minutes from Poipu.

Pizzetta: Koloa
Good pizza.

Roys, Poipu Shopping Village
In the past, Roys was where we went once on each trip for a special night out, but on our last trip (September 2007), the food was not as good as before. It is expensive (our dinner for two with wine was $80), but not much more than dinner at Brenneckes. They have a vegetarian entree, lots of fresh fish dishes, good wine by the glass. Make your reservation after 7:30 to avoid being with families and kids. The service can be a little over the top (in the "Hi, my name is Mike and I am your waiter" way).

Toi's Thai Kitchen, Hanapepe
Ele'ele Shopping Center on the ocean side of the highway just before Hanapepe, open for lunch and dinner, closed Sunday and Monday, lunch is takeout only, 335-3111
Good small local restaurant with excellent and inexpensive Thai food. 15 minute drive from Poipu. Good vegetarian or fish curries (the curry can be very hot). The dinner comes with salad, entree, rice and dessert and there is plenty of food. The spring roll and fried tofu appetizers are excellent. Service can be slow when they are crowded on weekends. It is not a great setting - in a mall with a supermarket, etc. We usual phone to order takeout.

Asia Tang, Nawiliwili
Harbor Mall (across from the Marriott), 246-ASIA, closed Tuesday
Good Chinese food with several vegetarian options.

Note (2007): The following restaurants which used to be some of our favorites no longer exist: Panda Garden, Kapaa; Dali Deli & Cafe, Koloa; Pattaya Asian Cafe, Poipu; Aromas, Nawiliwili; Casa Blanca at Kiahuna no longer serves breakfast.

Ice Cream

Lapperts: On the main street in Koloa
Very good coffee (made fresh for each cup) and locally made ice cream. Expensive. The original Mr. Lappert died recently. My favorite flavor? Kauai Pie (coffee ice cream, chocolate, macadamia nuts, coconut).

On the north end of the island

Kilauea Bakery: Off the main highway in Kilauea
Fresh bread, great pizza. Sit outside to eat. We used to be bothered by the heavy chemical fragrances from the "homemade" soap shop next door, but it burned down. 1 hour drive from Poipu.
Directions: In Kilauea, follow the signs to the lighthouse. The bakery is on your right, well before the lighthouse, behind the Kong Lung Company store.

Mango Mamas: On the sea side of the highway, just before Kilauea
Look for the pink building beside the small school. Very good smoothies made from local fruit and juices. Food is served. Nice outdoor seating. A very casual, "old hippie" kind of place. This has replaced Banana Joe's for us on our drive to the north end.

Mango Mama's in Kilauea on the north end of Kauai, February 2005

Mango Mama's in Kilauea on the north end of Kauai

Banana Joe's: On the inland side of the highway, just past Kilauea
This used to be my favorite place for smoothie drinks, but it is just not worth the drive up anymore. There is no place to sit - you have to stand outside the shop to eat your frostie. They used to have benches. The service can be slow and they don't pay much attention to you (unless the owner is there). But, if you are in the area, they have great Frosties (frozen fruit put through a juicer). 1 hour from Poipu.

Shopping

The two main shopping centers are the Kukui Grove Shopping Center outside of Lihue and the Coconut Plantation Marketplace outside of Kapaa. Kukui Grove is more usable - the Coconut Plantation is mostly tourist stores. Both have movie theaters. Kukui Grove is a 20 minute drive from Poipu; Coconut Plantation is a 35 minute drive from Poipu. The breakfast restaurant Eggberts is in Coconut Plantation.

Kukui Grove Shopping Center: Macys, Blockbusters, Starbucks, UPS Store, etc.

Books: There is a big Borders Books near the Kukui Grove Mall.

Men's Hawaiian Shirts: Overboard at Coconut Plantation or Poipu Shopping Village. Good hats too.

Women's Casual Clothing: There is a store in the Hyatt that sells "Fresh Produce" clothes (my favorite). Macys has a good summer clothing selection.

Sandals: SoleMates in the Coconut Plantation Marketplace (near Eggberts) has a great selection of flip-flops and sandals. Many styles by Teva.

Other: Kong Lung Company, Kilauea (north end), near the bakery, www.konglung.com
A really nice store with clothing, hats, pottery, art, etc. There never seems to be anything that you would want to buy, but it is fun to look at.

Food shopping at the south end of the island

There are great local fresh fruits and vegetables available on Kauai. Pineapples, papayas, avocado, mango (in season in the summer, but sometimes you can find them in the winter), grapefruit, and other fruits. Plus locally grown vegetables.

Roadside Fruit Stands
There is a fruit stand along the road between Koloa and Poipu. And another one on the Koloa-Poipu bypass, near the Poipu end (not open February 2006). Both have good fruit. But, do not buy the local spinach (it is horrible).

Farmers Market
Every Monday at noon in a park in Koloa. Get there early; it doesn't last long. It gets more crowded each year but is still the best source of fresh produce. Most towns in Hawaii have a weekly market.

Koloa Natural Foods, on the main street in the center of Koloa, behind Crazy Shirts
This lovely small natural foods store opened in 2005 and now we do not have to drive all the way up-island to Papayas!

Sueoka's, on the main road in the center of Koloa
A charming old grocery store. Starbucks coffee (beans), good water selection, rice milk, good chips, chocolate bars from Australia. They sell local papayas that are really good.

Big Save, at the end of the main street in Koloa
The larger grocery store in Koloa (at the edge of town). The have a big Asian foods section.

The Star Market, Kukui Grove
A big supermarket with lots of oriental vegetables. They also carry lots of organic and natural foods (dairy, cereals, small section of organic vegetables, frozen dinners).

Notes (2007): The Peoples Market, in Puhi has closed.

Food shopping on the east side of the island

Papaya's Natural Foods, 4-831 Kuhio Hwy, Kapaa
In Kauai Village, on the inland side of the highway, back under the whale tower. This is the largest natural food store on the island, but you will find smaller ones in Koloa and Hanalei.

Recycling

Local recycling boxes are in the Brenneckes parking lot in Poipu.

Beaches

Beaches on the North (Hanalei) and West sides are calm in summer and rough in winter. Beaches on the South (Poipu) and East sides are somewhat rough in summer and calm in winter.

The best beach for swimming on the south side is in front of the Sheraton in Poipu. There is parking and public access to this beach from Hoonani Road. This road runs along the beach through the Sheraton and Kiahuna Plantations. The beach access is at the end of the road in between the beach front Sheraton and Kiahuna units. Park on the road or in a free parking lot on your left before the end of the road.

The best beach for snorkeling on the south side is on the west side of Kuhio Shores in Poipu. Good snorkeling also at Ke'e Beach, on the north end, at the end of the road past Hanalei.

There is a great beach at Kekaha Beach Park, before you get to Polihale at the western end of the island. 30 minutes from Poipu. Long sand beach, not crowded, rough water (big waves and a strong current - but great fun if you like this). People drive their trucks right onto the beach. You can walk for a few miles along the beach. When it is raining in Poipu, it can be sunny on this beach.

There is a great beach at Polihale State Park, at the end of the road past Barking Sands. It can be rough in the winter. In 2004, we tried to drive to it, but the dirt road was impossible. We turned around. So did several other cars.

The Salt Ponds Beach Park in Hanapepe is good for swimming. Not as rough and deep as the beach at the Sheraton (and not as exciting). Good for swimming with children.

Also Mahaulepu Beach down dirt roads past Shipwreck Beach in Poipu. Go to the end of Poipu Road and onto the dirt roads that go past the Hyatt hotel. Drive about a mile until you get to an intersection. If you go left the road goes to the Koloa Mill and then to Koloa. Go right to get to the beach. Turn left at the beach to get to the best part of the beach and the parking area. No facilities. This road is difficult to drive. We had to give up trying to drive it in 2003.

Entertainment (movies, video, TV, radio)

Movie Theaters

Coconut Marketplace: In the same outdoor mall as Eggberts. We usually have dinner at Mema, the Thai restaurant on the inland side of the highway just before Coconut Grove, before the movie.

Kukui Grove: This theater is closer to Poipu.

Video Rentals

Blockbuster: Located in Kukui Grove Mall and in Kapaa (in the mall just south of Papayas). You can use your card from home.

Radio

I couldn't find NPR, but there is a local station that has Democracy Now (91.9 KKCR).

Spas

Anara Spa at the Hyatt in Poipu
www.anaraspa.com
This spa is expensive, but wonderful. The massages are done in private rooms that are open air - they open to private patios with lots of plants (because of construction to the spa in 2006/2007, massages are not done in this area, but in rooms near the spa). You get to use the spa facilities when you book a massage. They have a great steam room, a sauna and a swedish shower, plus hot tub. The men's and women's sections are separate. I have visited the spa a few times and highly recomment their massages and body treatments. Products used are mostly "natural".

Animal Life

Turtles

Every year it seems like there are more turtles. Huge turtles in groups near the shore. They come in close to eat the algae on the rocks. The best places we have found for turtle watching (an endlessly fun activity) are:

  • Ho'onani Rd between Koloa Landing and the Sheraton. The first cove past Koloa Landing with a sea wall on the roadside where you can sit and look down.

  • Ho'one Rd past Brennecke Beach before the road turns inland. The best bay is directly across from Nalo Road.

You see turtles the best on sunny days. The water is lighter and you can see the turtles under the surface. If you don't see any, just wait and watch for them to poke their heads up.

Monk Seals

Monk Seals get out of the water and come onto the beach to sleep. They are protected and you cannot approach them. Lifeguards rope off the sleeping seals, but you can still get close enough for a good look. They sleep for many hours. In the last few years, we have seen them on Poipu Beach, the beach in front of the Marriott, the beach in front of the Sheraton, and the beach by the Beach House on the road to Spouting Horn.

Dolphins

We have seen spinning dolphins in a few different places in Poipu.

Whales

There are lots of whales in the waters in the winter months. Look for their spouts. Keep watching and you will probably see them breach.

Chickens and Roosters

You will see (and hear) chickens and roosters everywhere on the island, running free. I was told that the last hurricane set lots of these guys free but someone else told me they have always been there and are protected.

Wonderful Drives

To the North End of the Island

From Poipu you can drive to the north end of the island in 1 1/2 hours (with no stops). We love this drive. As you leave Kapaa on the east side, the scenery changes. The north end is wild and wet.

  • Just before Kilauea, you will see Mango Mamas on your right (bright pink building half a block off the highway). Great place to stop for a smoothie.

  • Continuing on the highway, we stop at Kilauea to visit our favorite bakery, Kilauea Bakery. To get there, follow the signs to the lighthouse. The bakery is on your right, well before the lighthouse, behind the Kong Lung Company store (good store).

  • Back to the highway where we stop in a few minutes at Banana Joe's on the left. If we did not eat at the bakery or Mango Mamas, we get a frostie here. Otherwise, we buy some of their fresh fruit.

  • Then to Hanalei and the Ching Young Village Shopping Center where there is a good, but strange, natural foods store.

  • At last, either to the end of the road for a swim (but lately it is very crowded up here) or a swim at the beach in Hanalei.

You can stop in Hanalei for dinner. The Tahiti Nui in Hanalei has the strongest Mai Tais on the island (too strong for me). It is also supposed to be a good restaurant, but has nothing vegetarian.

Well fed and happy from having a wonderful day, we drive back home as the sun sets.

Hitting the Back Roads

There are lots of back roads in the valley between the Hoary Head Range (with Queen Victoria's Profile) and the main road, highway 50. A nice drive through this area is to start at Nawiliwili Harbor, outside of Lihue. At the harbor, coming from Lihue, turn west down a street with houses. This will turn into a narrow sort of paved road that winds through the valley until it reaches the Kipu road. Turn left here to Kipu. This area is really pretty. Kipu consists of only a few houses and dead end roads. Turn around and take the Kipu Road back to highway 50.

A Less Busy Side of the Island - go to the west side

Drive to Hanapepe. The town is fun to drive through and has a great restaurant for lunch - Espresso Bar and Cafe. Across from the restaurant is a swinging bridge over the river.

Drive on to Waimea. The look of the island changes here - more wide open, some cane fields. This is the sunnier and drier part of the island. Waimea is a charming town with a few casual restaurants and shops. There is a shave-ice place on the main street that always has a crowd around it. Hanapepe and Waimea have a similar look - run down and charming cottages. You can still see part of that look in Koloa, but it is changing.

Drive another few minutes to Kekaha. There is a huge abandoned sugar mill in this town - you can see it as you approach. Just past Kekaha, is a long stretch of beach and the Kekaha Beach Park - a good place to swim (but the water can be a bit rough) or to walk along the beach.

Let's go to Barking Sands - the furthest point west

You can get to Barking Sands in 45 minutes from Poipu. It is another 15 minutes drive past Kekaha to where the dirt road starts, then 15 minutes on the dirt road. Some times it is not drive-able (it can be muddy). The beach is wide and long - the widest and longest on the island. The water is wonderful for swimming in the summer; rough but fun in the winter. It can get very hot here, so be careful. Wear shoes on the sand. I burnt my feet badly once. There are picnic tables and restrooms, and not many people.

Other Activities

There are many things to do on Kauai - more than we have done. You can do Zodiac tours of the north end, helicopter rides, hiking on the Na Pali coast, hiking in Waimea Canyon. These things always seem a bit too "active" for us!!

Pacific Botanical Gardens (Allerton Estate)

You can do a 3-hour tour of the Pacific Botanical Gardens and the Allerton Estate. They will tell you there are bugs, but there aren't, so wear shorts because you'll get hot. We wore pants because we were worried about bugs. There is lots of walking and you see a great lily pond. The Allerton Estate is the best part of the tour. The gardens here are really nice. You have to phone and reserve for the tour.

You can only see the Allerton Estate by going on this tour. When we took the tour many years ago, you entered the estate on foot from the north end in the Lawai valley. But on our last trip we saw people going in the other entrance (in little open air buses) from the garden center at the end of the Spouting Horn road, which is much closer to Poipu.

Resources

www.kauaivacation.com: Kauai vacation planner.

www.poipu-beach.org: Poipu beach info with a good map. Accommodations information.

www.princeville.com: North end of Kauai

www.hawaiianair.com: Hawaiian Airlines

www.alohaairlines.com: Aloha Airlines

Slow Travel USA - Kauai: The Perfect Bonding Experience for Today's Harried Family: An active Kauai vacation with children.

Slow Travel USA - Hawaii Vacation Rentals: Lists of vacation rentals and agencies for Hawaii.

Slow Travel USA - Pauline's Notes on Kauai Vacation Rentals: Descriptions of cottages in the Poipu area (south end of Kauai).

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