After years of adoption limbo and vacation time stashing, we finally took a vacation!  We have been awesome weekend adventurers these past few years, but I’m talking about an unplug-from-reality in some fabulous location kind of vacation. We knew we wanted a balance of relaxation and activity, so we opted for a vacation that doesn’t involve the continent of Europe – although everything in me was dying at the thought. A little over a week on the island of Kauai ended up being EXACTLY what the doctor ordered. You guys, we didn’t want to leave!

We took roughly a bazillion photos and I have graciously narrowed it down to a million or so. I kid. I kid. Well, barely. I do have a lot of photos to share. This trip was – honestly – one of our best yet. It was the perfect balance of structure/activity and beach/hang-out time!  I have garnered a reputation for turning every trip into a bit of an “eco-challenge.” But, the husband is happy to report that I kept it in check. 😉

After whittling down what I wanted to cover, I decided to cover our trip in two posts. Part 1 is an overview of our trip! Part 2 is my Foodie’s Guide to Kauai!  While Hawaii isn’t always a foodie destination, let me tell you, the island of Kauai is upping its game! I’ll do my best leave links to my recommendations for food, fun, etc. at the end of both posts.

How we organized our trip…

Part of why we opted for Kauai, instead of a multi-city Europe trip, was to avoid hopping around. We wanted to settle in and enjoy the location to its fullest. But we were having the hardest time deciding whether to stay near Poipu on the south side (we stayed in that area our honeymoon) or opt for somewhere more low key on the north shore.  Rather than pick, we decided to split the week in half! We arrive on a saturday and stayed though wednesday in Poipu, then stayed wednesday through sunday on the north shore! We are so glad we planned it this way! If you aren’t familiar, Poipu is where most of the “action” happens (i.e. shopping and night life). We love the clear waters of the Poipu side and the breathtaking sunsets!  We also knew that there were a few activities/charter trips we wanted to take where a more southerly local made the most sense. This would set us up for a more relaxinglatter half of the week, which describes the north shore to a tee! We wanted to soak in these relaxed vibes with hikes, amazing snorkeling, beach time, and an open schedule!  (Which allowed us to happen across the most incredible farm-to-table pop-up restaurant with a rare opening during our stay – More on that in the 2nd post!!)

I just want to make one small disclaimer. Restaurants, hotels, and hospitality businesses work very hard! So, I’m going to keep things positive by sharing my FAVORITES. If it wasn’t somewhere I would recommend, I’ll leave it out. For example… our hotel in Poipu is not somewhere we would stay again. They messed up our reservation, and our room was, if I’m being honest, not even close to as advertised.

Let me dive in!!

1st Half of Week: Poipu

When we stay somewhere for an extended period, we prefer a condo style accommodation so that we can make some meals in our room when we want. Breakfast with a view? Don’t mind if i do;) So, if you are looking for somewhere awesome to stay near Poipu, we stayed at Whaler’s Cove on our previous trip and it was amazing! Every room is RIGHT on the water, so you can’t go wrong! Sea turtles come into cove at night by the dozens and the rooms are HUGE! We didn’t stay there this time because each room comfortably sleeps 6 people (2 bedrooms plus a sleeper sofa). So much space! Since this trip was just the 2 of us, we decided to book elsewhere. We carefully read reviews and did our homework…. And regretted it. Whomp whomp. But, no biggie! We didn’t spend a ton of time in the hotel, but it did have a truly great beach and my husband enjoyed kicking my booty at tennis each morning.

Sure, there are more restaurants, nightlife, and places to shop on the south side of the island (mostly near Poipu), but the area is also awesome because:

  • the weather is a tad less rainy – i.e. more sun!
  • the water is typically calmer and clearer
  • if you are a runner (HI!), there are tons of pathways and wide shouldered roads
  • many of the tours and charters are based on the southern part of the island – so its a great place to take advantage of those adventures!
  • AND don’t ever forget, the SUNSETS!

Napali Coast and Snorkeling the “Forbidden Island”

When we went to Kauai on our honeymoon, we did a kayak trip along the Napali coast. It was one of the coolest and most breathtakingly beautiful things I have ever done. I highly recommend it! That experience whet our appetites for the terrain and otherworldly beauty! So for this trip, we wanted to see more of the Napali!

If you aren’t familiar, Napali means “cliff.” On the island of Kauai, a significant portion of the northwest shoreline is comprised of soaring cliffs – some higher than 4000 feet! The only ways to experience this whole region of the island is by boat (kayak, catamaran, charter, etc.), by foot (20+ mile backpacking trip), or by air (helicopter ride, anyone?).

Since we kayaked the coast previously, we opted for other Napali experiences this time. The opportunity to both view the Napali on a catamaran AND snorkel at the incredible reef surrounding the island of Niihau was at the tippy top of my list. Niihau is known as the “forbidden island.”  In full disclosure, I am borderline obsessed with snorkeling and sea life!

The “Forbidden” island of Niihau

The island of Niihau is a bird sanctuary. And this little booby came to say “hello.”
Sea turtle floating along.

Poipu Beach is famous for calmer waters and a popular spot for beginners/families! It’s also a perfect place to test your snorkel gear and generally acquaint/reacquaint yourself with the activity’s mechanics. We did this on our first day in Kauai, and I was glad we did! By working out the kinks of my gear at Poipu, I really maximized my time exploring the reef at Niihau! We swam through schools of fish so dense they looked like walls! The biodiversity we saw on this trip was incredible. A monk seal wiggled his way off of the Forbidden Island’s rocky terrain and swam right past us! Yup, I swam with a monk seal. Be jealous. 😉

The catamaran ride along the Napali coast is breathtakingly beautiful! We wanted to take photos and really appreciate the coast’s grandeur without paddling a kayak this time. Photos don’t do the beauty justice! Truly one of the most beautiful places on earth!

Also, if you get motion sickness: Dramamine. If you think there is any chance you might feel even a tiny bit nauseous: Dramamine.  Don’t even try to be tough.  Play it safe! I rarely get motion sickness, but sometimes in rough seas, I get a little nauseated. I always enjoy the day so much more when I take a dramamine before I even get on board.

Napali Coast Dinner Cruise

This is by far the most relaxing and romantic way to take in the Napali’s views! If you love sunshine, mai tais (or margaritas), breathtaking views, waterfalls, dolphins, sunsets, or the most vivid rainbows, then you should consider dedicating an afternoon to this outing. The charter company we went with was so fantastic that we actually booked the same company for both our Niihau snorkel trip and sunset dinner cruise!

I mentioned my sea-life nerd status, right? Well, I was gidddddy when a pod of dolphins played in the rudders of the catamaran for a solid 30 minutes!! We were feet away!  And since I was hanging off the front of the boat to get as close as possible, I really do mean just a few feet! 😉

And those famous Hawaiian rainbows! I now understand why they are on Hawaii’s license plates. I have never seen a rainbow as incredible as the ones we saw on this cruise! It sounds silly to say, and until this trip, I wouldn’t have understood, but it was as if the color saturation was turned up by 100x! UNREAL! I didn’t touch up the colors in the rainbow photos below because I wanted you to see how dang vivid and bright it was – without photo edits!!

If you are looking for an amazing dinner onboard, this is not that kind of trip. The food was fresh and fine. On our cruise, they served tacos with all the fixings. You could choose Hawaiian slow roasted pork or a blackened white fish (with vegetarian options, too). The ginger molasses cookies for dessert were a hit with the husband. They do pour you as many drinks as your heart desires. But again, this cruise is about the views and experience – not the food.

2nd Half of Week: North Shore

The north shore of Kauai has a more laid back vibe. And I LOVE it! The area is home to the famous town of Hanalei and big surf competitions in the giant winter waves. If you head a bit further north of Hanalei, you will find even more laid back residential areas and some of the best snorkeling beaches on the island! It’s vibe is so intoxicating it made me want to pack up our dogs and life in Seattle for a north shore bungalow.

Our hotel on the north shore, Hanalei Colony Resort, was towards the end of the road and technically in the town of Haena. Picture the most beautiful and relaxing retreat. And that is where we stayed.  The rooms have all been recently renovated and newly furnished. It is one of the only beachfront resorts on the north shore! And, we will most definitely be back!

We intentionally planned for the second half of our trip to be more laid back.  And it didn’t disappoint! The north shore is a great place to:

  • hike to secluded beaches and waterfalls on the Napali coast
  • be surrounded by beautifully lush foliage
  • snorkel at the best beaches on the island!
  • hike the most scenic trails EVER
  • unwind and never want to leave
  • AND the sunrises!

My Favorite Beaches for Snorkeling
Roosters and chickens in general are synonymous with Kauai.

The main road on the north shore literally twists and winds you over a series of one lane bridges until it dead-ends at Ke’e beach and a number of trailheads (we’ll revisit these trails in a bit).  Ke’e beach has beautiful reefs for snorkeling, and the shoreline has lots of trees for shade.  In the summer, the water is swimming-pool clear and due to a cove-like shape, a bit calmer than my next pick.  We saw some of the best biodiversity and most brightly colored fish at this beach!  I would say it was my 2nd favorite on the island.

My favorite beach for snorkeling on Kauai is Tunnels beach!  Hands. Down.  Tons of fish!  Tons of unique varieties of fish.  And the terrain of the coral itself is even cool!  There are huge canyons (and tunnels) in the coral where some of the bigger fish hung out.

Also, SEA TURTLES.  So so many sea turtles.

You know the law about giving sea turtles a certain amount of space?  They forgot to inform the turtles.  I would attempt to swim away from one turtle only to find that there was a second turtle right behind me!  Watching them dive down to eat and their graceful movements were some of the highlights of the trip for me!  I was 100% mesmerized!  The husband was as smitten with it as I was.  And of course, we are both huge animal lovers!  We went snorkeling here a lot, and afterwards, we were giddy every time!

Hikes with Stunning Views

Kauai is home to some of the best hiking in the state!!  Many of the top hikes are along the Kalalau trail system.  By “top” hikes I mean hikes with absolutely breathtaking views the. whole. way.

Napali coast from the trail!

Hanakapi’ai Beach

This trail system is the only way – aside from swimming or boating – to set foot on the Napali coast’s beautiful beaches and insane landscape.   There are multiple trail options and distances available.  All of the trailheads are located in Haena State Park and very clearly marked.  You can day hike to Hanakapi’ai beach (~4mi. roundtrip) or  Hanakapi’ai falls (~8mi. roundtrip) without a permit, but anything beyond those – including overnight backpacking trips – require a permit.  The views on the way to Hanakapi’ai beach are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen.  Its also a great place to cool off and stick your feet in the soft sand!  At only 2 miles each way, this hike is great because you will finish early enough to spend the afternoon snorkeling at Tunnels or Ke’e!

To be honest, there is nothing quite like hiking along the Napali coast.  But, the Okolehao Trail is a display of Hawaii’s famous tree canopy, wild orchids, and other foliage at their finest.  It’s a steep climb, but the view of Hanalei Bay from the ridge’s plateaus is also quite spectacular.

Norfolk pine forest on the trail

View of Hanalei Bay from the Okolehao Trail
Favorite Hang-Out Beach!
Makahoa Point at Lumahai Beach

I would categorize Kauai’s beaches in one of three categories:

  • snorkel beaches
  • surf beaches
  • and hang-out beaches

Snorkel beaches obviously need a reef to be worth snorkeling, and surf beaches obviously need surf-worthy waves.  Hanging out can clearly be accomplished at beaches in any of the 3 categories, but when all you want to do is hang out in the water or on the shore, it warrants the 3rd category.  Hang-out beaches generally have soft sand and are free of a reef for easy floating in the waves.

And when they want to earn extra bonus points, they also have a giant rock for jumping from!

That’s me!  Jumping from Makahoa Point at Lumahai Beach!  We LOVED hanging out at this beach in there afternoon after we were tired from hiking/snorkeling/exploring.  I could have floated in the rolling waves for hours!!  And the rocky point to jump from certainly keeps things interesting and is super fun!

Note the fancy jumping skills of the local boys.  They are much braver than I!  

The hubs and I both rated this beach our favorite!  Its a bit tricky to find the part near the point but thats what Siri is for. 😉

Wrapping up…

At the end of this trip, I did not want to leave.  Sometimes, I’m ready to come home at the end of a vacation, but definitely not this time.  I was smitten with the pace of life and welcoming people.  Nonetheless, I reluctantly boarded the plane for Seattle and am already anxious to get back to Kauai – especially the north shore!

I hope you find this list of our favorite finds helpful!  On tuesday, my Foodies’ Guide to Kauai will be up! Trust me when I tell you that there are some do-not-miss spots on there.

Links to everything I mentioned in this post are listed below!  We had a BLAST on our trip, and these truly were our fave finds or experiences of the trip! So, if you have a trip to Kauai planned, I hope you try some out!

Alternately, if you have been to Kauai recently, what were YOUR favorite spots?  I’m already chomping at the bit to go back, so I would LOVE to hear your faves!

The links to where I found my bikinis are available below!

You can check out my Foodie’s Guide to Kauai in part 2 here!


List of our recommendations:

Whaler’s Cove Resort – A great condo style hotel in Poipu! Giant rooms right on the water with unobstructed views! Sea turtles come rest in the cove at night. We watched pod after pod of spinner dolphins go by!

Kauai Outfitters – We did the Napali coast kayak trip through this company a few years ago and I would HIGHLY recommend it! Just be prepared for a long day of paddling! (Note: I believe this kayak trip isn’t offered in the winter due to rougher seas.)

Holo-Holo Charters – Great crew, and great experience on both trips we took with them!! Highly recommend! The tours we did were Niihau and Napali snorkeling trip and Napali sunset dinner cruise.

Hanalei Colony Resort – Highly recommend!  Great water views in a quiet location on the north shore.  A super friendly staff!  The rooms have an excellent layout for taking in the setting.  And EVERY unit is a corner-unit with huge bay windows!  Many people book rooms almost a year in advance, so book early!  We will absolutely stay here again!

Ke’e Beach – Located at the end of the road and protected by a reef, this beach has great snorkeling and plenty of shade.  This beach and the adjoining Haena state park are also the starting/ending point for all the Napali coast trails including the Kalalau Trail.

Tunnels Beach – (Also called Makua Beach) My favorite snorkel beach!  Located a mile or two before the end of the road on the north shore and home to some of the best snorkeling on the island.  Lots of different corals mean more varieties of fish!  A great spot to swim with sea turtles and colorful fish of all shapes and sizes!

Kalalau/Napali Coast Trail – If you only plan to do 1 hike on Kauai, make it one of these!  While we haven’t done the full multi-day backpacking trip, the views on the way to Hanakapi’ai beach are breath taking!  It is absolutely worth a morning of your time!  If you want to really go for the full 20+ mile roundtrip experience, don’t forget to reserve a permit.

Okolehao Trail – Beautiful plants, trees, and wild orchids make the steep climb enjoyable, but the view of Hanalei bay from the top is beautiful.  Try to count how many waterfalls you  see from the ridge line distance!  I think we counted 10+!

Makahoa Point at Lumahai Beach –  Highly recommend!  Our favorite beach to hang out or spend an afternoon!  Located on Kauai’s north shore, the beach is well known for its long, soft sandy beach and the rocks at Makahoa point are a popular spot to quite literally jump in the water!  Also, its not overrun with tourists and tends to be more of a local hang-out (Bonus!).


Bikinis…

Red and white striped top“The Jane Top” from Solid and Striped 
Brown bikini bottoms
 (mine; brand no longer exists)

It looks like the red/white stripe might be sold out in this style, but there are other similar options.  This was my lounging or low-activity top.  While it is super comfortable, it doesn’t have much support, and I don’t think it would take much for a wardrobe malfunction to occur.  With that said, the modern spin on a vintage style is exactly what I was looking for and fit perfectly.  Style-wise, I love it!

 

Blue and black top“Uncharted Waters Top” from Lululemon (night tide and black)

Black bikini bottoms“Sunamee Bikini Bottoms” from Patagonia

As evidenced by the sports bra-esque back, this was my high activity level suit!  I snorkeled, hiked, swam, stand-up paddle boarded, and jumped off rocks in this suit without any issues.  Everything stayed put!  The bottoms are reversible and stayed in place well too!  I would recommend both the top and the bottom for all activities – especially if you are less well endowed on top, like me!

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