Hubby needed a break from his work, and of course I needed one too :). We wanted to visit tropical climate islands but unfortunately due to Zika virus, our options were limited. After a bit of back-n-forth, we settled on Kauai. Unlike other trips which are very well organized by moi, Kauai trip was totally the opposite. Nada on the planning of activities except for booking the flights and stay.
After some research settled on northern side of the island because of its gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, beautiful beaches, it is wetter side of the island – which means unexpected waterfalls and rainbows, and more quieter – not a lot of tourists. If this may not work for you, you can opt for sunny side.
We stayed in Sealodge condo, Unit G5 in Princeville. Sealodge condos are located on the bluff so you are looking at the ocean from every room. I highly recommend Sealodge condo for this very reason – but keep your expectations low as these are private properties on rent and not a resort. Airbnb has these condos listed but they are slightly costlier so I booked ours through Hestara. Here is a quick video of sunrise from Sealodge.
Northern side of Kauai has many friendlies – Kauai wild chickens and this property has few of them. Everyday we were woken up by “Kauai’s alarm clock” to enjoy the sunrises with a hot cup of tea right from the backyard. Oh another secret is that this property has access to secret beach – Sea lodge beach aka Kaweonu beach. It’s close to a mile hike (round trip) – through some slippery terrain so be careful.
Now to the itinerary, here is our detailed per day activities. Everyday we planned for the next so no need to book activities in advance – although you might want to if you are visiting Kauai during peak travel season.
Day 1 – Settle in:
We arrived around noon, picked up our rental and made our way to the condo. On the way stopped by Foodland to do grocery shopping. By the time we had possession of the condo it was a bit late so we checked out Sealodge property and just sat in the lanai (balcony) and relaxed by staring at the ocean.
Day 2 – Hindu monastery, Opaekaa falls, Sea lodge secret beach, and Kapaa farmer’s market:
I fast on Tuesday, dawn to dusk (just water), so we kept our activities to the minimum. Morning, we decided to go to Hindu Monastery – Kadavul Temple. It’s roots stem from hinduism of Southern India, Sri Lanka and it is home to some 20-30 monks. It’s open from 9 AM – Noon, so plan accordingly. I could write a big long essay about this temple but I’m afraid this article will turn into a book so let me summarize the experience. Tranquil in the air, meditation under the banyan tree – out of the world, 108 idols of supreme god Lord Shiva in different dance forms – captivating, flower gardens around the temples – splendid, sculptures of idols and temple – show amazing workmanship, views of Wailua river from the stone pathways – reminds why Kauai is called “Garden Island” and overall – we walked away from this sacred place feeling blessed and peaceful. After the temple visit, we dropped by “Rudraksha Forest” which is just few miles away. It is worth stopping by. Forest is home to 250 plus Rudraksha trees which are gigantic in size. As per Indian beliefs, Rudraksha bead is considered to ward one from “negative energies”.
On the way back, we stopped by Opaekaa falls which can be seen from the roadside lookout. Hike to the waterfall is closed off now due to some casualties. We took some pictures and made it to the Coconut Market Place (Farmer’s market), Kapaa, which is open between 9 a.m. to noon. Loved the market, because we were able to find tropical fruits which we grew up eating in India – like Chikoo, Longan, Berries etc…bought a whole bunch of fruits and went back to condo.
After taking some rest, ended the day with a hike to Sea Lodge Secret beach. It is a small secluded beach off of the steep cliffs of Priceville. Although it is a 0.5-0.8 mile (1-way) hike, it was a bit scary since the terrain was a bit slippery, steep and winds were gusty. At times I felt, I might just get knocked down off the cliff by some strong winds. Once we got to the beach, it was just peaceful.
Day 3 – Waimea Canyon drive, Hanapepe valley and few beaches (Glass beach, Shipwreck’s beach, Spouting Horn Beach Park and Brennecke’s beach):
We started early since Waimea Canyon is on the west side of the island and one way is close to ~2hrs drive. On the way to Waimea canyon, we stopped by Hanapepe town and Hanapepe valley lookout. Hanapepe is a quaint little town with lot of history. We made a quick stop by local coffee shop and the lady of the store advised us to go to the topmost lookout and start making way down the lookouts. This was a great advice as we could spend quality time on the top most lookouts which were far more charming.
Towards the end of HI-550 in Kokee state park, lies this gem Pu’u O Kila lookout/overlook. You can capture through your eyes and lens some of the best views of Kalalau valley. We walked slowly and steadily towards the edges of these gorges to capture some great shots – but be very careful – one wrong step could be fatal. There is a 1 mile hike down the hill but it is quite challenging based on weather conditions. We walked close to half a mile and came back up since we were in our slippers and decided to avoid risk.
After this lookout, we started driving down and stopped by the famous Kalalau Lookout. This is a much safer overlook with grandiose views of the Kalalau valley as well. It was a great day, lucky us, from both the lookouts, we were able to see sawtooth ridges of Napali coast, vast & dense forests, surreal landscape of the valleys, and turquoise ocean. So worth the drive.
Next we stopped at Waimea Canyon Lookout. This view is so different from the above two stops. Waimea canyon almost looks like a miniature “Grand Canyon” and in fact it is referred as such – “Grand Canyon of the pacific”. This overlook is very crowded so getting good picture can be challenging. Another quick stop was at Pu’u Hinahina Lookout. From here you can see the Nihau island on a clear day and there are a few hikes too.
On Rte-55, we stopped by another gem – red dirt waterfalls just off of the 1500 elevation post. Small stream of water running through red dirt landscape makes it so special. Took some picture and since it was tourist free we spent time lying around and soaking in the sun. This pretty much concluded the journey and it was time for some beach.
We stopped by couple of beaches in the south – Glass beach, Shipwreck beach, Spouting horn in Poipu, Brennecke’s beach (known for turtles mating grounds, we were able to spot few turtles) and after that it was a long drive back to the condo.
Day 4 – Ke’e State Beach Park, Hanakapi’ai Falls & Beach:
This was the most interesting day, and you will know why. Started our morning by taking photographs of the most spectacular sunrise we’ve ever seen. After that we made an impromptu decision to go to Ke’e state beach. This is one of the beaches where one can see some high tides/waves and also the starting point to Hanakapi’ai Falls and Kalalau hikes. Stopped by the beach and then decided let’s do Hanakapi’ai Falls hike (another impromptu decision). Initial reaction when we looked at the board was – round trip 8 miles, should be doable. At this point, we were more excited to get started and had no inkling of what I specifically was signing up for. The reason I say this is because I have been suffering from patella femoral syndrome for a while and my knee was in bad shape.
Hike is pretty intense – as it is steep, muddy, slippery and rocky all the way to the beach as well as to the falls. There is a lot of shade along the trail but there are open areas where intensity of sun can be felt – one tip would be to start early. We started around 11 AM – not the best time. Also humidity is pretty high so wear something light and take lots of water. As for the trail, views from o.25 and 0.5 mile markers are just amazing. From 1 mile marker, views of Napali coast starts appearing. Towards 1.25 mile marker, small water streams start appearing making the terrain very slippery. Just before my eyes one elderly gentle man slipped and fell pretty hard – glad I was able to catch him in time and help him get up. Do check the weather before venturing on this hike as trail is not advised after rain and make sure to check the sunset timings too. Hiking shoes are a must too – pls no flip-flops – barefoot may be yes!
After a fair amount of stops, we finally reach Hanakapi’ai beach. Stopped here, had lunch, fruits and rested for a little while (30 mins or so in total). Quite a few hikers stop right here, jump into the river, etc… I wanted to stop too as my leg slowly started to hurt but Vatsal encouraged me to continue further to the falls.
We started again the next 2 miles. Another steep climb up but the hike was beautiful. Trail up follows the river, through the bamboo forests and streams. These two miles has a lot of rock climbing, jumping, walking through the giant roots, and crossing several gushing water streams from the river. Mid-way through we were feeling lost and had no sight of any people either but soon realized that pink ribbons on the branches were to show the way. Took tons of photos, several more pit stops, unexpected slip and fall into the river (moi) 🙂 – overall adventurous. Finally the sight of the majestic waterfalls gets your adrenaline pumping and in another 15 min, we were afoot of breath-taking waterfalls. Pool was extremely cold but it served as icing to my tired knee. We enjoyed the pool, waterfall, rested for a bit and finally it was time to head back.
Trail back was even more intense to the tired body but somehow we made it back – almost had tears as my knee kinda swelled up. One tip would be to wear knee strap if you have any knee related issues and taking hiking sticks.
All in all, despite the physical challenges, I don’t regret for doing this hike as it was just stupendous; none like I’ve ever done. The trip would have been incomplete without it hence its highly recommended.
Day 5 – Kayaking in Wailua river to Uluwehi Falls (secret falls) and Hanalei pier:
We were pretty sore from the previous days hike so we woke up early in the morning and called the kayaking company if they’d let us re-schedule. They said a very polite “no” so we dragged ourselves out of the bed and made our way to the kayaking place.
Our kayaking trip was booked through a company called Ali’i Kayaks. We parked by their location and took a small bus with the kayaks to the river. It was a calm day and after some basic training we followed the guide as a small group towards the falls.
The river is very serene and the scenery is pretty amazing however we were pretty sore and tired from yesterday so it was a bit of a physical exercise for us. After what seemed like a very long time; we finally reached the place where we tied our kayaks and hiked to the waterfalls. The hike is also interesting and different from other hikes. We had to cross a fast-moving river through knee-deep water and walked through meadows where some of the Jurassic park movie scenes were shot and eventually we make it to a gorgeous “not-so” secret waterfalls. There were a few people there and tours keep coming and going however the water was less cold than the previous day and the pool was shallow.
We weren’t ready to jump in the water though so we walked around and got under the waterfalls and got wet without jumping in. It was really awesome and we forgot all the stress and thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent there.
It was time to head back; we retraced our steps and got into the kayak. By this time the wind had picked up so it took a bit more effort to reach the place from where we started but all in all – a gorgeous adventure.
They kayaking company did have Gluten free sandwiches for us but we were very hungry after the kayaking so we stopped by the one and only Indian restaurant to grab a bite.
Afterwards we went to Hanalei Pier on the Northern side of the island which is known for great sunset views and a very calm and shallow lagoon. People were walking far into the water and it was still waist deep. The drive to Hanalei pier is also different and you pass many beach front properties wondering if you would’ve stayed there ! Spent the evening taking pictures of the sunset and wind down.
Day 6 – Na Pali coast helicopter ride, Kapaa first saturday art walk:
Our bodies were sore from both kayaking and hiking; Ah … finally a day of not much physical acitivities. We booked helicopter ride of the island and specifically the Na Pali coast. There are several who operate such rides, we went with Blue Hawaiian.
It’s an hour long ride, starts with watching a mini security video and off to boarding of the helicopter. Each helicopter takes about 6 fellow passengers. Luckily we got front two seats beside the pilot. Our pilot was very knowledgeable, he shared a lot of geographical as well as history related details about Kauai.
Through this ride, we were able to see some unparalleled views of Kauai and also go to inner places which are possible only through air. Highly suggest to take this ride.
Later on we just strolled through the beaches of Kapaa and in the evening attended the Old town kapaa art walk. This is held first Saturday or every month. Streets are filled with local vendors showcasing their art, jewelry, clothing; lot of food trucks; fruit stalls; and local artists singing songs and playing live music. Whether you are tourist or a resident – this is not to be missed.
Day 7 – Snorkel and rafting trip of Na Pali Coast:
Unlike the catamaran ride or cruise, we opted to go on a slightly adventurous ride so we chose rafting trip of Na Pali coast. Best deal at the time was through viator. It’s a small vessel and is a raft which is used in rescue missions. Crew got us geared up, gave us some tips on how to secure oneself etc… and took us off on a 6hr trip.
Riding against the giant 5-6 ft waves in the ocean was so thrilling, the group on the boat were an adventurous bunch – which made it even more fun. One hr into the ride, we were in the midst of great pool of dolphins. Dolphins put up quite a show of acrobatics – jumping high out of the water, somersaulting, swimming in front of the bow, alongside etc… we couldn’t get enough but crew said we have to move on.
After another hour, Vessel was stopped so we could swim in the ocean – I couldn’t dare but Vatsal backflipped into the ocean and enjoyed his swim. Next few hours, we got to see the amazing lush views of Na Pali ridges from a different angle, other sea life – giant turtles, several cascading waterfalls by the coast, and stellar sea caves – some of them were pitch dark and others wide open into the sky (going into sea caves can only be possible through rafting tours).
Next we stopped for lunch, got a history tour of the Indian village, got a chance to taste Noni fruit and finally enjoyed an hr of snorkeling. Later it was trip back to where we left off. The return journey became a bit more adventurous as the waves became choppier, and taller. We got completely soaked from the waves and had to hold on with the death grip. All in all, an adventurous trip – beautiful memories.
Day 8 – Anini Beach, Kilauea Lighthouse, and Hanalei Pier:
From this day onwards we didn’t plan any activities and just chilled. Took a quick drive to Kilauea lighthouse but it was closed for the season for some repairs and from there we headed to Anini Beach. Anini Beach is another beach off the beaten path, less people, shallow waters – makes it an excellent place for snorkeling. It started raining and snorkeling under the rain was just magical. We stayed there for hrs and headed back to condo for a quick lunch.
In the evening, we went back to Hanalei pier to catch sunset but unfortunately because of the weather conditions, we couldn’t get to see the sunset. However, we got to witness some suddenly formed cascading waterfalls because of the day of rain. Low cloud cover, waterfalls made it a special evening – we took a long stroll on the beach and grabbed dinner at Postcards Cafe (they have gluten free options).
Day 9 – More snorkeling at Anini Beach and Waipa Farmers Market:
Enjoyed snorkeling at Anini beach so much that we went back there again. After few hrs of snorkeling, we freshened up and went to Waipa farmers market. Lot of stalls with locally grown tropical fruits, vegetables; food stalls; flower stalls in the most picturesque backdrop. We had coconuts, bought some local fruits – Velvet Apples, Surinam Cherries, Bread fruit etc…
We ended the day by dining at Kauai Grill. Nice food, great ambience, amazing views of the ocean, great service – highly recommend. They have tasting menu with separate gluten free options – food was finger licking. Squash soup recipe is inspiration from this restaurant.
Day 10 – Quick trip to St. Regis and its private beaches and return back:
We packed our bags and did a trip to St. Regis and it’s private beaches. We took a nice and quiet stroll by its private beach and later headed back to airport.
This concluded our magical trip to the island of Kauai. Completely mesmerized by it’s natural beauty, and definitely we will go back there again.