To those who have seen its verdant shores, it will come as no surprise to learn that Kauai is one of the wettest places on Earth. The peak of Mt. Wai’ale’ale, perpetually shrouded in mist at 5,148 feet, receives approximately 450 inches of rain each year. But even natives of the Garden Isle were shocked by the storms of April 2018, when 49.69 inches of rain fell on Kauai’s north shore in a 24-hour period, setting a new national record—and drowning farms, roads, and homes—in the process.
One year later, the northernmost of the main Hawaiian Islands still bears scars from the floods of 2018. As of this writing, the road west of Hanalei remains closed to non-local traffic, and the Kalalau Trail—the famed backpacking route that traces the Nāpali Coast—is closed indefinitely. Yet this lush island paradise is as magnetic as ever, especially for those who seek natural beauty over the more manicured comforts of sprawling beachfront resorts.
Your weekend home base awaits at Pu’u Poa or Pali Ke Kua, a pair of neighboring condo complexes that sit atop the bluffs in the north shore community of Princeville. Each property enjoys close proximity to a postcard-perfect beach, an easy commute into charming downtown Hanalei, and majestic nightly sunsets that double as the best show in town.
So grab your bathing suit and pull up a lounge chair. We’re off to Kauai for the next three days.
Bali Hai Will Whisper On The Wind Of The Sea
A steep, unmaintained trail near the tennis court at Pu’u Poa keeps crowds to a minimum at Hideaways Beach, a small sliver of grainy sand around the bend from Hanalei Bay. Thus, mornings here are an absolute delight, as you commune in the shade with ever-present wild chickens, snorkel through shallow reefs, and take in the view of Bali Hai—the mountain made famous by Rodgers and Hammerstein in South Pacific.
Insider Tip: You’ll be the envy of every beach-goer if you bring sneakers for the trail to Hideaways Beach.
I Wanna Get Back To My City By The Bay
When the first guided kayaking tour comes ashore on Hideaways Beach, take that as your cue to head into town for lunch. A short drive west on Kuhio Highway will bring you into Hanalei, a peaceful community nestled at the base of the Hīhīmanu, Nāmolokama, and Māmalahoa mountains. Here among green fields of taro, you’ll find the town’s favorite coffee, baked goods, sandwiches, and pizzas at Hanalei Bread Company (5-5161 Kuhio Highway), which are best paired with an organic frozen treat from Wishing Well Shave Ice (5-5080 Kuhio Highway).
At this point, you’ll be just a few blocks from the crystalline waters and spectacular mountain backdrop of Hanalei Bay. This horseshoe cove and sandy beach can provide hours of afternoon entertainment, whether you choose to swim in gentle waves, pick up a rental from Kayak Hanalei (5070A Kuhio Highway), or catch an unforgettable sunset from the pier. As for dinner? Take your pick of the Pacific-meets-Mediterranean cuisine at Bar Acuda or the masterful ramen and raw fish at AMA (5-5161 Kuhio Highway).
Fast There, Captain Cook! Where You Headin’?
Seven miles west of Hanalei, Kuhio Highway comes to an abrupt end on the shores of Ke’e Beach, the gateway to the Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park. This 6,000-acre expanse encompasses 16 miles of some of the most dramatic coastline in the world—and it’s entirely inaccessible to cars.
But with the Kalalau Trail temporarily closed to hikers (and more appropriately featured in a blog post of its own), your best chance for hiking the Nāpali Coast awaits on the Pihea-Alakai Swamp Trail in Kōke’e State Park. There’s just one catch: The Pihea Trailhead lies at the highway’s opposite terminus, a two-hour drive clockwise around the island. But the reward? An eight-mile-roundtrip hike that traverses the edge of the Kalalau Valley, from the Pu’u o Kila Lookout to the Kilohana Lookout.
Insider Tip: If you’re hoping to glimpse the iconic view of the Kalalau Valley from the Pu’u o Kila Lookout (which is better positioned than the adjacent Kalalau Lookout), try to arrive between 8 and 11 a.m. Any earlier, the valley will still be in shadow. Any later, the clouds will have likely moved in.
Do You Find Chief Orman Attractive?
The upside of driving to the clear other end of the island is the variety of natural, coastal, and culinary wonders you’ll pass on the way home. There are the red walls of Waimea Canyon, a ten-mile-wide depression that has eroded to depths of up to 3,000 feet over millions of years. And there’s the ever-sunny south shore, where you’ll find tender pork tacos for lunch at Da Crack (2827 Poipu Road, Poipu), the island’s best and most creative shave ice at The Fresh Shave (3540 Koloa Road, Kalaheo; 9899 Waimea Road, Waimea), and lovely coastal scenery on the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail from Shipwreck Beach.
Listen, Do You Want To Know A Secret?
There’s a beach for every interest and occasion this morning, and none of them will skimp on north shore scenery. The underwater caverns at Tunnels Beach are prime for snorkeling with a view of Bali Hai, while the warm, still waters at Anini Beach are ideal for wading, floating, and unleashing your small children. If it’s a bit more solitude you seek, do your best to find the trailhead to Kauapea (“Secret”) Beach, a wide stretch of sparsely populated sand that sits adjacent to the Kilauea Lighthouse.
From any of these beaches, it’s a (sometimes) short and (always) scenic drive to Kilauea, where food, drink, and a bit of retail therapy await at a single address. Within the span of a few feet, you can pick up a locally sourced, cold-pressed juice at Kauai Juice Co., an island-famous ahi wrap at the Kilauea Fish Market, and an inspired gift or two at the carefully curated Hunter Gatherer (4270 Kilauea Road).
Insider Tip: You’ll find the trail to Secret Beach by turning onto Kalihiwai Road from Kuhio Highway (a left turn just before Kilauea when traveling south). Make the first right turn onto a nameless dirt road, and join the cars that are parked at the road’s end.
Sundown, You Better Take Care
Adventurer, romantic, or wildlife enthusiast, there’s a boat captain in Hanalei just waiting to show you the wonders of the Nāpali Coast. If you spend an afternoon with the crew at Na Pali Catamaran, you’ll be treated to a four-hour excursion that includes a bit of snorkeling, sea cave exploration, and historical narration along the knife-edge ridges of the coast (5-5190 Kuhio Highway). If you opt for Captain Sundown’s Nāpali Sail, you’ll have an exclusive opportunity to photograph this extraordinary stretch of shoreline at sunset.
No matter which option you choose, you’ll bring this long weekend to a close as you ride the swells, admire a prehistoric landscape, and sail off into a spectacular setting sun.
A Few Notes
When it’s open and accessible to hikers, the Kalalau Trail is one of the world’s great backpacking routes. An overnight permit is required (issued up to a year in advance) not just for those trekking the 11 miles to Kalalau Beach, but for those who are interested in exploring anywhere past Hanakapi’ai Valley. If you’re day hiking, the best you can do without a permit is catch a glimpse of Hanakapi’ai Beach and Falls two miles up the trail.
Kauai is beautiful year-round, so there’s never a bad time to visit. But to take full advantage of boating, snorkeling, and hiking opportunities, you’d be wise to time your visit for late spring, summer, or early fall, as the winter brings more rain and high surf, especially to the north shore.
TITLE: The Kalalau Valley | FRIDAY: Hideaways Beach; the beach on Hanalei Bay; Hanalei Pier; Hanalei Pier | SATURDAY: The Pihea-Alakai Swamp Trail; palms in Princeville; Bali Hai at sunset | SUNDAY: The beginning of the Kalalau Trail; the Nāpali Coast, from Captain Sundown’s charter; the Nāpali Coast; Hanalei Pier; Bali Hai at sunset.
Kauai was definitely one of our family’s favorite vacations EVER! This post makes me want to head back there right now! Kayaking and snorkeling were both fantastic!
Kauai is my families home away from home! Love your notes Maura, you really captured the spirit and relaxed attitude of the island. Can’t wait for my next trip to Poipu.