Exploring Kauai: from secluded beaches to huge canyons and jaw-dropping cliffs

In one word, Kauai was fabulous. It’s a much more remote island than Maui, with less available at your fingertips, but this added to the charm. The island’s natural beauty throughout was incredible and we were always excited for what the next day would bring. We were with friends we made in Maui—Sarah, Sammy and Omer—for our whole time there, and we rented a Jeep with them to get ourselves around.

We quickly learned that anywhere you went on Kauai included awe-inspiring views and that this island was so worth the visit. Apologies in advance for the much longer blog this time around, but everything was so great that I decided to split it up by what we did each day.

Day 1: Secret Beach and Hanalei Bay

Our first day on the island was pretty unfortunate. Our hostel was polar opposite to the reviews (cockroaches and rats included!!) and we decided we couldn’t risk staying there for the sake of our sanity/to avoid waking up with rats nibbling away at us. We were touched by an unexpected act of kindness by our friends’ Airbnb host, Rosemary. She provided us with free accommodation (an airbed in a house being built!) for the whole time we were there and helped us get our money back from the never-to-speak-of-again hostel (Kauai Beach Hostel). In the end, we spent our time in Kauai sleeping in a house under construction. Not what we expected, but it was way better than the alternative, and kind-of fun in a way!

After figuring out whether we’d be sleeping in a tent or not, we took the Jeep for a spin and went to explore the island. First, we drove to Kauai’s north shore and went to Kauapea beach. This beach was massive and very secluded—accessed only by driving down a dirt track, then slipping down a 400m-or-so muddy path through the jungle. Somewhat aptly, it’s also nicknamed secret beach. The waves were huge here and really took you out if you tried to swim—so only really for those able to take a big tumble and hold their breath under water for a while! Afterwards we checked out Hanalei Bay, which has a beach with much calmer water and spectacular views of the mountains.

Day 2: Na Pali catamaran and Ho’opi’i Falls

We started out our first full day on Kauai with a bang and went on a catamaran tour of the Na Pali coast. This was so awesome. It’s really the best way to view the outstanding “pali” (translation: sea cliffs) that Kauai is known for. The only alternative is a helicopter, but this is triple the price and a quarter of the time. In addition, the catamaran gives so much more than good views. We saw flying fish, hundreds (literally) of Hawaiian spinner dolphins, snorkled with turtles and beautiful fish, had breakfast and lunch, and had a free bar for the duration. We were really blown away by the beauty of the jagged coast and were so glad we went out on the boat for the day. Towards the last hour of the six hour trip (after our boat floated in the huge swell of the Pacific to see everything up close), I felt really awful and joined a club of sea-sickness friends, being forced to consume many saltine crackers and ginger ales. I didn’t get sick but I was very close, so if you’re prone to seasickness I’d advise popping something strong to help with it before you board. For me, though, the trip was still so worth it.

After the boat, we went to Ho’opi’i Falls (featured in Jurassic park at some point), which started out as a really beautiful hike along a crystal clear river surrounded by huge trees, ending up at a secluded waterfall we could swim in. One of the things we loved about Kauai was that you had to work to get to the cool places and everything felt like a bit of an adventure. This waterfall in particular had a rope swing; and is where I quickly realized I would not have made the cut in either The Jungle Book or Tarzan. I am literally incapable of swinging gracefully: My multiple attempts provided a lot of entertainment for the gang. They made it look cool though…

Day 3: Waimea canyon, Awa’awapuhi trail, and more

This day, we left our house-under-construction/home for the week at 5:00am in order to drive up to the Waimea canyon for sunrise. We only found two other people outside our group up there, making it a really special and peaceful experience. Afterwards we went to both the Kalalau lookout and Pu’u O Kila lookout, which both look over a spectacular section of the Na Pali coast. We’re very glad we got up there that early as there was really no one else around and it tends to cloud over towards midday.

Around 8:30am we began the Awa’awapuhi trail, which is roughly a six-mile round trip. It was great to start this early as we were the only ones there, which made it all the more special. The trail is muddy/slippery and downhill through jungle most of the way, although you don’t realize how far downhill you’ve gone until you make your way back up (difficult in 90% humidity!). We walked three miles and still hadn’t seen anything that spectacular (just a forest and mud), and then suddenly we hit the end of the trail: I swear to god, all of our jaws dropped at the view in front of us. This trail had taken us out onto one of the jagged cliffs of the Na Pali coast and, although most of the hike is nothing to write home about, the end of it is the most incredible sight I think I’ve ever seen. It is also terrifying. There is an option to go onto the cliff on about a two foot wide “bridge” that has a 2,500 foot drop on both sides. I went out to the furthest point and have never seen anything like it—just stunning and a ridiculous adrenaline rush. It is the only place I’ve been so blown away by that I have no pictures on my phone, and just a couple from Alastair’s camera. As for Alastair, let’s just say that he had a trickier time: He experienced serious vertigo as he started to cross the “bridge” and was stopped dead in his tracks. He actually ended up sitting on his butt and edging slowly backwards until he felt better (whoooops—sorry for telling everyone, A). It is definitely wise to check the weather before you do the trail as it would not be somewhere you’d want to be if it was really windy!

We ended our busy day with a well deserved swim at Poipu beach on the south side and then we had the most delicious Poke bowl we found on the island from Makai Sushi for dinner.

Day 4: Queen’s Bath and Hanalei Bay

On our last full day on Kauai we decided to go to the Queen’s Bath, which is a lava pool (a sinkhole made out of solidified lava) on the north side of the island. The pool is right on the coast and pretty spectacular to see. It starts with a very muddy trail (we saw people absolutely covered in mud that decided to wear flip flops down…), which is a brief challenge to get down (especially after one of Kauai’s common showers) but, again, it’s an adventure that gets you to an awesome location. A word of caution, though: The seas may look calm here, but they can quickly swell up, especially you get towards high tide. This meant that while the pools were safe to swim in one minute, the next they’d be swallowed by a huge wave (this video is a good example if you’re interested). Despite this, after seeing others jumping in, we had to get in there ourselves!

It was a really fun place to swim but the wise (or more afraid) ones like us timed our jumps accordingly, before getting out very quickly—we didn’t want to be another notch added to the tally of 27 deaths scribbled on a wooden board at the start of the trail. As if to prove its power, the ocean cranked the power up after we’d been there for half an hour, almost taking the life of a sweet dog that had been watching its owners jump in the pool. The dog had been watching for 20 or so minutes, befriending photograph-taking Alastair in the meantime, but when Alastair took his turn and jumped in, the dog shortly followed to find its family. For a minute it happily paddled around, until a huge swell crashed into the pool turning it into a washing machine. Nobody could see where the dog went when things cleared up, and it turned out he/she had been swept to the end of the pool where it goes back to the ocean (a rocky ledge that is peppered non-stop by massive waves). Thankfully, a very brave guy (hero) risked his life to swim along the pool in between swells, grab the dog, and eventually return him to his/her very distraught owners.

Long story short, this place can be a lot of fun, but people need to heed the local advice: go at low tide, watch the weather conditions, and don’t risk a jump for a cool picture if there’s any doubt at all!

We ended our time on Kauai swimming and body-boarding in Hanalei Bay, jumping off the pier, and finally chilling one last time with our good friends at our construction site accommodation! Overall we had such a good time in Hawaii and it massively surpassed our expectations. The combination of natural beauty, surprisingly healthy and organic food, and the total sense of isolation was unique and really enjoyable. It would definitely be somewhere we’d visit again!

See all Hawaii pics here 🙂

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