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Kauai is known for its lush rainforests and spectacular mountains. Photo / Getty Images
Known as Hawaii’s Garden Island, Kauai has relaxed towns, hip eateries and scenery straight out of a film set, writes Brett Atkinson
Fuel up for a Kauai kayaking adventure with coffee and a jalapeno, egg and mozzarella breakfast sandwich at the Passion Bakery Cafe. Mornings are also the best time to pick up the cafe’s fresh-from-the-oven baking, especially pecan sticky buns and cinnamon malasadas (Portuguese-style doughnuts).
Rent kayaks from nearby operators, including Kayak Kauai and Wailua Kayak & Canoe to journey up the Wailua River, Hawaii’s longest navigable river, and a sacred royal location to local Hawaiians. Experiences incorporating an optional 3km return forest walk to the 30m-high Uluwehi waterfalls take around four hours. Guided trips are also available.
From the Wailua River on Kauai’s busier east coast, it’s 5km north to Kapa’a Old Town, with a colourful roll call of historic wooden shopfronts featuring good places to buy art including wood carvings, photography and glassworks. Recommended from the huddle of food trucks at the northern end of town are Al Pastor Tacos’ Mexican flavours.
Continue north past the rugged surf-fringed arc of Kealia Beach Park to Kilueua Point. Free tours to the top of Kilueua’s historic lighthouse are offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and the nearby Kilueua Point National Wildlife Refuge is a avian haven for red-
footed boobies and the wide wingspans of Laysan albatrosses. During Hawaii’s winter from May to November, keep an eye out for humpback whales.
After a swim at Hanalei Bay – check with locals for the safest conditions along the beach’s 3km stretch – explore the retro and vintage treasures on sale at the Yellowfish Trading Company. Hanalei’s best spot for pau hana (literally, “finish work”) drinks is the raffish Tahiti Nui tiki bar. Stay on for live Hawaiian slack key guitar music from 6.30pm, or venture along the road for island-influenced ramen and shared plates at Ama. Try and score a garden table with mountain and waterfall views.
Kick off a day exploring Kauai’s more remote western side with coffee at Lihue’s hip Aloha
Roastery. There’s also an onsite bakery dispensing great breakfast snacks including kougin-amann pastries and chocolate brioches.
Join an adventure self-driving an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) on the red dirt roads of the ranch where scenes from the Jurassic Park movies were filmed. Tours with Kipu Ranch Adventures also take in the riverbank where Harrison Ford escaped on a rope swing in
Raiders of the Lost Ark. While you’re there, ascend a hilltop for views of the perfect beach from the George Clooney film, The Descendants.
Be dazzled by the selection of 30 different pokes available at Waimea’s long-established Ishihara Market grocery store. Local favourites at the store, first opened in 1934, include spicy ahi tuna poke, and seafood salads packed with shrimp, oysters and octopus. Secure an outdoor picnic table before setting off on one of the South Pacific’s finest drives.
Negotiate the Waimea Canyon Drive, stopping at lookouts for waterfall vistas, and continuing to the end of the road at Pu’u o Kila for spectacular views of the verdant cliffs lining Kaua’i’s Na Pali coast.
Stop in at the Talk Story Bookstore in the historic plantation town of Hanapepe. The most western book shop in the US has plenty of titles by Hawaiian authors, and relaxed browsing is encouraged. On Friday nights, Hanapepe’s galleries are open to 9pm for the town’s weekly art-night street festival. If you’re staying for dinner, sushi and bento bowls from the cool and compact Japanese Grandma cafe are an essential diversion.
For a second run at pau hana Kauai-style, refresh with lemongrass and wasabi-laced shrimp and island cocktails amid the retro style of Mamahune’s Tiki Bar at the Hilton Garden Inn. Located back on the island’s east coast, Mamahune’s funky surroundings include a faux mini volcano and sweeping views of nearby Wailua Bay.
Continue 3km further north across the Wailua River to the stylish Hukilau Lanai. A fusion menu includes lobster with local goat cheese and macadamia nuts, or candied tuna with a coffee and chipotle sauce. Highlights of the interesting drinks list are brews from Lihue’s Kaua’i Beer Company and island-crafted mead with local pineapple, limes and honey.
Getting there and around
Hawaiian Airlines have direct flights from Auckland to Honolulu with frequent 40-minute onward flights to Lihue airport on Kauai. Traffic is relatively light and roads well-marked on Kauai, and renting a car is recommended.
Where to stay
Beside the Wailua River, Fern Grotto Inn’s self-contained cottages are conveniently located for exploring all parts of Hawaii’s Garden Island.
For more on Kauai, see gohawaii.com/islands/kauai
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