We didn't realize before visiting, but while on Kaua’i we learnt that the Hawaiian islands are the most remote islands in the world - the furtherest away from any continental land. Kaua’i, the ‘Garden Isle’, is the oldest of them all and has some of the most unique geographical natural beauty on any island on earth. Here you will find lush green jungle and mountains, pristine beaches, endless waterfalls, the jagged Na Pali coast, and even desert as well. Kaua’i’s Waimea Canyon is like a mini-version of the Grand Canyon. Its like a journey back in time; to prehistoric times. Full of raw natural beauty, it is hard not to fall in love with this magical place. Not only that, the aloha spirit gets under your skin.
We found so many things to love here. We could have set up shop and stayed awhile (a really long while)…but instead we are excited to share with you some of the favourite things we found in our short 4 days bopping around this island wonderland.
First though, a couple of (random) things we found interesting and some which took us by surprise:
- The roosters. Kaua’i has an insane amount of wild roosters!!! They are everywhere. And the little buggers crow ALL through the night. So be prepared.
- There is only one main road around the island, and it gets busy. Be prepared for it to take a lot longer to get anywhere than you might have first thought.
- We were a little shocked to learn that four of the biggest chemical companies are based here on the island. About 90% of industrial GMO corn grown in the US was originally developed in Hawaii, and Kauai has always hosted the biggest area. The good news though is that there is a small pocket of the North Shore who are trying to promote a non-GMO island. They are currently working towards banning all GMO products - and there is a real focus on healthy living and living sustainable off the island (currently the island still imports 90% of its goods).
- There is a little local bird we loved called the red-crested cardinal, which can be identified by its (surprise, surprise) red head; we also found some cute geckos as well - the gold dust day gecko (a bright green or yellowish green colour, and sometimes even in blue).
To Eat & Drink
Sushi girl: a totally awesome find (thanks for the reco, Eddi) - a tiny little hole-in-the-wall sushi joint sandwiched between a couple of shops on the road to the Na Pali Coast State Park. The perfect place to stop for a quick lunch to-go before or after your hike. Fresh and delicious Japanese maki rolls, wraps and salads with fresh ahi tuna. The serves are big (we ordered the kids maki roll and it was huge).
Healthy hut: for everything! We love it here. We would stop by each day for healthy snacks, juices, even some organic wine (and the taco truck next door is good if you are just wanting a quick and cheap dinner on the run. We had a grilled fish taco and the carne asada taco and they were both pretty good - the meat one definitely better though).
Barracuda: for a really beautiful tapas dinner. Grab a seat at the bar (but get there early, they open at 5:30pm but there will likely be a queue out the door from 5pm). They do also take reservations though if you are wanting a table.
Hanalei Bread: for seriously good artisanal sourdough bread. We were so happy to find this place. The bread is delicious and just the way we like it. They do a decent coffee and good breakfasts as well.
Harvest Market Hanalei: a great health food store for smoothies, salads, and a whole bunch of organic, gluten-free, raw and local products.
Lighthouse Bistro: the setting is nothing to write home about, but the food is pretty good. Come here especially for their free-range pork steak (another good reco thanks Eddi).
Mermaids: for their ahi nori wrap (seared ahi, brown rice, cucumber, nori, wasabi cream and shoyu, rolled in a spinach wrap). Open until 9pm.
Kalalea Juice Hale: this became our daily fix. The cutest little orange food stand just off the main road heading north out of Kapaa. Family-run and super friendly, come here for their Acai bowls and delicious smoothies (with homemade nut and coconut milks).
Kauai Juice Co: for great organic, cold-pressed juices in cute glass bottles. Two locations: Kapaa (next to Rainbow Living Foods), and Kilauea (right by Metamorphous Yoga).
Rainbow Living Foods: for all things local, organic, vegan, gluten-free and raw. Fresh juices and smoothies, local coconuts, kale salads, raw falafel, and delicious raw desserts. Closes at 5pm.
Wishing Well shaved ice truck: for coconuts, smoothies, ace bowls and shaved ice.
Java Kai: a cute cafe that is connected to the Shipwrecked lifestyle boutique next door (we like to sit on the tables out the front of Shipwrecked). We tried their ‘power’ bowl one morning and it definitely filled a gap. Juices, smoothies and sweet stuff as well.
Hukilau Lanai: come here if you are in the mood for some old-school Hawaiian. Using local ingredients and products from Kaua’i and the other neighbour islands. We were needing a meat fix and were recommended their filet mignon. Delicious.
Hoku Foods Natural Market: this is another really great healthy and organic food store, perfect if you are in need of some fresh produce, healthy snacks, drinks, or raw food.
Ha Coffee Bar: in Lihue, for undoubtedly the best coffee on the island. Worth driving 20mins from Kapaa for. Owner Jeff, ex-Seattle, even serves an 8oz cup. We were VERY happy to find this place.
Anatta’s Authentic Thai: this food truck was such a lovely surprise. We were wanting a quick and easy dinner while we were in the area and found this place on Yelp. Holed up in the ACE Hardward parking lot, these lovely Thai women make really tasty, really authentic thai dishes. Fresh, delicious and super cheap.
Eating House: traditional and modern, locally-sourced asian-inspired food.
Pizzetta: we stumbled across this place by accident one night when we were coming back from Waimea Canyon. We were on our way to Eating House, but ended up going here instead. Craving a spaghetti bolognese, we grabbed a seat at the bar and were suitably impressed with the authentic bowl of pasta that was put down in front of us. A decent selection of beer and wine as well. The pizza looked totally legit, and the gelato was also great.
The Scorpacciata pizza truck. We never made managed to find this pizza shop on wheels before leaving the island, but oh how we wanted to. If you look at their Instagram you will soon see that their neapolitan-style pizzas look completely authentic and amazing. Using only local ingredients, they do breakfast and lunch pizzas only.
First things first, rent a car. It is essential here for getting around the island. It would be impossible without one.
Hike: there are endless options, but don’t miss the infamous Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast - an 11 mile trail that takes you from Ke’e Beach (at “the end of the road”) to Kalalau Beach along the Na Pali Coast. The trail traverses 5 valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach where it is blocked by sheer and rugged cliffs. If you are just wanting a short day hike, take the 2 mile trail to Hanakapi’ai beach (it took us 45mins each way). The scenery is absolutely, mind-blowingly spectacular. The trail is dusty (and often muddy), steep in parts, and so incredibly beautiful. Otherwise, pack a bag, check out the camping permits, and stay awhile. Camping is only allowed at Hanakoa or Kalalau.
Check out all the beaches…some of our favorites include Secret Beach, Molooa Bay, Ke’e beach.
Take a helicopter ride over Waimea Canyon State Park. Or drive up into the canyon around sunset. Often described as ‘the grand canyon of the pacific’, it might not be as big or as old as its Arizona cousin, but we found it to be just as enchanting. Stretching 14 miles long, one mile wide and more than 3,600 feet deep, the views here are over rugged rocky cliffs, deep valley gorges and tumbling waterfalls. Its breathtaking. There are some great hikes you can do around here as well. We recommend doing any of the trails between mile marker 14 and 18 (you will see cars parked on the side of the road near these areas). You will hike through forrest and then pop out into the canyon. Amazing! And if you are lucky, you will also stumble across a waterfall or two.
Surf. Again, plenty of options. But Poipu Beach or Hanalei Bay are probably the most popular.
Swim at Wailua Falls.
Yoga in Hanalei (Yoga Hanalei) and Kilauea (Metamorphose).
Eat acai. And lots of it. And shave ice. And poke. And try as many food truck as possible (our favourite ones are listed above).
Visit Anaina Hou (meaning “a new gathering place”): 500 acres of land in Kilauea that was purchased by Bill Porter, the E-Trade founder, and his wife Joan back in 2004. Bill (who sadly passed away last October) funneled generous portions of his fortune into businesses and nonprofits benefiting organic farming, recreation and community building on the North Shore of Kaua’i. Within Anaina Hou you will find the serene Stone Dam, a 5-mile Wai Koa Loop hiking trail, a skate park, playground, nursery and also (the crown jewel) an 18-hole miniature gold course. Not your average mini gold course, this is one that blends water hazards and other tricky terrain with a tour of Hawaiian ecology and culture in the lush botanical garden setting. You can rent bikes and tour the farm. There are 3 waterfalls scattered around the property. Buddhist statues. A thatched balinese hut. And you can also visit their organic and hydroponic salad greens farm. Its a beautiful place to visit.
Another hidden favourite (that you definitely wont find on the tourist map) is the Kauai Dharma buddhist sanctuary. Tucked away at the bottom of a lush green hill somewhere between Kapaa and Kilauea, we were lucky to get a tip off about this special place from our host Eddi at The Palmwood. We would have otherwise never found it on our own. A place for peace and calm, this is a magical place in the middle of the forrest. A beautiful Buddhist stupa (which the Dalai Lama has visited) sits amongst the pretty grounds.
Shipwrecked: this cute lifestyle store next to Java Kai is full of cute summer clothes, swimwear, jewelry and our favourite (Australian-made) clutches by @happytiff.
Kiko Kauai: for “simple goods”. Homewares, cards, gifts and other random bits and pieces…tucked down a laneway off the main street of Kapaa.
Hunter Gatherer: this is a gorgeous, cosy store in Kilauea full of eclectic art, homewares, jewelry, books, letterpress stationary, and other local artisan gifts. Its a really cute space.
Check out the Friday market at Warehouse 3540: held in Lawai on every Friday from 9am-1pm. A bunch of different vendors including those selling fresh produce, coffee, clothing, and food (the pizza truck might be there)!
Farmers Markets: there are so many amazing farmers markets on the island - pretty much a different one on every day. Check out tastinekauai.com for the weekly line-up. We loved the one in Waipea on Tuesday afternoon.
The Palmwood: one of the most magical guesthouses we have so far had the privilege of enjoying. Firstly, it’s on Kauai (enough said really). Secondly, the setting is absolutely enchanting. The 3-suite guesthouse is set high up on a ridge (between the towns of Kapaa and Kilauea), overlooking lush green jungle and coconut palms, with uninterrupted views of the mountains. And thirdly, The Palmwood is run by the ever-so-lovely ‘Aunty’ Eddi and her son Mychael (both kind, friendly and exceptional cooks). There is a true feeling of warmth and aloha here. Eddi (an American of Korean heritage) grew up in Japan and this, she says, influenced her diet and cooking. She grew up on a healthy and organic diet, and this too is what she therefore brought her family up on - nothing processed, always fresh, local, seasonal, sugar-free foods. Eddi's daily breakfasts reflect this. You can taste the love that goes into her cooking. Every day, something different; something healthy; and something beautiful-looking. On our first day, Eddi had bought blue oyster mushrooms from her neighbors (who call themselves “fun guys mushrooms”) and together with organic kale from her garden, some bacon, parmesan and oven-roasted tomatoes, Eddi made an incredible open-faced omelette. Following that was a pretty looking fruit salad made from grated apple, banana, macadamia nuts, local honey and sesame seeds. We also had a fresh berry smoothie. Thinking it could surely not get any better on day two, we were quickly mistaken.
Eddi served us organic scrambled eggs with homemade Kona crab cakes, roasted tomatoes and a kale (from the garden) and apple salad. Following that, a sweet dish of roasted organic pairs, figs and a grilled banana, in a ginger and coconut reduction, with yoghurt. It was mind-blowing stuff. Breakfast is served from 8am-9am, but Eddi has the tea and coffee brewing from 6:30am for those who like to start the day a little earlier (and the roosters might make sure that’s the case). Formerly a very senior banker in LA, Eddi enjoys a much slower pace now. Healthy eating and healthy living are her passion. As is her family. We had so many interesting conversations, and Eddi was a constant source of fantastic local recommendations - helping curate and tailor our days to include hidden and off-the-beaten-track local favourites. So many of the amazing things we found can be attributed to Eddi’s suggestions. It wasn't easy though. Always torn between wanting to get out and explore the island as much as possible, but also wanting to stay and chill and enjoy the peacefulness and the magic of this special place. We became addicted to the light at sunrise, and then again at dusk - full of beauty and magic. You feel a million miles away from anything here. And its wonderful. The Palmwood left a huge impression on us and we cant wait to return.