Kaua‘i Guide: 5 Adventurous Natural Wonders to Put on Your Bucket List
Float on a giant inner tube, explore a cave, fly over the Nā Pali coast and more.
Photo: Mike Coots
Kaua‘i Backcountry Adventures
If you were like many Island kids, you dared to plunge a body board in the fast-moving water of an old irrigation ditch—or you wanted to. Here’s your second chance. Recline on a giant inner tube and float through dark tunnels and beneath a lacy albizia canopy.
(808) 245-2506, kauaibackcountry.com
Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
Laysan albatrosses, red-tailed tropicbirds and red-footed boobies soar overhead on their way to cliff-hanging nests. Climb up into the lighthouse tower during the twice-weekly tour. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. $5.
(808) 828-1413, fws.gov/refuge/kilauea_point
Makauwahi Cave Reserve
This fascinating sinkhole and cave holds the bones of extinct birds—it’s one of the richest fossil sites in the Pacific. A Hawaiian priest once read fortunes in the smoke here. Today, giant tortoises help keep the weeds down. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
(808) 634-0605, cavereserve.org
Lei making at Limahuli National Tropical Botanical Gardens.
Photo: Kicka Witte
National Tropical Botanical Gardens
The NTBG’s three gardens take at least two days to explore. Side by side in Kōloa, Allerton and McBryde feature thousands of exotic species in landscaped “rooms” that rival those at Versailles. At the northern tip of Kaua‘i, Limahuli pays homage to endemic species and Polynesian introductions. The $95 sunset tour includes dinner at the Allerton’s beachfront home and a peek at Lāwa‘i Kai—the valley’s gorgeous and otherwise inaccessible bay. ntbg.org
Allerton and McBryde, 4425 Lawa‘i Road, Kōloa, (808) 742-2623
Limahuli, 58301 Kūhiō Highway, Hanalei, (808) 826-1053
Nā Pali Coast
The Nā Pali Coast belongs on everybody’s bucket list. The rain-carved peaks form astonishing geometry in the early morning light, waterfalls pour through the skylights of hidden sea caves, turtles pile up on secret beaches and spinner dolphins leap from the deepest turquoise waters in all of Hawai‘i. There are four ways to experience this awesome wilderness: fly, kayak, boat or hike. Click here for everything you need to know about hiking the Kalalau Trail.
Fly over the Nā Pali Coast.
Photo: Lora Lamm
The easiest way to explore the island’s hinterlands is from above. Island Helicopters cruises the Nā Pali sea cliffs, dips into Waimea Canyon and lands at the foot of the 400-foot-tall “Jurassic Falls.”
(808) 245-8588, islandhelicopters.com
From April to September, you can embark on a 12-hour muscle-building adventure with Kayak Kaua‘i. Paddle out from Hā‘ena Beach, stop to play in sea caves and remote beaches, and finish at Polihale.
(808) 826-9844, kayakkauai.com
Climb aboard one of Captain Andy’s zodiacs to explore the sea caves and waterfalls. You’ll be a human jackhammer on the ride out from Kikīaola Small Boat Harbor, but, once you hit the deep turquoise water, you won’t notice the bumps. The gonzo captains know exactly when to dash into the open-ceiling cave or the double-door cave. If you want something smoother, the evening catamaran sail is prime for taking photos.
(808) 335-6833, napali.com
We’ve never been to Kaua‘i and not seen a monk seal napping on the beach; marine life loves it here. But humans should proceed with caution. Kaua‘i’s powerful rip currents regularly sweep swimmers out to sea. Ask lifeguards or locals before heading out and stick to the safe zones.
From North to South, Kaua‘i’s Best Beaches in Two Words
Ke‘e: Bali Hai
Photo: Shannon Wianecki
Tunnels (Makua): coral garden
Hanalei Bay: iconic paradise
Photo: Mallory Roe
‘Anini: serene lagoon
Photo: Lora Lamm
Secrets (Kauapea): lighthouse view
Po‘ipū: slumbering seals
Photo: Shannon Wianecki
Salt Pond: keiki pool
Polihale: windswept wilderness
Gateway to Ni‘ihau
Who hasn’t dreamt of exploring the Forbidden Island? You can gaze at the private isle hovering on the horizon from Waimea Pier, or visit it in person. Bubbles Below Scuba Charters ((808) 332-7333, bubblesbelowkauai.com) takes divers across the channel to Ni‘ihau and Lehua (the neighboring bird sanctuary). It’s a rough ride, but once you’re in the water you’ll swim through caverns past huge clouds of fish, sharks and monk seals.
Ni‘ihau Helicopters Inc. will land you on the Forbidden Island for an unforgettable day of beachcombing, snorkeling and fishing. Leave from Port Allen’s tiny airstrip. (877) 441-3500, niihau.us