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.
Kauai Backcountry Adventures
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



Laysan albatross.
Photo: Thinkstock

​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

  National Tropical Botanical Garden Kauai

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.

  Na Pali Coast

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


Best Beaches

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  Kee Beach Kauai

Photo: Shannon Wianecki


Tunnels (Makua): coral garden


Hanalei Bay: iconic paradise Hanalei Bay Kauai

Photo: Mallory Roe


‘Anini: serene lagoon Anini beach Kauai

Photo: Lora Lamm


Secrets (Kauapea): lighthouse view


Po‘ipū: slumbering seals  Poipu Beach Seal Kauai

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