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When Visiting Kauai: Relax, but Don’t

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Visiting Kauai can mean more than grabbing a beach chair and paperback and planting yourself on a different golden beach each day. Resist! There is so much to do on Kauai!

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone when I say I am tempted when visiting Kauai, and beach destinations like it, to grab a beach chair and paperback and plant myself on a different golden beach each day. Yes, the water’s gorgeous and sand between my toes is always most welcome, but frankly sitting around on a beach would have been a waste.

Kauai with its remarkably varied topography and climates demands to be experienced from new angles. Besides I was traveling with my family. Together we are like a family of bears who insist on going over every mountain for the thrill of seeing what we can see. This isn’t always a good thing, but in Kauai it was.

We rented snorkeling gear and boogie on the first day for the duration of our stay, with plans to keep them in the trunk of our rental car. That way when each new crescent shaped beach called out to us with every twist and turn in the road, we would be ready. Quality, especially on the snorkeling gear is worth paying a little extra for. It’s imperative to seek out professional advice for the best beaches to partake in water sports. Kauai’s waters are nothing to mess with, and for the most part do not have lifeguards. Some sage advice from the experts can literally make or break your day.

After an iffy experience a while back when traveling by helicopter, I can’t say I enthusiastically embraced the idea of taking one of Kauai’s famed air tours. But while researching our trip it seemed as if everywhere I looked, experts were saying that if one were to take a helicopter tour at some point during their lifetime, Kauai may be just the place to do it. This is for one big reason: Often considered the most beautiful of the four major Hawaiian Islands. seventy percent of the island is inaccessible by car, including some of Kauai’s most lush and dramatic scenery.

Numerous helicopter companies operate on the island, varying wildly in quality, but a little research goes a long way. We got up a the crack of dawn on the second morning of our trip, which wasn’t a problem with the time change. I can’t say I enjoyed either telling the charter company our individual weights or being weighed the morning of, but looking back I’m glad we made the splurge.

Included in the category of inaccessible by land is the 17-mile long Na Pali Coast, which is the dramatic landmark most often seen in postcards.  We found the Waialeale Crater, one of the rainiest places on earth, even more spectacular. Helicopters hover above, waiting in line to lower down into the crater where we found ourselves surround by 100s of steep waterfalls. The sun would cut in every now and then and we found ourselves flying through rainbows. A helicopter tour also flies the length of Waimea Canyon, known as ‘The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Taking the helicopter tour early in our stay helped us feel oriented and made it apparent what places we wanted to revisit by land or sea.

I like boats much better than I like helicopters. Even if you don’t, at least one boat tour is a Kauai must-do. May through September when the waters are calmer along Kauai’s north shore consider boating along the Na Pali Coast. This prospect alone is enough reason for me to want to revisit Kauai someday. The rest of the year, most tours run from the south shore.

Boating expeditions offer everything from snorkeling, whale watching (winter months only) to dinner and diving. While visiting Kauai in November, my family and I took a south shore snorkeling trip geared towards families, which provided lessons and guided tour along with an introduction to local marine biology. Learning about Hawaii’s green sea turtles, huge pods of spinner dolphins, endangered monk seals and indigenous species of tropical fish was a highlight of our trip. Just remember that if you have any doubts about the sturdiness of your own or anyone else if your group’s sea legs, don’t forget a dose of over the counter motion sickness medication!

Hiking is another great activity found in abundance on the island. Hiking trails can be found throughout the island for all skill levels, for exploring everything from rocky shorelines to interior jungles and rainforests. Advanced hikers will not want to miss the renowned Kalalau Trail, located along the Na Pali Coast, providing hikers with 11 miles of switchbacks, cliffs and jaw-dropping scenery. Still wanting to experience a bit of the island’s rugged splendor, we enjoyed hiking along the south shore’s Makawehi cliffs adjacent to Poipu Beach.

As a general rule, Kauai’s south shore is sunnier, but the north shore’s scenery is more awe inspiring. Weather conditions are fleeting and are unlikely to ruin your trip. Since we were staying in the south shore’s Poipu Beach area we trekked to the north shore on two different occasions. My husband has a tendency to drive as far as any road will allow. This time we were rewarded with the magnificently situated Kee Beach located next to the start of the Na Pali Coast. Other favorite beach stops while visiting Kauai included Salt Pond, Poipu, and Anini. There’s no lack of beaches, and which ones to choose will depend largely on surf conditions and where you are staying. And for the record I even found some time to crack that paperback.

You may also enjoy learning about Malia, a world-traveling friend of The Travel Belles who lives in Hawaii and often is questioned as to why she’d ever leave her beautiful home state.


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About the author

Margo Millure lives in Richmond, Virginia. She is a portrait photographer, writer and founder of Travel Belles. Learn more about her at

6 thoughts on “When Visiting Kauai: Relax, but Don’t”

  1. I didn’t go to Kauai when I visited the other Hawaiian islands but I was told it was the prettiest and the greenest. The helicopter tour sounds like what I’d like to do, especially for photo opportunities, then laze on a beach!

  2. When I visited Hawaii a million years ago, we somehow skipped Kauai. These descriptions and images you paint are so inspiring, I absolutely HAVE to go. I like boats much better than I like helicopters too, but perhaps this will be the exception.


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