The unfolding of the events in Oahu and Kauai have made me embrace unexpected occurrences to a T. It’s incredible how it seems like the universe has a plan for you, if you allow room in your life for it.

It started happening in Oahu, and then the universe continued conspiring to make me believe that magic is real in Kauai.

On the last day of my intended stay in Kauai, I was originally planning to explore the island on my own. Turns out I would meet a local who would take me all around the island on a fancy sports car (the kind that would attract onlookers), to hidden beaches and fancy mansions (like Mark Zuckerberg’s property).

Rent car in Kauai, Hawaii

The kind of car that makes soooo much noise 😛

We would have such a good time that we would wish I could have stayed longer on the island. Our wish would come true and my flight to LA would be delayed by 19 hours. We would spend the extra 10 hours together and wish we had more time again to see the rest of the island’s beauty. I would miss my flight AGAIN and earn another extra 17 hours in Kauai.

Hanalei-Bay-sunset-Kauai-HawaiiYou’d think I’ll be homeless in Kauai, but my newly made friend gave me a roof over my head. I enjoyed a beach bonfire, admired the twinkling stars, listened to the stringing of guitar and the sound of lazy waves. I got to spend 2 extra lazy days skinny dipping, swinging on a hammock and listening to my country music on scenic drives around the island.

What are the odds that you get a delayed flight and still miss the next flight consecutively, earning you 2 extra unplanned days in Kauai? This is a pretty crazy turn of events that I might write another post just to detail it all! How such happenings (that were beyond my control) transpired during this trip made this an extra memorable and special experience. It made me believe that maybe, just maybe, the universe has a plan for us after all.

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I would also never have thought about how rampant wild chickens are on the islands of Hawaii. I felt the full brunt of it on the first morning in Kauai – I woke to their cooing way before dawn broke, groaned at their sounds and covered my ears in a bid to get more sleep in.

It turns out that the story of the rampant chickens was due to cock fighting being a hobby of the locals in the past. The hurricane in 2014 caused them to break out and since then, they went on a kamikaze all over the island.

Phew, that was one long introduction. Without further ado, let’s bring you this travel guide to Kauai, Hawaii, based on my real-time experiences in September 2019!

The first timer's travel guide to kauai, hawaii - best beaches in Kauai, where to hike in Kauai, where to stay in Kauai and more!

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Where to stay in Kauai, Hawaii

I recommend staying in the town of Kapaa because it sits right in the middle of the route to the North and to the South/ West, hence was the most convenient starting point to get to anywhere on the island.

If you’re going on a budget, there are only 2 hostels in Kapaa that offers the lowest priced accommodation in Kauai, but even then, it wasn’t cheap according to Asia standards.

Between Honu’ea International Hostel Kauai and Kauai Beach House Hostel, I chose to stay in the former.

Amenities were basic. My room had at least 10 occupants in bunk bed style with only 1 shower to share amongst us. Parking was free in front of the property. I didn’t find the service all that professional – the receptionists I spoke to all appeared to be foreigners hired in exchange for accommodation. They were vague at most when I asked about recommendations on what to do on the island. I was better off researching/ exploring on my own.

The benefit to staying here is that it’s in between the North and the South/ East, which makes it a convenient starting point for your journey either way.

Best Beaches in Kauai, Hawaii

During my short time here, I was able beach hop around the island and visit a couple of beaches. It ranges from touristy ones to off-the-beaten, local beaches that no one else except the locals really knows about.

Best Beaches on South Kauai, Hawaii

Poipu Beach

A number of hotels congregate around here, which makes it a popular spot for tourists and families to lay by the beach here. It was too overcrowded in my opinion.

Lawa’i Beach

Lawa’i-Beach-best-beaches-in-kauai

Lawa’i-Beach

A small stretch of beach beside Beach House Restaurant. There isn’t much sand to lie on the time I was there, but it might just be a case of high tide during then. The waters though, were a clear, transparent blue.

Ka Lae O Kaiwa

A hidden beach only locals go to. The road and the path leading to it all warned of trespassers to stay away. Signs of a gate being broken in were the only evidences that it is a well-trodden path. We had to go through overgrown branches to get to this little beach. (I will probably be condemned for sharing this so shhh, let this be a secret between us?)

Salt Pond Park

salt park pond beach, beaches in kauai hawaiiAs opposed to the name, it’s actually quite an awesome beach to be. We came here after our visit to Waimea Canyon to spend the rest of our afternoon. Not nearly as crowded as the rest of the beaches in the South, I also spotted a wild seal swimming up the shore to sunbathe! That was a really rare sight. The lifeguard usually cordons off the area when wild seals come onshore to protect them.

Nearby, the Hanapepe Swinging Bridge is also worth stopping by for a photo.

Best Beaches on North Shore Kauai, Hawaii

Larsen’s Beach

This was a pretty unknown beach until my local friend showed me. Totally isolated (except for maybe a couple on it when we went), it’s no wonder it’s known as a nude beach!

Hanalei Pier

Hanalei-Bay-sunset-Kauai-HawaiiWanting to catch the first sunset in Kauai, we drove north to Hanalei Pier for sunset. It is the PERFECT beach to catch a sunset. Because it’s situated at the northernmost point of the island, the sun sets right in front of you from the beachfront.

Another reason why I love this beach is that bordering the beach on the left are the mountains Kauai is so known for. The waters here are calmer, so it’s a popular beach for swimming and stand up paddle boarding.

Hanalei-Bay-sunset-Kauai-Hawaii

Hanalei-Bay-sunset-Kauai-Hawaii

The time I was at Hanalei Pier, clouds were heavy, rain was looming and still, the children were jumping off the pier with no care in the world. The water was cold so I was hesitant to get in the water.

Jose kept encouraging me and since I’m no coward, I jumped in too! The only thing that surprised me was how I wasn’t able to pull myself up from the waters onto the pier that stood above my head, pull-up style, a feat my climbing muscles normally could. Travel sure takes a toll on my fitness.

Kahalahala Beach/ Lumahai Beach

From Kahalahala beach, you can walk west to arrive at Lumahai beach. These 2 beaches aren’t as populated and is a nice place to wind your day, listening to the waves.

Haena Beach

The furthest you can go in North Shore, this beach is uniquely known for the naturally-formed cave that is beside it. You can go under the cave in the dark.

Best Beaches on West Kauai, Hawaii

Polihale Beach

Another beach unknown to most tourists, coming here involves going through a dirt road that meanders all the way in. We were the only ones on the beach when we went, so naturally, I couldn’t pass up the chance to skinny dip. As one of the hottest beaches in Kauai (the sand actually BURNS your barefoot!), it was the perfect place to get a tan. On its right, you get a perfect view of Waimea Canyon.

Best Beaches on East Kauai, Hawaii

Keālia Beach

A local favourite in Kapa’a that is amazing no matter what the time of day is. The north end is a great place for a beginner swim and with a 4WD vehicle, you can enjoy a little more. Head south and come across rough waters and eventually the best spot for bonfires. Stay here for sunset for a gorgeous view.

Kalapaki Beach

Located in Lihue right at the Marriott along with several popular restaurants, relax to the natural bay with small waves while watching cruise ships and fishing vessels make their rounds or move around with other rental boat on Kalapaki beach. Aside from that, there’s always action at the volleyball nets on the beach!

Hideaways Beach

This small area is comprised of mostly reef with a few small swimming areas is at the end of a steep albeit short and manageable walk. Ropes line the path most of the way down to a drop with a clear blue view of the ocean. Enjoy the little beach but don’t stay too long as overcrowding occurs!

What to eat in Kauai, Hawaii

Beach House Restaurant

Lunch-Beach-House-Kauai-Hawaii-what-to-eat-in-kauaiI was fortunate to be treated to a really nice meal for my first meal in Kauai. I’d been invited by Beach House Restaurant for a lovely welcome lunch.

A beachfront restaurant set at the southernmost point of Kauai in Poipu, if anything, I was first struck by the location it was set in.

Right outside the restaurant is a lawn so green that I could lie on it all day, a book in hand, under the shadows of healthy palm trees. The lovely weather reflected such a happy, summer blue colour off the sea that anyone would want to plunge in to have salty water on one’s skin.

If there’s one cocktail you have to try in Hawaii, it’s Mai Tai. It’s a refreshing summer cocktail that no only looks nice on the nice, but also sweet on the palate. The other drink we had here was Makahiki Punch.

Lunch-Beach-House-Kauai-Hawaii-what-to-eat-in-kauai

Lobster-Deviled Eggs and Poke Tacos

For starters, we had Lobster-Deviled Eggs and Poke Tacos. You can never go wrong with poke in Hawaii!

For mains, we picked Baja-Style Fish Tacos and Miso-Glazed Catch Of The Day (striped marlin). The fried noodles was cooked to a tasteful perfection (or maybe that’s just the Asian in me to miss noodles).

Dessert consists of Chocolate Cream Pie, a classic dessert in Hawaii so we couldn’t let it pass us by, and sorbet. The cream on the pie was too much for me to handle – I’m not a fan of cream anyway. The mango, coconut and pink guava sorbet was a light and refreshing choice if you want something lighter on the stomach for dessert.

Lunch-Beach-House-Kauai-Hawaii-what-to-eat-in-kauai

Lawa’i Beach

We walked our huge meal off at Lawa’i Beach beside the restaurant after.

Poke

A classic Hawaiian dish, I was already obsessed with eating Poke bowls in Singapore before I came to Hawaii. It being so common here (you can easily find it in supermarkets which is a more affordable option) made it easily my go-to whenever I needed a sashimi fix!

Acai

acai bowl, oahu, hawaiiI’d always thought Acai bowls originated from Hawaii because of how it had been portrayed. Turns out I couldn’t be more wrong! After all, açai berries originate from Brazil, and Acai bowls aren’t as common in Hawaii as I thought.

Shave Ice

Shave ice colourful, what to eat in Kauai, Hawaii

Apparently it’s a really famous “Hawaiian” thing to try in Hawaii. I tried it at JoJo’s Shave Ice and was disappointed, for it was merely plain crushed ice with lots of different colouring. It didn’t even taste that spectacular, just a good photo prop.

Hiking on Waimea Canyon – Things to know

waimea-canyon-viewpoint-best-hikes-in-kauai-hawaiiToday’s agenda is to conquer the trails on Waimea Canyon.

The drive from the East (more specifically, Kapa’a) to Waimea Canyon takes about 1.5 hours, so it’s worth factoring that in mind when planning your trip. You should also know that it gets more crowded as the later you go, and with limited parking space in each of the viewpoints, it’s definitely worth starting your day early!

Here are a few points we went on our visit that is highly recommended:

Kalalau Lookout – This is where you’ll get the complete view of the horseshoe-shaped Kalalau Valley. It may be quite a distance away, but is still magnificent nevertheless!

kalalau-lookout-best-hikes-in-kauai-hawaii

Pu’u O Kila Lookout on Pihea Trail – This is where you can do a trek on the Pihea Trail to get a view of Kalalau Valley from the middle of the valley. Wherever you stop, you’ll get different angles of the same view. I enjoyed doing the beginning section of the trail as it involves some scrambling of different levels of rock surfaces.

Waimea Canyon Trail – this is one trail worth being on to your feet dirty with Waimea’s mud. 🙂 Each way is 1.8 miles long, with an estimated 2-3 hours to complete the trail. It may be muddy and slippery if wet.

Pu’u Hinahina Lookout on the Canyon Trail – Worth a look if you’re on the Waimea Canyon Trail.

waimea-canyon-viewpoint-best-hikes-in-kauai-hawaiiWe stopped by Puu Ka Pele Picnic Grounds for our picnic lunch. Across it, you can find Waimea Canyon Lookout.

Waimea Canyon Lookout – It’s a cliff viewpoint lookout for a 180-degree view of Waimea Canyon State Park.

waimea canyon lookout, best hikes in kauai, hawaiiWe spent about half a day cruising through the many trails and viewpoints on Waimea Canyon. Depending on the extent of trails you want to embark on, you can stay longer or shorter here.

Do note that a USD5 parking fee is imposed on major lookout points.

Other hikes in Kauai, Hawaii

Sleeping Giant

sleeping giant trail, best hikes in kauai, hawaiiOn the East of Kauai, Sleeping Giant is another popular 2-mile (3.2km) hike that I went on. It was a fun hike through the forest. It’s a trail that’s mostly under the cover of canopies.

It’s an easy and straightforward hike, but it involves scrambling up rocks quarter way up and towards the end to the summit.

It is the highest point in the east and the 360-degree views stretches for miles!

sleeping giant trail, best hikes in kauai, hawaii

View of Wailua from the top

Getting around in Kauai, Hawaii

It’s almost impossible to get around in Kauai without a car, and renting a car in Kauai is almost your only option, unless you have the luxury of time to wait for public buses which come infrequently.

It is in Kauai that I first drove a car on my own, on the opposite side of the road. This was a major life milestone personally.

Rent car in Kauai, HawaiiI rented my car from Discount Hawaii Car Rental which promises the lowest price on the island. I loved the old man at the counter who served me when I arrived. He assuaged my fears of driving on my own, and even gave me a new model of the Ford to drive in when I was in Kauai

Here are the estimated driving times from Lihue Airport:

  • to Koioa (South): 25min
  • to Poipu (South): 30min
  • to Hanapepe (South): 30 minutes
  • to Kalalau Lookout (West): 1h 40min
  • to Waimea Canyon (West): 1h15min
  • to Hanalei (North): 1h
  • to Wailua (East): 15min

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my week and a half in Hawaii (Oahu and Kauai), the new friends I’ve made on the island all (coincidentally) talk about being in the present and enjoying the moment.

As the first leg of my month-long solo trip to the US, it’s a very promising prelude to the rest of my trip in the US, given how fortunate I am with my Couchsurfing hosts and local people. They’ve been so generous with hosting me, showing off the islands to me and we’ve had very engaging conversations. I’ve truly enjoyed my time learning about their stories.


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Isabel Leong

Isabel Leong

An explorer at heart, the world is Isabel's playground. She enjoys seizing every moment exploring every hideout and doing the unimaginable, like bungee jumping in Phuket and couchsurfing in Europe. If she had wings, she’d definitely be soaring right now. Also a fitness trainer, if she’s not at the gym, you can find her doing yoga or rock climbing! Read more about her on belaroundtheworld.com/about.