The Garden Isle of Kauai
Information and Tips
Kauai is the fourth most visited island, at 1.2 to 1.3 million visitors annually. It is also the fourth largest landmass in the Hawaiian Island chain that includes eight major islands and 124 islets. The island is defined by its amazing scenery and laid back persona. The island, arguably we'll admit, also boasts more coastline filled with beaches than any other island in the chain. Kauai is full of uncrowded and secluded beaches all around the island; you're sure to find one that's just right for you.
The north shore of Kauai features some dramatic and beautiful mountain scenery along with a variety of hidden beaches. The area also has an incredible selection of shopping and dining available for visitors. While the winter months will mean more rain for the northern part of the island, it's still one of the most popular places on the island. Hanalei Bay is a popular location for water activities and has perhaps what are the best beaches in all of Hawaii along with her crescent shores.
Kauai's south shore is popular due to its abundance of sunny weather, even during the wet winter months. Poipu and Lawai offer a wide array of accommodations, fine dining, and shopping. On the east coast (also known as the Coconut Coast) Kapa`a offers a nice selection of affordable rentals and more shopping than most other areas. While Kauai has the small town feel to it, many larger store brands can still be found on the island - Costco, K-Mart, and Wal-mart all are present here.
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The Garden Isle
Kaua'i is the oldest of all the main Hawaiian Islands, dating back some 5.1 million years. Kaua'i lies approximately 105 miles across the Kaua'i Channel, northwest of O`ahu. The island is nearly circular in shape with a land area encompassing 533 square miles, that is 25 miles long by 33 miles wide at its furthest points. Of volcanic origin, the highest peaks on this mountainous island are Kawaikini, at 5,243 feet, followed by Mount Wai'ale'ale near the center of the island, at 5,148 feet above sea level. The wettest spot on earth, with an annual average rainfall of 450-470 inches, is located on the east side of Mount Wai'ale'ale. This high annual rainfall has eroded deep valleys in the central mountain, carving out ridges, canyons, and valleys with many scenic waterfalls.
Today, there is no known meaning behind the name of Kaua'i, but native tradition suggests the island was named after the son of the navigator who discovered the Hawaiian Islands.
The Hawaiian archipelago consists of numerous volcanic islands in the central Pacific Ocean stretching in a 1,500-mile crescent from Kure Island in the northwest to the Big Island of Hawai'i in the east, encompassing an area of 6,459 square miles. The eight major islands at the eastern end of the chain are, from west to east, Niihau, Kaua'i, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and the Big Island of Hawai'i.
The city of Lihue, on the island's southeast coast, is the seat of Kaua'i County and the largest city on the island. Waimea, on the island's southwest side and once the capital of Kaua'i, was the first place visited by explorer Captain James Cook in 1778. Waimea Town is located at the mouth of the Waimea River, whose flow formed one of the most scenic canyons in the world, 3000 foot deep Waimea Canyon. Mark Twain once dubbed it the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." At ten miles long, it's an amazing sight to be seen on an island the size of Kauai. The true splendor of the region and the neighboring Kokee State Park can only truly be appreciated by taking one of the many trails that crisscross the parks. As a whole, Kauai's west coast is more barren and dry than the rest of the island, and accommodations are fewer and far between here. West Kaua'i is also home to the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility. It's tucked away in the canyons near Waimea, and unless you go looking for it, you'll never even know it is there.
The island of Kaua'i has also been a hot spot for feature films. Dozens of filmmakers and producers have chosen the Garden Isle for a backdrop in their movies. To name a few - Lilo and Stitch, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Dragonfly, Mighty Joe Young, Outbreak, Six Days Seven Nights, The Thorn Birds, and Hook. If you remember the majestic green cliffs and lush jungle scenery from these movies - well, that's Kaua'i.
Kaua'i really is a true hidden gem of sorts. Over 90% of the island cannot be reached by road. In fact, the most beautiful part of the whole island has no road near it - and we like it that way. Kaua'i has roads stretching around it from the northwest coast, starting at Ke'e Beach, moving clockwise along the eastern coast (through Kapa'a and Lihue) and then around to the west coast (through Hanapepe and Waimea). Finally, it heads north up to the ridges of Waimea and Koke'e State Park overlooking the inaccessible Na Pali coast on the west side of the island. There is no way to drive from Waimea/Koke'e to the starting point, and there likely never will be (you'll have to turn around). The Alaka'i Swamp has stumped the U.S. Corps of Engineers on more than one occasion. The army's telephone poles from the last world war are all that remains of any attempt to navigate that part of the island. But don't worry, you can still see many of the wonders of Kaua'i by doing a bit of hiking. On this site, you can discover a few of our favorite trails.
We at Guide of US Hawaii are huge supporters of preserving the waters around Kauai. If you feel the same, the Be Reef Safe, a global campaign that empowers consumers and businesses to make positive choices for our oceans and reefs, the initiative is something to check out. Learn more.