Finally ready to plan a Hawaiian vacation? The beautiful islands are high–very high–on most wish lists. But each island has its own personality, so think carefully before deciding which one to visit. The volcanic Big Island. The lively cities of Oahu. Or the peaceful solitude of Lanai. All excellent choices, really. But let’s start with the dramatic scenery of Kauai.
The oldest of the major Hawaiian islands, Kauai has white-sand beaches, steep cliffs, lush rainforests, and deep canyons. Those who love outdoor activities–especially the more adventurous ones–will feel right at home on the Garden Isle. Hike the Hanakapi`ai Trail to the powerful waterfall or the Kuilau Ridge Trail for views of Mount Waialeale. Bike from the rim of Waimea Canyon down to the Pacific. Kayak the Wailua River to the lava-rock Fern Grotto. Ride a helicopter along the cliffs of the Nā Pali Coast. Or explore caves and lava tubes while snorkeling.
Need a break? The southern coast receives less rain and more sunshine. Plus you’ll find some of the best beaches on the island here. Visit Moir Gardens and their rare cacti. Hike the coastal Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail from Shipwreck Beach to Maha’ulepu Beach. Try to spot sea turtles, whales, and endangered monk seals along the way. Watch water being forced up a lava tube–up to 50 feet in the air–at Spouting Horn. Snorkel with Black Tangs, angelfish, and Striped Damsels near the reef at Nukumoi Point. And hang out on Poipu Beach, where you can boogie board, learn to surf, or just relax in the sun.
A sunset dinner is just steps away from Poipu Beach. The manor house of Hawaii’s first sugar plantation is now Plantation Gardens, where you’ll dine on verandas overlooking orchids and red ti plants. Tiki torches flicker as you sip a hibiscus cooler and eat seafood lau lau. Save room for local Lilikoi cheesecake. You can walk it off as you stroll down the beach from the restaurant to your hotel , the Koa Kea, where you have a Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage scheduled in the morning. After biking, flying, and paddling your way around Kauai, you deserve to be pampered.