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12 Must-Have Experiences on Kauai

by Katie McCabe  |  @awelltraveledpair  |  October 17th, 2019

The Hawaiian Islands are known for their exquisite beauty, pristine beaches, and delectable cuisine. While all eight of the major islands offer their own unique version of paradise, it seems that one island in particular was blessed with a little extra. 


Located at the northernmost point of Hawaii's gorgeous archipelago, Kauai's lush landscapes and breathtaking sights make the island one of the most beautiful places on earth. Not only is the island visually satisfying but there's an energy on Kauai that is indescribable. It's a feeling that you take back home with you. It stays with you and continues to ignite your desires to return again and again. During my first visit, I may have been bitten by the "Kauai Bug" - an illness that I'll happily be affected by my whole life. 


If you're fortunate enough to visit the stunning Garden Isle, you may find yourself overwhelmed with all the amazing things to see and do. Fret not! I've got you covered. Below are twelve things every first-time (and repeat!) traveler should experience on Kauai.

Visit Hanalei

The charming town of Hanalei is located on Kauai's north shore. Filled with quaint restaurants, contemporary art galleries, and one beautiful bay, Hanalei is my favorite place to stay on Kauai. The relaxed atmosphere is uber enjoyable and the prime location is unbeatable.

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Swim in Queen's Bath

About fifteen minutes outside of Hanalei is a breathtaking natural swimming pool known as Queen's Bath. This picturesque pool is perfectly formed along the lava coast of Princeville and definitely fit for a queen. Occasionally, rough seas and strong currents can make visiting the bath quite dangerous, so be sure to only swim here while the ocean is calm and the tides are low.

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Visit Waimea Canyon

Known as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific", Waimea Canyon offers colorful canyon views, cascading waterfalls, and frequent rainbows. Located on the western side of Kauai, the drive from Hanalei takes almost two hours. But I can assure you, it's worth the trip!

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Go on a Nā Pali Coast Sunset Dinner Cruise

This is most likely what you came to Kauai to see - the Nā Pali Coast! With its towering sea cliffs and jaw-dropping coastline, the Nā Pali Coast is one sight you don't want to miss. There are numerous ways to experience this beauty (hiking, snorkeling, boating), and I recommend them all. But for now, let's just talk about one - a Nā Pali Coast sunset dinner cruise. For four hours, you'll sail on a 65-foot catamaran along the gorgeous coastline while dining on fresh seafood and sipping handmade mai tai's. I suggest doing this during your last night on Kauai, as there really is no better way to end your trip. 

Recommended tour companies: Blue Dolphin Charters or Captain Andy's.

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Hike the Kalalau Trail

Calling all adventurers! This next activity is definitely not for the faint of heart. The Kalalau Trail consists of twenty-two miles (round-trip) of rugged coastline, unpredictable sea conditions, river crossings, and unmatched sights. There really isn't another activity on Kauai as epic as hiking the Kalalau Trail. Beginning at Ke'e Beach and stretching all the way to Kalalau Beach, this hike offers one breathtaking sight after the next. Permits are required to camp along the trail (this is NOT a day trip), so check out the official website for more information.

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Snorkel with Honu

Hawaiian green sea turtles, also known as honu, are abundant around the island of Kauai. Most visitors flock to the local beaches hoping to find the turtles in the shallow waters. While this is a definite possibility, I recommend taking a tour with Kauai Sea Rider Adventures for a truly memorable honu experience. Departing from Poipu, zodiac rafts zip passengers along the south coast of Kauai in search of dolphins, tropical fish, and of course, turtles. Once found, the snorkeling adventure of a lifetime begins! 

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Hike to Wailua Falls

Wailua Falls is your quintessential Hawaiian waterfall. Standing at 173 feet high, this dramatic double waterfall is one of Kauai's most popular gems. While it is easy to view from the street, the real adventure is for those willing to hike down to it. Steep, slippery, muddy paths lead from the side of the road down to the waterfall's enchanting swimming hole. There really is no way to describe the feeling you get while standing at the base of this massive beauty. You must experience it for yourself.

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Go Mountain Tubing Along the Wailua River

What do you get when you combine relaxation and adventure? Mountain tubing! Float down Kauai's largest river while passing through amazing tunnels and flumes before stopping to eat lunch at an old sugar plantation and swim in secret swimming holes. It truly is a relaxing, yet exciting, way to see some of the island's unique scenery. 

Recommended tour company: Kauai Back Country

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Go Ziplining at Princeville Ranch

Harness up. Clip in. And get your adrenaline pumping at Princeville Ranch's Zipline Tour. Feel the thrill on nine fast and fun ziplines and one hair-raising suspension bridge. You'll zig-zag your way around the Hanalei Mountains during a day filled with smiles, laughs, and adventure.

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Smith's Garden Luau

For fifty years strong, Smith's Garden Luau has been the best party on the island. With an abundance of food, music, and dance traditions, the Smith family has created a tropical paradise that celebrates the Hawaiian spirit of aloha. Guests feast on a kalua pig roast, dance the hula, and watch Samoan fire performers from Wailua Valley's sacred lands.

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Eat Poke at Dolphin Fish Market

You cannot go to Kauai, or any Hawaiian island for that matter, and not try poke. Poke is diced raw fish (typically tuna, salmon, or octopus) mixed with soy sauce, sea salt, seaweed, and chili pepper. Different variations are made depending where you go, but it's no question that Dolphin Fish Market has the best on the island.

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Indulge in Shave Ice at Wailua Shave Ice

There's no better way to cool off in tropical Kauai then with an ice cold shave ice. Made Hawaiian-style with fresh local fruits, this delectable treat will satisfy every single taste bud. Found all over the island, the best spot to indulge is definitely Wailua Shave Ice.

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