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  • Writer's pictureBerni

Hawaii/Kauai - Must-do activities on Kauai, Hawaii's greenest island: helicopter ride, hiking, ...

After Oahu, Kauai was our second stop.

Kauai is also known as the Garden Island. No wonder, it really does feel like you're in a botanical garden.

The island was settled by Polynesians in about 200 AD, followed a few hundred years later by the arrival of Tahitians. The Hawaiian culture that survived until today has been influenced by Tahitian customs and religions.

The island is almost 1,500 square kilometers and has about 73,000 permanent residents.

Kauai is the northernmost and oldest of the Hawaiian archipelago. Nature has eroded the island and there are parts of it that can only be reached by plane or boat. The most beautiful and untouched part is the Nā Pali Coast. No wonder that this beautiful stretch of coast is one of Hawaii's most iconic places.

Our Kauai adventure itinerary:

Day 1: Helicopter ride over the island and hike on the South Coast

  • Kumu Camp - beach time

  • Nā Pali Coast helicopter tour

  • Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail

  • Poipu Beach

Day 2: middle of the island

  • Red Dirt Waterfall

  • Waipo'o Waterfall

  • Waipo'o canyon hike via Pu'u Hinahina viewpoint

  • Kalepa Ridge / Honopū hike

  • Couchsurfing

Day 3: Northwest of the island

  • Kalalau Hike in Hā'ena National Park

  • Tunnels Beach

  • Princeville sunset

Day 4: North of the island

  • Hanalei Bay surfing

  • Kilauea lighthouse

  • Kauai North Shore

Day 5: Central and eastern part of the island

  • Anini Beach

  • Wailua Waterfall

  • Hindu Monastery

  • Makaleha tour

  • Rainbow trees

Day 6: East side of the island + flight to Big Island

  • Kayaking on the Wailua River + hike to the waterfall

  • Wailua Beach

Day 1: helicopter ride over the island and hiking on the southern coast

Kumu campsite:

After picking up our campervan in the evening, we spent the night at Kumu Camp. There are very few campgrounds on the island of Kauai, and the ones do fill up quickly. Since we arrived in the dark at night, we only saw it in the morning that what a wonderful place we spent the night. The campground is right on the beach, so we had a swim first thing in the morning.

Then we were off to mind-blowing adventure:

Helicopter tour over the Nā Pali Coast

The Nā Pali Coast helicopter tour is a pretty expensive adventure, but I think it's the best place in the world to go on a helicopter tour. As the crumpled mountain range, covered in beautiful lush tropical rainforest, is illuminated by the sun's rays it's simply a breathtaking view. We had some concerns about what time of the day to choose for the flight, but in the end we decided on a noon departure, as normally by then the morning clouds clear and the sun is shining from above, giving the coastline a beautiful illumination.

The fact is that the weather is very variable and can change suddenly and unpredictably, as the island is surrounded by the ocean. And you can have beautiful sunshine on one side of the island and clouds trapped between the mountains on the other.

We had the same thing. While we were flying from Lihue through the island, the Nā Pali Coast and north of Kauai, it was beautiful sunny weather, and then as we headed back south towards the airport, the big mountains in the middle of the island were in clouds. But it was also a great experience, because we were almost within arm's reach of the clouds, and we could see both faces of the island.

The cherry on top was that we went in a helicopter that didn't have a door. It was completely open on the side, so we could have held our feet out, but of course during the flight you can't do that because the wind was enormous and it could lead to serious injury.

But the fact that we were looking at the landscape not through a small 30 cm window but through a whole door, was a great experience. Of course, that comes with the fact that even though it's 30 degrees on the ground, it's very very cold in the helicopter, and I was cold even in a double sweater and a softshell jacket.

Everyone was given a headset to be able to communicate with the pilot during the flight. And as we flew over the pristine landscape, descending completely to the immediate vicinity of waterfalls, the pilot kept telling different information and some historical facts of the island...

On the Nā Pali Coast, we flew between the ridges of the mountain, and that's when we really saw how big this whole mountain is.

If you have an eagle eye you can even see whales in the ocean below you on the Nā Pali Coast. There's so much to see that you don't know where to look.

To sum up, if you can afford it (starting from around 300 USD) then I would definitely recommend the helicopter tour over the Nā Pali Coast because it is an everlasting experience. And if anywhere, I think it's definitely worth trying a helicopter ride here.

Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail

After an hour of intense sightseeing, we moved on to our scheduled afternoon hike on the ~6.5 km Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail on the south of the island.

This hike set the bar pretty high, as the trail takes you along the coast, and during whale season there are plenty of whales along the coast. I couldn't even watch my step because I was scanning the ocean the whole time. I actually saw a lot of whale blowings and even a couple of really big jumps.

Some part of the trail was sandy, some rocky, some slightly bushy, and one section was through a beautifully maintained golf course.

At the end of the hike there was a cave that was thousands of years old. And that's not all, it's worth going a little further, because just a few hundred meters away there is a small terrestrial (Galapagos) tortoise reserve, where turtles live in a large fenced area and you can get really close to them. But don’t touch them!

This was the easiest hike we did in all of Kauai and probably all of Hawaii, because it is almost flat all the way through, but it also offers beautiful views and great experience. So I would definitely rank this hike among the best hiking trails in Hawaii.

Poipu Beach

The perfect way to end the day is a sunset walk at Poipu Beach. If you're lucky, you might even see some resting sea turtles on the beach.

Day 2: the center of the island

This day we headed towards the center of the island.

Our major hike in the morning was the Waipo'o Canyon hike. On the way there we passed Red Dirt Falls and Waipo'o Falls.

Waipo'o Canyon is also known as the Grand Canyon of Hawaii. There are similarities, but the Hawaiian version is much smaller. Although we didn't feel that on the way down during the hike. It's quite a long way down on the first part of the hike, and you should always bear in mind that you'll have to climb the same way on the way back up.

As on the other hikes, hiking boots are highly recommended because on the rocky section where the surface of the rocks is a bit sandy and clayey, it is very easy to slip.

There is also the possibility of a helicopter adventure here, so you will "encounter" quite a few helicopters while hiking on foot.

It's worth persevering until the end of the hike, as there is a small waterfall at the end, where the icy water is a great way to refresh your tired feet.

Kalepa Ridge / Honopū hike

Our afternoon hike took us along a ridge on the Nā Pali Coast to the ocean (of course, we didn't descend to sea level, we stayed at the height of the ridge). This hiking trail is no longer an officially recommended hiking trail by the way, because for some reason its maintenance has been discontinued.

We knew this beforehand, but we slightly underestimated this comment. There would have been nothing wrong with the hike if we had been properly dressed. But as it was 30 degrees, we went in our shorts and t-shirts, as on most hikes. However, as the trail is no longer maintained, the bush surrounding the trail became overgrown and kept brushing our arms and legs. The problem was that those plants were full of thorns. However, we persevered because we definitely wanted to see the Nā Pali Coast view from the ridge. In the end, the view made up for it. But the hike back to the car was not very pleasant.

After this hike, it's definitely worth going to Pu'u O Kila Lookout a few kilometers away, especially if you don't want to do the Kalepa Ridge. We got there in the evening, it was cloudy by then, but the views must be very nice on a clear day.


We spent a few nights couchsurfing on Kauai. We only needed a garden and place where we can park our van, because we slept in the car also while couchsurfing.

Our hosts were a very cute local couple with a one year old baby. And their garden was paradise. There was a river at the end of the garden and the whole garden was looking like a botanical garden. The hosts went surfing in the mornings and evenings on the nearby beach. We also met the guy's hippie dad, who still surfs several hours a day at the age of 73 and is a good friend of Bethany Hamilton (the famous female surf champion whose arm was bitten off by a shark - there is even a movie about her).

As always, we really enjoyed couchsurfing, because it was great to meet "indigenous" locals and see things from their point of view and hear local stories.

Day 3: the north-west of the island

Kalalau Trail in Hā'ena National Park

The Kalalau Trail is the most iconic hike on all of Kauai, as you'll be treated with views of the Nā Pali Coast the entire way.

This hike has several sections. You can hike to a waterfall, to a beach, or you can do a multi-day hike, where you can sleep in the national park, but then you have to carry all your camping gear on your back. We hiked to Hanakāpī'Ai Beach, where we had a nice picnic while watching the whales.

For the Kalalau trail you need to book online in advance, as the parking facilities at the start of the hike are very limited. We were only able to reserve a place in the parking lot a few kilometers away. From there, there is a well-established free bus service to the start of the trail.

In Hawaii, you don't have to pay for many hiking trails, but this is one of the few. Still, I highly recommend it because it is a beautiful route.

Tunnels Beach

Tunnels Beach is said to be one of the best places for snorkeling on Kauai. There's a U-shaped reef that holds back the big waves, but you can still feel the current. The shoreline and sea life were nice, but nowhere near as spectacular as advertised. For snorkelling, Gili (Bali) and the Great Barrier Reef are the winners for me.

A few decades ago the coral reefs here were way more beautiful as they are now, but intensive agriculture and sugarcane cultivation has put a lot of chemicals into the ocean back then, leading to the destruction of the reefs.


Princeville is a very orderly area full of villas and golf courses. It was too orderly and too regular for me. I think it really stands out from the original Hawaiian setting, seemed too fake for me. But there is a boardwalk by the beach with a very nice sunset view.

Day 4: North of the island

Hanalei Bay surfing

We spent this morning with our hosts, had breakfast together in their beautiful home and then went surfing in Hanalei Bay. This bay has a beautiful background with mountains, and the surfing just tops the experience.

The whole family came, the baby and puppy as well and we also met the grandpa on the beach. The weather was great and the waves were just right.

In the afternoon we visited the Kilauea lighthouse and explored a few more beaches on the north coast.

It was a light, hike-free day. We had planned a waterfall hike, because the movie “Just go with it” was filmed here and I wanted to see that particular waterfall from the movie, but it turned out to be on private property, so we couldn't go in.

By the way, there are many private estates here where the owner has his own waterfall, even a cave. And there are private properties on the Big Island as well, for example, where they have found their own lava tubes on private property. So some people have chosen their land well... :)

Day 5: the center and east of the island

This morning we headed down from the north to the east, passing Anini Beach and a few others on the way.

Then, a little further away from the ocean, we arrived at Wailua Falls.

Hindu Monastery

We then visited the Hindu Monastery, which is in a beautiful setting with a beautiful view of the river and the surrounding rainforest. In its garden there is a huge Banyan tree.

Rainbow tree

Not far from the monastery, just a few minutes drive away, there are rainbow trees. The rainbow tree is a member of the eucalyptus family, and is special because its trunk is colorful. The dried top layers are coming off its trunk, and the trunk therefore has different colors as it is covered in different layers.

Although, you can see quite a few photoshopped images of it on the internet. Obviously in person it doesn't look like it's been coloured with a marker pen, but the different colors really stand out beautifully. Very special.

Makaleha tour We ended our 5th day with the Makaleha tour. We didn't go to the very end, because it would have been dark by the time we get back, but we went all the way until the bamboo forest. It is also a very beautiful hiking trail. Not crowded with tourists, there were hardly any other hikers. One part of the trail is along the riverbank, some places you even have to cross the river.

On the way back to the camping (which was Kumu Camp again) we saw many places where vegetables and fruits were laid out in crates or on a small tiled table along the road, operating on an honour system. So much fruit and vegetables ripen that the owners can't eat all, so they do "offer" the leftovers, which I think is a super idea.

And, by the way, an avocado here is about 3-4 times the size of an avocado you can buy in the shops in Europe, and of course the taste is also better.

By the way, our hosts told us that there are some hiking trails in the middle of the island, where you can see bioluminescent mushrooms at night during certain seasons. We didn't go hiking at night, but it must be a great experience!

Day 6: East side of the island + flight to Big Island

Kayak tour on the Wailua River + hike to the waterfall

We ended our last day on Kauai with a super adventure. We went kayaking on the Wailua River. The scenery was beautiful, it was still a bit chilly when we kayaked up the river early in the morning.

After an hour of paddling, we docked and got out and continued the tour on dry land. The destination was a waterfall, to get there we had to cross a beautiful forest and even cross the river. At the waterfall there were a bunch of roosters, which is a symbol of Kauai. All over the island you come across a lot of wild roosters and chickens.

Even one of the local radio stations is named after them, "Rooster Country". They play very good country music on Rooster Country by the way. :)

We had a small picnic and could have take a dip in the cold waterfall if we wanted to, and then headed back as we still had the kayak ride all the way back to the river mouth. By then it was beautiful summer weather, with a bit of a headwind.

After that we had some time left so we went down to Wailua Beach for a little beach time. Then we headed to the airport as this was the end of our Kauai adventure, and exploring Big Island was the next stop in our itinerary.

Join us on the Big Island adventure as well!


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